Category Archives: Terezin prisoners

Hana Brady and the Long-Lost Suitcase

Hana Brady’s story was shared with the world through an incredible turn of events. The story involves a battered suitcase with a few words painted on it: Hana Brady, born May 16, 1931, Orphan. Who was the young girl who owned this suitcase? Thanks to the efforts of Fumiko Ishioka, director of the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center, we now havethe answer. Here is Hana’s story.

Hana Brady as a child. Used with permission of George and Lara Brady.

Hana lived with her parents and older brother George in a small Czech town called Nové Město na Moravě. She was described as a happy, active and athletic little girl who was very close to her family. Hana was just eight years old when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia. The family’s life became restricted, and they were forced to hand over their radio and other valuables to the Nazis. Their Christian friends stopped playing with them, because their parents feared they would be punished for playing with Jewish children. Hana and George remained close and supported one another during this time.

In March 1941, their mother, Marketa, was assigned to a Nazi transport and taken away. Soon after, they were forced to sew yellow star badges to their clothing along with all the other Czech Jews. When one man in town refused to comply, a Nazi officer was furious and ordered the arrests of all the other Jewish men in town. Hana and George’s father Karel was arrested and taken away a few days later, and the two children were left with the family’s housekeeper.

Later that day, their uncle Ludvik, a Christian man married to their father’s sister Hedda, arrived at the house. He had heard the bad news, and came to bring the children to his home. He helped the children pack, and Hana gathered her belongings in a large brown suitcase with a polka dot lining.

The children remained with their aunt and uncle until May 1942. That was when the children received a notice ordering them to report to a deportation center. They were taken to the center, where they were forced into a large warehouse with hundreds of other Jewish families. After four days in the warehouse, they were put on a train and sent to Terezin.

George as a child. Used with permission from George and Lara Brady.

The train stopped at Bohusovic Station, and Hana, George and the others on their transport had to carry their luggage the last few kilometers to Terezin. The children were separated into homes, and Hana was assigned to the girls’ home in barrack L410. She slept on a thin burlap mattress on a three-level bunk bed and was initially confined to the barrack due to her age.

Hana was unable to see George and missed her brother terribly. Some of the older girls looked out for her, and she became friends with one of them, a dark-haired girl named Ella.

Hana spent her days with the room supervisor and the younger girls, doing chores and attending secret classes in the barrack. They learned songs in music class, the basics of sewing, and art class. Hana’s favorite class was art, and she adored her teacher, famous artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. Hana produced many drawings, some of which still survive.

One of Hana’s drawings from Terezin. Used with permission of George and Lara Brady.

After she had been in Terezin for some time, the rules were changed and Hana was finally able to see her brother, who was assigned to the boys’ home in Barrack L417 and was working as a plumber in the camp. The siblings would see each other every chance they could get, and George was determined to do everything possible to take care of his sister. Hana in turn worried about George, and she would set aside her weekly buchta (a sort of plain doughnut) and give it to her brother to eat.

As the months went on, the camp became more and more cramped, and many people died from food shortages and epidemics. And every few weeks, people were assigned to transports heading East, to some unknown destination.

In September 1944, George was sent away on one of these transports. A month later, Hana was assigned to a transport and she was full of hope that she would be reunited with her brother. Hana’s friend Ella helped her to wash her face and hair, because Hana wanted to look nice when she saw her brother again.

The next morning, Hana, Ella and many other girls from their home were put on a dark train, which traveled nonstop for a day and a night. There was no food, no water, no toilet, and no way to know how long the journey was. Hana, Ella and the other girls held hands, whispered stories, imagined they were somewhere else.

On the night of October 23, 1944, they arrived at Auschwitz. The girls were forced out of the car, and ordered to stand on the platform. The guards selected a few of the older girls and sent them to the right.

Hana and the rest of the girls were told to drop their luggage and go to the left, where they were herded into a large warehouse. That night, Hana died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz at the age of thirteen.

George had also been sent to Auschwitz, but he managed to survive the camp, in part due to the plumbing skills he had gained at Terezin. He was liberated in January 1945 at the age of seventeen and returned to the home of his Uncle Ludvik and Aunt Hedda.

