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Jewish poet, paratrooper Hannah Senesh honored in Budapest

“It’s harder for me to breathe ever since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7,” said Rakefet Senesh Shkiler, Senesh’s great-grandniece.

Hannah Senesh
Bust of the Jewish poet and paratrooper Hannah Senesh in her birthplace, Budapest, Hungary. Credit: Fekist/Wikipedia.

Hannah Senesh (Szenes) was honored on Friday in a ceremony in her birthplace of Budapest, Hungary.

The Jewish paratrooper and poet was executed at age 23 “not far from here,” Revital Yakin, deputy CEO of March of the Living, said during the event.

Senesh (1921-44), who was captured after parachuting into Yugoslavia during World War II to rescue Hungarian Jews, endured “severe torture,” Yakin said. A Hungarian firing squad killed her after she refused to discuss her mission.

Yakin read from Senesh’s last letter to her oldest brother, Giora, in December 1943. 

“I want to describe how I see Israel. Firstly—I love it. I love its many landscapes, its diverse climate, its myriad colors of life; I love in it the new and the ancient, I love it because it’s ours!” she wrote. “No, not yet ours. But deep within ourselves, we are determined that it is ours. Secondly—I respect it.”

A wreath is laid at a moment to Hannah Senesh (Szenes) in Budapest, Hungary, May 3, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.

“I respect and honor the people who believe in something, who are willing in the name dear to them to fight against daily reality,” she added. “I respect those who live their lives not just for one moment, not just for one shot. And here, there are more of those than anywhere else.”

“How relevant and accurate Hannah Senesh’s letter is even for our days,” said Yakin. She noted that the writer will “forever be remembered in our consciousness as a heroic paratrooper, who volunteered for a daring espionage mission in Europe. A mission from which she did not return.”

Yakin said that Senesh’s legacy and bravery “are not relics of the past. They are present and future, as the courage, daring and spiritual resilience that characterized Hannah Senesh, we have identified since the outbreak of war in October with the full force of Israeli women.”

She noted heroines in the Israel Defense Forces, whose “voices were silenced” and only subsequently were recognized for having first identified the danger of Oct. 7. 

“We have seen in these painful six months, women soldiers who entered tanks and fought to save lives, who brought out the wounded under fire and fought with courage and determination,” she said. “Heroines who rightfully demand their place as equals among equals—alongside civilian heroines—who with courage of conviction held their heads high and still hold onto the difficulties and challenges in an uncontrollable reality,” she said.

“In days when our brothers and sisters around the world are grappling with a tremendous surge of antisemitism and hatred, we understand very well the longing of Hannah Senesh to help her people, to take risks, to think about the people and not about herself,” she added. “May her memory be blessed.”

Rakefet Senesh Shkiler, Senesh’s great-grandniece, was one of the poet’s family members who attended the event and laid a wreath in her honor. She told reporters that it is hard for her to breathe when she thinks of her great-grandmother, who met Senesh in prison, thinking that the latter was in Israel, and tried to save her until she discovered that Senesh was sentenced to die.

“It’s harder for me to breathe ever since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, which, besides the loss of life and atrocities, has left—for over half a year—more mothers, children and family members trying to save their families from abominable physical and mental torture,” Senesh Shkiler said.

“The images of the hostages are always on my mind. The families’ cries are heard, and I cry out with them,” she said. “I’m calling from here to release them now.”

The 36th International March of the Living is scheduled to take place on Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day—May 6, 2024. The march, which traverses Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, honors the memory of the Jews murdered in the Holocaust, as well as those who survived.

The march renews the call of “Never Again,” a vow broken on Oct. 7, 2023, when the State of Israel and the Jewish people endured the most severe atrocities since the Holocaust, sparking an unprecedented surge of global antisemitism.

This year’s commemorations began in Budapest on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, with a march marking 80 years since the destruction of Hungarian Jewry during the Holocaust. Led by 80 Hungarian Holocaust survivors and joined by thousands of others, the march began at the Dohany Synagogue, adjacent to the birthplace of Theodor Herzl—the father of modern Zionism—and concluded with a ceremony at the Keleti Train Station, where the first deportation of Jews from Budapest to Auschwitz-Birkenau took place.

Following the formal ceremony, a “Train of the Living” departed for Auschwitz on an educational journey retracing the path of the death transports from Hungary. Accompanied by hundreds of Hungarian students, the train arrived at Oswiecim, after which they joined the thousands of participants gathered at Auschwitz.

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