CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 39 . . . . June 8, 2012
Hana’s Suitcase Anniversary Album. (A Holocaust Remembrance Series for Young Readers).
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2012.
174 pp., includes CD, hardcover, $24.95.
Levine, Karen, 1955- Hana’s suitcase-Juvenile literature.
Levine, Karen, 1955- Appreciation-Juvenile literature.
Brady, Hana-Juvenile literature.
Jewish children in the Holocaust-Juvenile literature.
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) in literature-Juvenile literature.
Grades 4 and up / Ages 9 and up.
Review by Harriet Zaidman.
It has been over sixty-seven years since I last saw my beloved sister, Hana. I have thought about her every day, and of the life she might have led had she survived the way. Over fifteen years ago, I returned to Auschwitz hoping to close the door on the pain and loss I felt over losing my entire family. I went there with my youngest child, Lara Hana. We had no idea that this would be the beginning of a new chapter for Hana and our family. (George Brady.)
It’s been 10 years since Hana’s Suitcase was first published by Second Story Press. Karen Levine’s tender account of how a Japanese human rights activist discovered the story behind the suitcase belonging to a child Holocaust victim has touched the lives of millions of children and adults around the world. The story of the book is fascinating itself, and a tenth anniversary edition ensures that the lessons of Hana’s short life will continue to educate children for years to come.
Hana Brady, a young Czech girl, was murdered by the Nazis in the gas chambers at Auschwitz in 1944, when she was only 13-years-old. Fifty-six years later, in 2000, the director of a Holocaust Education Centre in Tokyo petitioned the curators of the Auschwitz museum for an artifact from their collection of materials. Fumiko Isioka’s goal was to have a tangible object for Japanese children to see so they could identify with the child killed for no reason other than the Nazi’s fascist, anti-human ideology. When they received the suitcase with the name ‘Hana Brady – Waisenkind’ (orphan) written on it, Isioka promised her students she would find out what happened to its owner. Her search took an unexpected turn when she learned that Hana’s brother, George, had survived the concentration camps and was still alive, living in Toronto.
Despite starting a new life and successfully raising a family of four children in Canada, George Brady had grieved all his life for failing to save his little sister in World War II. Suddenly, the 74-year-old retired plumber was thrust into the role of a teacher to Japanese children. The story of his and Isioka’s unusual pairing came to the attention of CBC producer Karen Levine, who first chronicled Hana’s and their contemporary story in a radio documentary, and then turned it into a book. Hana’s Suitcase became an immediate publishing sensation and has received more awards than any other book in Canadian children’s writing. Levine, Isioka, George and now his daughter, Lara Hana, have been bringing Hana’s story and the lessons of the Holocaust to children the world over.
As well as the original text, the updated book includes a CD of the book and a song about Hana, a foreword for the South African edition by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, letters to George from children writing him about the impact the book has had on them, examples of how teachers have used Hana’s Suitcase in their classroom programs, artwork, photographs and more. The additional material is a tribute to Hana whose ambition it was to become a teacher. The 10th anniversary edition shows that Hana is teaching children, generations later and around the world, about justice and tolerance. The testimony from children about how they have been educated and moved to act in their own lives is an inspiration to keep teaching these positive values.
Hana’s Suitcase and the different ways it is represented (author Julian Sher also adapted it for the stage) can be a valuable part of a teaching unit about World War II, the Holocaust, racism, prejudice, anti-Semitism, tolerance and human rights. Second Story Press has produced an admirable list of books in their “Holocaust Remembrance Series for Young Readers”. Pre-adolescents and young teens will empathize with the struggles of children in the same age range as they are, children who struggled to survive the barbarity of the Nazi machine. Most did not survive, but those who did were often helped by selfless citizens who put their own lives at risk for defying the Nazi edict against protecting Jews, also recorded in these titles. The nonfiction books include: Guardian Angel House, The Underground Reporters, Hiding Edith and To Hope and Back, as well as many novels (all reviewed in CM). These books will prepare children for The Diary of Anne Frank and further studies of the most brutal episode of the twentieth century.
The photograph on the cover of the book shows a quiet little girl, one who could never have imagined what a terrible, unjust fate would befall her, nor the legacy her suitcase would later give to the world. George became an unlikely teacher and Karen, too. Lara Hana has assumed George’s mantle, and teachers and children (and their families) from North and South America to Africa and Asia have been affected by Hana’s story. The goal is that these children will become better citizens who can resist negative ideologies - anti-Semitism, anti-Islamism, homophobia or other forms of discriminatory ideas and actions. Even though since World War II the world has witnessed genocidal atrocities in Bosnia, Rwanda and other parts of Africa, as well as other injustices against identifiable groups targeted by governments or far-right movements, the lesson of Hana’s Suitcase Anniversary Edition is that her story has changed lives. We should never give up hope that this lesson can be learned and applied universally.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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