To the long line of legendary heroes of Israel, the Second World War has added the gallant band of young men and women known as the parachutists from Palestine. One of them has been called a “Jewish Joan of Arc”—Hanna Szenes, who was shot by a Nazi firing squad in Budapest in 1944. Last fall when I was in Palestine her picture—that of a smiling young girl in an officer’s uniform—was displayed everywhere. Her diary was just being published; and a poem she had written shortly before her death was constantly being recited and sung.
The poem consists of four lines which, translated literally from the Hebrew, read:
Blessed is the match that is 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 that is consumed
in kindling flame!
Hanna was one of the thirty-two parachutists from Palestine who dropped from British planes into Yugoslavia, Rumania, Slovakia and northern Italy to carry on secret military activities and—if possible—to help Jews escape from Europe. Each of them has a story of courage, suffering and accomplishment. The special aureole around Hanna Szenes is due not solely to her sex and tragic death but perhaps equally to her moving and articulate diary—already a classic of modern Palestine.
Unlike Joan of Arc she did not conquer the enemy, nor did she succeed in saving her people. Even if she had been Joan’s equal in vision and power, she could not have become a 20th-century equivalent of the Maid. For she was the heroine of a people without armies to be led and without a land in which to lead them. But the very enormity of the obstacles she-and her parachutist comrades—faced, the hopelessness of the odds, give grandeur to achievements which were modest reckoned in military or global terms.
Hanna, born in Budapest on July 21, 1921, was the daughter of a wealthy and distinguished Hungarian Jewish family. Her father was a writer of reputation, her mother a woman of culture and grace. She herself was a precocious girl with marked literary gifts who had a brilliant school career in Budapest. Hers was an assimilated family and perhaps, if not for Hitler, Hanna would have become a minor Hungarian poet instead of a major Jewish heroine. However, once the Jewish issue had been posed by Nazi ferocity, Hanna, though living in the comfort and apparent safety of a well-to-do Hungarian home, refused to evade it. She decided to go to Palestine.
Her father had died, and Hanna, who was always passionately attached to her widowed mother and brother, knew what suffering she was inflicting on her family. She described her mother as “a great heroine,” and said, “This is a great sacrifice for her”—but she was driven by a cause she held holy.
In 1939, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, she was already in the agricultural school of Nahalal in Palestine, training herself for a life on the soil. It was a very different world from that of Budapest. More than one enthusiast who came to Palestine full of a poetic fervor for “pioneering” found his resolution unequal to the severity of the test—to the actual business of draining swamps and “making the desert bloom.” Hanna was conscious of the talents and potentialities she was denying. A play she wrote shortly after her arrival in Palestine reflects her conflict. But she believed the individual must subordinate himself to the general good. “I have chosen to work on the soil. I want to be a part of the working class in Palestine. This is not theoretical, because it permeates all my actions.”
She visits Kfar Gileadi, in northern Galilee, where the Jewish hero Trumpeldor and those who fell with him in defense of the settlement lie buried. The wild beauty of the Galilean hills and the memories associated with this place stir the young girl deeply. She observes in her diary: “In the freshness of the dawn, I understand why Moses received God’s command in the morning. In the mountains, the question arises of itself: ‘Whom shall I send?’”
And she answers the question: “Whom shall I send? Send me to serve the good and the beautiful.” And though she adds, as any young girl might, “Will I be able?” the fundamental assurance that she must be sent, although she is as yet uncertain as to what form this sending must take, is hers already.
She is a good worker in the school and later in the cooperative settlement of Caesarea which she joins. She can scrub clothes and clean the chicken coops with the best of them. But despite her competence, her cheerful and hardheaded manner, she is obsessed—and her diary gives evidence of it-by the need to aid her martyred brothers. She keeps describing the “absurd dreams” she has of somehow reaching Hungary in the midst of the war.
Suddenly the absurdity becomes real. She is approached by the organizers of the parachutists’ group and is accepted for training in Cairo. She will reach the Jews of Hungary, descending from the skies in a parachutist’s uniform. Best of all, she will try to rescue her widowed mother who remained behind in Budapest.
So Hanna Szenes became part of that daring group whose activities were until recently a closely guarded military secret. The history of the parachutists began in August 1942 when a group of women who had been exchanged for German war prisoners arrived in Palestine. They were the first to bring word from behind the iron walls that enclosed Europe of the slaughter houses established by the Germans in Poland and occupied Russia. Plans for bringing help began to take shape wherever there were free Jewish communities. Most of these plans resolved themselves into protest meetings “to arouse the conscience of the world.”
