Hana's Suitcase

A True Story About the Holocaust and One Girl's Life

Hanas-Suitcase_5.jpg
Albert Whitman and Company

Summary

Determined to educate Japanese children about the Holocaust, museum curator Fumiko Ishioka writes letters requesting the loan of artifacts for displays. When a suitcase arrives on loan from a museum in Auschwitz, the name on the outside of the suitcase inspires a search for the girl to whom it belonged. The quest to solve the mystery spans three continents and brings international attention to the life of a little Jewish girl from Czechoslovakia in Ellen Levine’s inspiring story Hana’s Suitcase.

The Story

The outside of the worn suitcase is marked with these words: Hanna Brady,Waisenkind, May 31. As children visited the Tokyo Holocaust Center and viewed the suitcase on display they began to ask questions of museum curator Fumiko Ishioka. Who was Hana Brady? What did Waiksenkind mean?

Searching for Hana Brady’s story becomes a quest for Ishioka and group of children who formed a club called Small Wings in honor of the little girl.  After writing several letters, Fumiko learns Hana had come to Auschwitz from a place called Theresienstadt. From this bit of information, the investigation of Hanna Brady takes off. In her dedicated pursuit to unearth information about Hana’s life, Ishioka finds an old list of Theresienstadt survivors- George Brady, Hana’s older brother, survived!

Hoping to learn more, Ishioka meets with the director of the Terrezin Ghetto Museum where she’s shown drawings Hana made while staying in Theresiendstadt.

Through sheer determination, luck, and the good will of others, Fumiko learns the story of a Jewish girl from Nove Mesto, a popular skiing town in Czechoslovakia. Born May 31, 1931 Hana Brady, the only daughter of Jewish grocers, enjoyed a happy childhood until the Nazis invaded Nove Mesto in 1939.

Within two years Hana is separated from her family and by the time she is twelve is deported to a concentration camp in Poland.

In alternating chapters of past and present, Hana and Fumiko’s narrative timelines gently reveal Hana’s fate.

Author Karen Levine

Karen Levine is an award-winning journalist who first broadcasted the story of Hanna’s Suitcase as a documentary on a Canadian radio program. A friend in publishing whose parents were Holocaust survivors convinced Levine to turn the story into a book. Prior to the book being published in the United States, it was published in Canada by Second Story Press

The recipient of not one, but two Peabody Awards for her radio productions, Levine has carved a thirty year career working for the Canadian Broadcasting Company Radio network.  Hana’s Suitcase is her only book and she’s taken the story on tour to classrooms throughout the world to educate children about the Holocaust.

(Source: Second Story Press, Allen & Unwin: Karen Levine)

Awards and Honors

2006 Prize for Children's Holocaust Literature, Yad Vashem

Israel UNICEF Paolo Ungari Award

The Canadian Library Association's Children's Book of the Year

The National Jewish Book Award in the USA

The Association of Jewish Libraries' Sydney Taylor Award (Older Readers)

The Canadian Jewish Book Award 2003

Governor General's Award Nominee

My Recommendation

Emotional and inspiring, Hanna’s Suitcase engaged my attention for the duration of its short 111 pages. The dual stories of the Japanese museum curator from the Tokyo Holocaust Center and the Jewish girl growing up in World War II Czechoslovakia made for a compelling story. I admire Fumiko Ishioka for her desire to educate Japanese children about the Holocaust.

Fumiko Ishioka's determination to discover the story of Hana Brady has brought the world’s attention to just one of many children whose life was tragically cut short due to hate and intolerance. Because of Ishioka’s efforts, children around the world are learning about the little girl from Nove Mesto who loved to ski, dance, and act in plays.

The layout of the two stories keeps readers attention.

Alternating chapters take readers along two timelines. The first timeline begins with the opening of the Tokyo Holocaust Center and Fumiko’s keen interest in finding information about Hanna Brady. The second timeline is Hana’s history. Karen Levine’s simple writing style makes the reading quick, but in no way detracts from the underlying tragedy.

In fact, Levine is quite gentle in taking readers through the traumatic events of Hanna’s life from losing both her mother and father, to being separated from her brother at Thiersenstadt, to her final deportation to Auschwitz. Levine underscores the reality of the story by including photographs of Hana and her family, her artwork, and her mother’s final birthday gift. In addition, pictures of Fumiko and her club Small Wings, helps readers recognize how Hana’s life is inspiring children around the world.

Hanna’s Suitcase brought me to tears many times.  Although a sad story, I felt inspired by the determination of Fumiko Ishioka to recognize the life of a little Jewish girl. While Hana’s Suitcase is recommended for children 10 and up, the content of the story may not be suitable for children whose tender sensibilities are unprepared for the atrocities of the Holocaust. Forced separation from family members and death are difficult issues, and I advise parents to introduce these subjects prior to reading Hana’s Suitcase. Recommended for ages 10-14. (Albert Whitman & Co., 2004.ISBN: 9781896764559)

The popularity of Hana’s Suitcase has inspired a website called Hana’s Story created and maintained by members of the George Brady family. Readers interested in learning more about Hana’s life can view photos and vintage film clips. In addition, the website contains a study guide for the book as well as information about the Tokyo Holocaust Center.

A Special Edition and Online Resources

An anniversary edition of Hana’s Suitcase was published by Canadian publisher Second Story Press in 2012.  It contains an additional 60 pages of photos and information.

To learn more, read the overview of Hana's Suitcase Anniversary Album.

Additional Recommended Reading and About.com Resources

For young readers who want to read more Holocaust nonfiction, I also recommend Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport and The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible…on Schindler's List, the memoir of Leon Leyson, the youngest Holocaust survivor on Schindler's List.

For more about the Holocaust, read: