George Brady: A story of tragedy and survival

George Brady, photo: Kristýna -Maková

George Brady, who is 88, currently finds himself at the centre of one of the most divisive political affairs seen in the Czech Republic in some time. Amid the hullabaloo, it might be easy to overlook the remarkable life story of the 88-year-old Holocaust survivor, whose family’s fate featured in the book Hana’s Suitcase. Ian Willoughby has more.

George Brady, photo: Kristýna -Maková
George Brady – Jiří Brady in Czech – was born in 1928 in the small Moravian town of Nové Město, where his Jewish family had a shop.

Three years into the Nazi occupation he and his sister Hana were separated from their parents, who were killed in Auschwitz. The children were sent to Terezín, but were later also split up.

In a 2003 interview with Radio Prague’s David Vaughan, George Brady recalled what happened to them in September 1944.

“They made ten transports to Auschwitz and I was in the first one and Hana was in the next to last one. She was looking forward to seeing me. She asked a cousin to fix her hair, so that she'd look pretty when she saw me. When she got there they just cut her hair and then they killed her.”

Brady later escaped during a death march in January 1945, the month Auschwitz was liberated.

George Brady with Fumiko Ishioka, photo: Archive of George Brady
Four years later he escaped Czechoslovakia and eventually settled in Canada. There he entered the plumbing trade, which he had learned in Terezín.

Half a century later he was contacted by Fumiko Ishioka, the head of a Holocaust memorial centre in Japan.

The institution had received a suitcase bearing the name Hana Brady but little other information – and after a huge amount of detective work Ishioka eventually tracked down George Brady.

Photo: Allen & Unwin
“She succeeded – incredibly, actually – to find me in Canada, and that was a miracle. And then one day I mentioned to a friend of mine the story of this, and she said it might be interesting for the newspapers. She called the Canadian Jewish News, they published it on the front page and “Karen Levine, who's a producer at CBC, said: ‘Can I have an interview with you?’ And I said: ‘You don't know how lucky you are because Fomiko is coming to Toronto tomorrow.’ Fomiko came, we made the interview, and the interview got a gold medal in a historical category in an international competition. Karen's friend is a publisher and she said: 'You have to write a book.’”

The book Hana’s Suitcase became an international success, while George Brady has written and given lectures around the world. He has received a number of awards, including a bag-full this week in the Czech Republic.