But the 600,000 Jews of the Yishuv (the Jewish community of Palestine) determined that whatever the obstacles, the perishing Jews of Europe had to be reached. This effort which assumed many forms reached perhaps its most spectacular climax in the venture of the parachutists.
Jewish organizations had established rescue centers wherever possible in unoccupied Europe and the Balkans. As the German armies advanced it became clear that efforts to penetrate Nazi Europe from without had to be supplemented by a bold attempt to land within the fortress itself. This could only be done from the air. Parachutists could be dropped into enemy territory. If they landed successfully they could establish contact with the local underground movements and devise methods of organizing resistance and rescue.
The conception was brilliant and daring. However, it obviously could not be carried out by the Jews of Palestine alone. Whatever was done had to be undertaken with the approval and cooperation of the British military authorities. The attempt to persuade the British of the feasibilty of such a plan began early in 1943.
The British had to be convinced that the general war effort would be aided by the venture. Fortunately there were sound reasons for using Palestinians as parachutists. Many of the young men and women of Palestine had originally come from the Balkans. They knew the Rumanian, Bulgarian, Hungarian and Croatian languages thoroughly; they were familiar with the territory and local conditions. They were obviously ideal for securing information, for establishing contacts with underground movements and partisans and for assisting the escape of prisoners of war. At the same time the Palestinians made no secret of the fact that in the course of their activities they would seek to rescue the Jews of Europe wherever and however possible.
The British intelligence, through whom such a proposal had to be negotiated, at first hesitated to use the Palestinians. Throughout the negotiations snags would arise, not military, but political in character. The British military authorities were much more kindly disposed toward this plan than the statesmen in London. However, official reluctance was finally overcome by compelling military considerations. In 1943 the oil fields of Ploesti in Rumania were bombarded by the Allies. An extremely large number of American aviators were downed. Apparently there had been a breakdown in the intelligence service which should have given adequate warning of the defenses at Ploesti.
It was decided at last to use the Palestinian volunteers. They would be given training as parachutists and dropped in the Balkans as developments would require. The first group began training in the beginning of 1943. From the outset it was established that the chief objective of the parachutists was to carry out the military tasks to which they had been assigned. Only after their purely military missions had been accomplished, or in so far as it might further these missions, were they free to act in behalf of the salvation of European Jewry. This was a strict agreement strictly honored by those who entered the group. On this understanding the Hagana (Jewish Defense Organization of Palestine) furnished volunteers.
The volunteers were all members of agricultural settlements; their life in Palestine had been that of pioneers. By temperament and training they were young people accustomed to putting ideals into practice.
Two hundred and forty parachutists were I trained. Thirty-two reached their destinations, of whom eight were put to death. The numbers are not large, but when one remembers that the entire British Empire at no time had more than about 250 parachutists working behind enemy lines, the thirty-two parachutists from Palestine do not appear so few.
Among those who returned with their missions accomplished were two of Hanna’s comrades—Joel and Reuben Dafni-from whom we know the story of Hanna’s end. The picture is rounded out by her diary.
Soon after she was asked to join the parachutists Hanna wrote: “I feel a fatality in this, just as in the time before I went to Palestine. Then too I was not my own master. I was caught by an idea that did not let me rest. I knew that I would enter Palestine, no matter what difficulties were in my way. Now I again feel this tension toward an important and necessary task—as well as the inevitability of the task. Possibly nothing will come of all this. I may receive a brief notice telling me the plan has been abandoned, or that I will not be accepted. But I think that I have the maximal capacities for this task-and I shall fight with all my strength for it.”
Before Hanna could go she had to receive the consent of her settlement. A member of a collective settlement is not an independent agent; the needs of the group as a whole are paramount. The first question to be decided is whether the farm can afford to dispense with the services of the particular member. At a meeting of the commune Hanna explained as much of the project as she could and asked for the right to leave. She had little difficulty in arousing the enthusiasm and faith of her fellows.
During the training period as a parachutist she showed herself completely fearless. The great physical courage of this sensitive and imaginative girl impressed everyone. That she should prove to have the kind of instinctive bravery which one associates with simpler human types and rarely finds in women was something for which even her friends had not been prepared.
