The Spark, Hannah Senesh

Book and Lyrics by Noelle Donfeld, Music by Sandra Shanin

Hannah Senesh

Hannah Senesh

Stark reality and memories surround Hannah Senesh, a strong-willed, young Jewish Hungarian woman who has been captured by the Nazis after parachuting behind enemy lines in an attempt to rescue both British pilots and Hungarian Jews.  She is determined to withstand the frequent interrogations of the Warden, who is equally as determined that Hannah reveal the secret code to her military radio.

Based on the life of Israel ’s most beloved heroine and poet, “Hannah Senesh” shows Hannah recalling meaningful, often joyous, events from her past as a mental escape from the Warden’s torture.  As pain and fear start to overwhelm her, Hannah, now 23 years old, envisions memories from her childhood, with her beloved father, Bela, a revered poet and playwright, her mother, Catherine, and brother, George.  Through the prism of her memory, we see how a brilliant, 17 year old woman gives up the privileged, though endangered, life of the Jewish Hungarian intelligentsia, to become a woman “of the land” in Israel, choosing to do menial farm work as she tries to find the best way to contribute to the Jewish homeland.  She can not convince her widowed mother to leave Hungary , and George feels obligated to finish his education before joining her.

When Hannah learns of Hitler’s final solution, she joins 31 other Jews who become British paratroopers, planning to return toHungary to form a Jewish resistance movement.  Among the group is Yoel, the young man who most intrigued Hannah when they briefly met after her arrival in Palestine .   It is the memory of their love which truly sustains her.

When his efforts to extract the code from Hannah fail, the Warden imprisons Hannah’s mother, who had refused to escape toPalestine , believing the status of her deceased husband would protect the family from the fate of other Jews.  Yet, despite her anguish at her mother’s imprisonment, Hannah continually professes ignorance about the code.

Hannah reaches out to other prisoners, informing them of news she hears and making paper dolls for their children.  She impacts everyone who meets her, impressing even one of her guards with her warmth, joy, courage, intelligence and creativity.  It is that guard who allows Hannah to briefly reunite with Yoel, who has been captured and brought to the same prison.  Distressed by her weakened condition, Yoel tells Hannah to reveal whatever she may know, but Hannah insists on persevering.  After months of incarceration, Hannah’s knowledge of plans or a code is useless to the Nazis.  However, the Warden’s frustration and anger over Hannah’s refusal to divulge what she knows has become a battle of wills.  Only in a later memory do we see that Hannah does, indeed, know the code.  Hannah is “visited” in her cell by one final figure who, she believes at first, has come to continue her torture.  However, the man is her father, who has come, in death, to finally release her from prison.

 

Selected Lyrics

A MINUTE AT A TIME

A MINUTE AT A TIME

c) Donfeld/Shanin

Hannah

DON’T FEEL THE PAIN.

TRY TO THINK OF ANYTHING, BUT

DON’T FEEL THE PAIN.

YOU KNEW THIS COULD HAPPEN

BUT IT’S REAL

AND IT HURTS.

G-D, I HAVE TO MAKE IT STOP.

SOMEHOW I MUST BELIEVE

I WILL ESCAPE FROM THIS HELL.

I HAVE TO STOP THE FEAR

SILENTLY FLOODING MY CELL,

HOW CAN I END THE PAIN

SCREAMING INSIDE OF MY HEAD?

SOMEHOW I MUST BELIEVE

I CAN HOLD ON BY A THREAD.

A MINUTE AT A TIME,

I CAN FACE AN HOUR

A MINUTE AT A TIME

NOTHING LASTS FOREVER

A MINUTE AT A TIME,

I CAN TAKE THE PAIN,

AND THE FEAR.

AN HOUR THEN A DAY

I CAN FACE A NIGHTMARE

A MINUTE AT A TIME.

I CAN COUNT THE SECONDS

A MINUTE AT A TIME.

I CAN MAKE THE PAIN

DISAPPEAR.

