Tears for Hana: Tragedy comes home
The Hamilton Spectator
October 2, 2010
We are driving home from Toronto and my daughter is in the backseat, crying.
It is dark and I cannot see her face in the rearview mirror, but I can hear her. She is not gently crying or sniffling the way a 12-year-old might if her iPod broke or she lost her backpack. She is sobbing with that kind of hard-to-catch-your-breath sound that makes me turn for a moment to check on her.
“It’s so sad,” she says, the tears running down her face. “It’s so sad.”
It is April of last year and we are on our way home from the premiere of a docudrama called Inside Hana’s Suitcase. The car is quiet except for Ella’s crying, which has almost subsided now. It’s hard to talk, hard to know what to say.
The movie is about the life of George Brady. He is the 82-year-old father of our very good friend Doug Brady, who is married to my wife’s life-long friend Carol. Over the decades, we have come to know George. He is an inordinately generous man and has invited us to his cottage and his ski chalet and we have sat and drank coffee and wine with his wife and him many times over the years. He is a natural storyteller, smart and funny and articulate, his sometimes thick Czech accent adding to the texture of the tale.
While he talks, it is impossible not to notice the small numbers tattooed on his arm. Despite his deep tan, they are there, an indelible reminder of his history, of the story he has never told us. Of course, we knew the basics, that his mother and father were killed at Auschwitiz. Later, he and his younger sister Hana would be transported by the Nazis to the concentration camp at Terezin and then transferred to Auschwitz. We knew that Hana would be killed the day she arrived. Only George survived, but we knew little else.
As Doug had explained to us, his father did not dwell on the past, did not want to burden his children with the darkness of his own childhood. Instead, he embraced his new life in Canada. Starting with virtually nothing, he built a successful business, married, helped raise three boys and later, a girl, and lived life with the vigour that perhaps can only come from someone who has seen death up close.
George, even in his 80s is a wonder. He is the first one up to play tennis. He is the first one dressed and on the ski hill. He is the first one into the hot tub and the first one, minutes later, to dive into the bracing waters of the lake. In that life, filled with hard work and family and fun, there wasn’t room for haunting, terrible memories. Why darken the brighly-lit present? Why dull the even brighter future? So, the memories stayed inside him, until his 70s, when they began to surface to winterrupt his life. At the same time, a teacher in Tokyo trying to explain the Holocaust to her young pupils, was given an artifact – a suitcase, Hana Brady’s suitcase. That led the teacher to Toronto and to George and her letter to him started a chain of events that would forever change his life. A book, television documentaries and a feature film would document his heartbreaking story of the war. And, most importantly, it would document for the world, the short life of Hana.
In the car last spring as we drove home in the dark, Ella finally broke the silence to say, “I wish all my friends could see this movie. I wish they could all know about Hana.”
That night in bed, after we had switched off the lights, my wife said, “She’s right.”
“What?” I said.
“Ella’s right. I’m going to do it.”
“Do what?” I said.
“I’m going to find a way to bring Inside Hana’s Suitcase here, to Hamilton. So that every kid can see the movie and learn about Hana.”
And, with a lot of help from a lot of people, she did.
Inside Hana’s Suitcase will be seen for free by more than 4,000 school children this week. A gala presentation of the film will be held Monday, Oct. 4 at Hamilton Place. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.