When the arduous days of training were over the action to come was outlined. The plan of Hanna’s group was necessarily broad and flexible. The parachutists, four men and one woman, were to be dropped in Yugoslavia—in territory controlled by Tito’s partisans. From there assignments were divided. Some were to remain in Yugoslavia but Hanna was to try to cross into Hungary. The parachutists, particularly Hanna, had been eager to be dropped directly into Hungary but the military authorities refused on the ground that this would be too risky.
The group left Cairo for Italy. The jump into Yugoslavia was to be made from Brindisi. The crew of the plane were Poles who were amazed to learn that the parachutists were Hebrew-speaking Palestinians with a girl among them. This was a new type of Jew indeed!
On March 3, 1944 at 1 A.M. on a beautiful moonlit night the jump was made. The parachutists wore British uniforms and if captured were to represent themselves as Palestinian members of the British air force who had met with an accident over enemy territory. If captured they were to make every effort to establish their right to be treated as prisoners-of-war. Otherwise they would be shot as spies. Some of Tito’s partisans had been contacted previously and had been informed of the plans. Now the problem was whether the parachutists would succeed in landing in the designated territory.
The pilot misjudged the distance and dropped them eight miles from the correct spot. The four men found each other immediately after they came down. But Hanna, who was lighter and weaker, could not fight against a wind that was carrying her away and drifted off in a different direction. The men could not find Hanna for some time. In the meantime two figures approached who challenged them in Slovenian. Reuben answered in English, not knowing whether they were partisans or quislings. Then in the clear moonlight he saw the red star on his questioners’ caps. They were Tito’s men.
The signal that friends had come was given to other partisans in the hills. They came down and welcomed the Palestinians with their greeting: “Death to fascism; freedom to the people.”
Together they started to search for Hanna. After about an hour she was found. The partisans were extremely cordial, though they were Slovenians, among whom anti-Semitic feeling was rife. At a banquet which they gave the parachutists later, one of the welcomers declared that they were glad to have in their midst representatives of a people who had suffered from fascism even more than the Slovenians. To the partisans everything about the parachutists were remarkable: they were Jews; they were Palestinians; and they were members of a collective settlement. Tito’s men listened with respectful interest to the descriptions of the Jewish kolkhoz. The presence of a pretty young girl among the parachutists was, as might be expected, an additional source for marvel.
Military headquarters in the woods were contacted, as well as the British and American missions with Tito. The work was in the process of organization when a catastrophic turn in events compelled a complete revision of the plans. On March 18 Germany invaded Hungary. According to the original plan Hanna was to have entered Hungary as a Jewish refugee. Now this scheme was no longer feasible. Another method of smuggling across the border had to be found.
Reuben Dafni began to work on his special military mission, which was to assist in the escape of American prisoners and stranded airmen. Great American air attacks were being carried out over Hungary and Ploesti at the time—and many American aviators were being downed. It was essential to aid the fallen fliers to reach partisan territory from which they could be passed along further to the Adriatic coast. Reuben plotted maps which indicated exactly where liberated territory was to be found and what sections were in no man’s land. These maps, supplemented by radio information, served as guides. Leaflets were composed asking the cooperation of civilians; searching parties for stranded aviators were organized. Many an American aviator is now living safely at home because the Palestinian parachutists successfully completed their missions. (The Nazis, the British and Tito all showed their appreciation of Reuben’s work. The Germans set a price of 10,000 marks on his head. The British and Tito each decorated him for exceptional gallantry.)
With the arrival of the second group of Palestinian parachutists from Cairo it was decided that Reuben should remain in Yugoslavia to continue his work. Hanna, together with Joel, a member of the new contingent, was to attempt to cross into Hungary—now completely Nazi-occupied. To increase the chances of success the attempt was to be made at two different places, Hanna traveling with one group, Joel with another.
Hanna arranged with Reuben that within three weeks after her departure she would send a message. If no message arrived the assumption would be that she had been captured. A boat containing two partisans would wait near one of the islands in Drava for a messenger who was to return together with a group of prisoners and refugees. The messenger from Hungary would say “List” (leaf) and the partisan in the boat would reply “Shuma” (forest) to indicate her safe arrival.
In her pocket Hanna carried the papers of a Jewish Hungarian girl who had married a Christian Yugoslav, a partisan—certificates of birth, baptism and citizenship, together with a photograph which resembled Hanna. She had a signal code which she had received in Bari and another with which to contact Reuben. She had been supplied with the addresses of two trustworthy proallies in Budapest. She left Reuben confidently, with the assurance that her great work was to begin.
Reuben kept watch at the designated spot for six weeks, returning periodically for news. No word came.