He learned that his parents were dead, and for many months searched for news of his sister. Eventually, he met a teenage girl in Prague who knew Hana from Terezin, and learned the horrible truth.

In 1951, George moved to Toronto and started a very successful plumbing business, married and had three sons and a daughter. But despite all his joys and successes, George’s loss of his parents and beloved sister was never far from his mind.

Then, years later, in 2000, he received a letter from a woman named Fumiko Ishioka, the director of a Holocaust Center in Tokyo. She had received a leather suitcase with polka dot lining at her center – Hana’s suitcase.

Fumiko Ishioka. Used with permission of George and Lara Brady

Almost nothing was known of Hana, and after months of searching, Fumiko had found George and sent him a letter in the hopes of learning about his sister. Later, George and his daughter Lara traveled to the center in Tokyo to meet Fumiko and a group of schoolchildren known as the Small Wings, and to share Hana’s story.

In March 2004, George and Fumiko learned that the suitcase was actually a replica created by the museum at Auschwitz after the original suitcase and many other items from the Holocaust had been destroyed in a fire.

While saddened to hear about the fire, George and Fumiko were grateful that the Auschwitz museum created the replica, which brought them together and allowed them to bring Hana’s story to the world.

Further Reading

Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine

Hans Krasa and Brundibar: A Children’s Opera

Hans Krasa was born in Prague on November 30, 1899 to a Czech father and a German Jewish mother. He began studying the piano and violin as a child and his musical gifts became evident at an early age. Hans later studied composition at the German Music Academy in Prague and after graduation he worked at the New German Theater as a pianist and vocal coach. While working there, he met an Austrian-Jewish conductor and composer named Alexander Zemlinsky, who became his mentor. In 1927 Krasa accompanied Zemlinsky to Berlin, where he continued his studies and was introduced to prestigious composers of the day. Krasa was terribly homesick for Prague, and returned to his former job at the New German Theater. However, Hans also made his debut as a composer during this time with his work Four Orchestral Songs. Several other works followed, the most successful being his opera Betrothal in a Dream, performed in 1933.

Composer Hans Krasa
Composer Hans Krasa

His most notable work, however, the one which would become his legacy, was a children’s opera called Brundibar, the final work he completed before being transported to Terezin on August 10, 1942. In Terezin, he produced an arrangement of the opera which became wildly successful, performed a total of 55 times. The premise was straightforward: two poor children, a brother and sister named Pepicek and Aninka, go to the market one morning, hoping that by singing they will be able to raise enough money to buy milk for their sick mother. A cruel organ grinder named Brundibar bullies the children and prevents them from singing. Pepicek and Aninka are joined by a dog, cat, and brave sparrow and the children of the town and together they prevail over the tyrannical organ grinder.

The message of triumphing over a tyrant resonated strongly with many people imprisoned in Terezin, which may have contributed to its popularity. It also provided a creative outlet for the children in Terezin, and those who survived remember how participating in the opera offered them a temporary relief from the horrors of their daily life in the camp.

Brundibar was involved in the Terezin deception, as it was performed for the Red Cross and featured in a propaganda film shot at the camp. This is by far the darkest aspect of the opera, the way in which it was exploited by the Nazis. At the same time, Brundibar should be remembered for the respite it provided for the children of Terezin.

Hans Krasa continued to compose in Terezin but Brundibar is by far his best remembered work. In October 1944, Krasa, along with other composers and many of the children who performed in the opera were put on a transport to Auschwitz where most were murdered upon arrival, including Krasa. He is memorialized by the opera Brundibar, which continues to be performed to this day.

Below: Clip of Brundibar performance at Terezin

Below: This video tells the story of the children’s opera Brundibar, and follows a present-day staging of the opera.


Picture of Hans Krasa from Krizkova, Marie R., Kotouc, Kurt J. & Ornest, Zdenek. We Are Children Just the Same: Vedem, the Secret Magazine of the Boys of Terezin. The Jewish Publication Society, 1995. Print. Used with permission.

