|Friday 24 August, 2001
Auschwitz case study
Fifty-seven years after her death at Auschwitz a little girl is teaching Japanese school children about the Holocaust.
Omnibus tells the remarkable story of how an empty suitcase has captured the imaginations of Japanese school children and provided them with a personal account of one child’s plight at the infamous concentration camp.
When a children’s Holocaust education centre in Tokyo acquired an empty suitcase from Auschwitz, they knew little about its origins.
Written on the side were the owners name: Hana Brady, her birthday: 16 May 1931 and the word ‘Waisenkind’ meaning orphan.
Despite the lack of information when the case went on display in an exhibition detailing the holocaust as seen through children’s eyes, many Japanese school children flocked to it. They wrote poems about it, drew pictures and told stories, guessing at the story behind the suitcase.
The case provided an insight into the personal tragedies that occurred at Auschwitz as a note displayed in the centre explains:
|‘This suitcase most attracts the attention of the visitors, letting them focus on this one little life lost in the Holocaust, and effectively realized the tragedy of the Holocaust which took the life one and half million children.’ |
Tracking the case
Intrigued, Fumiko Ishioka, the centre’s director, made it her mission to find out more about the little battered case. She explains:
‘I knew that Hana Brady had died at Auschwitz, but I wanted to find out what sort of girl she was before the Holocaust.’
After contacting museums around the world, Ishioka still knew nothing more about the case or its owner. She knew that the people imprisoned at Auschwitz were allowed just one suitcase of possessions and that this would have travelled with its owner from previous camps.
Tracking Hana to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, was a major breakthrough and when Ishioka examined the records she discovered that here Hana had been incarcerated with another family member – her brother, George Brady.
Although the authorities at Theresienstadt did not know where Hana’s brother now lived, they did know of the whereabouts of a fellow prisoner. Through him Ishioka obtained George Brady’s address in Canada and wrote to him to ask about his sister, Hana.
Who was Hana Brady?
George Brady was shocked to find that one of his younger sister’s possessions had surfaced in Japan, many years before he had visited Auschwitz and had been unable to find the suitcase.
Now he had been given the opportunity to tell his family’s story.
Born in Nove Mesto, Czechoslovakia in 1931, Hana Brady was a pretty, blonde child who liked to ski and paint. But soon after the start of World War II, Hana’s parents were arrested by the Nazis and taken to Auschwitz where they later died.
In 1942 Hana and George were themselves deported to Theresienstadt. They spent two years here before George was transported to Auschwitz in September 1944.
As a strong young man he passed the selection and was able to work, meanwhile Hana was just a little girl. Too small to work, she was taken to Auschwitz on the 23 October 1944.
At the time George had no idea what had happened to his sister. After his release from Auschwitz he returned to live with his uncle and aunt who hoped that Hana was still alive.
But after tracking down a friend of his sister’s, George Brady learnt the devastating news that just one day after her arrival at Auschwitz, Hana had been sent to the gas chambers.
George Brady recalls:
|‘The day before the transport to Auschwitz, Hana asked my cousin to do her hair because she wanted to look nice when she would meet me. Instead when she got to Auschwitz they cut her hair and then they killed her.’ |
Now in Tokyo Hana’s suitcase continues to attract attention. Surrounding it are pictures drawn by Hana at Theresienstadt and photographs of the once happy little girl.
By providing information about Hana, George Brady hopes to keep the memory of his sister alive. Speaking to the Canadian Jewish News he commented:
‘The only thing I can do for my sister is to see that she's remembered.’
For visitors to the education centre in Tokyo, Hana’s suitcase is a visual reminder of the many young lives lost during the Holocaust.
As Fumiko Ishioka explains:
‘In Japan the Holocaust seems so far away… but when they look at the suitcase children were really shocked, that Hana was their age. It helped them to focus on this one little life that was lost and to think about why such a thing should happen to a girl like her.’
| Nazi concentration camps
|Auschwitz was originally a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners, but it was expanded in 1941 with the addition of a much larger camp at nearby Birkenau.
Auschwitz-Birkenau and its sub-camps held 400,000 registered prisoners including 205,000 Jews, 137,000 Poles, 21,000 Gypsies, 12,000 Soviet POWs and 25,000 others (including a few British POWs).
In this largest and worst of all the Nazi concentration camps, 210,000 prisoners died of starvation and abuse.
In the spring of 1942 gas chambers were built at Birkenau and mass transports of Jews began to arrive.
Early in 1943 four purpose-built gas chambers and crematorium complexes were constructed there, which included such refinements as electric lifts to carry bodies up to the crematoria.