Monday, December 26, 2016

Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh (2008)

Blessed Is the Match: The Life & Death of Hannah Senesh (2008)
Via: Youtube
I was unaware of this film, despite having seen many Holocaust films, including many documentaries; this requires immediate rectification. You must see Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh, if only to get a sense of what heroism is like in the flesh. The 2008 documentary film was directed by Roberta Grossman and written by Sophie Sartain and Roberta Grossman. The documentary gives some excellent background to the story of Hannah Senesh (also known as Hannah Szenes), born July 17, 1921 in Budapest, Hungary.

The PBS site writes about the making, by Roberta Grossman, of this independent film:
At age 22, Hannah Senesh parachuted into Nazi-occupied Europe in an effort to save the Jews of Hungary. As a poet and diarist, she left behind a body of work that has inspired generations. Narrated by Academy Award nominee Joan Allen, BLESSED IS THE MATCH is the first film to present the life story of this remarkable, talented, and complex woman.
Filmmaker Roberta Grossman first read Hannah’s diary in junior high school, and for the next 20 years continued to be inspired and captivated by her act of fighting back. A modern-day Joan of Arc — bold, brilliant, and uncommonly courageous — Hannah was safe in Palestine in 1944 when she joined the only military rescue mission for Jews during the Holocaust. After parachuting behind enemy lines, she was captured, tortured, and ultimately executed by the Nazis. Her mother, Catherine Senesh, witnessed the entire ordeal — first as a prisoner with Hannah and later as her advocate, braving the bombed-out streets of Budapest in a desperate attempt to save her daughter.
While Hannah Senesh is a figure of great renown in Israel, she remains largely unknown in the rest of the world. BLESSED IS THE MATCH brings this heroine to life through interviews with survivors who knew her — classmates at a Budapest girls’ school, kibbutz members in Palestine, prisoners from Hannah’s time in a Gestapo jail, and two of her fellow parachutists. With unprecedented access to Senesh family archive, including hundreds of unpublished letters and photos, the film uses Hannah’s diary entries, poetry, and correspondence with her mother to look back on the life of a talented and complex girl who came of age in a world descending into madness.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Or they don’t change sufficiently to become permanently anchored in our human conscience, which allows the return of dark forces that threaten humanity. Are they ever vanquished? A question that has no immediate answer. But we can learn from the past, from the story of this remarkable young woman, the Jewish Joan of Arc.

Such stories can inspire people long after they have taken place; they can inspire individuals who willingly, knowing the risk, take up the mantle to conquer the sources of evil and darkness that periodically take up residence in places that have forgotten to be vigilant against hate, discord & fear and, equally important, who fight to keep in proper perspective the eternal flame of love, the essence of life and the preciousness of light. The Flame. The Match. Such a desire is manifest in “setting the captives free.” There is no failure in such a desire.

The poem below, which is well known in Israel, is the one that Senesh penned in Yugoslavia (in Sardice, on May 2, 1944),  a couple of months after she had parachuted in behind enemy lines, with the aim of freeing Hungarian Jews scheduled for deportation to the Auschwitz death camps. But after crossing the border from Yugoslavia into Hungary, she was captured within hours by Hungarian police. She was handed over to the German Gestapo, who brutally tortured her, but Senesh did not divulge any information of her mission.

In retrospect the poem is prescient; Hannah Senesh was killed by a firing squad in the courtyard of a Budapest Gestapo prison on November 7, 1944. She refused a blindfold, wishing to face her murderers.

Ashrei Hagafurer
Related image

Blessed is the Match

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

You can hear an older earlier recording of the song [here].