Women of Valor: Partisans and Resistance Fighters
Katherine Szenes - Part III
We felt a definite change for the better, an improvement in conditions all along the line. The behaviour of the matrons became more humane, and a few prisoners were even liberated, one of my cellmates among them. Of course the ransoms demanded - and paid - for freedom were vast. We also heard that the Hungarian government would no longer tolerate citizens being transported beyond the country's border, and our prison was surrounded by police to protect us from deportations. Then, during the night of September 10-11, all the lights were suddenly turned on, and moaning, weeping and screams slashed the stillness of the early morning. We listened in terror, and learned that most of the Polish prisoners were being rounded up for deportation.
The following morning, September 11, a young prisoner working in the corridor called me to the door and told me Hannah had just been taken away, adding, "But don't worry about her. Wherever they've taken her, it can't be much worse than this."
Small consolation. That afternoon in the yard her cellmates confirmed the sickening news. I was destroyed, entirely without hope, my world at an end. They attempted to comfort me with stories of her bravery and goodness. They told me that before knowing her they had been despondent. She had brought spirit and hope to them, planned activities, taught them songs, games, dances, told them endless stories about Palestine, gave them Hebrew lessons. And proselytizing as always, she converted many to Zionism by tirelessly detailing the life on the settlements, the history of the Land, its promise for the future.
Rumours multiplied. Word spread that we were to be transferred to a better place. On September 12 they actually did take several from our cell, and two days after Hannah was taken away my name was read from a list, along with those of many of the other prisoners in my cell.
We were transported in huge vans to the internment camp of Kistarcsa, on the outskirtsof the city.4
On Yom Kippur ... everyone was suddenly released. Thanks to an order from the Minister of the Interior, the Kistarcsa internmentcamp was to be closed. It was late afternoon before the roll call was exhausted and the last prisoner released. I made my way to my sister's, who then lived in one of the Yellow Star-designated houses in Alkotmany Street. She could hardly believe her eyes when she saw me ...
The important news was that Hannah had sent word. The previous day a young Hungarian lawyer named Nanay had called on her at Conti Street prison, offering to defend her if the case came to trial. The young lawyer informed us that there were others involved with Hannah, also parachutists. I wanted to talk to Hannah and ask her what she wanted me to do. I explained this to Dr. Nanay, and he promised he would procure a visitor's pass for me within the next day or so.
A day or so later, Dr. Nanay came and took me to the Conti Street Prison where I was to be allowed ten minutes with Hannah. He left me there, and I waited in a tiny room until she appeared, flanked by two guards. She looked remarkably well. Naturally, our conversation was circumscribed, but at least we could embrace, and she opened a package I brought. I had unearthed a sewing set she had received as a child, and included it in the parcel. As an experienced ex-prisoner I knew the importance of such a thing. Everything delighted her, but this, above all.
I asked what she needed or wanted. She quickly replied, "Books ... good books ... as many as you can send. Reading is allowed here. But I warn you, you won't get them back because they're confiscated for the prison library. But more than anything else, I'd like a Bible. A Hebrew Bible."
Finally, she told me the important thing: "I'm going to be tried soon. I need a lawyer to defend me. Decide on someone as soon as possible.5
On October 28, I went to Margit Boulevard Prison and was appalled by the mob milling about. I waited in the antechamber of the courtroom bearing the sign, 'Hannah Senesh and Accomplices'. I was not allowed inside the courtroom.