(She takes a deep breath.  Her pain is still visible, as she tries to control it.)

BREATHE IN FAMILIAR AIR.

HOME SEEMS A LIFETIME AWAY.

I CAN SEE MAMA THERE,

LAUGHING AS GEORGE AND I PLAY.

RUNNING TO PAPA’S SIDE,

WATCHING HIM READ WHAT I WRITE,

I FEEL HIS RUSH OF PRIDE,

LIFTING ME UP DELIGHT.

A MINUTE AT A TIME,

I CAN FACE EACH HOUR

A MINUTE AT A TIME

NOTHING LASTS FOREVER.

A MINUTE AT A TIME,

I CAN FACE THE PAIN,

AND THE FEAR.

A HOUR OR DAY,

I CAN BREAK THEM DOWN TO

A MINUTE AT A TIME.

I CAN FACE A NIGHTMARE…


MAMA, THERE'S A NEW WORLD GROWING

MAMA, THERE’S A NEW WORLD GROWING

c) Donfeld/Shanin

Hannah

MAMA, THERE’S A NEW WORLD GROWING,

THERE’S NO LIMIT TO WHAT I CAN BE.

WHERE THEY’RE GLAD I’M A JEW

“YOU’RE A JEW, I AM TOO.

IT’S A PLUS.  COME WITH US.  PLANT A TREE.”

MAMA, THERE’S A NEW WORLD GROWING.

I CAN WORK WITH A PLOW AND A PEN.

IT’S A DREAM COMING TRUE

BEST OF ALL, WHEN WE’RE THROUGH

YOU’LL SEE WE’RE IN EDEN AGAIN.

Mother

SUCH A YOUNG IDEALIST, YOU’LL

WIND UP DEAD.

SHAKING WITH MALARIA OR FEVER.

TRY TO BE A REALIST AND

USE YOUR HEAD.

SOMEONE’S SPINNING DREAMS<

AND YOU BELIEVE HER!

Hannah

MAMA, THERE’S A NEW WORLD GROWING

AND I’M GOING AS SOON AS I CAN.

IN THIS DREAM, I CAN SEE

YOU’LL BE THERE, NEXT TO ME,

AND WE’LL TRULY BE FREE

AND ALIVE.

I CAN SEE THE CITIES GROWING

BRICK BY BRICK.

I SEE HEAPS OF FOOD UPON THE TABLE.

Mother

I CAN SEE YOU IN A CLINIC PALE AND SICK

I CAN SEE YOU SWEATING IN SOME STABLE.

Hannah

I’d like that.

Mother

What?

Hannah

The stable, I mean.

Mother

Oy!

Hannah

MAMA, THERE’S A NEW WORLD GROWING<

THEY ARE SOWING THE FIELDS AS WE SPEAK.

IT WILL BE NO SURPRISE,

Mother

You’ve surprised me enough!

Hannah

WHEN WE WATCH ERETZ RISE

Mother

From the desert?  Hah!

Hannah 

FROM THE EARTH TO THE SKIES,

Mother

Keep your feet on the ground.

Hannah

RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR EYES,

Mother

Such a dreamer you are!

Hannah

AND WE’LL FINALLY FEEL FREE

Mother

Look at me!  I am free!

Hannah

WE WILL BE TRULY FREE,

AND ALIVE.


SOCKS

SOCKS

c) Donfeld/Shanin

Hannah

SOCKS

FIVE HUNDRED SOCKS

IT’S AMAZING HOW MUCH EVERYBODY WALKS.

AND IT COMES AS QUITE A SHOCK

HOW I’VE LEARNED TO HATE EACH SOCK.

Miryam

EACH SOCK!

Both

FIVE HUNDRED SOCKS.

SOCKS,

FIVE HUNDRED SOCKS,

ALL REMINDING ME OF SLIGHTLY ROTTEN LOX.

