Hannah Szenes: A Song of Light explores Resistance During the Holocaust
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Hannah Szenes: A Song of Light explores Resistance During the Holocaust

Grades: High School (9-12) 
Book Title: Hannah Szenes: A Song of Light

Author: Maxine Rose Schur

Illustrator: Donna Ruff

Book Summary:

Hannah Szenes was in her early twenties when she left the relative safety of her new home in what is now Israel to parachute into Yugoslavia to help free Jews there and in her native Hungary. Captured and branded a traitor, Szenes was tried and executed as a spy and traitor. A Song of Light tells Hannah’s story and gives us the opportunity to meet a remarkable young woman whose spirit and commitment to life led her to risk her own life to save others. The book includes many of the verses of poetry Hannah wrote and through her words we gain insight into a person who, from the age of six, was determined to “make a difference in the world.…”

Topic(s) Addressed:

The Holocaust, Resistance, Courage, Israel, Pursuing Justice

Enduring Understandings:

  • One candle can illuminate the darkness. 
  • The courage and heroism of the up-stander, that person who stands up to right a wrong, despite the personal risks, are the qualities needed if we are to pursue justice. 
  • Hannah Szenes left a relatively safe home to join the Haganah, the Jewish Palestinian defense unit of the British Army. Tragically, in trying to save the lives of lives of Jewish citizens in Europe, she lost hers. 
  • Hannah’s belief in the importance of a Jewish homeland was reflected in her actions and words.

Be Inspired:The ideas included are offered as starting points as you and your students explore, discover and live the lessons. Be sure to elicit and encourage student and parent participation, consistently reinforcing the value being addressed. Allow lessons to authentically develop and change based on engagement and interests.

Lesson Plan Components

For the educatorJewish Thought, Text, and Traditionsmore

Jewish every dayIncorporate Jewish Valuesmore

Materials and resourcesmore


Copy (book or digital) of Hannah Szenes: A Song of Light


Film Clip: Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senes
Song: "Eli, Eli” by Hannah Szenes-- sung in both Hebrew and English, it also provides a brief overview of Szenes’ life 

Sharing The Storymore

Introducing The story

What do students know about various acts of resistance during the Holocaust? Discuss a few of the events and individuals (i.e. Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the White Rose, etc.). Ask if any of them have ever heard of Hannah Szenes. (Most students probably will not have heard of Szenes.) If not, have them learn more about her to heighten curiosity by completing one or both of the following:

  • Encourage each student to use computer, phone, or reference materials to discover one fact about Szenes that each found to be significant. Allow time for sharing. 
  • View the clip of the film, Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senes.  Discuss what they learned about Szenes. 
Explain that the book they are about to read will allow them to better understand Szenes and the courage and passion that defined her.

Reading The Story

Have students read the book independently, assigning specific chapters each day/week. Ask them to keep a journal in which they highlight specific paragraphs that impacted them in some way and questions they would like to discuss based on readings. Facilitate a class discussion at various time intervals as appropriate.

Involve the class in responding to specific questions to deepen understanding , based on prior reading, using the “Jig- Saw” cooperative learning strategy (more information on this technique) :

  • Give each small group one question to read, research, and reflect upon. They become the “experts.” Provide informational resources, print and digital as appropriate. 
  • Reconfigure the class so that each group is made up of one expert from the original group. Allow time for each to share his/her group’s findings and generate additional input from the group. 
  • Have groups go back to their original groups and share any new insights gained. 
  • If time allows, have each of the original groups create an artistic representation of what they learned. 
Some suggested questions may include: 
  • What was the “stone that began the landslide” for Hungarian Jews, referred to on page 31? 
  • What is Zionism and why was Zionism so important to Hannah? 
  • What was the White Paper? What was its effect on immigration to Palestine? 
  • Once she was living in Palestine, what events made Hannah determined to return to Hungary? How did she achieve her goal? 
  • What is the significance of the book’s subtitle, A Song of Light? Read the poem on page 65 of the book and explain it in your own words.

After The Story

Play the song, “Eli, Eli” -  “The four-line poem, actually entitled “Walking to Caesarea,” was written by one of the more mythological figures in contemporary Jewish and Israeli history, Hannah Szenes, whose short life and death have propelled her into the pantheon of Zionist history….” (Source: Jewish Women’s Archives). What connections can students make from the song to Hannah’s life and vision?

Another version of the song, sung in Hebrew only, is both beautiful and haunting 

The Courage to Care: Hannah explained that a certain line from the book Broken Grindstones, by the Hebrew novelist Hazaz, had a profound effect upon her. That line in the book says, “All the darkness can’t extinguish a single candle, yet one candle can illuminate all the darkness.” Have students interpret this quote –what does it say to them? Have them brainstorm a list of people (famous or not) who have illuminated the darkness with a special deed or action. Create a class “Courage to Care” quilt,” with each student (or pair) crating a quilt square (made out of paper or fabric) that includes the person’s name, an image and short line to explain why that person is being recognized. Display in a common area of the school to inspire others.


Explore, Discover, and More Extension and Reinforcement Activitiesmore

  • Have students select a favorite poem from those written by Hannah Szenes. Ask them to read it aloud and discuss its significance. (Prior to this, as needed, involve students in a mini-lesson regarding how to read poetry with proper voice, expression, etc.) 
  • Have students write an essay to respond to the following prompt: “Read the poem on the final page of the book. Describe how people who have died can continue to light the world. Give examples of this from contemporary times.” 
  • Hannah dreamed of one day traveling from kibbutz to kibbutz telling the stories of the paratroopers and what happened. Help fulfill this dream by having students create a digital story to tell about the life and legacy of Hannah Szenes. Post this on sites such as You Tube. You may wish to include features such as photographs/illustrations, maps, music, (make sure it is in the public domain to avoid copyright problems), narration and text. 
  • View film. Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh. “Narrated by Academy Award® winner Joan Allen, the multi-award-winning BLESSED IS THE MATCH follows the remarkable journey of this young Hungarian poet and diarist, paratrooper and resistance fighter. Told through Hannah’s letters, diaries, and poems, her mother s memoirs, and the recollections of those who knew and loved her (including two of her fellow parachutists), the film traces her life from her childhood in Budapest to her time in British-controlled Palestine where she was drawn by the Kibbutz Movement that sought to build an independent Jewish state to her daring mission to rescue Jews in her native Hungary. Both devastating and inspiring, BLESSED IS THE MATCH offers an intimate portrait of a singularly talented, courageous and complex girl who believed that one person could be a flame that burns brightly in even the darkest hours.” (Source: Amazon.com review). Discuss how the film added to their understanding of this complex and passionate individual. Did it change their perceptions in any way?
  • Ask students to select a favorite quote from Hannah’s journals and poems. Have them copy the poem, illustrate it (in their own unique style) and combine pages to create a book dedicated to Hannah and her ideals. Display this in the school media center so others can learn about this extraordinary woman. 
  • Involve students in reading other books and essays based on the life of Hannah Szenes, including: 
In Kindling Flame: The Story of Hannah Senesh 1921–1944, by Linda Atkinson 
Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary, the First Complete Edition by Hannah Senesh.

Music Connectionsmore


Lesson Contributors

Dr. Anita Meyer Meinbach and Dr. Miriam Klein Kassonoff from their book, with permission): Memories of the Night: Studies of the Holocaust, 2nd Edition (2004 ). Christopher-Gordon, Publishers, Inc. Norwood, A.