Secret Message

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Social Studies, United States History

Grade 5- 8


Students learn about a woman war hero who used secret codes and messages to protect important information. They follow instructions to write their own secret messages.


Lead a class discussion to find out what students know about World War II. They may have seen films of soldiers parachuting into battle. Tell them that one of the persons to parachute into a country and carry valuable information was a woman.
Hannah Senesh was a member of the Jewish faith during a time when Jews were being prosecuted. She lived in Palestine, which was safe for Jewish people, but her mother lived in Hungary. If the German Nazis took over Hungary, Hannah knew that her mother and many other Jews who lived there would be in danger of being killed. Hannah and four Jewish men parachuted into Yugoslavia. They were going to deliver supplies and secret messages, take back war information to the English, and try to help some of the Jews escape from the Nazis in Hungary.
When Hannah had almost reached the border of Hungary, she was captured by Nazi soldiers. Hannah was carrying secret papers from the English, a radio for sending messages, and a secret code which she had memorized. Hannah knew that she would be questioned because of these items, but she resolved not to tell what she knew.
Hannah was tortured. Her teeth were knocked out. The soldiers forced her mother to watch them beat her. But Hannah did not tell the secrets. She would not betray the English soldiers or her Jewish friends and family. She was kept in prison for two months. In November, 1944, she was taken to the yard to be shot.
Twenty-three-year-old Hannah refused to be blindfolded. She faced those with rifles as she had faced life, pain, and duty--bravely, squarely, and without shame. Hannah kept her secrets and her pride.
Use the following topics and questions for discussion.

  • How did her captors know that Hannah was on a military mission?
  • In the story five countries were named. Locate each of them--England, Palestine, Hungary, Germany, and Yugoslavia--on a globe.
  • Pretend that you are Hannah on the eve of her mission to the border of Hungary. What thoughts and feelings would you have expressed in a diary that night?
  • Why do you think her mother was brought to the prison when Hannah was captured?
  • Many improvements in transportation and communication have been made since the 1940s. Develop a plan for rescuing Hannah's mother with technology today.
  • Read about codes in an encyclopedia or book from the library. Write a message to a friend, using a code.

Distribute copies of the How to Send a Secret Message activity page to students. Have them use the materials listed to write their own secret messages.


For each student

  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of milk
  • cup
  • toothpick or cotton swab
  • paper
  • charcoal ashes or pencil shavings (found in a pencil sharpener)
  • envelope

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