CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 21 . . . . June 21, 2002
Writers today have taken up the important task to keep history fresh. The motive is to teach the current generations about some of the most terrible events in history, to learn from them and not repeat them. These authors both of fiction and nonfiction are to be commended for their work, which is popular and appreciated by youth of all ages.
Now Hana's Suitcase can be added to this important body of young adolescent literature. In this wonderful book, the reader goes on a voyage of discovery as author Karen Levine documents a Japanese woman's effort to find out what happened to a young Jewish girl, Hana Brady, in World War II. Her approach to the subject matter is engrossing and displays precise historical research as well as attention to the developmental level of the target age group. As director of the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Centre, Fumiko Ishioka's concern was that young people should learn about this significant tragedy because it is an area of history that is hardly taught to children in Japan. She petitioned different Holocaust remembrance centres for authentic materials to make the subject more concrete for her students. Although she was denied many times, she persisted, and her perseverance was finally rewarded when a small suitcase arrived. It was the suitcase of a child, Hana Brady, whose fate was unknown. Hana's suitcase triggered a hunt for information that took Fumiko to Czechoslovakia and to Toronto. Incredibly she unearthed the path that Hana Brady took to her final destination at Auschwitz nearly 60 years ago, and she discovered that Hana's brother, George, had survived and was living in Toronto. Her dogged determination culminated in piecing together Hana's final days. George Brady's lifelong regret was that he was unable to protect his younger sister from the horror of the Holocaust. Hana had been entrusted to his care by his parents who were each seized by the Nazis and also perished. Fumiko's work resulted in a form of resolution for George who was 74 years old in 2000 when she contacted him. Hana had always wanted to be a teacher, and George feels that her suitcase and Fumiko's work have accomplished her goal.
Karen Levine was introduced to this story through a newspaper article about the work of Fumiko Ishioka, and she went on to produce a CBC radio documentary called Hana's Suitcase. She then spent a year turning this valuable story into a children's book which is structured so that, side by side, the reader learns about the dark clouds that quickly surround Hana's life and Fumiko's growing interest and investigation. Concern for Hana and suspense for Fumiko grow as the reader yearns for the slim possibility that Hana survived genocide at Auschwitz. Through George Brady, Fumiko learned that Hana was killed the first day she arrived at the death camp, gassed along with hundreds of others. George supplemented Fumiko's investigation with information about their childhood, with artifacts and black and white pictures of their lives before the war. These pictures grace the book, along with drawings Hana created in the "secret school" that operated in Theresienstadt. Some of the drawings depict the same scenes as the snapshots - the family working outdoors together and others - beautiful memories that Hana clung to while she was surrounded by unspeakable hell. A lovely studio portrait of Hana fills the glossy cover, making her real for the reader. Fumiko Ishioka's work in Japan with the group called Small Wings continues to educate the youth about the horrors of the Holocaust and war. Children are urged to use their creativity and energy to be activists for peace. George Brady has visited the centre to assist in this important educational program. And Karen Levine has brought it to the world, through radio and print, for adults and now children. Each has performed a valuable service. We owe them our thanks. This is a must-have book.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.