Hanna was betrayed by local peasants and arrested as she tried to cross the border. Joel and his fellow-parachutist, Perez, a boy of nineteen, reached Budapest but were arrested a few days later. They were all put in the same prison.
Joel and Hanna learned of each other’s presence in the prison but a face-to-face meeting could not be managed. They did, however, contrive other methods of communication since their cells, two floors apart, both faced the courtyard. In the morning when the sun was on his side Joel would flash Morse code signals with a mirror; she would answer in the afternoon when she had sunlight. With her usual ingenuity Hanna devised ways of keeping in touch with her fellow-prisoners. She would cut large letters out of paper and place them one after another in her window until a word had been spelled out. At first her mood was good and she was confident that eventually she would be freed.
Finally, after two months and by means of bribery, Joel and Hanna managed to meet. Hanna gave Joel no details of the torture to which she had been put by the Gestapo and the Hungarian police, but he knew of what had taken place from the reports of other prisoners. But on the whole Hanna looked well, though she had been subjected to severe and lengthy questionings.
The Hungarian police had found her radio code and her radio apparatus. When they failed to break her down into revealing the code and its purpose they hit upon something they thought would be even more persuasive. They located her mother—the beloved mother, whom Hanna had dreamed of saving-and brought her face to face with Hanna.
Those who have read Hanna’s diary and poems know how deep was her attachment to her mother and how bitter her self-reproaches about what she conceived to be her “unfilial” conduct. The five years in Palestine were lived under the cloud of this separation and of the sense of guilt from which she suffered—particularly because the mother had been unfailingly tender, understanding and sympathetic.
When at last they met, it was in a Hungarian prison under the eyes of police who threatened that the mother would be killed unless Hanna revealed the nature of her mission. But Hanna did not tell.
A year after her daughter’s death the mother described the fatal prison interview to me in Palestine. Before she was taken to Hanna, the police official tried to discover whether Mrs. Szenes had had any inkling of her daughter’s activities. He kept asking: “Where is your daughter now?” and she kept answering, “In Palestine.” Finally he said to her: “She is in the next room. Persuade her to speak, otherwise this will be your last meeting.”
Hanna was brought in. She ran up to her mother, embraced her and began to weep, crying: “Mother, forgive me.”
She was not in uniform. Her clothes were disordered, her hair disheveled. She had a bruise under one eye and one of her teeth was broken. Even as the mother spoke to me, a year after the girl’s death, I could see that she was still troubled by the bruise and the broken tooth.
Mother and daughter were left alone for a few minutes. Stunned and bewildered, the mother kept asking “Why are you not in Palestine? Why are you here?” to which Hanna did not answer. And she also kept asking “Are you hurt?” to which Hanna said “No.”
For a while, mother and daughter were in the same prison. There were occasions when they had brief, stolen meetings, sometimes while at exercise in the courtyard, sometimes through the connivance of a sympathetic attendant. And each time the mother would ask, “What have you undertaken?” But on this point Hanna was silent. Finally the mother asked: “Was it something of Jewish interest?” and Hanna said, “You are on the right track.” And when the mother questioned: “Is it worth while to risk your life for such an idealistic impulse?” Hanna answered simply: “For me it is worth while.”
In October Hungary capitulated and the political prisoners were jubilant. Each had a dream to fulfil. The Palestinians talked of meeting Hanna, going to a hotel for a big dinner and a hot bath-all the things they had not had in the months of imprisonment. But the fascist coup followed fast on the surrender and the brief interlude of hope was over.
Within a few days the men were brought before a court-martial; Hanna was to be tried in a regular court. This encouraged Joel and Perez to believe that while they were certain to be shot, Hanna would survive to tell the story of their work to the world.
Hanna was the first to be tried; accounts of the trial come from eyewitnesses and Joel’s informants in the prison. She was brave and made the kind of responses to her judges that might have been expected of her. The prosecutor demanded the death penalty. Perhaps the judges were impressed by the girl’s valor, and touched by her youth and charm—in any case they did not pass sentence at once. Hanna was remanded to her cell. An officer came to her on November 6, 1944 and told her she had been condemned to death. Did she wish to plead for mercy? Hanna answered that she had been condemned by a lower court and demanded the right to appeal to a higher court. Again she was asked whether she wanted mercy. She answered: “I ask for no mercy from hangmen.”
In her last hours she was permitted to write letters to her mother and her comrades. The letters were never received.
