FUMIKO ISHIOKA cuts a rather delicate figure, but the 40-year-old director of the Holocaust Education Centre in Tokyo is a formidable force.

In 2000, while working with a group of young Japanese students on the Holocaust, she searched for personal items that had belonged to children who perished in Auschwitz.

”The museums would not lend us any of their exhibits and the survivors felt their mementoes were too precious to part with,” she recalls.

But Ms Ishioka was not deterred and, finally, the Auschwitz Museum in Poland agreed to send some artefacts. When the items arrived, among them was a battered brown suitcase. Painted on it in thick white brushstrokes was the name Hanna Brady.

”It was the only object at our centre that had a name attached to it,” Ms Ishioka says.

In a bid to discover the identity of the suitcase’s owner, she embarked on an amazing voyage of inquiry that crossed continents, languages and centuries. It entailed much research, protracted email exchanges and numerous meetings with survivors of Auschwitz.

Her efforts paid off. Ms Ishioka uncovered Hana’s identity (her name was misspelt on the suitcase); she found drawings by the young child, as well as records of her imprisonment in the Czech ghetto of Terezin. Hana Brady, who hailed from a middle-class Jewish family in the Czech Republic, died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, aged 13.

A chance encounter led Ms Ishioka to George Brady, Hana’s brother, who survived Auschwitz and was living in Toronto. ”Meeting George has been a life-affirming experience,” she says. ”Despite his terrible tragedy, he has never given up and has created such a beautiful family.”

With his assistance, Ms Ishioka discovered a tale that begins in a little town of Nove Mesto, continues with the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, and leads tragically to Auschwitz’s gas chambers.

Ms Ishioka’s research spawned the book Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine, which has been translated into 40 languages and has garnered a slew of prizes.

Larry Weinstein adapted Levine’s work for film. Alongside George’s memories, the docudrama features schoolchildren from Japan, Canada and the Czech Republic narrating Hana’s story in their own language.

With George’s daughter, Lara Hana, Ms Ishioka has been touring Australia, speaking to students, both Jewish and non-Jewish. ”If we can prevent even one child from growing up a racist or a bigot, then we have done our job,” she says.