Independent Lens: Blessed is the Match

Independent Lens: Blessed is the Match

Tue, 04/13/2010 - 10:00pm

Shown: Hannah Senesh and a soldier, Palestine, 1943

Credit: Hannah Senesh Legacy Foundation

The first documentary feature about Hannah Senesh, the World War II-era poet and diarist who became a paratrooper, resistance fighter and modern-day Joan of Arc.

Independent Lens "BLESSED IS THE MATCH" airs Tuesday, March 13 at 10 p.m. on WXXI- TV( DT 21.1/ cable 1011 and 11).

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.
Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret fastness of the heart.
Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor’s sake.
Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.

—Hannah Senesh, written days before her capture by the Nazis

At age 22, Hannah Senesh parachuted into Nazi-occupied Europe in an effort to save the Jews of Hungary. As a poet and diarist, she left behind a body of work that has inspired generations. Narrated by Academy Award nominee Joan Allen, BLESSED IS THE MATCH is the first film to present the life story of this remarkable, talented, and complex woman.

Filmmaker Roberta Grossman first read Hannah’s diary in junior high school, and for the next 20 years continued to be inspired and captivated by her act of fighting back. A modern-day Joan of Arc — bold, brilliant, and uncommonly courageous — Hannah was safe in Palestine in 1944 when she joined the only military rescue mission for Jews during the Holocaust. After parachuting behind enemy lines, she was captured, tortured, and ultimately executed by the Nazis. Her mother, Catherine Senesh, witnessed the entire ordeal — first as a prisoner with Hannah and later as her advocate, braving the bombed-out streets of Budapest in a desperate attempt to save her daughter.

While Hannah Senesh is a figure of great renown in Israel, she remains largely unknown in the rest of the world. BLESSED IS THE MATCH brings this heroine to life through interviews with survivors who knew her — classmates at a Budapest girls’ school, kibbutz members in Palestine, prisoners from Hannah’s time in a Gestapo jail, and two of her fellow parachutists. With unprecedented access to Senesh family archive, including hundreds of unpublished letters and photos, the film uses Hannah’s diary entries, poetry, and correspondence with her mother to look back on the life of a talented and complex girl who came of age in a world descending into madness.

BLESSED IS THE MATCH is also a mother-daughter love story. Catherine’s raw and revelatory memoirs complement the youthful writings of her daughter, and provide the film with its emotional core. As a worried mother, Catherine watches her child drift away, pursue her own path, and then make the ultimate sacrifice. The film honors Hannah’s legacy, but also captures her motivations in an effort to explain why she chose to act against evil. In her 1942 poem “Eli Eli,” Hannah wrote “God, may there be no end to sea, to sand, water’s splash, lightning’s flash. The prayer of man.”