“There are people whose glorious memory 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.” Hannah Senesh, a young woman who took part in a secret British mission so that she might also help Jews in Europe, was one of those people. She was also the talented poet who wrote those words that would, along with her diary, be read by millions of people around the world. Executed by firing squad at the age of 23, her life was short but her memory continues to impact millions.
Fire in My Heart: The Story of Hannah Senesh is not a traveling exhibition but a collection of personal items that’s likely never to be seen together again. Entrusted to organizers by Senesh’s nephews, the exhibition includes a wide-range of personal artifacts including her diary, a newspaper she published with her brother and a collection of personal notebooks and photographs.
Senesh is widely known as the author of Walking to Caesarea, her 1942 poem that was set to music in 1945 and is largely considered the virtual second anthem for the State of Israel. Recently performed by Regina Spektor at a concert in Israel this past August, it was also prominently featured in the movie Schindler’s List.
Organized by the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, the 2,500 square foot exhibition also includes audio/visual displays by Roberta Grossman, the award winning director of Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh.
“We could not be more thrilled that St. Pete is one of three cities to receive this very important chronicle of one of the Holocaust’s most respected heroes,” said FHM Director Elizabeth Gelman. “A strong, resourceful, courageous woman, her story continues to inspire people across the globe. We expect the exhibition to draw visitors from across the state of Florida.”
Fire in My Heart: The Story of Hannah Senesh is now open at the Florida Holocaust Museum and will run through April 27.
Hi-Resolution images for this exhibition are available by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Hannah Senesh
Hannah Senesh was born on July 17, 1921 into a Hungarian-Jewish middle class family. She went to a private Protestant secondary school where she was one of a small number of Jewish students. While she excelled there, she also eventually encountered institutionalized antisemitism. Her response was to become an ardent Zionist intent on settling in Palestine. She left Budapest for Palestine in September 1939, two weeks after Germany’s invasion of Poland. After completing two years of studies at the Agricultural School for Young Women in Nahalal, she joined the newly organized kibbutz, Sedot Yam. In the summer of 1943, wanting to help in the effort to defeat the Nazis and do something for the Jewish remnant in Europe, Hannah accepted an invitation to join a unit being trained to parachute into occupied Europe. There, she and other Palestinian-Jewish volunteers would carry out a double mission. For the British, she would help set up escape routes for downed Allied air-crews who had evaded capture; for the Haganah – the Palestinian Jewish underground army – she would organize Jews and help them escape.
Hannah and four colleagues parachuted into Yugoslavia in March 1944. She crossed into Hungary in early June, but was immediately captured by the Hungarian authorities. She was imprisoned for six months and brutally interrogated. While in prison, she taught her fellow prisoners Hebrew and inspired them with stories of life in Palestine. Her mother was arrested in an attempt to extract information from Hannah, but Hannah refused to give her captors the information the sought. She was tried for treason, and executed by firing squad on November 7, 1944 at the age of 23. Her remains were moved to Israel in 1950, and she is now buried in the section of Israel’s national military cemetery dedicated to the parachutists. Hannah’s mother and brother survived the war. Visit www.mjhnyc.org/hannah for a timeline of her life and explorations of some of the artifacts that tell her story,
Highlights of the Exhibition
It starts in cosmopolitan Budapest of the 1920s and 1930s, exploring Hannah’s home life, education and religious beliefs as part of a bourgeois Jewish family; it shows how her priorities changed in 1938 and 1939 upon facing antisemitism, and how she became a Zionist. The exhibition follows Hannah to the Agricultural School of Young Women in Nahalal and portrays her physical and spiritual life there and at Kibbutz Sedot Yam through the use of her own words, including text of her famous 1942 poem “Halikha L’kesariya,” (A Walk to Caesarea) known worldwide as “Eli, Eli.” This short Hebrew poem was set to music in 1945, and has since become a virtual second anthem in Israel. Hannah’s mission, imprisonment, trial and execution are narrated through the words of her acquaintances, family, and friends who were witness to these tragic events. The exhibition concludes with a section describing Hannah’s legacy.
Featured items include:
-An edition of Kis Szenesek Lapja (Newspaper of the Little Seneshes) produced in 1929 by Hannah and her brother Giora (Gyuri). Readers paid for the paper with chocolates.
-Hannah’s Hungarian passport with its visa to Palestine.
-The portable typewriter Hannah brought with her to Palestine along with letters she typed to her mother that sometimes included drawings and handwritten messages.
-The suitcase in which Hannah stored her notebooks and other possessions when she departed on the mission. She left a letter stating that she is leaving the suitcase at the kibbutz “containing Daddy’s books and other personal items, which I would not like anyone except Gyurka [her brother] or Mother to touch.”
-The last photo of Hannah and her brother Giora (Gyuri) taken in Tel Aviv the day Hannah departed on her mission. He arrived in Palestine on the previous day.