It's a peculiarity of human perception that 6 million can equal less than one -- at least when it comes to the ungraspable numbers of the Holocaust. But like Anne Frank's diary, Hana Brady's suitcase -- the centerpiece of Larry Weinstein's "Inside Hana's Suitcase" -- manages to illuminate the entire catastrophe of the Final Solution by focusing on a single case: that of one Czech girl murdered at Auschwitz.
Hana's sole surviving possession -- a valise bearing only her name, birth date and the word "Waisenkind" (German for orphan) -- is used by a Japanese schoolteacher to instruct her students in tolerance. How that lesson comes to involve Hana's family, people in several countries and multiple generations is the subject of Weinstein's unique documentary.
The teacher, Fumiko Ishioka, director of education at the Tokyo Holocaust Museum, had toured Auschwitz in 1999 and, like most visitors to the former death camp, was shattered by the experience. When she asked for material to help Japanese schoolchildren better appreciate the Holocaust, she was sent Hana's suitcase, and through it rediscovered her story.
To Ishioka's shock, her research uncovered not just artwork left behind by Hana (and cataloged on a website connected to the Terezin concentration camp library) but the fact that Hana's brother had survived Auschwitz and was living in Toronto. George Brady's recollections of his and his sister's experiences -- as Jews in occupied Prague and, later, in the camps -- is the heart of the film, to which Weinstein brings sensitivity and style. The way he substitutes missing archival materials with photographic embellishments and dramatic re-
enactments is often inspired (sometimes, too much).
But the emotions provoked by "Inside Hana's Suitcase" are remarkable, as is the way that one story can manage to memorialize millions.
PLOT The story of a young Czech girl's life, and death in
Auschwitz, told largely through the eyes of schoolchildren.
CAST Fumiko Ishioka, George Brady,
PLAYING AT Malverne Cinema 4
BOTTOM LINE Elegantly constructed Holocaust documentary is part memoir, part symposium, with perhaps too much reliance on re-enactments, but much emotion. (In English, Czech and Japanese, with English subtitles)