Before George chose to share his memories of Hana with Fumiko, he shared them with his family and in particular, with his youngest child, his daughter, Lara. Knowing that her middle name was in remembrance of Hana, Lara had grown up curious about the aunt she never had the chance to meet.
In 1997, fascinated and horrified with her father’s history, Lara accompanied George on his first trip back to Auschwitz since his captivity during the war. They went with the intention of finding the suitcase which had belonged to Hana. They knew it had been kept at Auschwitz because a friend of Hana’s had written to George in 1962, saying that she had seen Hana’s name written on a suitcase on top of the pile of suitcases in a room at Auschwitz. George and Lara searched the museum and the rooms with the suitcases, but could not find Hana’s. When they returned home, they wrote to Auschwitz asking about the suitcase and any further information about their family. They received a photograph of the suitcase and a mug shot of George’s father and arrival forms filled out by his parents. They received no answer about the missing suitcase.
The rest of the story is well documented in Karen Levine’s book Hana’s Suitcase. The suitcase reappeared at the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Centre in Japan, which prompted the curator of the centre, Fumiko Ishioka, to make contact with the Brady family. Drawn together from opposite sides of the world, they’ve sought to teach awareness of the evils of intolerance, using George and Hana’s experience of the Holocaust as an example, and to start discussions about hatred with students in various countries. Yet while the suitcase was a symbol of the terrible injustices of the Holocaust, it also became a symbol of hope. It had traveled the world, drawing children together, teaching them tolerance and the lessons of history alike.
However, this story did not end with the publishing of a book about Hana’s story…
After visiting his hometown of Nove Mesto in October of 2003, George met Hana’s friend and found out that on her 1962 visit to Auschwitz she had taken a picture of herself and the suitcase. She sent them a copy in January of 2004.
In February, Lara was looking at the 1962 photograph, and she realized there were inconsistencies. She was looking at two different suitcases – the photograph showed a suitcase with the writing right side up when it was being held, and the one Lara had in front of her showed the writing upside down.
After absorbing this shocking discovery, she pointed it out to her father, who immediately struck out in search of answers. If the suitcase that had traveled the world was not the original suitcase, then where was the real suitcase, and what further stories did it hold? And why was it replaced with a near-exact replica?
Despite emotional misgivings, George and Fumiko returned to Auschwitz in March of 2004, determined to learn the truth. At the museum, the mystery was solved. Hana’s suitcase had traveled with a few other suitcases and paintings to Birmingham, England, in 1984 for an exhibit. Before the exhibit was organized, the warehouse containing the precious artifacts caught fire and burned. Arson, fueled by hatred and intolerance, was deemed responsible for the fire.
Due to the lack of children’s suitcases left to remind us of the more than 1.5 million children who died, management at the Auschwitz Museum sought to recreate the suitcase using the historical photograph that Hana’s friend had taken in 1962 and preserve its history. The original writing was replicated on a suitcase from the era and eventually sent to the centre in Japan. Fumiko had requested that Auschwitz provide artifacts from the Holocaust; they sent her three articles of clothing, a canister of Zyklon B gas and the suitcase. The Auschwitz museum provided Fumiko with an agreement loaning the artifacts, but through human error, the word “replica” was not printed on the documents, nor did Auschwitz management inform her that the suitcase was a replica.
Regardless of the fate of Hana’s main possession on her journey from her home in Nove Mesto to the gas chambers, Hana’s legacy continues. While she was condemned to an early death along with most of her family, fate saw to it that her suitcase survived the war, and that against all odds, after being destroyed nearly 40 years later, it was reproduced so that her story could be told.
Thanks to this suitcase, Fumiko discovered Hana’s story and was able to keep her memory alive. Through Hana’s story, the children of the Holocaust now have another voice to help us remember them and teach today’s children about tolerance and acceptance of differences in all of us.
Despite the frustration the Brady family feels over the ultimate fate of the suitcase, the discovery of the replica has enforced their beliefs about Hana’s legacy and how, against all odds, it has persevered, overcoming so many obstacles to share her story with the world. But the destruction of Hana’s original suitcase also reminds us how anti-Semitism and intolerance still pervade society, underscoring the undeniable need for stories like Hana’s to fight prejudice and intolerance in society today, and to prevent children growing up with these destructive ideas in the future.
For this reason, the Brady family’s involvement in sharing Hana’s story does not end with George. His daughter Lara continues to find new ways to spread her aunt’s story to the next generation sharing the lessons of the past that we hope will eventually be learned by everyone around the world.