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3 out of 4 stars


Inside Hana's Suitcase

  • Directed by Larry Weinstein
  • Starring George Brady
  • Classification: PG

In the continuing annals of the Holocaust documentary, Inside Hana's Suitcase has a unique place and a singular tone. Unique, because this is essentially a film for children that's largely told by children. Singular, because the message is one of hope and healing, despite (or perhaps because of) the tragedy at the centre of the story: Hana Brady died in Auschwitz at the tender age of 13.

However, unlike so many other Hanas, she got rescued from the terrible obscurity of genocide, and transformed from a grim statistic to a very individual little girl with a particular family and a specific history. The agent of that rescue was her suitcase, truly a travelling suitcase that made its way from the ashes of hate to, in the spring of 2000, the Tokyo Holocaust Centre. There, the Centre's director, Fumiko Ishioka, wasn't content just to read the name roughly written on the case's top. She doggedly inquired, she diligently researched, and eventually she discovered that Hana had a brother, George. From a small town in Czechoslovakia, they were both sent to the camps, first Terezin and then Auschwitz, where their fates parted: George survived. What's more, he was alive and well and living in Toronto.

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Fumiko contacted George who, through his memories and his artifacts and his painful honesty, told Hana's story. And the telling eased his persistent sorrow, and maybe even his undeserved guilt. Now, working from Karen Levine's book, director Larry Weinstein has convened the principals, sought out the narrative support of kids from three countries, and brought that story to poignant life. To the extent that the Holocaust doc has become a genre, some of his scenic tropes are familiar - the survivor revisiting his hometown, then the death camp itself. And while the filmed re-enactments of distant events may have been necessary given the intended young audience, a few of them, especially involving Hana, seem a bit contrived.

But what always feels genuine, movingly so, are the faces of the school children caught up in their account of the unforgotten past. And the tear that etches George's cheek. And the surviving artifacts - notably those lucky charms, delicate little hearts and horseshoes forged from dried bread, then sent to George and Hana by their mother from a camp she would never leave.

The charms were not without magic. Today, they reside in a small wooden box, secure inside a Toronto house that is filled with the laughter of grandchildren, beloved by a man whose burden they lighten.

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About the Author
Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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