Women of Valor: Partisans and Resistance Fighters
Katherine Szenes - Part I
After World War I, the Jews were blamed for all the ills of Hungary. But we felt in Hungary that what we heard from the Viennese refugees would not happen in Hungary. When the Nazis came to Hungary Giora and Hannah were both in Palestine. I looked to me that Jewry in Hungary would be saved - although Jews were denied all rights. A letter from Hannah arrived via Turkey. She said, "Get ready to leave, to come to us." I also heard that Kasztner had a plan to rescue Jews3. A representative of the Jewish community came to us on a Friday night and told us he was preparing exit visas to Palestine. There was a place for me on the transport and I was asked to take his 19-year-old daughter along. Before it came to pass I was arrested, 17, June, 1944. The doorbell rang at 8 a.m. A detective was at the door. He said I had to accompany him to the highest military court as a witness. I asked why, but he said he didn't know. I said I had forgotten to tell something to the actress who boarded with me. When we got to his office he allowed me to make a phone call. He was very humane (menschlikh). I called the actress and told her where I was. The detective asked me if I have children and where they were. I told him, yes, I had two children. I showed him on the map which hung on the wall, that they were in Palestine. They weren't interested in Georg, only in Hannah. There was a paper in the typewriter with the name Hannah Szenes on top. He asked, "When did she leave, how did she leave?" He said he understood perfectly why a young man would want to go out into the world, but a young woman? - why? What kind of company did she keep? Who were her friends? I answered she had attended the best schools, had the best kind of upbringing and she left Hungary for the same reason that my son left. There is no future for Jewish youth in this country. That is why she left for Palestine. He asked me if I knew where she was now. I told him I had no idea. We were only allowed to communicate through the Red Cross in 25 words. She wrote: "all is well" and I answered, "I am well." I tried to make him aware that my daughter is a highly unusual, very special human being, highly intelligent and very talented. Finally he said he would have this report typed up and I would have to swear on the Bible and sign that evey word was true. When that was done, he said to me, "What do you think, where is your daughter now?" "How many times have I told you?" I replied. "I don't know exactly. She lives on a farm near Haifa." I didn't want to say Kibbutz because I thought this dope wouldn't know what a kibbutz is. So he answered, "If you don't know, I will tell you. She is here in the next room and I'll bring her immediately. You will have to talk to her, to influence her to cooperate, to tell everything she knows. If this is not the case, it will be your last meeting with her>'
I grabbed the table because I was afraid I would fall. Four people brought Hannah in. I turned around, and if they hadn't told me it is Hannah, I would not have recognized her. It had been five years since I last saw her. It was not the change in her, but the way she looked. Her beautiful hair was in total disarray, her face showed marks of beatings. It was evident that she had been tortured. When she noticed me, she tore herself from her captors and ran to embrace me. I could feel her heart beating as we held each other. Her tears ran down; she said, "Mother, forgive me." They immediately told me to talk to her, to influence her. If not, this would be our last encounter.
I understood nothing. How did this child fall from heaven? I could never have fantasized that a child who such a pacifist could become an officer in the British Army. But one thing I knew - I never had to tell Hannah what she should do or say; she was so bright. If she did not want to say something, she must have serious reasons and I would in no way influence her. The man asked me why I was quiet, why I did not talk. All the officials were there and I told them it was not necessary for me to tell my daughter what to do. She heard them as well as I. They, however, were not satisfied. They said they would leave us alone, and that I must speak with Hannah and influence her.
We were unable to speak for quite a while. Then suddenly the thought struck me that it was my fault. The child heard what was going on in Hungary with Jews, and I knew she was strongwilled and could get things accomplished. So I asked her if what she was doing was my fault, but she assured me that I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I asked her about Giora and she told me he was fine, in Palestine. As she was talking, I noticed that she had a tooth missing and I associated it with the beatings. I wanted to hug and stroke her, and as I touched her, the officials stormed into the room and said it was not allowed to get close. They pulled us apart and sent Hannah out. They told me I could go home and if they needed me they would call me. I was emotionally drained and unable to move. The detective (the only one who was decent) told me I need not hurry; I could take my time. He accompanied me downstairs and told me to calm down and not to believe all the things I heard. Everything would be fine.