Two teachers – one suitcase

March 22, 2010 by Henry Benjamin
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Fumiko Ishioka told her amazing story of her search for the owner of a suitcase she received from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial to a Sydney audience last night…and met a Canberra teacher who has just finished teaching the project.

Lara Brady, Fumiko Ishioka and Robin Ricketts pic: Henry Benjamin

Fumiko Ishioka is  a Tokyo-based educator who visited the concentration camp site in 1999 and asked the authorities if she could have artifacts to take back to Japan where she was teaching the Holocaust.

She received a battered suitcase bearing the name Hana Brady and set about tracing the identity of the case’s owner. Her search took her to Theriesenstadt where she discovered that George and Hana Brady had been taken to Auschwitz and further research showed that Hana had been murdered but George had survived and had emigrated to Toronto.

The teacher and Hana’s brother finally met when George Brady visited Ishioka’s school in Tokyo.

Hana and George separated at Auschwitz - drawing by Canberra pupil

The story was written by Canadian radio producer Karen Levine and has been translated into 40 languages and has been made into a movie. “Hana’s Suitcase” was screened at the Sydney Jewish Museum yesterday afternoon followed by a presentation by the Japanese teacher accompanied by Hana’s brother George’s daughter, Lara Brady.

Ishioka now runs the Tokyo Holocaust Education Centre.

News of the screening brought 38-yr-old Robin Ricketts on a special mission from Canberra where she has just finished a project with her year 7 pupils on Hana’s Suitcase.

J-Wire brought the two teachers together and Ricketts presented Ishioka and George Brady’s daughter Lara with drawings made by her pupils as part of the project.

Ricketts told J-Wire: “I was absoulutely thrilled to meet Ms Ishioka. I have taught the story of Hana and her suitcase three times now…and I use it to make the point as strongly as possible to the children about the importance of tolerance and understanding.

Ricketts, who grew up in Dubbo, added: ” I was teaching at a large school in the A.C.T. and was looking for a text that would challenge the pupils as to not only what had happened in the past but also what they could do help those in need around them. One of my peer teachers had read ‘Hana’s Suitcase’ and recommended it. We taught the text to 11 to 13-yr-olds.”

Ricketts had studied the Rise of the Third Reich at university so the Holocaust was no stranger to her. She said: “The wonderful thing about teaching ‘Hana’s Suitcase’ is that Hana was the age that the children are now. Many of them have brothers and sisters and they experienced distress when they learned how Hana and George had been separated. We teach them before the project about the Holocaust and the death camps and they are well aware of what happened in Auschwitz-Birkenaua and Terezein so when they knew about Hana being sent to Auschwitz they figured that she was not going to survive. When we finished the project, I got the children to pretend that they are either George or Hana and ask them to write a letter to their sibling. This year I have asked them to write to Fumiko or to George Brady.

Fumiko Ishioka and Hana's case pic: Henry Benjamin

“The first time I read the book, I bawled my eyes out when I realised Hana had died but I was inspired when George told a child who asked if he could, would he seek revenge? He replied that revenge would get him nowhere…becoming vengeful yourself would just make you bitter. So we teach the children that if you see something that is wrong, speak up. There are probably others around you who think the same thing but don’t have the courage to do so….we teach them that that bad little things grow into bad big things and if they are not stopped…they will grow.”

Lara Brady pic: Henry Benjamin

J-Wire asked Ricketts how she felt about meeting the people behind the book.

“I am just aghast that I am meeting the two people who are directly involved in the text that I am teaching right now.

“There is a growing groundswell to get this text into more and more schools. The words are simple but the ideas are complex. It is relevant and significant to the lives of students.

“The story is 65 years old.  We tell parents ‘Your son or daughter is Hana’s age. They at times will suffer teasing, bullying and the feeling that life is unfair. This story helps them deal with modern-day victimisation The book will teach them to make the world a better place for themselves and for the people around them.”

Ricketts is married but has no children. She said “In many ways my classroom children are my children. In the book, George visits Prague after the war and meets an old friend who realises that George does not know that Hana is dead and she has to tell him. I find it so difficult to read that passage in front of my class without getting choked up.

Today is another schoolday in Canberra. As Lara Brady and Fumiko Ishioka tour schools in Sydney, Robin Tricketts will stand in front of her class at Kaleen High School and tell the children how Hana’s suitcase has come to life for her…a story she will tell over and over again…for the betterment of others and for the betterment of the world at large.

The film “Hana’s Suitcase” will be shown again this evening at the Emanuel Synagogue. Don’t miss it!


3 Responses to “Two teachers – one suitcase”
  1. Karen Martin says:

    I have taught from this book since 2000 when I bought it in B.C. while visiting teacher friends. I now have two copies as I read to my 12 yr old students and they can borrow a copy from me. As part of teaching humanity to children and tolerance i have loved Hana’s story. I now use “Hetty” as she is a survivor like George, and lives in Perth. These stories should be told over as young adults need to remember the atrocities of war and what impact it has on the ordinary people within a country.

  2. Jo-Ann Stephens-Carlos says:

    Yeah you see that picture I drew it and I am not kidding and well it is such a sad and loving story and how everyone came together in the end. i can’t believe that they put MY drawing of all of them. According to my teacher one of my friends drawings made Fumiko cry i would have loved to have met them but it is a long way away and I didn’t have the time.

    Jo-Ann S.C

  3. Lorraine Jacobs says:

    Just brilliant – should be taught in all our schools Australia wide.

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