Hanna Szeenes was born to a Jewish family in Hungary on 17 July 1921 and her father died when she was six. In 1939 she decided to emigrate to what was called the British Mandate of Palestine to study agriculture and in 1943 enlisted into the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force which was the female branch of the RAF during WW2 which had been established in 1939. After training she came to the attention of SOE discrete talent spotters, and she agreed to undertake hazardous missions. After completing agent training and selection she attended the wireless school before joining SOE Section ME 76 also called the Hungarian Section.
On the night of 14-15 May 1944 Szeenes and two male agents parachuted into Yugoslavia to assist partisans fighting in Hungary and after crossing the border they became separated and Szeenes was arrested by the Hungarian police loyal to the Arrow Cross Party (NYKA) led by Ferec Szàlasi which was loyal to Germany. After her arrest she was stripped and strapped to a chair, whipped, punched and clubbed for three days during which she lost several teeth but refused to reveal her radio codes. She was then sent to a prison in Budapest where the torture for information continued. After her mother was arrested and her interrogators threatened to kill her, she still refused to give them her codes.
On 7 November 1944, 22-year-old Hanna Szeenes was executed by firing squad. During her time in prison, she kept a diary which also contained poems she had written, these were published in Hebrew by her family in 1946 and the following is one of the last poems she wrote before her execution:
“One- Two- three… Eight feet long
Two strides across the rest is dark
Life is a fleeting question mark
One-two-three… maybe another week
Or the next month may still find me here
But death I feel is very near. “
After the war her body was buried at Mount Hertz Military Cemetery, Israel.
Few people have not heard of the convicted war criminal Herman Gôring who was among the most powerful men committed to the National Socialist Workers Party with its sick ideology of Antisemitism, promoting the existence of a so-called Aryan race, a fanatical commitment to racial purity and the so-called Final Solution to the Jewish question; but few people know about his younger brother Albert who used the family name to reject these beliefs by resisting the Third Reich.
Albert Gôring’s first recorded act of open defiance was when he came across a group of Jewish women forced to scrub the street on their hands and knees and Albert decided to join them. An SS officer was furious and aggressively demanded to see his identity papers and backed down when he saw the family name and the women were released. Albert also used his name to get his former boss Oskar Pilzer, who was a Jew, released from prison and then helped Oskar and his family escape from Germany.
After becoming the Export Manager at the Skoda factory in Czechoslovakia his resistance against the Third Reich greatly increased: he encouraged minor acts of sabotage and had links with members of the resistance. It is also known on several occasions he forged his brother’s signature on transportation documents to enable Jews and political prisoners to escape.
During the Nuremburg Tribunal, because he was the brother of Hermann Gôring he was questioned but released after those he helped came forward to defend him and the same happened in Czechoslovakia where his wife was from.
After the war, because of his name and his notorious brother Albert was shunned by society, he found it difficult to find work, was forced to live in a small flat and his wife divorced him and moved to Peru with their daughter. In 1996 Albert Gôring died and few are aware of the people he saved and the name Gôring continues to be overshadowed by his infamous brother.
It has been estimated around 177,000 people used London Underground stations as air raid shelters during the German aerial bombardment of London, but the London Underground did not always provide the protection many once thought.
At 8.02 pm on 14 October 1940 a 1400kg bomb hit Balham High Road opposite the United Dairies and created a large bomb crater which a double decker bus fell into, fortunately the bus was empty, and the driver was only concussed. At the time of the air raid around 500 people were using Balham Underground Station as an air raid shelter and were trapped after the explosion destroyed the roof above the northbound platform and tunnel. To protect public morale, it was originally reported that 66 people were killed and all fatalities were recorded as death by drowning after the main water mains and sewage pipes were ruptured and flooded the station. It is Widely believed the death toll far exceeded the official figure and it took several months to recover the last of the bodies.
Balham Underground Stations after bodies recovered.
On 11 January 1941 the central ticket hall at Bank Underground Station received a direct hit from a German bomb: the blast travelled down the escalator onto the platform and parts of the road collapsed onto the concourse killing 56 people.
Bank Underground Station
The greatest loss of life on the underground was on 3 March 1943 at 8.45 pm.
According to eyewitness accounts, after the air raid sirens were heard several hundred people made for the safety of Bethnal Green Underground Station. A young woman clutching a baby fell at the bottom of the staircase and pulled down an elderly man and bodies quickly piled up at the base of the staircase while those at the top were unaware of what was happening and continued forcing their way down the stairs. Witnesses also describe a seething mass of mainly women and children all wearing thick clothes and gasping for air quickly develop… 173 people, overwhelmingly women and children were asphyxiated. There were also allegations that the Civil Defence previously warned of the dangers a requested an anti-crush barrier be installed on the single staircase leading to the platform, but their concerns were rejected and only after the tragedy were their concerns taken seriously and a crash barrier erected after the bodies had been recovered.
Repairs to the staircase after the bodies had been recovered.
On 2 March 1944 Denise Bloch infiltrated central France by parachute and worked as the wireless operator for both Clergyman and Detective circuits which were part of SOE’s clandestine network and began arranging for weapons, sabotage stores, finance and other agents to be sent from London and worked with several reception committees receiving incoming air drops.
It was around 8.20 am on 18 June when her wireless transmissions were located by German direction finders and her Safehouse raided by the Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS (Security Service of the Reichsführers-SS), or SD, and Bloch along with another agent were captured.
It is known Bloch was tortured for information, but her wireless was not used by the Germans, and it appears Bloch refused to give the SD her personal wireless codes used to confirm her identity to London. It is also known she was transported to prisons in Germany during which she suffered from exposure due to the cold and malnutrition and was eventually transported to Ravensbrûck Concentration camp where she was executed on 5 February 1945 at the age of 29 and like many agents has no known grave after her body was cremated along with many others.
Corporal Ripley was the first man to climb an enemy barricade before leading his section under fire through enemy barbed wire (entanglements) and held the position until all his men were either dead or wounded during which he was badly wounded in the head and at the age of 47 is listed as the oldest recipient of the VC during the Great War. After being classified unfit for active service Ripley became a recruiting sergeant in Edinburgh. He was discharged in 1919 and returned to his trade as a slater. In 1933 he was fixing slates when he fell from a ladder and injured his spine and later died in hospital.
This plaque will be found outside 64 Baker Street London W1. This plaque marks the former HQ of SOE (CD). Most of the office space in Baker Street accommodated SOE Country Section HQ’s which have no plaques and their wartime use has mainly been forgotten. 83 Baker Street, for example, was the HQ of the French Section.