Hanna Szenes

The Spark

Translated from the Hungarian and edited by Thomas Ország-Land


THE EXECUTION 70 years ago of the poet Hanna Szenes (1921-1944) was marked in her native Budapest by a series of civic events on November 7. She emigrated as a Jewish youth to Palestine to escape rising Fascism in Europe, and eventually joined the British Army there. She was parachuted into partisan-held territory in Croatia, from where she trekked to neighbouring Hungary with a dual mission to rescue downed Allied aircrews and assist the Zionist resistance to the mass murder of Jews. She was betrayed, imprisoned, tortured and murdered. Today, she is revered as a war hero – and her songs, mostly about love, faith and nature, are sung the world over.

 
I.

This spark would gladly burn out
by igniting a flame,

her life would be fulfilled
in a flame igniting a blaze.

This spark would gladly give all
for a blaze to light up the hearts,

a blaze to light up the world
and raise a hope for life.

 
II.

Just seven steps: the length
of this cell.
Two steps across. I can even tell
how long my life will last.

Just seven days, at the least.
That’s a week.
I might perhaps last out the month,
but I must not doubt the end.

I won’t be twenty three
in July.
I knew the risks. The stakes were high.
I played for life. I lost.*

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*This was the poet’s final testimony. The poem appears in Survivors: Hungarian Jewish Poets of the Holocaust, an anthology translated and edited by Thomas Ország-Land (Smokestack Books/England, 2014).

Hanna Szenes © 2014
Translation: Thomas Ország-Land © 2014

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Hanna Szenes (1921-1944)