________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 16 . . . .April 14, 2006


Hana’s Suitcase on Stage.

Original story by Karen Levine. Play by Emil Sher.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2002/2006.
171 pp., pbk., $18.95.
ISBN 1-897187-05-X.

Subject Headings:
Hana, Brady-Juvenile drama.
Jewish children in the Holocaust-Czech Republic-Juvenile drama.
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)-Czech Republic-Juvenile drama.
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)-Study and teaching-Japan-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Harriet Zaidman.

**** /4



Sound: The train doors are slammed shut. The train begins to roll away.
Everyone sways.

MAIKO: I would hate not knowing where I was going.

AKIRA: They're going "east."

MAIKO: East is Auschwitz, Akira. Hana didn't know what to expect.

AKIRA: She was expecting to see George.

FUMIKO: The train chugged for a day and a night. There was no food. No water. No toilet. Just a bucket.

AKIRA: What was Hana thinking as the train went east?

MAIKO: She must have been very afraid.


AKIRA: Very lonely.


The train screeches to a halt. Blackout.


The original prose version of this story was reviewed in CM in Volume VIII Number 21, June 21, 2002. Emil Sher has now adapted this valuable story into play form, broadening its use and ensuring its longevity. This edition has both the full text of the book and the play, making it a most useful tool.

     Hana's Suitcase is the story of a Japanese woman, Fumiko Ishioka, the director of the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Centre, who set out to teach children about the Nazi genocide of Jews in World War II. She contacted the curators of the Auschwitz concentration camp who sent her a child's suitcase to use as a tangible example of someone who was a prisoner there.

     Fumiko decided that she needed to find out about Hana Brady, the Czech girl whose name was inscribed on the suitcase. She discovered that Hana had been interned in the Terezin concentration camp. Fomiko used an opportunity to travel to Europe to go to the Terezin Ghetto Museum, where records showed that Hana had been sent to Auschwitz where she was killed. The records also showed that her brother, George, had survived. Fumiko traced him to Toronto where he had worked as a plumber and had raised his family. George had promised to protect Hana when the Nazis arrested his parents, and his greatest regret was that he never knew her fate.

     George Brady, who was 74-years-old when Fumiko made contact with him in 2000, never imagined that one day he would be visiting Japan and educating children all over the world about the Holocaust. When Karen Levine, a producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, heard the story of Fumiko's determination and the unlikely result, she developed a radio documentary that became an instant sensation. She turned the documentary into a book, which has chapters that alternate between Fumiko's journey to find out about Hana and Hana's journey from childhood happiness to the death camps.

     Sher's contribution, Hana's Suitcase on Stage, is a simply written, but powerful, teaching tool for middle and even high school students. It follows a similar structure to the book, going back and forth between the search launched by Fumiko and her students and Hana's struggle. This format relieves the intensity of the story and allows the audience to reflect along with the student narrators about what will happen to Hana. The spare language adds emphasis to the emotion and the fear of the unknown.

     Minimal demands for staging will make this play even more effective. A handful of props and spot lighting will reflect the grim existence to which Hana and others were reduced in Terezin. A single drumbeat punctuates the silence at significant moments.

     Students will be able to present this play either as a full stage production or as reader's theatre. Teachers can use it as part of a teaching unit on racism, World War II, the Holocaust or Remembrance Day.

     The massacres in Bosnia, Rwanda and the Darfur region of the Sudan show that humanity has not learned the lessons of the Holocaust. That makes the Holocaust lessons even more important. Hana Brady wanted to be a teacher, and through Fumiko Ishioka, George Brady, Karen Levine and now Emil Sher, she has become one. They can be assured that the students who participate and those who view it will have the story of Hana's Suitcase ingrained in their memories forever, and that it will be a formative experience.

Highly Recommended

Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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