Only days before he suffered the heart attack that would claim his life, George Brady was keeping busy, answering letters sent by children from around the world who had been inspired by Hana’s Suitcase, the book that told the story of his teenage sister who had been killed by the Nazis.
On Jan. 11, Brady, 90, collapsed at home and died quickly, with his responses to the letters waiting to be mailed, said his daughter, Lara.
When news of his death spread, people began calling from around the world – from the Czech Republic, Japan, Germany, all over, said Lara Brady.
They were devastated by the news, saddened that the man whose story inspired thousands had met his end. In the Czech Republic, he was also remembered as a patriot, a man who opened his doors to emigres who fled after the 1968 crackdown and when the communist regime collapsed in 1989, Lara Brady said.
Over the years, he received many honours: he was a member of the Order of Ontario; he received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal; he was given the keys to Prague and Nove Mesto (his home town); he was granted the Verdienstkreuz am Bande, the highest German civilian order of merit; and he received the Masaryk Society award and the Czech House of Commons award, among others.
First told in the pages of The CJN in 2000, the story of Hana’s suitcase led author Karen Levine to write the book that would, in today’s vernacular, go viral.
Eventually translated into more than 40 languages, the story would also be turned into a stage play and a documentary film.
The story behind Hana’s Suitcase actually began in Japan, where Fumiko lshioka, the curator of a Holocaust education centre in Tokyo, was looking for an artifact that would help capture the attention of Japanese youngsters. She contacted the Auschwitz museum, asking to borrow something for educational purposes. They sent her a suitcase bearing Hana Brady’s name. When children began asking questions about Hana, Ishioka investigated and, through good detective work, tracked down Brady at his home in Toronto. At the time, Brady did not know that the suitcase had survived.
One day, he showed up at the offices of The CJN, gave an outline of the events and asked kind of sheepishly, “Do you think this is a story?”
Apparently it was.
Over the years, Brady and Ishioka embarked on numerous educational projects to relay the message of tolerance and respect. She would use a replica suitcase as a prop as she visited more than 1,200 schools over the years to lecture about the Holocaust. The story has also been made into a comic book and a musical in Japan.
Travelling to Toronto for the funeral, lshioka said, “The message for kids in Japan is how important it is to learn from history. I remember George always telling the children he would see that it’s not just Hana, but think of other children who were hurt because of discrimination and prejudice in today’s world.
“He would always encourage children to get involved and make a difference in their own lives. It was a really important message,” lshioka said.
Lara Brady recalled that one of her father’s most memorable experiences was lecturing in a school near Hiroshima, “with people waiting with bated breath for every story he told.
“For him, it was confirmation that so many years after Hana’s horrific murder, people were eager to hear her story.”
Like other Holocaust survivors, Brady made a new life for himself. He traveled to Canada, and though he started with nothing, he worked hard and made a success of himself, said his son, Doug Brady.
Three years after arriving in Toronto, he started a plumbing and heating business, a trade he learned while living in the Terezin concentration camp. His partner in the plumbing business was Joe Seidner, the man under whom he had apprenticed in Terezin and who he had run into by chance in Toronto, Doug Brady recounted.
When it came to the Holocaust, his father didn’t dwell on the past, but was ready to discuss it when asked, Doug Brady said.
He overcame the negative and turned it into the positive.
– Doug Brady
George Brady survived the death camp, Hana didn’t. “He felt he was responsible to keep his sister alive, even though he was 14 and she was 11,” Doug Brady said.
For years after the publication of the book, Brady travelled the world, lecturing at schools and other institutions about the perils of prejudice and hatred.
It was a story that Brady was determined to tell, as a way of keeping the memory of his sister alive and as a cautionary tale of what happens when people are consumed by prejudice and hate, he told The CJN on more than one occasion.
Despite his losses, Brady was always an optimist. “If he was having a bad day, he would look at (the tattoo on his arm) and know nothing was as bad,” said Doug Brady. “He overcame the negative and turned it into the positive.”
Doug Brady, who runs the plumbing and heating business his father started with Seidner, said Hana’s Suitcase “isn’t only a Jewish story. He felt that intolerance and hate was a problem all over the world. He wanted to have some sort of positive effect on people all over the world.”
“This is not the end,” said Lara Brady. “The story will continue.”