October 14, 2010


Hannah Senesh Self-Portrait (Courtesy of the Senesh Family)

We opened our wonderful new Special Exhibition on Tuesday.  Here are my introductory remarks:

I want to welcome you to this opening celebration of our newest special exhibition, Fire in My Heart: The Story of Hannah Senesh. I am fond of saying that our Museum – a museum about 20th Century Jewish History and the Holocaust -- is much more about life than about death. This exhibition about hero and poet Hannah Senesh is perfect proof of that assertion. For many, Hannah’s death was the defining moment of her life. While this exhibition explains the circumstances surrounding her death, its center of gravity is her life – and what a life it was! Tragically cut short, but lived with commitment and purpose and meaning.

Surely this story could be told in other media. It has, in fact, been conveyed to the public through the printed word and, recently, brilliantly on film, and certainly it will continue to be told in new and changing ways. But it has never and can never be so powerfully presented as it is in a museum – in this Museum. Should anyone argue that museums have been superseded by more exciting and flashier media, let them come to this exhibition. Let them encounter remarkable, authentic artifacts in an intimate setting, let them view the pages of Hannah’s diaries and notebooks – the drafts of her poems – the last note to her mother. Let them come face to face with objects that Hannah touched, with photographs that she composed, with letters that she wrote. Let them experience the singular feeling that is only possible in the presence of such objects. Indeed, there is something uniquely human in the reaction we have when we encounter powerful artifacts. The receptors that we possess for empathy and imagination are engaged, and we have the capacity to understand and to sense kinship that has no match in our experience with other media.

And when this profound and human interaction takes place in the context of a story like that of Hannah Senesh, the impact exceeds our ability to describe it in words. We are moved directly as we follow the exemplary life of Hannah Senesh and we are moved deeply as we witness the evidence she left behind.