‘TIL I TRULY START TO DOUBT

THAT THE ODOR WILL WASH OUT OF SOCKS,

SOCKS,

FIVE HUNDRED SOCKS!

Hannah

WASHING SOCKS WAS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED.

I THOUGHT WE WOULD STAY OUT PICKING GRAPEFRUIT IN THE GROVE,

Both

LEMON BLOSSOMS ON THE BREEZE,

ROWS OF CORN AND OLIVE TREES

BOXING ALL THOSE BERRIES WE COLLECTED.

Hannah

I IMAGINED FIELDS OF GRAPES AND ROSES.

I IMAGINED MATZA BALLS IN POTS UPON THE STOVE.

Both

I CAN STILL ENJOY THE SCENT.

I LOVED EVERYWHERE WE WENT,

Hannah

EVERYWHERE BUT HERE, WHERE MY POOR NOSE IS.

Both

SOCKS

FIVE HUNDRED SOCKS,

THAT ARE RIPE WITH THE AROMA FROM THE FLOCKS.

AFTER WASHING FOR A WEEK,

I MAY NEVER LOSE THE REEK OF SOCKS

SOCKS,

FIVE HUNDRED SOCKS.


ON THE BUS

ON THE BUS

c) Donfeld/Shanin

(Singing to a young boy right before crossing the border into Hungary about their eventual return as heroes to Eretz Israel.)

Hannah

I CAN SEE US ON THE ROAD

RIDING ON A YELLOW BUS

I CAN SEE US ON THE ROAD

NO ONE’S LAUGHING MORE THAN US.

OH, THE STORIES WE CAN TELL!

Peretz

THE KIBBUTZNIKS ALL ARE GOING TO KVELL

Hannah

HOW WE MADE A HEAVEN OUT OF HELL

All

WE WILL TELL THEM

ON THE ROAD.

Yoel

I CAN SEE US ON THE ROAD

WE’LL BE WELCOMED EVERY PLACE!

Peretz

I CAN SEE US ON THE ROAD

GIANT SMILES ON EVERY FACE.

All

THEY’LL BE TOASTING OUR SUCCESS,

AND WE’LL ALL BE HEROES, MORE OR LESS.

THERE’LL BE KLEZMER MUSIC, AND I’D GUESS,

THEY WILL BLESS US

ON THE ROAD.

THINK ABOUT THE PEOPLE WE ARE FREEING!

THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN WHO’LL BE PLAYING IN THE SUN.

THINK ABOUT THE SIGHTS THAT WE’LL BE SEEING.

THERE’LL BE SWARMS OF PEOPLE ROUND THE CLOCK

AS THE SHIPS PULL INTO HAIFA ‘S DOCK.

Hannah

I CAN SEE US ON THE ROAD,

YOU SIT BACK AND I WILL DRIVE.

Yoel

You?

Peretz

I CAN SEE US ON THE ROAD

SAFE AND HAPPY.  AND ALIVE.

Hannah

CLOSE YOUR EYES AND PICTURE US.

Peretz

YOU WILL SEE OUR LANDSMEN MAKE A FUSS.

Hannah

YOU ARE SHY, I KNOW, BUT THAT’S A PLUS

All

ON OUR BUS OUT

ON THE ROAD.

ON THE BUMPY, TURNING

CHOKING, CHURNING,

BUMPY, TURNING,

CHOKING, CHURNING,

POT-HOLED, PITIFUL,

GLORIOUS ROAD!


THE CODE

THE CODE

c) Donfeld/Shanin

(The Warden threatens Hannah concerning her mother’s incarceration.)

Warden

NO WARM SHAWL,

NO SOFT BED,

EATING A SLOP THAT’S BARELY FIT

FOR CONSUMPTION.

SHE MIGHT FALL

BANG HER HEAD,

NO ONE WILL NOTICE HER.  WELL, THAT’S

MY ASSUMPTION.

SHE LOOKS TOO DELICATE TO ROT HERE IN PRISON.