November 7 was a cold, foggy autumn day. Hanna was brought into the courtyard. Witnesses say she refused to have her eyes bound, but stood straight and unmoving as the order to fire was given. Joel heard the shots in his cell. As a rule the prisoners could tell when an execution was taking place. They were familiar with the sequence: the tramp of the firing squad, the beating of the drums, the shots. This time only rifle shots were heard. They could see nothing. But through one of the prisoners who reported sick and talked with the doctors and attendants, they learned the news. Their hopes had been vain—Hanna had been executed.
When the mother told me of her daughter’s death before a firing-squad, she said, “She was so young, so gifted, and so young!” And I knew that Hanna’s glory in Palestine, the freshly published volume of her poems, the memorial meetings in her honor, were small comfort. The grave in the “Lot of the Martyrs” in the Jewish cemetery of Budapest where Hanna lay buried had more reality.
As for Hanna’s prison comrades, Joel survived, escaping from a moving train on the way to Germany, but Perez was executed in Germany. Joel managed to get back to Budapest where, following the October fascist coup, wholesale massacres of Jews were taking place. Allied prisoners of war were also in acute danger. Joel contacted the underground movement, helped organize resistance to the fascists and aided in the rescue of Jews and the concealment of prisoners until the Red Army entered Budapest.
Reuben in Yugoslavia working with the partisans, Joel and Hanna in Hungary—these are only a few of the names of those who went and did what they could to fight the Nazis and to rescue the Jews of Europe. Another was Avi, one of the parachutists from Palestine who entered Rumania. Avi is a shepherd. A mild, blue-eyed chap who originally came from Rumania, he had spent his years in Palestine in an agricultural settlement where he had tended sheep.
He had started training as a parachutist with considerable misgivings. The leisurely pace of tending sheep was hardly preparation for the task before him. Unlike Reuben and Joel who had been soldiers he had no natural aptitude for his new venture. His wife, his child, his sheep, had filled his life. But the cry of the Jews of Europe reached him in the fields of the Emek; many shepherds were needed for the flock beset by wild beasts. Avi told me that he found strength in remembering the favorite characters of Jewish folklore—simple men who performed miracles for the nation—shoemakers or tailors who became capable of fantastic feats in a moment of exaltation. “You see,” he said to me, “it is not the wonder-rabbis who become our saviors. In the legends, it is the plain, humble man. The shoemaker who is able to kvitza hederech (leap over the road), he is the original parachutist!”
In the fall of 1943 after a brief training period Avi and Aryee, another Palestinian, were dropped in Rumania. Owing to bad visibility they were dropped not on the designated point but amidst anti-aircraft fire in a small Rumanian town. Aryee fell in the courtyard of a police station where he was promptly seized; he was later sent to Germany. Avi landed on a roof-top, breaking his leg in the fall. He too was arrested in the morning.
This seemed like a hopeless end to the mission. What could be accomplished by a prisoner of war lying with his leg in a cast in a Rumanian prison hospital? The first problem naturally was to prevent the Rumanians from discovering his identity or the nature of his mission. Since he was captured in uniform—that of a British lieutenant—Avi was in a position to insist on his rights as a prisoner of war. He claimed that he and his companion had been obliged to bail out because of engine trouble. As a Palestinian he could be a British airman without knowing English. However the Rumanians were suspicious. They accused him at once of being a native Rumanian who had been deliberately dropped for some secret allied task. Avi’s great concern was to keep them from discovering that he knew Rumanian.
He spoke only German to his interrogators and the Rumanians kept trying to trap him by wearing him down physically and nervously. His leg was in a bad state—infected and badly fractured—and he was in great pain. His captors deliberately neglected him, ignoring his simplest requests, on the theory that in a moment of distress and impatience he would betray his knowledge of Rumanian. When the cast on his leg bothered him especially the nurse would manipulate the leg in some particularly painful manner and ask in Rumanian, “Does this hurt?”
Though he was bedridden, Avi managed to establish contact with the Jewish underground in Bucharest and so carry out part of his mission. After tactful probing he established friendly relations with a soldier and a nurse, both of whom began to assist him. By means of these go-betweens whose cooperation was absolutely trustworthy a regular correspondence developed between Avi and centers in Bucharest, Constantinople and Cairo.
Once Avi knew that his contacts with the outside world had been established, he began to think in terms of carrying out a principal point in his program—to help in the escape of American and British prisoners of war. He made his presence and purpose known to an American major in the prison, and began to work out plans for escape.
