The story of Hana’s Suitcase has touched the hearts of thousands of readers around the world and next month, thousands more will be exposed to the moving story of the teenage victim of the Holocaust.
On Oct. 4 and Oct. 5, 4,000 students from the Hamilton-Wentworth and Roman Catholic school boards, as well as Halton Region’s public and Catholic boards will crowd into Hamilton Place to view Inside Hana’s Suitcase, a film based on Hana Brady’s life story, as well as meet her brother, George Brady.
Another 1,500 to 2,000 will gather in the evening of Oct. 4 to see the movie, meet Brady and raise funds for the United Way’s Hana’s Suitcase Legacy Fund, which promotes literacy programs in Hamilton, as well as for Holocaust education and human rights programs of the Hamilton Jewish federation.
The collaborative effort doesn’t end there, said Gerald Fisher, executive director of UJA Federation of Hamilton. “We’ve done something remarkable in Hamilton. We’ve arranged with the Hamilton-Wentworth public and Roman Catholic schools, with the Halton regional schools and with private schools to teach a curriculum in school on Holocaust education and human rights to middle school students based on the book, Hana’s Suitcase,” he said.
Madeleine Levy, co-chair of the federation’s Holocaust education committee, said the organization has worked in the past with Hamilton educators to run symposia to inform students about the Holocaust as well as help give teachers the tools they need to teach about the Holocaust.
“This is what we do,” she said. “We had so many teachers asking how to approach social justice issues and Holocaust education in the classroom while fitting in the curriculum and promoting literacy.”
In the last year, she and other volunteers put together an answer for their questions, she continued. Schools in the region were given copies of the book, by award-winning author Karen Levine, as well as a Holocaust-related curriculum created by Second Story Press, the book’s publisher. In addition, reference materials for teachers were collected from the Montreal and Vancouver Holocaust education centres, and the whole package was presented in replica suitcases manufactured by a local contractor.
The materials were funded by a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Today’s Family, a local organization involved in child education and care, partnered with the federation.
“The whole community came together for the project,” Levy said. “I think it’s a wonderful teaching tool for Grades five and six.”
Pat Rocco, superintendent of education for Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, said each school in the division has received one replica suitcase with materials to implement the curriculum. Teachers will use the materials to guide students in grades 5 to 8 about the Holocaust and expand on the lesson to promote the school boards’ values of “tolerance and respect.”
Hana’s Suitcase can be a jumping off point to teach about “social justice,” said Rocco – “teaching kids to be good global citizens.” That includes “self-respect,” “doing the right thing” and “treating others like you’d like to be treated,” he said.
Rocco said the Hana’s Suitcase curriculum fits nicely with other educative tools throughout the school year, such as commemorating Martin Luther King Day, a social justice fair and a film fair.
The story of Hana Brady and her suitcase was first told in The CJN in 2001. The story inspired Levine to write Hana’s Suitcase, which garnered numerous intentional awards.
It tells the story of Hana and George Brady, youngsters during World War II who were sent to the Nazi concentration camp at Theresienstadt. The camp was used to fool international observers about the condition of Jews who had been rounded up and deported from their homes.
Hana and George were deported separately to Auschwitz, where Hana was killed immediately on arrival in October 1944. The suitcase in the book’s title refers to the luggage she carried with her to the Nazi death camp, but which she never used.
It came to life again when Fumiko Ishioka, director of the Holocaust Education Resource Centre in Tokyo, asked the Auschwitz Museum for an artifact that might bring home to her students the reality of the Holocaust. She was sent Hana’s suitcase (it later turned out to be a replica created by the museum after the original was destroyed by vandals in 1984 while being exhibited in Birmingham, England), and she used it to track down Hana’s brother, George Brady, who had survived the war and started a new life in Toronto.
Brady had been unaware that his sister’s suitcase still existed.
“Hana’s Suitcase has brought the lessons of history and a message of tolerance to thousands of children, and will continue to do so,” Brady said.
Levy believes the Hamilton federation and its partners are continuing that message.
“In the book Hana said she wanted to be a teacher. We’re fulfilling that dream for her,” she said.