The title "Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh" is from a poem by Hannah Senesh. The match in question is one that lights a single candle and thereby brings a glimmer of light into the darkness. Within the context of this documentary, Hannah is the match.
Hannah Senesh, originally Szenes Anikó in her native Hungarian, was born in 1921 Budapest. When she graduated from school in 1939, European anti-Semitism led her to embrace Zionism, and she determined to emigrate to Palestine. Her older brother had already left for France, her father was dead, and her mother decided to remain in Hungary.
As the war dragged on, the situation for Jews in Europe grew more desperate, and Hannah trained with the British Special Operations Executive in Egypt. The Brits wanted to put native Hungarian speakers on the ground in Hungary to report on German movements, find escape routes for downed British flyers, and train local resistance fighters. Hannah was one of three women to volunteer.
As a military exercise, her operation was a total failure. She was one of four who parachuted into Yugoslavia, then crossed the border into Hungary. When one of the men in her group thought he was about to be captured, he shot himself and the sound drew Hungarian gendarmes. The unit finds a transmitter Hannah was to use to signal her handlers and turned her over to the Gestapo in Budapest.
One of her goals was to rescue as many Hungarian Jews as possible, as it had been learned that they were about to be shipped to Auschwitz. The Gestapo interrogators wanted to know the code she was to use when she sent messages to the SOE so they could feed disinformation to the Brits. Despite days of grueling "enhanced interrogation," Hannah refused to give anything up.
She had kept a diary for years. After the war, it and many of her poems were discovered in the kibbutz where she lived in Palestine. This material was published in 1946 and this " in addition to her courage under torture " made her a hero. She is still regarded as such in Israel.
The film is narrated by Joan Allen ("Death Race") and directed by Roberta Grossman. The first half of the story is illustrated mostly by family photographs and other period photos and art. The second half of the movie is mostly acted, although no dialogue is spoken. It's meant to invoke the feel of documentary footage without actually pretending to be period film.
Viewing "Blessed Is the Match" with young people is a good way to lead into a discussion of the Holocaust. Hannah's operation was the only military rescue mission of Jews during that time. The film is long on drama and the idea that even youth can try to overcome evil, but the film contains no gruesome imagery.
Once asked if she believed in God, Hannah replied that she did, but only as a symbol of everything that is good and innocent about the world. That kind of symbol is what Hannah has become for a lot of people, and maybe that's a good place to start.
"Blessed Is the Match" screens 7:30 p.m. Thursday and 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. "Doug Bentin