More on Hans Krasa and Brundibar:

We Are Children Just the Same: Vedem, the Secret Magazine by the Boys of Terezin (by Marie Krizkova, Kurt Jiri Kotouc and Zdenek Ornest)

Gavrilo Princip and the Butterfly Effect

One of the most notorious Terezin prisoners was neither Jewish nor an artist. He was instead a Serbian teenage assassin whose actions lit a fuse that ignited the First World War and set the stage for the rise of the Nazis. His story is a sobering reminder of how the unintended consequence of a single action can affect the lives of others  in another time and place.

In 1914, Terezin was not yet a ghetto. The Large Fortress was a garrison town inhabited by a Czech-speaking population, and the Small Fortress was a military prison. It was to the Small Fortress that nineteen year old Gavrilo Princip was sent for assassinating Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria-Hungary.

Who was this teenage assassin? He was born in 1894 to a poor Serbian family living in Bosnia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Gavrilo first attended school at age nine, and was a very successful student. At thirteen, Gavrilo was sent to Sarajevo, Bosnia, to attend a merchant school. He came to admire a Bosnian Serb who tried and failed to assassinate an Austro-Hungarian governor. He also joined a group called Young Bosnia, which wanted to free Bosnia from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and join it with the neighboring Kingdom of Serbia. After being expelled from his school for demonstrating against Austria-Hungary, Princip was recruited and given military training by a Serbian guerilla organization.

In 1914 Princip became involved in a plot to assassinate the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. During a June 28th visit to Sarajevo, the Archduke and his wife were taken by car through the city. Princip and six other conspirators were among the spectators, armed with grenades and pistols. One of them threw a grenade, which missed the Archduke’s car and wounded the occupants of another vehicle. Chaos ensued, and the conspirators were unable to continue their plot.

Ferdinand later decided to visit the victims of the grenade at the hospital. On the way there, the driver of the car made a wrong turn into Franz Josef Street. Gavrilo Princip was also on Franz Josef Street at the moment, standing outside a café, when he spotted the car. The driver was turning the vehicle around when the engine stalled. Princip raced toward the car, pulled out his pistol, and fired twice at the vehicle, mortally wounding Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. They died within minutes of the shooting.

Princip then attempted suicide but his weapon was snatched from him and he was taken into custody. At 19, he was too young to receive the death penalty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was sent to the Small Fortress in Terezin, where he died from tuberculosis four years later.

Princip’s action set off a chain of events that he himself could never have envisioned. A month after the assassination, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia, which had an alliance with Serbia, declared war on Austria-Hungary the following day. Russia then mobilized against Germany, which was allied with Austria-Hungary. In response, Germany declared war on Russia. After disputing with France and Belgium, Germany declared war on them as well. That same day Britain declared war on Germany. The Great War had begun.

By the end of the war, Imperial Germany ceased to exist, replaced by the Weimar Republic. Weimar signed the Treaty of Versailles, which forced Germany to disarm, surrender territory and colonies, and pay billions in war reparations. It also forced Germany to accept total responsibility for the war.  Many Germans denounced the Treaty and blamed it for the near collapse of their economy. Later, Nazi propaganda would take advantage of the widespread view that the Treaty was unfair, and Hitler would blame the Weimar for accepting the Treaty. It helped to create an atmosphere that allowed the Nazi party to thrive and set the stage for the rise of the Nazis and World War II.

Gavrilo Princip did not live to see the massive consequences that resulted from his assassination of the Archduke. He was dead long before the Nazis occupied Terezin and transformed it into a ghetto. He could never have imagined the long-ranging consequences of his action. And we can never know what would have happened had he not assassinated the Archduke. Would the world have just plunged into war anyway? Or would war have been avoided, and millions upon millions of lives saved? We can never know, but we can reflect on the story of Gavrilo Princip and how one act of violence can flare and blaze wildly, triggering destruction that spreads far and wide. But as the stories of people such as Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and Franta Maier show, one act of goodness can also radiate into the world, across vast distances of space and time. May we never forget.