Women of Valor: Partisans and Resistance Fighters
Katherine Szenes - Part V
His brusque, summary answers released all my bitterness. "Captain, at least be helpful enough to direct me to the proper authorities, and tell me what I must do in order to see my daughter. As it is, I can't understand why it's so difficult for me to obtain a pass when relatives of other prisoners have been permitted frequence visiting rights. I have been granted permission to see my daughter only once, and then only for minutes."
"Really?" he remarked, almost in wonder. "I didn't grant you permission to see her even once?"
"And how is it possible that there still has not been a date set for sentencing? The eight-day postponement has long since expired." He did not answer so I continued. "Or has sentence been passed?" "Even if it has been, I'm not in a position to tell you what it entails."
"What do you mean? You don't mean to tell me that it would be possible to keep such information from me?" Since he did not reply I repeated, "Has sentence been passed?"6
Captain Simon asked, "Do you know the case of your daughter?" I replied that the attorney had explained it to me. He then said that I should be aware of the fact that my daughter had relinquished her Hungarian citizenship and was now a British subject. She had parachuted into Yugoslavia and spent time with the partisans. She committed the worst crimes against the interests of Hungary. She sinned, and that is why we decided to give the strongest punishment - and we have already executed this punishment (obviously, she had already been executed). He said Hannah's attorney was notified of this. I, however, did not believe that. My attorney was a decent, honest person. He had told me only that morning that he had not been notified by the authorities. He then said that of course the attorney knew but did not want to worry me. I realized that it was all over.
He then told me he had to admit he admired the courage and behaviour of my daughter - how she held up until the last minute. "But this war has so many sacrifices," he said. "We must look upon your daughter as one among the many." He then told me to leave. The younger officer came in, but I said I could not leave, because at that hour it was no longer permitted for Jews to be out of doors. He told me he would give me personal permission so I could return home. And thus I went to my sister. My strength was giving out as I neared her house.
The Germans demanded from Hannah the code which she had from the British. Finally the Germans returned Hannah to the Hungarians; her last trial was to be in Hungary where she was to receive judgment. She began with the Hungarians, then the Germans tried her and then the Hungarians got her back. They considered her a traitor. But even if she had given the British code to the Hungarians I am not convinced that they would have saved her; on the contrary, I am sure she would have been killed anyway. They no longer needed her then. Hundreds of others were also killed in the name of "justice".
My brother-in-law went to the Hevra Kaddisha and the cemetery and was told that a corpse was brought there, a Jewish woman officer from the prison. They did not know where to bury her. My brother-in-law told the gardener (a gentile) that she should be buried among the martyrs. My sister and her husband wanted to attend the funeral but it was not allowed. In this period, when someone Jewish died, no family member was permitted to attend the funeral. At the end of the war, Yoel Palgi was the only one who was still alive of the three parachutists.7 He found out that I was alive, contacted me and arranged for me to leave Budapest. I wanted to visit Hannah's grave before I left. The cemetery was far and inaccessible without transportation. I had to wait until electricity was installed again after the war. I found a plaque indicating: "Hannah Szenes" and the date, "7th November 1944."
In July 1945 Katherine Szenes left Budapest for Rumania with the assistance of Joel Palgi and the Zionist movement. She arrived in Palestine in October 1945, and now lives in a senior citizens home. When she was interviewed in 1987, Mrs. Szenes was 91 years old. In 1950 Hannah's remains were brought to Israel and buried with military honours in Jerusalem's military cemetery on Mt. Herzl.
Interviewed by: David Alster Yardeni on 7/5/87