The Jewish Eye
The Quest to Solve a Holocaust Mystery
By Karen Levine
Forward by Archbiship Desmond Tutu
Crown Books for Young Readers, 2016
Reviewed by Simone Bonim - January 18, 2016
In March 2000 a battered suitcase arrived at the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center in Japan. Fumiko Ishioka had asked the director of the Auschwitz Museum in Poland to send her a physical object that she could use to help teach Japanese children about the Holocaust. In return, they sent her a suitcase labeled with nothing more than the name "Hana Brady, born May 16, 1931, along with the word orphan." It was the sum total of all the information that they knew about Hana Brady. As children visiting the Holocaust center in Japan began to ask questions about Hana, Ishioka and a group of students began a quest to answer some of these questions by trying to decipher Hana's history, and her ultimate fate.
Hana's story is told in alternating chapters, some of which detail Hana's biography, while others follow Ishioka and her students as they investigate Hana's life. The end result is a chilling, yet a very poignant story of a young girl's life that was tragically cut short by the Nazis, along with the riveting story of a modern day quest to ensure that Hana would not be forgotten. Thanks to the efforts of Ishioka and Karen Levine's book, Hana's Suitcase: The Quest to Solve a Holocaust Mystery, Hana Brady's story will be told and remember by generations to come.
This unique book was written for young readers in the 8-12 age bracket. However, it will also be of interest to older readers. In writing this book, Levine took special pains to ensure that Hana comes alive within the pages of the book, and it is written in such a way that her story will resonate with today's readers. Along the way, we meet Hana's parents and her older brother, and we learn about their life in Czechoslovakia before the Nazi invasion. We also learn how their lives dramatically changed after the invasion, and the horrors that the family suffered. We discover that Hana was deported to Theresienstadt, and from there she was sent to Auschwitz. In Auschwitz, according to a witness, Hana was killed in the gas chambers on the very day she arrived at the concentration camp. The narrative is interspersed with photos of Hana and her family, several drawings that she did during her two-year stay in Theresienstadt, as well as pictures of Ishioka and her students as they work to uncover Hana's personal story.
Although young readers may find this book difficult to read, due to the subject matter, most will persevere because the mystery of what happened to Hana and how Ishioka uncovered Hana's story will encourage them to keep reading. Hana's Suitcase is an excellent tool that will help educators and parents teach a new generation about the Holocaust, and which will also give young readers a chance to learn about the Holocaust on their own. Hana's Suitcase, by Karen Levine will make an excellent addition to the bookshelves of both public and school libraries.
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