A piece of a Houston art exhibit is headed to the International Space Station, thanks to astronaut Andrew Feustel.
Vedem Underground—currently on display at the Czech Center Museum Houston—is an exhibit focusing on the pre-teen and teen boys who lived in the Nazi-occupied Terezin ghetto near Prague. Those boys banded together and risked their lives to produce an underground zine, Vedem, documenting life in the camp. Eighty-three issues of Vedem—more than 800 pages—were printed over a two-year period, and the boys did everything themselves, from illustrating and reporting the stories to printing the issues with supplies smuggled from the camp’s propaganda department.
Petr Ginz, the founder of Vedem, was separated from his family and sent to Terezin at 14. Ginz’s favorite author was Jules Verne, and the work of Verne is visible throughout the magazine, from some of the stories to the magazine’s cover art, which frequently included rockets. Ginz died at Auschwitz in 1944.
Two of his illustrations will head to the ISS in March 2018 via American astronaut Andrew Feustel, who was presented with the artwork during the opening ceremony for the exhibit on October 6 at the Czech Center.
These are not the only Petr Ginz illustrations to go into space. Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, carried a copy of a pencil sketch of Ginz’s with him onboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003. Columbia broke up upon reentry, killing all 7 astronauts on board.
Astronauts get to pick which items they take into space with them, Feustel said. He has a special connection to the Czech Republic — his wife is half Czech — and he has taken other cultural items from the Czech Republic with him on previous missions. Taking a copy of the Vedem artwork is a way to honor both the victims of the Holocaust and Ramon. It’s also representative of the link between NASA’s spirit of leadership and hope, and the spirit of the boys in the camp, who used creative activism to speak truth to power at Terezin.
“I see in that image the spirit Petr Ginz had — the dream of escape, and also the dream to bring other people with them,” Feustel said. “My mission has many purposes, but many of them are tied to the tragedies of the past.”
The exhibit’s opening was originally scheduled for the weekend Hurricane Harvey hit Houston but had to be postponed. The Czech Center suffered both street-level flooding and roof leaks from the storm, and staff and volunteers were working up until Thursday night to make repairs to the building before Friday’s ceremony. Feustel originally wasn’t scheduled to attend; only thanks to the postponement was he able to make the opening. Two child survivors of Terezin, Chaja Verveer and Ben Waserman, were also at the ceremony.
Feustel said it will be a privilege to take the artwork on his mission.
“If every human could see the Earth from space, we’d be a different people,” he said.
Vedem Underground, thru Nov. 30. Czech Center Museum Houston, 4920 San Jacinto St. 713-528-2060. More info here.