Canadian Jewish News, Aug 11, 2005

Postcards, diary add detail to story of Hana’s Suitcase
By PAUL LUNGEN, Staff Reporter
August 11, 2005

George Brady isn’t a particularly religious man, but as he sees it, there’s got to be a higher power directing the unlikely series of events that are bringing to light his and his sister’s wartime experiences in Theresienstadt.
Brady, of course, is the native of Czechoslovakia whose sister was Hana, the subject of a best-selling children’s book, Hana’s Suitcase, that has taken the world by storm. The book traces the siblings’ childhood, Hana’s last years in the Theresienstadt (Terezin) concentration camp, and her death in Auschwitz at age 13.

A few years ago, a replica of the suitcase she took with her to the Nazi death camp was found at the Auschwitz museum and forwarded to a Japanese Holocaust education centre. Brady was told of its existence and it sparked the writing of the book that has catapulted Hana’s story to the consciousness of thousands of young people around the world.

Last May the series of incredible coincidences connected to the Bradys’ story continued. It was Brady’s birthday and just before going out to celebrate, he decided to check his e-mail. To his surprise, he found someone in the Czech Republic had sent him copies of the diary he had kept as a teenager in the barracks at Theresienstadt. He had long thought the diary and other wartime memorabilia gone, but almost miraculously, it had turned up again.

The tale of the missing diaries goes something like this: during December 2004, Tom Pavlovski, a student of history, was walking through the city of Brno in the Czech Republic when he came upon a dumpster. A family was clearing out their basement and at the top of the detritus some children’s books caught his eye. Knowing his mother was a professor of drama and children’s literature, he thought she might be interested in the books.

When he examined the pile, he found something even more interesting beneath. Just below the children’s titles, were yellowed and worn books, papers and postcards. He rescued the material and delivered them to his mother.

A few weeks later, his mother happened to be reading a review of Hana’s Suitcase, which had just been translated into Czech, when it occurred to her that the material retrieved from the dumpster might be connected to the unfortunate Czech girl. As it turned out, “many, many things were from Hana,” Brady said.

The woman contacted the Jewish museum in Prague, which in turn asked a Roman Catholic priest to look into the case. The priest, Father Daniel Herman, had previously interviewed Brady for a publication printed by a Jewish/Christian friendship group and what’s more, they are distantly related. Herman immediately made the connection to George Brady and arranged for copies of the material to be sent by e-mail to him in Toronto.

Among the papers found in the dumpster were a number of postcards sent by Hana, including at least one to her mother (though addressed to her aunt) in Auschwitz. That card was returned because it was eight lines long, more than the maximum six permitted by the Nazis, Brady said.
One of the more noteworthy items was a vintage family photograph, 90 years old, in which George recognized his grandparents and his mother, Marketta, as a young woman.
Also retrieved were George’s diary “from the first day to the last day at Therezin.” Brady, a native of the small Czech town of Nove Mesto, was deported to the the camp on May 18, 1942. The diary’s last entry was in September 1944, five days before he was sent to Auschwitz.
Much of the contents are rather mundane. “My diary was mostly about food and soccer, because they were playing in the yard,” Brady said.

But it also notes that in 1944, the boys were ordered to clean the pavement in Theresienstadt and were not allowed to walk on it until after visiting Red Cross officials had left. Another Nazi subterfuge recorded in the book was that children’s swings and slides were brought out for the younger children to play on but were removed as soon as the Red Cross departed.
An original copy of the magazine, Forward, published by the girls in Hana’s room at Theresienstadt, was also found. Twice it refers to Hana in passing.

Also in the pile was a diary entry that recorded the casualty toll at the camp. By June 1944, Brady wrote that 32,000 had died and 100,000 had been deported. Most of the dead were the elderly who succumbed to hunger or disease or who committed suicide, he said.
“What we found in the heap was some incredible stuff,” he said.

Learning of the material on his birthday stirred deep feelings. “I had so many emotions...it was already in the garbage and it survived 60 years later. It is strange.”
The fact that the first photo sent to him was of his mother “just showed me there was something guarding it and trying to tell me a message.”

The coincidences continue. The house from which the material was being removed belonged to Brady’s aunt’s family. They were able to save much of the family memorabilia because his aunt’s husband was gentile and was not deported. After the war, their daughter sent Brady most of the family documents that had been stored in the attic. Unbeknownst to her, other documents connected to the Bradys had been kept in the basement. It didn’t occur to her son-in-law, who was cleaning out the basement, that valuable personal papers might be present.
Brady shakes his head at the coincidences. Speaking on the day the shuttle Discovery launched into space, he recalled that Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon was killed when the Columbia disintegrated on re-entry. Ramon, son of Holocaust survivors, carried with him a drawing of the moon’s landscape imagining what the earth might look like from the moon. The drawing was penned by Petr Ginz, one of the 42 boys who shared the same room in Theresienstadt with Brady and who, like Brady was deported to Auschwitz. Frailer than Brady, Ginz, 16, was sent directly to the gas chambers on arrival while Brady was dispatched to a satellite camp where he worked cleaning railway cars.

Ramon, as it turned out, was killed on Ginz’s birthday.

Brady has met Ramon’s widow, brother and father along with Ginz’s sister in Israel. Their story, along with that of the boys in the room in Theresienstadt, may be made into a film while the story of Hana’s suitcase is being prepared for the stage by the Young People’s Theatre in Toronto. It is set to premiere in March 2006.

When he first came to The CJN in 2000, he hoped his story would keep his sister’s memory alive. At the time, he was in awe of the coincidence that had brought the suitcase to light. Karen Levine’s award-winning book subsequently brought the story to thousands of children in the English-speaking world and it has been published in Japan, Germany, Holland, Italy, France, China, Korea, Thailand, Hungary, Poland, Finland, Spain, Iceland, Belgium, Norway, Israel, Mexico, Romania, Portugal and Turkey, among others.

“So many things are happening in my life,” Brady said. “I cannot believe it is a coincidence.”

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