|Inside Hanas Suitcase is about a girl who died at Auschwitz. (Library Research)|
Inside Hana's Suitcase
‘Hana’s Suitcase’ carries important lessons
Director Larry Weinstein, best known for music documentaries such as “Ravel’s Brain’’ and “Beethoven’s Hair,’’ uses a variety of techniques in his attempt to make a fresh Holocaust-themed documentary. He mixes historical reenactment, family photos, animation, and talking heads with varying degrees of success. In the end, what makes “Inside Hana’s Suitcase’’ so powerful is the most traditional technique of all: authentic and eloquent storytelling by memorable characters.
Of course, the story is a pretty remarkable one. In 2000, an ordinary, battered suitcase made its way from the Auschwitz Museum in Poland to Fumiko Ishioka at the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center. Part of a traveling exhibit, the suitcase bore the name Hana Brady, painted in white lettering. The tenacious Ishioka used the luggage as a tool to engage young students at the center, which is dedicated to educating Japanese children about the Holocaust. She began involving them in her quest to find out more about Hana Brady. Through letter writing and Internet searching, she found that Hana was a Jewish citizen of Czechoslovakia who perished at Auschwitz at age 13. She also discovered that Hana’s brother, George, three years older, survived the death camp and was now living in Toronto.
The story of Ishioka and Brady became the basis for Karen Levine’s international bestseller “Hana’s Suitcase.’’ Weinstein’s film gives voice to numerous children from Japan, Canada, and the Czech Republic who have studied the book and are enlisted onscreen to recount the events in Hana’s life. This allows us to see the effect that Hana’s life has had on the children, who speak straightforwardly and at times with a breathtaking understanding of the nuances and tragic outcome. Through Ishioka’s dogged research, the pupils’ narration, and the black-and-white reenactments, we learn that Hana’s parents were deported in 1939 after the Nazi invasion and soon both she and her protective older brother George were sent first to Theresienstadt and then to Auschwitz.
The film is bolstered by the presence of George Brady, now a white-haired grandfather still haunted by survivor’s guilt and the memory of his parents and sister who all died at the hands of the Nazis. With present-day scenes of Brady, his quiet determination to embrace life and live joyfully becomes the film’s grace note. Ishioka ultimately provides Brady with a way to process his grief when he and his adult daughter Lara travel to Tokyo to meet Ishioka’s students and to see Hana’s suitcase (there’s a denouement with some surprising revelations about the item). As two cultures collide and meld, language barriers, time, and distance fall away.
Several of the children interviewed explain that Hana Brady had wanted to be a teacher. Then, emphatically and poignantly, they tell us that this is what she ended up becoming.
George Brady and his daughter Lara will be at all screenings of “Inside Hana’s Suitcase’’ during its first weekend at the West Newton Cinema. They will introduce the film and answer questions.
Loren King can be reached at email@example.com.