THE POWER OF STORY

The experience of one life is limited, bound in time and space, culture and personality. But a story does not have those limits. A story lets us peer into lives that are quite different from our own. A story can build empathy and human understanding.

This was brought home Friday night when we saw HANA’S SUITCASE at the Seattle Children’s Theatre. The play dips forward and back, from recent times in Japan to 1940s Germany. It follows the present-day investigations of two children and their teacher at a Holocaust museum in Tokyo who are given an artifact from the Auschwitz museum. The simple brown suitcase says “Hanna Brady,” on the side. And her date of birth. And “Waisenkind,” (orphan child). The museum group’s investigations lead to a single Jewish family’s experience in wartime eastern Europe.

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As the Japanese teacher and her students uncover Hana’s story, playgoers learn that before Hana turned 11, her mother and father were sent to concentration camps. That year, 1942, she and her older brother George were sent to Therensienstadt, called Terezin by the Czechs. They were able to see each other about once a week during their two years there. Hannah participated in an art class taught by Bauhaus artist Friedl Dicker-Bandeisova. Friedl smuggled 5,000 pieces of children’s art out of the camp and some of Hana’s art survives. This provides one of the few happy moments in the play.

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hanadrawing2

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The Japanese teacher and her students learn that Hana and George were transferred to Auschwitz in 1944. He became part of a work crew and she was sent to the gas chambers shortly after she arrived. Hana and George’s parents died in Auschwitz in 1942. Artist Friedl Dicker-Bandeisova in 1944.

Of the 140,000 people sent to Terezin, 15,000 were children. Only 300 children survived. Much of what the Japanese investigators learned they learned from George Brady, who was one of those survivors. He moved to Canada after the war and raised a family. At age 89, he attended the opening night of the play in Seattle.

george

Such a powerful story, made more powerful because it is told through the viewpoint of a Japanese teacher and her two students; experienced through children’s eyes halfway across the world.

• • • •

It is a tradition at Seattle Children’s Theatre to end performances with a Talk Back.

My favorite question Friday night was from a kid who asked, “Why did the Germans hate the Jews?”

Why indeed? I cannot begin to answer that question. Even Hana’s brother George long avoided such a question by telling his children that the tattoo on his wrist was an old telephone number.

  • • • • •

Nazis, like ISIS terrorists, depend on dividing the world into “us” and “other.” Even a certain presidential candidate participates in this kind of blanket dehumanization.

But stories build our compassion for each other. Stories have the capacity to make us see our common humanity and break through walls of hatred.

 

Note: Hana’s Suitcase the play is based on a book of the same name by Karen Levine. The SCT play, from Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre (see? another world connection), runs through February 7.

The Brady family has a wonderful website, http://www.hanassuitcase.ca/

 

 

 

6 responses to “THE POWER OF STORY

  1. Poignant, timely. Thank you for this, Laura.

  2. Thank you, Laura, for this essay on the power of story! This is one of my favorite posts of yours in Books Around The Table. It is because my mind collects and dwells on the stories of those children who perished in the Holocaust, whether someone who becomes known through a diary and photos or a simple suitcase and surviving drawings. these kinds of sharing humanize the victims so children of this time and culture can relate to the horror that occurred and perhaps become more tolerant and compassionate so as to prevent ANY group from being targeted for extinction by an other more powerful group. These stories can include those of the Third Reich such as Donna Jo Napoli’s Stones in Water, or the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb, such as The Angry Statue (Okori Jizou). More modern picture books could include Children in the Flames of War ( about Viet Nam). Somewhere someone is painting beauty out of the devastation of the Iraq War or the genocide in Rwanda, or today’s plight of the Syrian Refugees…

  3. i did not mean to omit Kirby Larson’s, Fences Between Us!

  4. Thanks for sharing this Laura. If others don’t know “Hana’s Suitcase” is also part of SPL’s Global Reading Challenge lots of young people are able to encounter this poignant story and we are proud to include it in the UBS Book-fair line up… As well, a couple of cute foxes!

    • hi. gretchen. thanks for this list of kids books and for these thoughts. i totally agree with you. and i think we are so lucky to swim in all these stories that give us insights into other people, places and times. stories of children seem particularly poignant.

    • thanks for adding that, tonyia. lots of kids going to the play had read the book first. i love that our city encourages empathy and understanding through the global reading challenge.

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