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Forest Hills Y to screen documentary of Holocaust victim

When Susan Beer would peer out of the cramped cell she shared with many other women and children in a Gestapo−run prison in Hungary during World War II, it was there, through the darkness, that she would make eye contact with Hannah Senesh, a resistance fighter who died in front of a firing squad a few days before her 23rd birthday.

Beer, an Auschwitz survivor who will speak at an event in Forest Hills honoring Senesh, lived for months in the prison cell across from Senesh and credits her with saving her mother’s life.

Senesh had told Beer how she would smear bits of coal she had found on the truck transporting her to the prison camp in Hungary under her eyes in an effort to appear healthier before the Gestapo — as the weak and the sick were often sent to their death.

“When we were standing in Auschwitz with my mother, who was 47 years old and one of the oldest people alive there, the Germans came,” said the 84−year−old Beer, who now lives in Engelwood, N.J. “I thought they would take one look at her, see how she looked and take her away. I glanced at the floor and saw something shining red, a crumb of lipstick or something, and remembered Hannah’s story of smearing the coal on herself. I smeared the lipstick on my mother’s cheeks to make her look healthier, and it saved her life.”

Senesh’s life story will be told at the Central Queens YM & YWHA in Forest Hills March 31 at 1 p.m. “Blessed Is the Match,” a documentary film about Senesh, will be shown during the event, and Beer will speak afterward.

Senesh, who immigrated to Palestine from Hungary in 1939 in order to take part in the Kibbutz movement to form a Jewish state, joined a mission in 1944 to rescue Jews in Hungary. There she was captured, tortured and ultimately executed by Nazis a few months before the liberation of Hungary.

The words of Senesh, who left poems and journals behind, have become immortalized in Israeli songs.

“I read Hannah’s diary in junior high school, and I was really moved by her,” said Robert Grossman, who produced and directed the film. “She had very high moral ideas and a very strong sense of her own responsibility to act in the world. That was very influential on me.”

Working with Senesh’s family in Israel, Grossman poured over diaries, letters, photos and other family documents to create “Blessed Is the Match,” the story of an idealistic young woman who was determined to make the world a better place. Actress Joan Allen narrates the documentary.

“I hope people take away some inspiration from Hannah herself,” said Grossman, who worked on the film for 3 12 years before it opened in 2008. “I hope Hannah’s an inspiration for acting in the world.”

The film screening and talk are sponsored by the Rabbi Simon Hevesi Library of the Central Queens YM & YWHA at 67−09 108th St. in Forest Hills. The event is open to the general public and a $4.50 donation is suggested.

For more information, call 718−268−5011, Ext. 151, or e−mail pkurtz@cqyjcc.org.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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