The stories of the tunnels dug, the flights at night, can be duplicated by any account of a prisoner-of-war camp. What is significant, however, is how Avi from his sick, bed managed to spin the thread which made the schemes practicable. For instance, in order to escape, the prisoners had to be provided with maps of the surrounding country, with money, with flashlights. A wirecutter to cut the wires around the camp was an essential. Once he had made his contacts with the Jewish underground Avi secured these things. The chain went from Avi to a doctor who came daily to the hospital, to a center of comrades in Bucharest and from there radiated out to Istanbul and Cairo. It became possible to make requests known to British and American headquarters and when these requests were fulfilled, to bring the needed items to the prison camp. All this involved daily danger, but the Rumanians never discovered that Avi was the central figure in many of the escapes.
When the Rumanian armistice took place in August 1944 there were 1,000 American aviators in Bucharest. In the chaotic period before new authorities took over it was essential that these aviators be concealed and enabled to escape, as it was feared that the Germans might march in at any time. The Germans immediately began an intensive bombardment of Bucharest which lasted for several days. During this period, under the direction of Avi and with the help of the Jewish underground the aviators were provided with civilian clothes, places for hiding, money and medication. During the bombardment, the only functioning taxi employed to bring the imprisoned aviators out of the prison camps was that of the Jewish underground. Radio communication was established with Cairo. Thanks to all these measures the aviators were kept safe till the Americans could take them out of Rumania. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that due to the immediate assistance given by the facilities of the Jewish underground many American airmen are today free and alive who might otherwise have been lost. Thus Avi completed his mission despite the initial bad luck of his accident.
In each country into which they penetrated, the parachutists succeeded in completing at least part of what they set out to do. In Rumania, through their knowledge of the country and their contacts with the Jewish underground, they were able to prepare stores of maps, compasses and other essential equipment, to secure living quarters inside Bucharest where fleeing prisoners of war could be hidden and finally to help American and British prisoners to escape. When Bucharest was in danger of being recaptured by the Germans they helped to organize resistance in the Jewish quarter. These groups formed part of the general resistance movement of the workers of Bucharest who rose to defend their city against the Nazis till the Red Army entered.
In Yugoslavia they worked as liaison officers with the partisans and tried to maintain the links with Hungary and Rumania. One member of a group dropped in Yugoslavia reached Austria, the first allied airman to do so.
Slovakia also had its Palestinian parachutists. In September 1944, during the Slovak partisan uprising, a mission of five left Italy by plane for Yugoslavia. One of these was Haviva, a young woman who, like Hanna Szenes, lost her life in the course of the mission. They set up a wireless station and established contact with the Jewish underground in German-occupied Slovakia. They assisted hundreds of refugees liberated from forced labor camps. With the help of local Jewish resistance groups they formed a Jewish partisan unit which went into the mountains two days before the town in which they operated was recaptured by Germans. Three of the five, including Haviva, were killed in a German raid on their camp.
In May 1944 Enzo Sereni was parachuted into northern Italy, in the area still occupied by the Germans. His task too was to organize the escape of allied war prisoners and to aid in Italian resistance. A son of the personal physician of the King of Italy, a scholar and adventurer with a touch of the Italian condottiere, a Zionist who became a halutz long before Hitler’s advent, Enzo Sereni is as much a legend in Palestine as Hanna Szenes. The other parachutists idolized him as teacher and leader. It was Enzo who with characteristic confidence assured his young comrades when they parted in Bari: “Remember, only he dies who wants to die.” He was captured and executed in Dachau at the age of 39.
For the Jews of Europe, the parachutists’ appearance was the sign that the tomb in which they were perishing was not sealed. Every Jewish community heard of the parachutists. In Yugoslavia Jewish partisans marched for miles to see Reuben. The story of Avi spread throughout Rumania. Of course all kinds of fairy-tales sprang up around these men and women. Their numbers grew in the popular mind; the nature of their deeds assumed a more spectacular character. This idealization was inevitable. The combination of desperate need and poetic answer was bound to create the myth.
As every rational expectation of help proved illusory, as no great power intervened, no outraged Christian world took action, hope began to center on the “homeland”—the only place which offered welcome—if it could be reached. When the miracle took place and the “homeland” sent its sons and daughters into the abyss, it is understandable what emotions were aroused.
For many, the parachutists from Palestine were an affirmation of faith. They flashed across the murk of Nazi Europe and brought light even when they could not bring life.
“Blessed is the match that is consumed in kindling flame.”