Blessed is the Match is a mother-daughter love story. It is a film set against the backdrop of the Holocaust — a subject that is no stranger to the documentary world. But it is a film unlike any other, not only because of the incredible story of Hannah Senesh, but also because of the experience of Hannah’s mother Catherine, whose raw and revelatory memoirs complement the youthful writings of her daughter, and provide the film with its emotional core.
I first read Hannah’s diary in junior high, and was captivated by her courage and touched by her vulnerability. Later, as a history student at UC Berkeley, where I wrote my senior thesis on the Nazi SS, Hannah’s story continued to inspire me. Why? She fought back. In the face of monolithic evil, she chose to act by joining a noble, against-all-odds mission.
For the past 20 years, as I’ve worked as a documentary filmmaker, my interest in Hannah has persisted. But my fascination with her story has come to include her mother’s experience as well. This is not just because I’ve changed from a student Hannah’s age to a mother closer to Catherine’s age (although that could be part of it). But in many ways Catherine is a figure we can understand better than Hannah. Hannah is a modern-day Joan of Arc, the type of heroine who comes along once in a century — bold, brilliant, and uncommonly courageous. Catherine, on the other hand, represents us all. As a worried mother, she watches her child drift away, pursue her own path, and then make the ultimate sacrifice. Worst of all, Catherine must have spent the remainder of her days wondering if Hannah’s motivation was to save the Jews of Hungary, or simply to save her.
In 2005, my producing partner, Lisa Thomas, and I initiated talks with Eitan Senesh, Hannah’s nephew, about making this documentary. After travelling to Israel to meet Eitan and his brother David in person, they granted us the rights to Hannah’s life story and unprecedented access to the family archive. In the archive — in addition to Hannah’s diary — are hundreds of unpublished letters between Hannah and Catherine and nearly 1,300 never-before-seen photos of remarkable quality.
In 2006 and 2007, we shot most of the film in Israel, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Our interview subjects included world-renowned scholars, survivors, witnesses, and friends of Hannah’s from Budapest and Palestine. We learned about life in the Yishuv from pioneering members of Hannah’s kibbutz and from Israeli President Shimon Peres, who met Hannah when they were in their twenties. We gained insight into Hannah’s mission from parachutists Surika Braverman and Reuven Dafni. Perhaps the most chilling were interviews with four women who were in the same Gestapo and Hungarian prisons as Catherine and Hannah Senesh in 1944.
We believe Blessed is the Match does justice to Hannah, her character, and her courage, but we hope it does more than this. By telling the story through Catherine’s eyes, we hope that in the end, the film is a moving mother-daughter story. This honors both of their legacies. —Roberta Grossman
Roberta Grossman, Producer/Director
An award-winning filmmaker with a passion for history and social justice, Roberta Grossman has written and produced more than forty hours of documentary television. She was the series producer and co-writer of 500 Nations, the eight-hour CBS mini-series on Native Americans hosted by Kevin Costner. Grossman’s feature documentary, Homeland: Four Portraits of Native Action, premiered in February 2005, and has screened and won awards at more than 40 festivals worldwide. Other writing and producing credits include In the Footsteps of Jesus, a four-hour special for the History Channel; Hollywood & Power: Women on Top, a special for AMC; The Rich in America: 150 Years of Town and Country Magazine for A&E; The History of Christianity: the First Thousand Years, a four-hour special on A&E; Medal of Honor, a six-part television series produced for U.S. News & World Report; and “Heroines of the Hebrew Bible” and "Judas" for the A&E series Mysteries of the Bible.