SCOTTISH schoolchildren are hearing one of the most moving and extraordinary stories of the Holocaust – direct from the mouth of the man who lived through it.
Auschwitz survivor George Brady lost his sister Hana in the the notorious death camp, where hundreds of thousands of their fellow Jews perished.
Decades later, thanks to the superhuman efforts of a Japanese museum worker, George was reunited with a poignant memento of Hana: the suitcase she had carried from their home in Czechoslovakia to the place where she died.
Fumiko Ishioka, who ran a Holocaust museum inTokyo, had requested a suitcase from the Auschwitz museum and then became determined to trace the owner.
Six months later, she was able to contact George, now 84, with the remarkable news that he could finally have something that had belonged to his sister.
George and Fumiko are now inScotlandfor the first time, to tell their story to school pupils ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day on Friday.
Children from across Glasgow will be bussed to a venue in the city centre to hear George speak about his experiences. A similar event will be held for more than 1,000 children in Dundee.
The story has been recorded in the international best-selling book Hana’s Suitcase and turned into a docu-drama called Inside Hana’s Suitcase, which had its UK première last night (Mon) at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh.
The screening left members of the packed audience choking back tears, and George and Fumiko were given a standing ovation when they appeared in the cinema.
Just two years older than his sister, 15-year-old George had to look after Hana as they were moved to an internment camp in Terezin with thousands of other Jews.
They stuck together in the awful conditions as thousands died of disease and malnutrition, but there was even worse to follow.
He described his heartbreaking last meeting with Hana, before he was sent to a hard labour camp and she was sent to her death.
Speaking after arriving in Scotland at the weekend, he said: “The last time I saw her was in the Fall of 1944, it was clear at that point the Nazis were losing.
“We thought it was only a question of surviving a few more months.
“So we thought we would see each other again soon.
“We never would have imagined she would be put in the gas chamber. Even today it’s hard to understand.”
But decades later, on the other side of the world, one woman’s determined detective work finally gave George some comfort – and sparked his mission to tell the world about the horrors of the Holocaust.
Fumiko, 41, was working at the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Centre in 1999 when she received a brown, leather suitcase from Auschwitz.
It bore, in a youngster’s hand, the name Hana Brady and the word “waisenkind”, German for “orphan”. With tragic optimism, Hana had packed it full of warm clothes.
Fumiko was inundated with questions from visiting children who were desperate to know something about the owner.
Haunted by the mystery, she travelled to Terezin, now in the Czech Republic, where she found a memorial to Auschwitz inmates.
Among the many names was Hana Brady with a cross next to it, meaning she had died.
But she was amazed also to find a George Brady – whom she correctly assumed to be Hana’s brother – who had not perished in the camp.
Shortly afterwards, George’s world was turned upside down by the arrival of a letter from Fumiko, telling him she had found his sister’s suitcase and asking for a picture.
He was inspired by Fumiko to travel the world and tell of his experiences, telling new generations about the truth and the horror of Holocaust.
He said: “The film is not only about the Holocaust, it teaches respect for others.
“It shows what happens when people hate each other.”
Despite his horrific experiences, George maintains a cheery demeanour and doesn’t shy away from talking about the brutal reality of the Holocaust.
He said: “It doesn’t bother me to see it and read about it again.”
George was the first of the siblings to be sentAuschwitz, with Hana being moved there a few weeks later.
She was initially delighted she would be seeing her brother again, but they were not reunited at the camp.
Hana was killed almost immediately after arriving on a packed train.
George said: “She asked a friend to fix her hair, because she was so happy she would be seeing me again. But as soon as she arrived (in Auschwitz) they cut her hair off.
“It was tragic that a 13-year-old girl had to go to her death all by herself.”
Describing his return to his home village of Nove Mesto after the war, he said: “The moment I got home I found out Hana went to Auschwitz, I knew it wasn’t likely she survived.
“When I heard she died my legs just about gave out… I felt so responsible for her.”