The diaries of Hannah Senesh

by Eszter Hargittai on August 9, 2013

I saw a special exhibition recently (special in various senses of the word) that I wanted to recommend: Fire in My Heart: The Story of Hannah Senesh showing through September 8th at the Illinois Holocaust and Education Center in Skokie just outside of Chicago. It’s a touching tribute to an amazing young woman who was killed by firing squad in 1944 at age 23 having been captured and tortured while on a mission to help Jews escape from Hungary.

Through diary entries and her letters to her mother and her brother, we learn of a girl and young woman who was wise beyond her years with quite a sense of humor. The exhibition starts out with scenes from 1930s Budapest depicting what seems like just another middle-class family. The fact that the family happens to be Jewish doesn’t come across forcefully at all at first, something quite true of many Hungarian Jewish families, both then and now. But as the years pass and Jews are increasingly treated as “the other”, young Anna (her Hungarian name was Szenes Anna) starts realizing that she may not have the same opportunities as others, whether in school or in love. She decides to emigrate, eventually joining the British Army and becoming part of a parachuting mission.

The exhibition does a nice job of sharing her writing (both diary entries and poetry) as well as showcasing all sorts of artifacts from her life. It is remarkable that her family was able to retain all of these materials.

I couldn’t tell if it would be a traveling exhibition. With the effort that went into compiling the material, I would hope so, but it doesn’t look like it so if you’re in the area or were looking for a reason to visit, do stop by in the next few weeks. Alternatively, several books have been published about her life and with her writing. I haven’t read them so don’t have specific recommendations, but I do recommend reading up on her story.



Bloix 08.09.13 at 4:10 am

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.
Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret fastness of the heart.
Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor’s sake.
Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.

– Hannah Senesh


Ivan 08.09.13 at 3:07 pm

Correction, Eszter. She was executed on Nov. 7, 1944. She has been parachuted into Yugolslavia by the British in March of that year and headed to Hungary when she learned that the Germans had occupied the country and were preparing to deport the Jews to Auschwitz.


John Quiggin 08.10.13 at 12:17 am

It would be v interesting to see this, but it seems unlikely to come to Brisbane.


clew 08.10.13 at 4:12 am

If it doesn’t travel, _Between Silk and Cyanide_ is really good.


Eszter Hargittai 08.10.13 at 11:01 am

Ivan, thank you! That was an unfortunate mistake. I know the events around those years in Hungary well enough to know better. I’ve fixed by changing 1941 to 1944.

Yes, John, sadly hard to imagine.

Clew, thanks, sounds very intriguing, I’ll check it out.


Bloix 08.10.13 at 6:19 pm

There are two movies about Hannah Senesh:

A documentary, Blessed is the Match –

and a dramatic film, Hannah’s War –


Louis D Levine 08.10.13 at 11:23 pm

The exhibition in Chicago is a traveling exhibition. It was created and first shown in New York at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, and will appear in Miami after it closes in Skokie. Further details are available at the museum’s web site – Brisbane is a long way off, but miracles happen when people make them happen.

Louis D. Levine
Curator or Fire in My Heart: The Story of Hannah Senesh


Eszter Hargittai 08.12.13 at 2:47 am

Thank you for that information. I’m thrilled to hear that the exhibition will continue on. The specific page that has info on traveling exhibitions is this: (you’ll have to scroll down to see info about this one).

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