Terezin boy who dreamt of flying to Moon to escape horrors of Earth

Moon Landscape

It's six days now since the Columbia disaster, a tragedy which has affected many people around the world. Among the mourners are the people of Israel, who had sent their first astronaut - Ilan Ramon - into space. Among the few possessions Ramon chose to take with him was a drawing entitled "Moon Landscape" - a view of the Earth as seen from the Moon. The picture was drawn by a 14-year-old Jewish boy from Prague called Petr Ginz, most probably during his imprisonment in the Terezin ghetto. One of Ginz's closest friends at Terezin was a boy called Kurt Kotouc, who shared his passion for science and space travel. The friendship came to an end in 1944, when both boys were sent to Auschwitz. Petr Ginz was killed immediately, Kurt Kotouc survived. Now an elderly man, Kurt Kotouc recalled their friendship with my colleague Rob Cameron.

"When you look at the drawing closely, the first thing you notice is that it's extremely modern, extremely contemporary. It's a surrealist, almost magical drawing. And it's also clear that Petr possessed considerable artistic skill. But what's really remarkable about it is the symbolism - I'm not an expert, and this is just my personal opinion - but the edges of the moon craters are almost like arms, reaching out towards Planet Earth, pleading."

What was going through your mind when you first learnt that a copy of Petr's "Moon Landscape" would be taken on board the Space Shuttle into space?

"I was very proud. Petr was just a boy, but the drawing is so interesting, so accomplished, that it's no surprise that Ilan Ramon decided to take it with him into space. Many of Ramon's own family perished in the Holocaust, and so on one hand the drawing was a symbol of the Holocaust, and on the other it was a symbol of the desire to conquer the Universe. It made me very happy."

Of course the mission ended in tragedy, and it's a tragedy which has affected many people.

"When I saw the Shuttle disintegrating on television, I was overcome with sorrow. But for me, the Columbia tragedy hasn't diminished my friend Petr's ideas, or the huge achievement of space travel itself. Maybe if Petr had survived the Holocaust, he would have become an astronaut as well. But whatever he would have done, he would have done it extremely well. If Petr was alive today - he'd be 75 this year - he'd definitely be someone who enriched society. That I know for certain."