"Hana's Suitcase": a tragic story from the Holocaust with a message of hope

23-10-2003

An extraordinary book about the Holocaust has just been published in Prague. It's the story of a suitcase - a suitcase that belonged to a young Czech Jewish girl called Hana Bradyova. Hana was one of tens of thousands of Jewish Czechs who were sent to the ghetto in Terezin during the Nazi occupation. David Vaughan picks up the story of "Hana's Suitcase".

Jiri BradyJiri Brady There was nothing unusual about the Brady family. They had a shop on the square in the little town of Nove Mesto na Morave and before the Nazis came had hardly even thought of themselves as Jewish. But in 1942, Hana, a pretty eleven-year-old with a love of skiing, was sent with her brother Jiri to Terezin. For a while they were able to lead a semblance of a normal life, but, as Jiri remembers, in September 1944 everything changed:

"They made ten transports to Auschwitz and I was in the first one and Hana was in the next to last one. She was looking forward to seeing me. She asked a cousin to fix her hair, so that she'd look pretty when she saw me. When she got there they just cut her hair and then they killed her."

Jiri Brady and Fumiko IshiokaJiri Brady and Fumiko Ishioka It's at this point that we turn to Japan. Fumiko Ishioka is head of a children's Holocaust education centre in Tokyo. Three years ago she wrote to Holocaust museums in various countries, to ask if there was anything they could lend her, to help teach Japanese children about the tragedy of the camps. From Auschwitz there came a suitcase, with the name Hanna Brady, a number, and the word "Waisenkind", the German for orphan. The suitcase became central to Fumiko's work with the children, but again and again they would ask her about the girl behind the name - until eventually she decided to find out more. After a huge amount of detective work, that brought her to Terezin and Prague, Fumiko found Hana's brother, who had survived Auschwitz:

"She succeeded - incredibly actually - to find me in Canada, and that was a miracle. And then one day I mentioned to a friend of mine the story of this, and she said it might be interesting for the newspapers. She called the Canadian Jewish News, they published it on the front page and Karen Levine, who's a producer at CBC, said: 'Can I have an interview with you?' And I said: 'You don't know how lucky you are because Fomiko is coming to Toronto tomorrow.' Fomiko came, we made the interview, and the interview got a gold medal in a historical category in an international competition. Karen's friend is a publisher and she said: 'You have to write a book.'"

The book "Hana's Suitcase" - published in English last year - is the outcome. Not only does it tell Hana's tragic story, but it also tells the story of how Fumiko and Jiri - from opposite ends of the world - came to meet. Jiri Brady is currently in Prague, to promote the new Czech edition - a book that will help another generation of young Czechs to grasp the human tragedy that lies behind the unimaginable figure of 6 000 000 murdered in the camps.

And the English edition - "Hana's Suitcase" by Karen Levine, is available in most English-speaking countries. In Canada it's published by Second Story Press.

23-10-2003