Hannah Szenes was a Hungarian born poet and paratrooper, who is remembered both for her poetry as well as for her bravery and martyrdom.
Born in 1921, Szenes was schooled at a local Protestant school in Budapest, but faced much anti-Semitism there. These injustices eventually prompted her to embrace Judaism seriously, and she soon took up Zionist causes.
Graduating in 1939, she emigrated to Palestine and joined a kibbutz shortly thereafter. By 1943, she had enlisted as a paratrooper for the British Special Operations Executive, and began her training in Egypt.
On a secret mission in 1944, Szenes and two other male soldiers parachuted into Yugoslavia with the intention of aiding partisan groups in the area. When they learned that Hungary had already come under German control, Szenes' companions decided to abort the mission. However, Szenes herself was undeterred and continued towards the border.
Unfortunately, she was arrested and imprisoned for more than six months. During this time, she worked doggedly to improve the morale of other prisoners, and refused to divulge military secrets despite repeated interrogations and torture. Without a proper trial, Hannah Szenes was executed by firing squad in November 1944 for treason.
In prison, Szenes kept a diary where she wrote poetry. After the war, her diary and poetry were published and are now widely read throughout the world. One of her Hebrew poems, commonly known as Eli, Eli (“My God, My God”), was made into a famous Israeli song. The poem reads in English:
My God, My God, I pray that these things never end,
The sand and the sea,
The rush of the waters,
The crash of the Heavens,
The prayer of Man.