Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

A Voice Called: Seventy Years without Chana

A voice called. 
I went. 

I went, for it called. 

I went, lest I fall.


At the crossroads

I blocked both ears with white frost

And cried

For what I had lost.”


– Chana Szenesh – Caesarea, 1942

This week, seventy years ago on November 7, 1944, Chana Szenesh entered eternity. She was a visionary poet who felt that she had been chosen for a special mission, Chana Szenesh z”l left the kibbutz she had helped to build, Sedot Yam,  and parachuted into Nazi-Occupied-Europe in an attempt to rescue her Jewish brethren trapped in her native Hungary at the tail end of the war. She was caught, imprisoned, tortured and killed at age twenty-three.

To commemorate the anniversary of her death letters she wrote to her friends and family have been compiled into a new book, “Hanna Szenes: Letters 1935-1944” (in Hebrew, At Livadech Tavini, or “You Alone Will Understand”). The letters provide exclusive insight into the woman behind the famous persona. As Yaakov Bar-On notes:

While Hanna Szenes is undoubtedly a hero, celebrated for her poetry and her bravery as a paratrooper, she was also a young girl, excited by the work that kibbutz life demanded, interested in her culture, contemplative about men and dedicated to her family.”

As the nation of Israel commemorates the yahrzeit of Hannah, the renowned historian, Sir Martin Gilbert, best answers the question of whether her mission, and that of her 31 compatriots, was a success.  Gilbert noted that:

Hundreds of millions of Europeans were captive peoples and here was this little group who said we are going to try and do something.”

The fact that their mission even took place was a success itself. From its conception it was a poetic, almost romantic, plan: that this small group of young Palestinian Jews would attempt to try and stop the Nazi juggernaut. Rather than stay in their comfort zone in the safety of the Land of Israel, these youngsters volunteered to enter the iron furnace of Nazi-occupied Europe in an attempt to try and help their Jewish brothers and sisters.

Chana Szenesh

Chana Szenesh.  Illustration, Tuvia Book (c) 2014

Shockingly, their mission was the only Allied military rescue attempt for Jews of the entire war!  On paper their mission might be classified as a failure, but Chana and her fellow volunteers understood that to sit by and do nothing would be even worse.  Dialogue concerning the mortal threat of European Jewry was not enough – action was necessary!  They understood the power of the individual to lead by example and to try and change the world for the better.  In the words of the Mishnaic sage Rabbi Tarfon:

It is not up to you to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from trying.”

(Avot, 2:21) 

This is why Chana, and her fellow Jewish mission members, continue to serve as role models for our youth!

It takes just one small match to light up the darkness.  In that darkest night of the Jewish people, during the Holocaust of our people, Chana’s selfless actions can best be summed up in her own words, in the last poem she wrote before she crossed into occupied Hungary:

Blessed is the heart with strength to stop

its beating for honour’s sake.

Blessed is the match consumed

in kindling flame.”


-Chana Szenesh, 1944

Chana has been a role model for youth for the past seven decades because of her selflessness and dedication to the Zionist enterprise. We all know that there are many problems in this world but how many of us get up and do something about it? Often the voice calls us, but we choose to ignore it. One of Chana’s poems she wrote in her brief and peaceful sojourn in the Land of Israel starts: “A voice called, and I went. I went because it called.” The example of these idealistic youths is needed more than ever today. May her memory and deeds serve as an inspiration and a blessing.

About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He was a Senior Editor and Teaching Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. He is a research associate at the Hudson Institute. Tuvia is the author and illustrator the internationally acclaimed Israel education curriculum; "For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Studies" (Fifth edition, Koren 2017), and "Moral Dilemmas of the Modern Israeli Soldier" (Rama, 2011) and has a doctorate in Israel Education. His latest book, "Jewish Journeys, The Second Temple Period to the Bar Kokhba Revolt – 536 BCE-136 CE," was published by Koren this year. To order:
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