Here's a book that will break your heart. In 2000, when Fumiko Ishioka, Director of the Tokyo Holocaust Center, acquired the suitcase of a Jewish child who was at Auschwitz during World War II, she set out to discover what happened to that child. First, there's the photograph of the big, brown suitcase, with the name Hana Brady painted on it, the birthdate, May 16, 1931, and the word "Waisenkind": orphan.
Over the next year, Fumiko shared her research and findings with a group of Japanese children, ages 8-18, called "Small Wings," who got together at the center to learn about the Holocaust. We learn how Fumiko explored every avenue to piece together the mystery. In alternating chapters, dotted with family photos, we discover the fate of Hana, a Jewish little girl who lived with her parents, owners of the general store in their small Czechoslovakian town, and her big brother, George.
In 1939, the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. By 1930, when Hana was in third grade, she was no longer allowed to go to school. In 1941, her mother was arrested by the Gestapo and taken away, and then her father. Hana and George were sent first to the concentration camp Terezin, then to Theresienstadt in the Czech Republic, and then to Auschwitz, which is, tragically, where Hana died in 1944.
The way this story unfolds is so child-centered and sensitive and personal, and yet surprisingly life-affirming and empowering. Fumiko traveled from Tokyo to the Terezin Ghetto Museum, where she learned that Hana’s brother George might have survived. Indeed, he was alive, living in Toronto. Fumiko let him know about Hana's suitcase, and George's recounting of his memories became the basis of the story of Hana's life, retold so movingly here. His surviving photos of Hana and the family, included in the book, chronicle their lives before the war.
Levine put the book together as the result of a radio documentary she wrote and produced for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She also wrote a play based on the book, which premiered in March 2006 at the Lorraine Kimsa Theater for Young People in Toronto. Her companion book, Hana's Suitcase on Stage, contains the complete script which children can read and act out as a Reader’ Theater production.
Reviewed by JF.
THEMES: BIOGRAPHY. JEWS. WORLD WAR II.
Albert Whitman, 2003
Suggested Ages: 9 and Up