Few events in history have been the subject of as many books and films as the Holocaust, yet paradoxically each new narrative serves to remind us that we can only ever scratch the surface of tragedies composed of the loss of human lives.
While Hana Brady’s story is heartbreakingly familiar, the way Larry Weinstein chooses to tell it is new. Testimonials from those who new the Czech girl before she died at the camps are intercut with summaries of her story told by school children. Hana’s story first became known when a Japanese teacher researched the original owner of an artifact sent to her school. (It actually turns out the be a replica, but she and the children do not learn that until much later.)
The implication is clear. The Holocaust may be broad in scope, but at its heart are principles and ideas that a child can grasp. One of the most startling and encouraging aspects of the film is that the Japanese school children are asked not merely to memorize names and facts but to apply the truths they learn to their own lives. It was jarring to me that we have become so scared of value-laden education that the request of the school children to put into action the principles they learned from studying Hana’s story seemed downright radical!
Most of the information about Hana is supplied by her brother, George Brady. His presence is a reminder that while there are still those who can bear witness first hand, we will soon be faced with a day when all we have left from that epiosde are the artifacts that can, like Hana’s suitcase, inspire us to look deeper but cannot speak. For that reason, each new testimony that is recorded and preserved through films such as this one have an added layer of poignancy.
Weinstein also chooses to reenact some scenes from Hana’s experience. This practice might raise eyebrows from those who have dogmatic notions regarding what documentaries should be, but the simple recreations are stylized enough to not be mistaken for footage and feel oddly appropriate. I spent much of the film wondering why, and here’s what I cam up with: children have active imaginations and the film is truly inviting us to approach the subject with the children. It is the most natural thing in the world for them to be less impressed by the credentials of some talking head and more likely to try to visualize themselves in the situation described.
Children allegedly have attention deficits that make them unable to focus on details, yet the act of visually imagining the scenes forces them (and us) to be concrete. And that’s brilliant, because abstraction is intellectual’s way of softening the blow. Inside Hana’s Suitcase would be an excellent resource for home schoolers since it is easy to follow and renders easy the transition from information gathering to refection.