Israeli paratroopers to recreate partisans’ WWII jump in honor of Hannah Senesh

Some 150 IDF soldiers set to take part in weeklong program in Central Europe, marking the 100th birthday of the Hungarian-born soldier-poet

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Dozens of Israeli paratroopers land in Poland during the US-led 'Swift Response' exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative. Dozens of Israeli paratroopers land in Poland during the US-led 'Swift Response' exercise in Europe in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Some 150 Israeli soldiers will travel to Central Europe later this month as part of a weeklong educational trip in honor of the 100th birthday of the Hungarian-born soldier and poet Hannah Senesh, who was captured and killed by the Nazis after she parachuted into Hungary during World War II.

The commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, Col. Yuval Gaz, told reporters that the purpose of the program, which will include a recreation of the parachute jump made by Senesh and dozens other Jewish fighters, is to “deepen the connection between the participants and the Israel Defense Forces and the State of Israel.”

The delegation, dubbed “Crash of the Heavens,” after a line from one of Senesh’s poems, will be led by the head of the IDF’s Depth Corps, Maj. Gen. Itay Virov; Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter, commander of the IDF’s 98th Division, which contains the Paratroopers Brigade; and a number of other senior Paratroopers officers, including Gaz.

The soldiers are scheduled to arrive on July 18 in Slovenia, where they will perform the jump, and then travel from there to Croatia and Hungary, before returning to Israel on July 22.

Roughly 100 of the 150 soldiers taking part in the delegation will participate in the jump, which is being staged a short distance from the original site, according to Gaz. A number of soldiers from the Hungarian, Slovenian, Croatian and British militaries will also take part in the jump.

The delegation is styled after the military’s Witnesses in Uniform program, which teaches IDF soldiers about the Holocaust through trips to Nazi concentration camps in Poland.

According to Gaz, the idea for the delegation was raised 16 months ago, after last year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is meant to teach soldiers about the role of Jewish partisans during World War II, he said.

Hannah Szenes dressed as a Hungarian soldier on Purim (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Hannah Szenes dressed as a Hungarian soldier on Purim (Wikimedia Commons)

A number of Israeli historians and researchers will accompany the delegation to educate the participants about Senesh, Jewish partisans and the period in general. One of these will be Simha Goldin, a lieutenant colonel in reserves and the father of Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was killed in the 2014 Gaza war and whose remains are being held by the Hamas terror group. Goldin is a professor of Jewish history at Tel Aviv University.

The Hungarian-born Senesh immigrated to Palestine in 1939 and quickly joined the Haganah, the forebear of the IDF. During World War II, she joined a Jewish contingent of the British military and parachuted into then-Yugoslavia, continuing on foot to Hungary to meet up with partisans there. She was captured at the border, interrogated and sentenced to death. Her remains were later moved to Israel and reinterred in the Mount Herzl National Cemetery. Her diary and poetry are still read in Israel today, most famously the poem from which the program derives its name, “Eli, Eli,” or “My God, my God.”

The Israeli participants include current and former Paratroopers Brigade soldiers and officers, including a number of children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, according to Gaz.

The funding for the delegation comes from the budget for the Witnesses in Uniform program, and the 20 hours of flight-time needed for the jump in Europe will come from the 200 flight-hours allotted to the Paratroopers Brigade and the IDF’s Paratroopers School.

In order to make the most of the trip, the jump will be conducted at a slightly lower altitude than the Israeli paratroopers are used to, forcing them to adapt. The new location for the jump will also require the soldiers to operate outside their comfort zone, Gaz said.

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