Fumiko Ishioka helped start the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center in 1998 as a way to introduce the concept of tolerance to Japanese students. Although considered a homogenous country, Japan has had a difficult history with its Korean minority and indigenous peoples. Using the Holocaust as an educational tool, the center teaches Japanese children how to accept others and to understand differences in religions, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds. In a broad way, she hoped the center would open children’s eyes to the severe bullying problem in Japanese schools.
In addition to reaching 160,000 students from 800 schools since its inception, the center has also become the subject of a book, a play, and a film. And it’s because of a simple suitcase that arrived at the center in March 2000.
The suitcase, sent to Ishioka from the Auschwitz Museum, belonged to a young girl named Hana Brady, who perished at Auschwitz during World War II. The suitcase sparked questions among the Small Wings, a group of Japanese children studying at the center, and led Ishioka on a worldwide search to find out details of Hana Brady’s life.
Holocaust, World War II, Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center
"Inside Hana's Suitcase"
The documentary Inside Hana’s Suitcase, which had its New York premiere on April 18 and is currently running at Quad Cinema in Manhattan, Kew Gardens Cinemas in Queens, and Malverne Cinema 4 on Long Island, follows Ishioka from Tokyo to the Czech Republic in pursuit of Hana’s story.
Ishioka would not have done this much research had she not been lent the suitcase. But why was it important for her to have a physical object with which to tell Japanese children about the Holocaust, as opposed to simply telling them the story?
“I thought an object could spark their imagination. Especially a suitcase,” says Ishioka via e-mail. “When I visited Auschwitz, I stood in front of a pile of nearly 4,000 suitcases. Each suitcase naturally makes you think who...