The true story of Hana’s suitcase is a remarkable one and one that is well told in this moving account by Karen Levine. It crosses three continents to trace the story of a young girl, her brother and the suitcase. The reason the suitcase was needed was the most poignant thing of all because Hana was a young Jewish girl in 30s Europe caught up in the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust.
The reason we know about Hana’s story is down to a Japanese woman Fumiko Ishioka and her small museum in Tokyo. The Tokyo Holocaust Resource Centre was established to ensure generations of young people know about and learn the lessons of the destruction caused by he hatred of difference. She visited Auschwitz as part of her work and asked for the loan of items to exhibit back in Tokyo. She particularly wanted a child’s she and a suitcase because of their symbolic value.
Hana’s suitcase was loaned in 2000 and put on display. It had a name, date of birth and the German word for orphan ‘Wisenkind’ written on it in large writing. Several young volunteers at the museum became interested in the person behind the name and the quest to find Hana began.
The book relates the search for the young Czech girl, or at least information about her fate. They hoped to find her alive and well but the journey took Fumiko Ishioka back to Europe where she discovered that Hana was one of the millions killed by the Nazi German regime. She had been killed in the gas chambers hours after arriving at Auschwitz in 1944. The search also turned up the information that her brother, George, had survived the camp and had moved to Canada after the war. A third continent became part of the story.
This book was written by Karen Levine who was also a producer on a film made about a suitcase that acted as both a symbol of events that should never be forgotten and the powerful reminder of the determination of some people to keep the memories alive.
‘Hana’s Suitcase’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?