Strange Ironies & Tragic Mishaps

Source: Arutz Sheva

Strange Ironies and Tragic Mishaps
by Shabtai Alboher

February 07, 2003

The unexpected and shocking explosion of the space shuttle
Columbia, killing all seven astronauts on board, including Col.
Ilan Ramon, Israelšs first man in space, seems to be an event
riddled with strange ironies and tragic mishaps. Some of the
ironies coming out of the ill-fated mission seem to warrant
deeper thought and analysis.

The flight originated as an American gesture to the state of
Israel to help boost the doomed Oslo peace process, shortly
before it went haywire. Ironically, the news of Ramon burning up
on re-entry evoked the horror of a suicide bomb attack, with
army rabbinical chaplains rushing to America to search for body

As parts of the Columbia, whose name connotes America, rained
down on a tiny, insignificant dot on the map called Palestine,
Texas, the whole ordeal took on a surrealistic tone, causing
many people to ask themselves whether this was really happening,
and, if it was, what could it all mean?

The post disaster revelations of negligence at NASA, of an
ageing spacecraft, built back when Ramon was training for his
mission to bomb the Iraqi nuclear reactor, put the failed
mission into a morbid post-mortem, much like state of the failed
peace process it was designed to boost.

Yet, maybe the strangest irony of all was that the Holocaust
became a motif of the mission. Ramon, whose mother beat the odds
to survive Auschwitz, took with him on the Columbia a drawing
depicting the earth as seen from space, sketched by a 14 year
old boy, Peter Ginz, who didnšt survive the Nazi death camp.

At the same time, the Columbia got off the ground thanks to
technology developed by Werner von Braun, the Nazi rocket
scientist and former SS officer who was brought to America after
the war, in order to form the nucleus of the United States space
program. Von Braunšs work for NASA (he developed the rocket that
propelled man to the moon) was based on his work for Hitler,
designing and building a weapon of mass destruction called the
V-2 rocket, at Mittlewerk, a German a slave labor camp.
Ironically, thousands of Jews died working on the V-2,
developing the basic technology that put Ilan Ramon into space.
Many of them were incinerated at Buchenwald.

The same America that gave Ramon an opportunity to ride the
Columbia, didnšt bother to bomb the death camps during the war,
something that may have saved the lives of tens of thousands of
Jews, including (ironically) the life of Peter Ginz whose
drawing became a symbol of the mission. Ironically (again), the
U.S. did bomb Mittelwerk, though not because Jews were being
killed there. Rather, they mistook the camp to be a munitions
depot of the German army.

One powerful symbol did manage to survive the fiery break up of
the Columbia: a blue Star of David on an Israeli Air Force flag
that Ramon took up into space.

That flag may be carrying a message of comfort to Israelis that,
despite the Holocaust and the tragic death of Ilan Ramon, "the
nation of Israel lives."

It may also be, ironically, sending a warning to the millions of
Jews still on board the ship called "America".

Shabtai Alboher is an attorney who formerly served as legal
counsel to the IDF Judge Advocate General.