Hana’s Suitcase: Making Connections between the Classroom and the World Today
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Hana’s Suitcase: Making Connections between the Classroom and the World Today

Book Title: Hana’s Suitcase: A True Story

Author: Levine, Karen

Illustrator: n/a

Book Summary:

A biography of a Czech girl who died in the Holocaust, told in alternating chapters with an account of how the curator of a Japanese Holocaust center learned about her life after Hana's suitcase was sent to her.

Topic(s) Addressed:

This book unit, based on the story Hana’s Suitcase, allows students to explore the consequences of prejudice in terms of history and today’s world. The importance of empathy in changing perspective and nurturing kindness, hope, and understanding is a focal point of discussion, writing, critical thinking, and creative expression.

Based on their reading of Hana’s Suitcase, students will explore the value of empathy.

  • An effective way to teach empathy is by modeling empathetic behavior and encouraging students to consider the perspectives and perceptions of others, treating them with kindness and respect. 
  • Helping students to become empathetic starts with the shared experiences students have in class. Empathy comes from a place of understanding. Throughout the day, connect learning with real - life situations and application.

Enduring Understandings:

  • Putting oneself in someone else’s shoes is a step toward understanding perspectives and realities that may be different from one’s own. 
  • Developing the moral value of empathy will impact students for a lifetime in terms of how they perceive and treat others. 
  • Even though the Holocaust happened long ago, the lessons of the Holocaust concerning the effects of prejudice and antisemitism remain a constant reminder of the importance of learning from the past to improve the present and insure a better future for the next generation. 
  • Being an empathetic person is essential in order to embrace differences, build healthy relationships, and communicate more effectively. 
  • Empathy gets stronger with practice. 
  • Empathy is the force that allows us to stand up for something that we believe is wrong.
  • Empathy motivates us to help others move beyond sadness and build their lives with hope and purpose.

Be Inspired:The ideas included are offered as starting points as you and your students explore, discover and live the lessons. Be sure to elicit and encourage student and parent participation, consistently reinforcing the value being addressed. Allow lessons to authentically develop and change based on engagement and interests.

Lesson Plan Components

For the educatorJewish Thought, Text, and Traditionsmore

“In the spring of 2000, Fumiko Ishioka, the curator of a small Holocaust education centre for children in Tokyo, received a very special shipment for an exhibit she was planning. She had asked the curators at the Auschwitz museum if she could borrow some artifacts connected to the experience of children at the camp. Among the items she received was an empty suitcase. From the moment she saw it, Fumiko was captivated by the writing on the outside that identified its owner - Hana Brady, May 16, 1931, Waisenkind (the German word for orphan). Children visiting the centre were full of questions. Who was Hana Brady? Where did she come from? What was she like? How did Hana become an orphan? What happened to her? Fueled by the children’s curiosity and her own need to know, Fumiko began a year of detective work, scouring the world for clues to the story of Hana Brady.

Writer Karen Levine follows Fumiko in her search through history, from present-day Japan, Europe and North America back to 1938 Czechoslovakia and the young Hana Brady, a fun-loving child with a passion for ice skating. Together with Fumiko, we learn of Hana s loving parents and older brother, George, and discover how the family s happy life in a small town was turned upside down by the invasion of the Nazis. Based on an award-winning CBC documentary, Hana s Suitcase takes the reader on an incredible journey full of mystery and memories, which come to life through the perspectives of Fumiko, Hana and later Hana s brother, who now lives in Canada. Photographs and original wartime documents enhance this extraordinary story that bridges cultures, generations and time.” (Source: www.Hanassuitcase.ca.)

Jewish every dayIncorporate Jewish Valuesmore

Materials and resourcesmore

Sharing The Storymore

Introducing The story

(Time Frame: three weeks or less- depending upon depth of study )

Note: It is important that lessons regarding the Holocaust be taught within an historical context. Visit the Holocaust resource page for various lessons, reference materials and resources to help provide the necessary background knowledge.


Explain to students that they will be reading Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine. Read the following excerpt aloud and encourage students to make inferences about the story—what might it be about? Who is Hana? What might her suitcase have contained?

“Really, it s a very ordinary looking suitcase. A little tattered around the edges, but in good condition.
It s brown. It s big. You could fit quite a lot in it - clothes for a long trip, maybe. Books, games, treasures, toys. But there is nothing inside it now.
Every day children come to a little museum in Tokyo, Japan, to see this suitcase. It sits in a glass cabinet. And through the glass you can see that there is writing on the suitcase. In white paint, across the front, there is a girl s name: Hana Brady. A date of birth: May 16, 1931. And one other word: Waisenkind. That s the German word for orphan.”

  • On a map, identify the three continents where the story takes place and connect the continents with string. 

Reading The Story

Bring an empty suitcase to class. Reread the following forward from the book, Hana’s Suitcase written by Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu:

"How extraordinary that this humble suitcase has enabled children all over the world to learn through Hana s story the terrible history of what happened and that it continues to urge them to heed the warnings of history."

Discuss the quote and its implications.
  • Explain to students that they will be filling the suitcase with verses from songs (original lyrics or not), poetry (original or not), illustrations, etc. that in some way reflect what they have learned, discovered about themselves, their perceptions concerning the roots/causes/ effects of hate and prejudice, etc. Provide time throughout the course of study for them to do this.
  • At various times, throughout your class study of Hana’s Suitcase, open the suitcase and share reflections.

Read Hana’s Suitcase to students or, as appropriate, have students read independently or involve them in literature circles. (information on literature circles.)

