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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.





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.





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.*




*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


Hanna Szenes (1921-1944)

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