Tonight’s blog is different from my usual musings and is a surprise to me, too. I had not imagined how impacted I would be by attending the event you will read about below. Consequently, I wanted to tell you a little about it. Although I don’t have the words, it touched me to my core. Thank you for listening.
Fumiko Ishioka and Small Wings
I had the great honour of attending a literary event that was so much more at the Embassy of the Czech Republic on Monday evening. The purpose of the event was to honour the 20th-anniversary edition of Hana’s Suitcase, the award-winning story of Hana Brady, written by celebrated author and CBC radio producer Karen Levine. Her radio documentaries have won awards, including two Peabody’s. (the Oscars of radio)
As it turns out, the current Czech Ambassador, Martin Tlapa, is from the same small town in the Czech Republic – Nove Mesto – as Hana Brady and her family. As a boy, he had learned about what happened from his grandmother. Consequently, the Embassy prepared a historical timeline, photos, and other artifacts in honour of the occasion.
This story has now been translated into 40 different languages and is known around the world. In fact, the story came to light thanks to the incredible research of a Japanese woman, Fumiko Ishioka. Fumiko, along with her dedicated and persistent group of students in Tokyo, who called themselves “small wings” set out to discover who Hanna was. At that time, Fumiko, a translator and educator, was the curator at the Holocaust Education Centre in Tokyo.
I first mentioned this book a year ago when my grandson read it in school. It turned out to be his favourite book, and he had the opportunity to meet the author. It is thanks to him that we got invited to this event. 🙂
Because I attended this once-in-a-lifetime presentation that Karen Levine gave on Monday night, I am convinced that it is an important book for all of us to read and/or read again. Yes, it is a heartbreaking story of the death of a 13-year-old girl, and I was moved to tears for most of the presentation. Still, it is so much more – a beautifully hopeful reminder of caring, connection, action and kindness across generations and four continents.
For me, it is especially poignant that this was, in many ways, leadership by children. Furthermore, seeing this story’s influence across the world that this group of “small wings” created with their teacher touched me deeply. We can learn so much about humanity from this group of young, curious, kind and determined young people, along with their dedicated teacher and mentor, Fumiko Ishioka.
I understand fully why you may not want to read this book about another child whose life ended at 13 in the gas chambers. Especially in the midst of the horrific and intolerant state of the world. I get it! Yet, I feel grateful and hopeful that I had a chance to learn about Hana, her family and the people living now who brought this story to light.
And I hold those Japanese children, small wings, in my heart who so desired to let her be known to the world and their desire for peace.
As I thought about this, I remembered my Grade 7 teacher reading Anne Frank’s Diary aloud to us in class and how it had impacted me. I saw the worst and the best of humanity, and although I couldn’t understand the why of it, I wanted to know more. Consequently, I read lots and became more aware of the impact of our choices on any given set of circumstances. Furthermore, it woke me up to the dangerous business of power no matter where or in whom it was held. And to the goodness in so many, even against all the odds.
Somehow, in the midst of all the pain and suffering that is still going on and the children who are still unnecessarily dying, it is a call to do better. Much better. May we never give up.
1:) The Japanese ambassador, H. E. Yamanouchi Kanji, one of the dignitaries of the evening, gave an encouraging speech and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to learn this story. He also learned about the pivotal role of a small group of fellow Japanese – “small wings” and one teacher in Tokyo who brought Hana’s story to light.
2:) “That’s the difficulty in these times: ideals, dreams, and cherished hopes rise within us, only to meet the horrible truth and be shattered. It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet, I keep them because, in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Anne Frank. from her diary.
3:) As always, we get to pay attention to where we are and what we can do in our circle of influence.
4:) Many people are suffering, close at hand, with a new diagnosis, the start of treatment and more. Take heart. Take action. And say yes to help. No time to be a stoic, as my oncologist said to me. It seems to me that we are here to help and be helped. Thank you for your company. With great appreciation and the warmest of wishes, Trudy