By all rights, Hannah Senesh should be as widely known and beloved as Anne Frank. Both were young Jewish women who confided their dreams and struggles during the Holocaust to their diaries in bright and sharply observed entries. Both their stories are moving and inspiring, revealing a steadfast spirit and a lively intelligence.
Some people may know her poems, one of which—”Eli, Eli,” has become a poignant liturgical standard. Some may remember Senesh’s story of extraordinary courage, and now more people will, thanks to a play that just opened at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. “Hannah Senesh,” which includes music, dance and songs based on poems Senesh wrote, brings the young idealist to urgent life.
She emigrated from her native Hungary to Palestine in 1939 and, a few years later, volunteered to parachute behind Nazi lines to save other Jews, an arduous and dangerous venture. She was part of a Jewish contingent in a larger British plan to rescue downed English fighter pilots, after which the Jews could attempt their own rescues.
In the play, we first meet Hannah at age 13 and stay with her during the next decade of her eventful life. She starts out as a giddy teenager, announcing she’s a vegetarian as she waves around a stick of celery and tries to figure out how to modify the frilly pink party dress her mother has bought her so that it is more to her liking.