41 pages 1 hour read

Karen Levine

Hana's Suitcase

Nonfiction | Book | Middle Grade | Published in 2002

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Summary and Study Guide


Originally published in 2002 by Second Story Press, Hana’s Suitcase is a historical text by Karen Levine that weaves together the story of two young children in the Holocaust with the narrative of a Japanese museum curator in the early 21st century. Levine, a radio journalist and producer, first heard about Hana Brady’s suitcase from a news article and subsequently produced a radio show about the story. This launched what would become Hana’s Suitcase and has evolved into an international project of connection. The story moves between the recent present day and the events that led up to the Holocaust, focusing on the Brady family in Czechoslovakia. Levine has been awarded numerous honors for Hana’s Suitcase, including the Flora Stieglitz Straus Award for nonfiction and the National Jewish Book Award.

This study guide refers to the Scholastic edition of Hana’s Suitcase, published in 2006.

Content Warning: The text contains descriptions of children’s experiences of the Holocaust, including unhealthy living conditions and proximity to death and dying people.


Hana’s Suitcase is a non-linear story that switches between three sets of people: the Brady family in 1940s Czechoslovakia, the children and museum director of the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center in the early 2000s, and surviving members of the Brady family in Toronto, Canada, also in the early 2000s. The three narratives are interconnected throughout the text; each chapter is headed by where and when it occurs. The text includes photographs and primary source documents to supplement the descriptions.

The early chapters show Hana and George Brady as young children in Nove Mesto, Czechoslovakia. Through photographs and descriptions of shared memories, Levine depicts Hana and George as happy, ordinary young people who enjoy living in their small town. News of the impending war begins to reach Nove Mesto, and Hana and George’s parents do their best to shield their children from the information.

Meanwhile, in the early 2000s in Tokyo, Fumiko Ishioka is the director of a new Holocaust museum and wants to engage children in learning about the events of World War II. After pleading with several other museums, she receives a small bundle of items from the Auschwitz Museum, including a brown suitcase belonging to Hana Brady. Fumiko and the children at the museum are enchanted by Hana’s mystery, and with the children’s urging, Fumiko searches for more information about Hana and her life.

In Nove Mesto, Nazi rule finally reaches the Brady family, who experience changing laws and policies that impact their lives. Eventually, Hana and George can’t even attend school anymore, and they struggle with their new reality. When the Gestapo arrests their mother, the reality of the war becomes more personal and concrete. Father is arrested several months later, and their brave aunt and uncle take in Hana and George. Despite their efforts to stay safe from deportation, Hana and George are eventually ordered to be brought in.

Fumiko reaches out to several museums to learn more about Hana and has a big break when the museum at Terezin, where the Theresienstadt ghetto was, sends an envelope of photos of drawings by Hana. This gives the children at the center an engaging new way to learn about Hana and spurs Fumiko onward to try to find out more about this intriguing young girl.

In Theresienstadt, Hana and George are separated, and since young girls are not allowed to leave their bunkhouses at first, Hana goes a long time without seeing her brother. Sometimes, she gets to go out in the garden, and she thrives during art class, drawing many pictures. Eventually, she is able to see George, and the siblings delight in seeing each other every week. One day, their beloved grandmother is brought to the camp, but she is very sick and dies several months later. After some time, George is put on the list to be transported to Auschwitz, and Hana is transported shortly after.

As Fumiko embarks on a multi-country investigation to find Hana and George, she eventually finds a helpful museum director who finds the register of names from Auschwitz with the Brady siblings. Fumiko realizes Hana had an older brother and works diligently to find another survivor, Kurt, who knew George. In a whirlwind of events, Kurt meets Fumiko and gives her George Brady’s contact information in Toronto, Canada. Fumiko also learns that Hana died in Auschwitz.

Fumiko gets in touch with George via a long letter accompanied by a tributary drawing from the children in Tokyo. George is moved by the connection and writes back to Fumiko, including many photographs of the Brady family. The novel’s conclusion describes George and his daughter visiting the Tokyo center and telling Hana’s story. The Small Wings children’s club reads a poem about Hana’s life, and the exhibit tours around Japan, helping Hana’s story be told to thousands of people.