TORONTO — He’s had numerous newspaper articles written about him and his wartime history, along with a best-selling children’s book, radio interviews, video documentaries and speaking engagements the world over. And last week, George Brady’s star climbed even higher as the government of Germany honoured him with a civilian decoration.
Brady, now 85, whose story of survival and remembrance was captured in the book Hana’s Suitcase, received the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. The medal was awarded to Brady because of his work toward remembrance, reconciliation and outreach, said the German consul general in Toronto, Sabina Sparwasser.
Brady, 85, was joined by his wife and children for a brief ceremony at the German Consulate. Dignitaries from the German and Czech diplomatic missions, including both countries’ ambassadors, were also present.
In presenting the award, Sparwasser said, “Your extraordinary achievement is to have turned the horror, brutality and loss that you suffered as a child at the hands of the Germans and in the name of Germany into a message of remembrance, love and hope.”
Noting the reluctance of Holocaust survivors to come to the German Consulate for documentation, Sparwasser said, “I do not understand, George, how you could find it in your heart to reach out to Germany. I asked you once, and your answer was as simple and powerful as you are: ‘The hatred has to stop somewhere.’
“You have given us the most generous of gifts – the gift of friendship,” she continued.
“Being here today, I hope, feels like a triumph for you – your struggles to survive the Holocaust, your efforts to honour the memories of those who perished, and, perhaps most astonishingly, your determination to put aside hatred and work for greater tolerance and reconciliation among the peoples of the world.”
Speaking to The CJN just prior to receiving the award, Brady said, “I think it’s an incredible turn of affairs. If you think about it, 70 years ago I was practically being killed.”
He said the award shows German officials remembered the past, “are sorry about what happened and are trying to make up for it.”
Brady’s story first appeared on the front page of The CJN more than 11 years ago. George and his sister, Hana, were children in wartime Czechoslovakia who were imprisoned in Theresienstadt. Hana was deported to Auschwitz, where she was killed. A replica of Hana’s suitcase was retrieved by Japanese Holocaust educator Fumiko Ishioka, who contacted George and set off the chain of events that led to the book, documentary and, most recently, the award by the German government.