February 23, 2007
SPACE SHUTTLE COMMANDER WHO TOOK UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM ARTIFACT REPLICA INTO SPACE TO VISIT MUSEUM AND MEET ITEM’S DONOR
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Space Shuttle Discovery commander Mark Polansky will visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on February 27 to meet Holocaust survivor Sophie Turner-Zaretsky. In 2002, Dr. Zaretsky donated to the Museum a stuffed toy bear—named “Refugee”—she had received as a gift from her mother just after World War II Commander Polansky took a replica of “Refugee” with him on the most recent Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station, which was completed on December 22, 2006. They will meet for the first time, and Commander Polansky will discuss why he wanted to take an item from the Museum’s collection with him on his mission.
In addition to “Refugee,” Commander Polansky took an image of a Darfurian child in a refugee camp in Chad taken by Museum staff member Jerry Fowler. The photograph is part of an online exhibition on the Darfurian genocide, “Staring Genocide in the Face.” (It can be found at http://www.ushmm.org/genocide/). In July 2004, the Museum issued its first-ever genocide emergency for Darfur and since then has been a leading voice in calling attention to the ongoing crisis.
Prior to Discovery’s Commander Mark Polansky—a member of the Museum—contacted the institution about taking an artifact with him on the mission. Each astronaut was allowed to take a few personal items with them. As the Museum must ensure the availability of its collections for generations to come, sending an original artifact was not possible. A replica of “Refugee” was provided to him.
Sophie Turner-Zaretsky was born Selma Schwarzwald in Lvov, Poland, on September 2, 1937. She and her extended family were forced into the Lodz Ghetto in November 1941. Her father was killed by German soldiers in the ghetto after acquiring false identity papers for the family. Sophie and her mother escaped from the ghetto and lived under a false identity—at one point with an SS officer in Poland—until their liberation in 1945. Sometime shortly after liberation, Sophie’s mother gave her a 3-inch-tall stuffed bear she named “Refugee,” a reference to her and her mother’s status as refugees following the war Sophie came to the United States in 1963 after living in London. Her story of living in hiding and how she acquired “Refugee” can be found on the Museum’s Web site at http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10007031.
Commander Polansky, now a resident of Houston, Texas, was raised in Edison, New Jersey. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering and a Master of Science degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Purdue University. A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, Polansky joined NASA in 1992 and was selected as an Astronaut Candidate in 1996. He has participated in two Shuttle missions, the STS-98 Atlantis (February 9—20, 2001) and the STS-116 Discovery (December 7—22, 2006). He has logged more than 500 hours in space.
Commander Polansky and Dr. Zaretsky will be at the Museum on February 27 from 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Both of them will be available for interviews between 11:00 –11:30. The original “Refugee” bear and the replica taken on the Space Shuttle will be on-site. Media interested in speaking with either Polansky or Zaretsky should contact Andy Hollinger at 202-488-6133 or email@example.com.
Situated among our national monuments to freedom, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is both a memorial to the past and a living reminder of the moral obligations of individuals and societies. The Museum fulfills its mission through a public/private partnership in which federal support guarantees the institution’s permanence and hundreds of thousands of donors nationwide make possible its educational activities and global outreach. More than 24 million people – including more than 8 million schoolchildren – have visited the Museum since it opened in 1993, and through its Web site, traveling exhibitions and educational programs, the Museum reaches millions more every year. For more information, visit www.ushmm.org.