While living in Ashkelon Israel, we had access to a number of books and music CD’s that were at the house where we were staying. One day, while listening to one of the CD’s, I was struck by the beautiful melody of a Hebrew song. I got the insert out of the case, and found the lyrics were translated into English. They read:
My God, my God, may it never end,
The sand and the sea, the rustle of the water,
The lightening in the sky, and man’s prayer.
Beside the lyrics, was a very short bio about the author.
Her name was Hannah Senesh, and she was a Hungarian Jewess who had made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) in 1939. She had penned the words of that song (Eli, Eli) at her arrival on the shore of Qesariya – the town that we know as Caesarea. The bio continued by explaining that Hannah had parachuted back into Europe in World War ll to help rescue Jewish people, and had been caught by the Nazis and executed. I was intrigued, and wanted to learn more about the young lady who had the same name as I did. That was almost five years ago. Whenever I heard Eli, Eli (on rare occasions), I was always struck by its beauty, and filled with a desire to know more about the author. It has been within the past couple of months, that the desire became reality.
I was busy in the kitchen, but I set my laptop on the counter, googled her name, and read snitches of articles while I worked! All of the sites that I visited, had the same information more or less, and that wasn’t much. I learned that she was born July 17, 1921 … had an older brother (by one year) … was raised in an assimilated family … moved to Israel when she was 18 … joined the British army in 1943 … parachuted into Europe with 39 others in March 1944 … was caught by the Nazis (or Hungarians who were allied with the Nazis) … and executed by firing squad on November 7th 1944, six months before the war ended. The date was ironic for me; I was born November 6th.
I learned that Hannah was linguistically talented, and had written a number of poems, as well as kept a diary from a young age. She was courageous, pressing on to Hungary after some team members wanted to back out because they felt it was too dangerous. While in prison, she tried to encourage and keep up the spirits of the other prisoners. I found a book called “Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary”, and purchased it. I can’t necessarily recommend the book. A large portion of it contained her diary which, keeping in mind that she was apparently not a believer in Messiah, isn’t exactly inspiring or worthwhile reading. It wasn’t bad … it just wasn’t all that good.
What interested me, was the details of her mission. In 1943, Hannah enlisted in the British army in the Woman’s Auxiliary Air Force as an Aircraft-woman 2nd Class and began her training in Egypt as a paratrooper for the British Special Operations Executive. On March 13th 1944, Hannah parachuted into Yugoslavia with two other Jewish/British officers. Their mission was to help rescue downed British pilots, but the real reason that Hannah was going, was to help her Jewish brethren who were about to fall into the Nazi clutches. That was understood by their superior British officers, and it was considered a secondary mission. After spending some time with the Yugoslavian partisans, Hannah crossed the border into Hungary in June.
She was almost immediately caught – it is supposed that she was betrayed by the partisans who helped her to cross, and also by the fact that a young Frenchmen who crossed the border with her was caught by police, and committed suicide right in front of them. The police found Hannah’s hiding place, and arrested her. She was carrying a British radio transmitter, and they wanted the code so that they could send out false information. She refused to divulge the code, and they tortured her severely. Her mother (who was in Budapest, Hungary) was arrested, in an effort to make Hannah talk, but she still refused to cooperate.
Hannah was in prison for five months. During that time, she won the respect of her interrogators, and the admiration of her fellow-prisoners. She was constantly talking about Israel, trying to convert the others to Zionism. She taught Hebrew lessons, and played with children who were in the prison. She would cut out letters on large pieces of paper, and put them in her window to form messages. According to the other prisoners, she was always trying to encourage them. Hannah had a trial, but the sentence was postponed. At that time, the Allies were gaining the upper hand in the war, and things were going badly for the Hungarians and the Nazis. The government was falling apart, and officials were fleeing the country.
On November 7th 1944, a young Hungarian officer (Captain Simon) entered Hannahs’ cell, and told her that she had been sentenced to death. She tried to appeal, saying that she had been tried before a lower tribunal, and had the right to appeal. He refused, and asked her if she wanted to ask for clemency. Her reply was; “Clemency – from you? Do you think I’m going to plead with hangmen and murderers? I shall never ask you for mercy.”
Captain Simon replied by telling her to write farewell letters, and one hour later, she was taken before a firing squad, and executed. It has been documented that she refused a blindfold, preferring to stare her executioners straight in the face, while another source stated that she simply raised her eyes to heaven. The farewell letters, and other files connected with her case, were stolen by Captain Simon who fled the country and was never heard from. It is apparent that he took it upon himself to carry out Hannah’s death sentence, and had no official orders to do so.
I found Hannah’s story very inspiring. She was willing to give up her life, in an effort to help rescue her people from certain death. What are we willing to sacrifice in order to rescue others from eternal death? I found a quote from Hannah that I immediately fell in love with … maybe because I publish a magazine called Shining Stars? It read:
“There are stars whose radiance is visible on earth, though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.”
It reminded me of Daniel 12:3:
“And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”
Did Hannah do the right thing in parachuting back into Europe? Did she throw away her life on some impossible, romantic scheme? I don’t know. I am in no place to judge her actions and the results of them. All I know is that she did what she believed to be right. While still in Yugoslavia, Hannah and her comrades heard that the Germans had occupied Hungary. She broke into sobs, exclaiming; “What will happen to all of them … to the million Jews in Hungary? They’re in German hands now – and we’re sitting here … just sitting.”
In our luxurious, materialistic culture, it is easy to become lukewarm, and forget about those who are lost. We become so self-focused, and ignore the cries of hurting people who need help. Just before crossing into Hungary, Hannah gave a piece of paper to one of her friends … it contained a short poem that she had written.
The first line read; “Blessed is the match, consumed in kindling flame …” It is a poem in honor of those who gave their lives to help others. The word has been translated as “blessed”, but the original Hebrew word that she used was “Ashrei” … which is often translated as “happy”. Happy is the match, consumed in kindling flame …
That line reminded me of a scripture that I studied awhile back. “Who among us shall dwell with devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” – Isaiah 33:14b
I did a word study on the phrase “devouring fire”, and found that the Hebrew words were the same words used in Exodus 24:17; “And the sight of the glory of YHWH was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.”
I found several scriptures that refer to the glory of the Heavenly Father as a devouring, or consuming fire.
I want to close with a challenge … a challenge to myself as well as all of you. May we be so utterly consumed in the presence and glory of our Father, that we are willing to surrender our plans … our possessions … our talents … our very lives, in the furtherance of His kingdom.
Hannah Senesh wanted to rescue her people from an earthly devil who was trying to destroy their bodies. May we be ever ready to rescue others from the prince of this world, who is trying to destroy their souls.
Authored by Hannah Washburn