Released on the heels of the WWII-era Defiance, which dramatizes the armed resistance spearheaded by the Bielski brothers of Belarus, this documentary (with reenactments) tells the equally inspiring story of Hannah Senesh. The child of a privileged Hungarian-Jewish family, Senesh emigrated to Palestine, then returned to Nazi-occupied Europe as part of a bold military operation to rescue fellow Jews. Senesh’s team was captured, and she was tortured and executed in 1944, at the age of 23.
Born on July 17, 1921, Senesh grew up within Budapest’s thriving Jewish community, writing poetry and keeping a diary that reveals a mature, thoughtful sensibility. She embraced Zionism, and in 1938 made her way to Palestine to attend agricultural school, horrifying her cultured mother. But by the end of 1942, after refugees brought word of the Nazi extermination program to Palestine, Senesh volunteered for military training. The doc’s title comes from a poem she wrote shortly before her death, which begins, “Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.”Using archival footage, interviews and actors, writer Sophie Sartain and director Roberta Grossman celebrate Senesh’s fierce courage without idealizing her, including, for example, the recollection that she was more admirable than likable, this from the fellow parachutist to whom Senesh entrusted her final poem. Such honesty does Senesh more justice than hagiography ever could.