It was a watershed moment for Fumiko Ishioko. Visiting Israel, she met a group of Holocaust survivors. Captured, as much by their love of life as by their tragedy, she knew what she would do. She opened a small storefront ‘Museum’ in Tokyo to teach the Holocaust story to Japanese children. She had no idea how astonishing and poignant the lesson was to be.
Knowing that tangible objects held more meaning than a few pictures and volumes of text, Fumiko sought artifacts of the Holocaust from anyone who would listen. On a trip to Poland she convinced curators at the Aushwitz Museum to send her a child intern’s sock and shoe, a sweater, a can of Zyklon B poisonous gas and one suitcase. Painted on that suitcase was a challenge to Fumiko and her students: “Hanna Brady 625, Waisenkind” (orphan).
What did Hanna Brady look like? What sort of person was she? How did her suitcase end up in the Auschwitz Extermination Camp? Was she still alive?
The book’s cover image, with pretty Hana and a “Jude” star, conveys intimacy with tragedy. As Karen Levine introduces more and more of Hana, she also endears us to Fumiko and her pursuit of one tiny strand of information after another. Surely somehow, the two threads must come together.
Hana’s Suitcase is powerful portrayal of the vicious indecency of extreme racism and bigotry, yet it is conveyed in a manner appropriate for children. Thanks to Ishioko and Levine, the reader will see the Holocaust from the intimate and individual perspective of a beautiful living, breathing little girl — a girl whose ordinary cares and happy expectations for the future are suddenly anything but mundane. How could anyone ever put a child so dear in an extermination camp, or worse?
If there were ever a need to understand the Holocaust on a personal level, Hana’s Suitcase fulfills it in a way all the statistics and generalizations of history books cannot. It gives the adult reader more than enough reason to shoulder the moral responsibility of looking into the deepest causes of the Nazi ideology. The causes lie in ideas creeping from beneath the myriad mentalities and rationalizations of millions of people. People who turned a blind eye to what the Nazis really were.
Worse, The Holocaust was not just a horrible anomaly perpetrated by Hitler, or the Nazis. Holocaust variations occur time and again in every century, as racists, nationalists, socialists/fascists/communists, or the religious, thoughtlessly prompt the worst in humanity into Rule. To understand what these mentalities hold in common, VM recommends a careful read of “Ominous Parallels” by Leonard Peikoff —for Hana’s sake, and for the sake of children of any age.