Inside Hana’s Suitcase

Hana Brady, the subject of "Inside Hana's Suitcase"

“Inside Hana’s Suitcase,” a new documentary about the Holocaust, will open at the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13 Street, on April 18.  Prior to seeing “Inside Hana’s Suitcase” I wondered, with the many Holocaust documentaries that have already been made, was there anything new to add to this extensive cinematic narrative.   “Inside Hana’s Suitcase” manages to do just that by presenting the Holocaust from the Japanese point of view and by telling the story of one Czechoslovakian girl, Hana Brady.

I never knew this, but there is actually a Tokyo Holocaust Museum.  The museum’s director Fumiko Ishioka explains that the reason for the museum is that kids in Japan do not have much chance to encounter different religions and cultures.  She felt that a Holocaust museum would be a good tool for broadening children’s horizons.

In 1999 Ishioka visited the concentration camp, Auschwitz.  She was so moved by her direct experience with the site that she requested some sort of artifact to help Japanese children understand the Holocaust.  She was sent a suitcase that had painted on it the words “Hanna Brady, May 16, 1931” (the German spelling of her name has two “n” s) plus “Waisenkind,” the German word for orphan.  While the suitcase was not much to go on, Ishioka began an investigation to discover who Hana was and what happened to her.

While “Inside Hana’s Suitcase” presents many of its modern day events as they happened, much of the documentary consists of effectively done re-enactments.  Director Larry Weinstein has created re-enactments that depict Hana’s life in Czechoslovakia prior to her being sent to the concentration camp Terezin, after the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939.  This section of Hanna’s life is intercut with photographs saved by her surviving brother, George Brady.  Brady himself is interviewed extensively.  Now an elderly man living in Canada, Brady’s memories and sadness of what happened to him and his sister: seeing his parents taken away by the Nazis and the ordeal that he and Hanna endured in concentration camps, are still very fresh for him.

Weinstein keeps the narrative flowing with archival footage, home movies, stills and intelligent use of voice over.  However, what makes “Inside Hana’s Suitcase” unique is that much of Hana’s story is told by modern day grade school children in Japan, Canada and The Czech Republic.  These are students whose classes have been involved in solving the mystery behind Hana’s suitcase.  It is obvious that Hana’s story has captured their imaginations and, as a result, has exposed them to a side of history that they will never forget.  One of the students interviewed points out that prejudice can kill and that we have to learn from this story.  In addition to the students, Hana’s story has great significance for George’s daughter, Lara Hana Brady.  Lara has been named for, but never met, her aunt.  Lara feels that a portion of her life must be lived for Hana.

Much of “Inside Hana’s Suitcase” has to do with the power of memory and the power of symbols, the primary one being the suitcase itself.  In addition to the suitcase we are shown objects that George has saved to this day.  These items are things his mother sent to him and Hana when she had already been put in a concentration camp, Ravenbruck, which was a camp for women.  Ishioka’s research even uncovers drawings that Hana made in a secret art class that took place in the camp.  Through these symbols and interviews a very powerful portrait of a time, a personality and a family emerges.  Perhaps Elie Wiesel, author, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor put it best when he said, “In those times of darkness and death, objects too had memories to share and stories to tell.  This moving Odyssey of a young Jewish girl’s suitcase from Auschwitz to Tokyo is one of them.  Follow Larry Weinstein’s moving and absorbing film evocation and, like amazed Japanese children, you will learn essential lessons about pain and compassion.  And above all, about the power of memory.”

“Inside Hanna’s Suitcase” is an emotional journey which shows how past  and present can inform each other to make a story come alive for a new generation…and hopefully for generations to come.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on April 10, 2012, in Documentary, New and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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