A.This Sunday, the Israeli army is launching a spectacular action charged with remembrance politics in Europe. One hundred and fifty Israeli soldiers are flown to Slovenia in two Air Force Hercules planes. The next day, a hundred of them, along with Slovenian, Croatian, Hungarian and British soldiers, are parachuted to follow in the footsteps of Jewish war heroes and European partisans. They will also visit places where the Jews were exterminated. The honored Jewish heroes are 33 men and two women from Palestine who were trained by the British Army in 1944 for a delicate mission in Europe. After a parachute landing in Yugoslavia, 27 of them went on a secret reconnaissance mission, during which they also had to join the partisan struggle against the National Socialists and their allies. Seven members of the group were caught and killed in different locations.
Among the “parachutists of the Yishuv” who are revered as national heroes in Israel, the figure of Hannah Szenes (1921 to 1944) stands out. Her birthday, which marks the 100th anniversary this Saturday, is the calendar occasion for the five-day multinational memorial campaign by the military, which will end with a ceremony at the former grave of the legendary parachutist in the Jewish Kozma cemetery in Budapest. The name of this action, “Shine of Heaven”, is taken from Hannah Szenes’ poem “The Walk to Caesarea”, one of two poems that were set to music after her tragic death and established her fame as a poet in Israel and in Zionist diaspora circles.
She was born to write
Israeli students know it from Shoah commemoration ceremonies: “My God, My God, that never ends / The sand and the sea, / The rushing of the water, / The shine of the sky, / The prayer of man”. The verses, which are understood as an expression of an eternal bond with the Land of Israel, were written in November 1942 when Hannah Szenes helped set up the Kibbutz Sdot Yam not far from Caesarea. Born in Budapest and raised in a middle-class Hungarian-Jewish family, Hannah was born with writing. Lastingly inspired by her late father, the children’s book author and playwright Béla Szenes, she began to write a diary at the age of thirteen. When she left Hungary, where anti-Semitism had become state doctrine, for Palestine in 1939, the young woman’s diary, letters to mother Catherine and brother Giora, as well as writing poetry became a refuge.
In this way, the immigrant also expressed her doubts about the new way of life associated with great challenges – the often frustrating study at an agricultural school for girls in Moshav Nahalal and the many years of often physically difficult work in Kibbutz Sdot Yam, which she did in 1943 against the volunteer Exchanged service in the British Army. Parachuted as a reconnaissance officer over what was then northern Yugoslavia in mid-March 1944, Szenes secretly passed the border to Hungary three months later with a radio transmitter in her luggage. There she was caught immediately, taken to Budapest and handed over to the secret police.
Despite several months of internment and torture, and the arrest of her mother, who was sent to the same prison, she did not give in to pressure from the interrogators. When she was tried for treason, she defended herself against the charge. She declined the offer to avert the impending death sentence with a confession. On November 7, 1944, Hannah Szenes was executed by firing squad. A hero myth developed around the “parachutists of the Yishuv” in the Jewish community in Palestine, at the center of which was scenes from the beginning that were elevated to a national icon by the Zionist establishment. The sustained reduction to the role of the staunch Zionist and self-sacrificing war heroine did not become the subject of critical reflection in Israel until the 1990s. The Israeli historian Judith Tydor Baumel (later Baumel-Schwartz) took a closer look at the process of myth-making in 1996, which she later dealt with with regard to the entire group of parachutists.