Hana’s Suitcase and Small Wings

The Pre-script:

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.

Last year

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.

Other thoughts

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


12 replies
  1. Pat Scanlan
    Pat Scanlan says:

    Ah Trudy. Thank you so much for this story. You are right; I am not sure I can stand to read it right now but I have written it in my book of lists of stories to read. The pain, sorrow, horror, atrocities and much more in the world have caused me to become a turtle. When things get to be too much I pull my head in and try to find peace in my soul. Small acts of kindness do help and maybe right now all we can do is reach out to those in our communities who need our support and love and do what little we can do. The picture of Hanna broke my heart. Blessing to those children in Japan who have brought her life to the attention of the world. And may somehow this story help us to strife for peace in our times.

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Thank you Pat for your thoughtful comment and understanding. This advice from you is the best “Small acts of kindness do help and maybe right now all we can do is reach out to those in our communities who need our support and love and do what little we can do.” With deep appreciation, Trudy

  2. Judy Bernstein
    Judy Bernstein says:

    I too was privileged to be present at this soul reaching event. I read the book 20 years ago but hearing about its worldwide impact and its affect on the children just took the experience to an even deeper level.

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Hi Judy: Thanks for your note. It was such a privilege to be there and it reminded me so much of the need to be diligent. Sadly, as Joachim Fest wrote, “…the incomprehensible features of those months was the fact that soon life went on as if such crimes were the most natural thing in the world.” May we not go to sleep. As always, Trudy

  3. Janice+Falls
    Janice+Falls says:

    You introduced me to this book a few years ago Trudy so I remembered as soon as I saw the title. You are a ‘small wing’ yourself, sharing this story, reminding us all of the need to do what we can, no matter how small because it matters. thank you dear one, much love xoxo

  4. Yoshie
    Yoshie says:

    Thank you for introducing “Hana’s Suitcase”. I searched Fumiko Ishioka and her Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center, worth knowing its programs and activities.

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Hi Yoshie: I was glad to see that the book was translated to Japanese so you and your friends could learn about this story. Maybe one day you will get to meet Fumiko. As always, Trudy

  5. Tamara
    Tamara says:

    I have read Anne Frank and have the tapes. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about Hana’s Suitcase, will try to get book tape from the library. I wish I had asked my mom more about her life in the refugee camp as a young girl.

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Hi Tamara: The next time I am in Calgary, I would love to meet and hear about your Mother. Even the little you know – so many unsung heroes. A gentle hug across the miles, Trudy


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