TOKYO -- The story of a Czechoslovakian Jewish girl murdered in the concentration camp of Auschwitz during the Holocaust and her brother who survived, narrated in an award-winning children's book best known as "Hana's Suitcase," is set to be retold on an online talk event on May 16.
Hana's niece, who resides in Toronto, will be the main speaker, and the Japanese educator who first shed light on what was an unknown story 20 years ago will moderate the discussion from Tokyo.
"Hana's Suitcase," which has also been adapted into a play and film, relates the story of Hana Brady, who lost her parents to the Nazi regime before she her herself was killed in 1944 at the age of 13. If she were alive, she would have turned 90 on the date of this event. Her older brother George, who was also deported with her, was the sole survivor of her immediate family. In 1983 he was blessed with a daughter, Lara Hana Brady, who will tell their story on May 16.
The other heroine of "Hana's Suitcase" is Fumiko Ishioka, director of the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center, a non-profit organization. After she rented a suitcase from the Auschwitz Museum to display throughout Japan, she was overwhelmed by the curiosity it aroused among children. She searched and pinpointed Hana as the original owner, and in 2000, found George in Toronto, Canada.
Ishioka invited George to Tokyo in 2001 to have him answer the children's questions directly, and Lara, a high-school student at the time, accompanied him. The siblings' story, complete with Ishioka's mission, was documented in the book. From that point, they traveled with the suitcase, carrying their message of peace through Japan, Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and the U.S., to meet countless students.
George passed away in 2019 and this will be the first time for Lara to give the main speech in front of a large Japanese audience. Her story will not only be about Hana, but about the wounds and healing of her father as a survivor. Two items that were preserved -- a diary that the young George had kept and a charm that his mother made from bread in a concentration camp -- will be introduced.
Below is a message that Lara sent to Ishioka:
I want Japanese children and citizens to know how important it is to share each other's experiences and histories. Thanks to a Japanese group of students and one very persistent facilitator (Ishioka), an old man's life in Toronto became whole. George was able to come to terms with his own survival and to some extent the loss of his parents, cousins, aunts, uncles and friends by living a life that gave meaning to their memory, but he could never come to terms with the loss of his little sister Hana. George could not let that pain go.
The arrival of a letter from Japan from people who had never met his sister or him, asking questions about her short life, allowed George to share Hana's story, and her desire to become a teacher was finally fulfilled over 65 years after her death.
In the 20 years since that first letter, the Brady family has shared the lessons of the Holocaust but also the need for resilience and generosity of spirit to make our society a more forgiving and better place. This is all thanks to a small group of citizens who were curious about a little girl who lived a generation and thousands of kilometers away from them. In celebrating Hana's 90th, we celebrate how connected our world truly is across time and geography and how dependent we are on each other.
The students that Lara met 20 years ago, most of them now in their 20s and 30s, will reunite online when Ishioka moderates the discussion with Lara.
The meeting will be held on Zoom and is to start at 10 a.m. Japan time on May 16 (9 p.m. EST on May 15). Both English and Japanese translations will be available. The event is free of charge but donations are welcome. Reservations are necessary and can be made online at https://kokoro20210516.peatix.com/. Inquiries should be sent to the organizer by email at email@example.com.
(By Yoji Hanaoka, The Mainichi Staff Writer)