LOOK AT HER.  MAMA’S GETTING OLD.

SHE SHOULD BE IN A PARK, NOT HERE IN PRISON,

SHAKING FROM FEAR OR FROM THE COLD.

(Hannah stokes her mother’s hair.)

Mother

I’m stronger than you think, Hannah.

Hannah

I know, Mama.

Warden

DOES SHE HATE

WHY SHE’S HERE,

HATE THAT HER DAUGHTER IS A SPY AND A TRAITOR?

MAMA’S FATE

ISN’T CLEAR.

WILL SHE BE TORTURED OR WILL FREEDOM AWAIT HER?

LOOK AT HER SITTING THERE, PALE AS A SPECTER.

I’M SURE SHE’S FEELING QUITE CONFUSED.

SHE HAS TO WONDER WHY HER CHILD WON’T PROTECT HER,

WHY YOU WOULD LET HER BE ABUSED.

WILL SHE DIE?

WILL SHE LIVE?

WILL SHE BE STRIPPED…OF HER DIGNITY,

OR SHOT?

IF YOU LIE,

SHE’LL FORGIVE,

BUT YOU CAN BE ASSURED THAT I WILL NOT.

FOR WE BOTH KNOW THAT YOU WERE

CAUGHT WITH A RADIO,

CAUGHT WITH THIS RADIO,

AND YOU REFUSED TO GIVE

(spoken)

THE CODE.


STAY WITH ME

STAY WITH ME

c) Donfeld/Shanin

(Yoel has been captured but allowed a moment with Hannah, who has been badly tortured, as she still refuses to give the Warden her radio’s code.)

Yoel (Sotto voce)

HANNAH, YOU MUST SAY SOMETHING,

SOMETHING TO GET THEM TO STOP.

HOW MUCH MORE CAN YOU TAKE?

THEY WON’T STOP ‘TIL THEY BREAK YOU,

HANNAH.

(sotto voce)

It’s enough!

Hannah

WHEN HIS STRAP BEGINS TO BURN ME,

WHEN THE FEAR IS SHARP AND REAL,

I ESCAPE.  I LEAVE THIS HELL BEHIND.

YOU REACH OUT AND BRUSH MY CHEEK,

IT’S ONLY YOU, I SEE OR FEEL

HIDDEN IN THE CORNER OF MY MIND.

YOU STAY WITH ME

YOU LIFT ME UP AND HOLD ME

YOU STAY WITH ME

YOU SHIELD ME IN YOUR ARMS,

AND KISS ME, OH, SO SOFTLY.

LIKE A COOLING MORNING BREEZE,

YOU STAY WITH ME.

I NEED YOU,

AND YOU’RE THERE.

Yoel

EVERY DAY I KEPT ON SEARCHING,

LOSING HOPE AS WEEKS HAD PASSED,

WANTING YOU; DENYING YOU WERE GONE.

HERE YOU ARE, SO TORN AND WEAK.

YOU’RE FINALLY IN MY ARMS, AT LAST,

BUT HOW CAN YOU SURVIVE IF THIS GOES ON?

YOU’LL STAY WITH ME

I’LL TAKE YOU TO OUR VALLEY

STAY WITH ME

PUT JASMINE IN YOUR HAIR,

THERE BY THE KINNERET

I WILL HEAL YOU IN MY ARMS,

I’LL COME FOR YOU,

I NEED YOU.

PLEASE BE THERE.

Both

STAY WITH ME

WE’LL WATCH THE MORNING SUNRISE ,

STAY WITH ME

AND LIE HERE IN MY ARMS.

HOLD ON TIL TOMORROW

AND TOMORROW WILL BE OURS.

Yoel

I’LL COME FOR YOU.

Hannah

YOU’LL COME FOR ME.

Yoel

I NEED YOU!

Hannah

I NEED YOU.

Yoel                               Hannah

PLEASE BE THERE.           I’LL BE THERE.