On This Day: Nov 7th: SOE war hero Hannah Senesh shot by Hungarian fascist police

Part of the effort to liberate Europe from Hitler's oppression, she was captured and tortured by police of the Hungarian puppet state


Hannah Senesh  - who was executed by Hungarian fascist police 73 years ago today, on November 7 1944 – remains one of the most celebrated national heroines in Israel and across the wider Jewish world.

Born in Budapest on July 21 1921 to a respected Hungarian Jewish family, Senesh (whose original name was Szenes) had a troubled childhood. Her dramatist father Bela died when she was only eight, and she experienced antisemitism while at school.

The rising levels of Jew-hatred in her homeland led her to yearn for a new life in Palestine - she joined a Zionist youth movement and learned Hebrew.

In 1939 Senesh she left Hungary for British Mandate Palestine and became a student at an agricultural college in Nahalal before joining the Sedot Yam kibbutz two years later.  

Jewish Agency officials spotted her as a potential recruit for a secret military mission to aid beleaguered European Jewry.

She was recruited into the Haganah, the paramilitary group that was the forerunner of the Israel Defence Forces.

In 1943, she enlisted in the British army in the Woman’s Auxiliary Air and began training in Egypt as a paratrooper for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

A year later she parachuted into Yugoslavia with two male colleagues with the aim of entering Hungary and saving Jews who were about to be deported to Auschwitz.

Learning that the Nazis had occupied Hungary, her colleagues, Yoel Palgi and Peretz Goldstein, decided to abandon the mission as too dangerous. But Senesh was undeterred and made her way to the border.

But as she attempted to enter the country, police discovered the British military transmitter she was carrying and arrested her.

Imprisoned in Budapest, she was repeatedly tortured, but refused to give away her colleagues or the code for her transmitter.

To exert even greater pressure on her, the authorities arrested her mother Katharine and held her the same jail. Katherine had no idea her daughter had left Palestine and was shocked when she encountered Senesh, showing the physical effects of torture.

Senesh still refused to talk in and in October she was convicted as spy and was sentenced to death.

She was executed by firing squad on November 7, 1944 at age 23.

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