Involve students in class discussions and journal writing throughout based on student selected topics and/or questions such as :
  • How does Hana and George’s close relationship help them survive during the terrible events they endured? 
  • Even though Hana’s suitcase didn’t have any belongings inside, was it truly empty? How can an object hold so much value? 
  • In what ways did Hana’s story touch you? 
  • How do a person’s beliefs play a role in terms of intolerance, prejudice and racism? 
  • Discuss the meaning of empathy (the ability to identify with and understand somebody else’s feelings or difficulties; awareness that another person, or any living thing, is suffering; putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, etc.). Which person in the story do you believe best exemplify the quality of empathy? Explain your choice.

After The Story

What does Empathy Look Like?
1. In journals, have students reflect and write on the following:

  • What are some preconceived beliefs you may have had about another person (don’t mention name) or group of people? 
  • Have any of these ideas changed over time? If so, what caused this change? Can individuals change their perspectives in terms of preconceived beliefs? Explain.
2. In small cooperative learning groups, have students explore their definitions of “Empathy,” and its impact.
3. Work together to plan and create an artistic way to reflect the concept--what it means to them -- through words, music/song, dance, sculpture, drawing, etc.
4. Provide time for students to share their artistic representation, allowing others to interpret the work and how it inspires them in terms of the importance of empathy, building empathy, the effects of empathy, etc.
4. Create a museum in a common area of the school (i.e. media center) to display the artwork. Have each group write a brief overview of their piece’s title, significance, and group member names.


Explore, Discover, and More Extension and Reinforcement Activitiesmore

Role Playing: Role play different scenarios involving empathy, giving students the opportunity to suggest situations where empathy is important (i.e. not getting picked for a team; moving to a new school and knowing no one; witnessing a student being bullied, etc. )

A Letter to the Editor: Read several “Letters to the Editor.” What can they discover about them--what elements do they contain? Involve students in composing a class letter to your local community newspaper discussing what they learned from Hana’s story in terms of prejudice and hate, and suggesting ways in which each of us can build bridges of caring and empathy.

Explore www.Hanassuitcase.ca. Listen to the audio documentary. Allow time for students to discuss ways in which the documentary enhanced their understanding, provided additional insights, etc

Encourage students to read additional books (autobiography, biography, poetry, historical fiction, etc.) to augment a study of the Holocaust. (See Holocaust Resources for additional titles.)

Music Connectionsmore

Evidence of Learningmore

  • Students actions and communication demonstrate understanding and empathy in terms of interactions with classmates. 
  • The students, faculty, and staff notice a positive change in terms of the ways in which students treat one another and demonstrate empathy. 
  • Students are inspired to read other Holocaust books and/or diaries 
  • Parents provide feedback of how much their child talked about Hana and George at home and/or their desire to know more. 
  • Students will be able to make connections between Hana and George’s family story to present day conflicts they witness in their own lives.


literature connectionsmore

TitleAuthorIllustratorBook Summary
Number The Stars Lois Lowryn/aAs the German troops begin their campaign to "relocate" all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family.
Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frankn/aDiscovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank's remarkable diary has since become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit. In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the "Secret Annex" of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and amusing, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.
Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust Eve BuntingStephen GamellThis unique introduction to the Holocaust encourages young children to stand up for what they think is right, without waiting for others to join them.
Anne Frank: The Young Writer Who Told the World Her Story Kramer, Ann.  Presented in simple language and enhanced by a wealth of photos, maps, timelines, and information boxes, this well-designed book nicely combines the Frank family's experiences with events in Europe before and during World War II.
Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography Jacobson, Sid and Ernie Colon This graphic novel offers a new perspective on Anne Frank's life and legacy beginning with her parents' childhoods and marriage and concluding with the publication of her diary and the effects it has had on the world.
Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures from the Archives of the Anne Frank House. Metselaar, Menno and Ruud van der Rol Archival photographs of Anne and her family, her actual writing and diary, and the annex are powerful and instrumental in bringing her life into context. The text details world events as well as Anne’s life.
I Never Saw Another Butterfly Children from the Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944 This book is a compilation of poetry and art created by the children of the Terezin ( Theresienstdt) Concentration Camp between 1942 and 1944. The children (15 years of age and younger), conveyed their feelings about life-- their hopes, their dreams, and their fears. The last few pages of the book offer a few facts about each child —the year and place of birth, the number of his/her transport to Terezin and to Auschwitz, and, in most cases, the year of death. The images and words created are all that remain of these children. It is their legacy to us. Of the 15,000 children who went through Terezin, only 100 survived.
The Devil's Arithmetic Jane Yolenn/aThe Devil's Arithmetic is a historical fiction novel written by American author Jane Yolen and published in 1988. The book is about Hannah Stern, a Jewish girl who lives in New Rochelle, New York. During a Passover Seder, Hannah is transported back in time to 1942 Poland, during World War II, where she is sent to a death camp and learns the importance of knowing about the past.
Friedrich Hans Peter Richtern/a, translated by Edite KrollHis best friend thought Friedrich was lucky. His family had a good home and enough money, and in Germany in the early 1930s, many were unemployed. But when Hitler came to power, things began to change. Friedrich was expelled from school, and then his mother died and his father was deported. For Friedrich was Jewish.
The Island on Bird Street Uri Orlevn/a, translated by Hillel HalkinThe Island on Bird Street is a 1981 semi-autobiographical children's book by Israeli author Uri Orlev, which tells the story of a young boy, Alex, and his struggle to survive alone in a ghetto during World War II.
* PJ library Books
Lesson Contributors

Julie Ruben
Lehrman Community Day School Miami Beach, Florida