Daniel Cohen’s moving television documentary, An Article of Hope, which will be
broadcast on Channel One on Monday at 9:30 p.m., chronicles Ilan Ramon’s final
journey and, at the same time, commemorates a special artifact from the
Col. Ilan Ramon was an Israeli fighter pilot who became the
first Israeli astronaut. He was killed with the rest of the crew of the Space
Shuttle Columbia at the end of its voyage, on February 1, 2003.
film details the tragedy of the Columbia
and the death of Ramon, it also focuses
on a special aspect of the space mission. It was Ramon’s decision to bring one
particular item into space: a Torah scroll that was used at a clandestine
bar-mitzva celebration at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during World War
Dr. Joachim Joseph, known as Yoya, was a physicist and friend of
Ramon’s. Joseph was an inmate at the concentration camp when he was nearing his
13th birthday, and a fellow inmate, Rabbi Simon Dasberg, the former chief rabbi
of Holland, said that he must celebrate this milestone in his life in the
traditional manner, in spite of the grim setting. The bar-mitzva was a moving
occasion, and afterwords the rabbi gave the young boy the tiny Torah scroll.
Joseph survived and kept the scroll when his family moved to Israel. Ramon saw
the scroll at Joseph’s house and asked about it. After careful thought, he chose
to take it with him on the space shuttle. Sadly, it was not among the items
recovered after the shuttle crashed.
“I saw this as a new way to tell a
Holocaust story,” says Cohen, who was in Israel recently to screen the film
ahead of its television broadcast.
“I’ve always been a space enthusiast.
Space exploration was my passion since I was a little boy,” he says.
crew was one of the most diverse groups ever sent into space, a shining
example of diversity. And Ilan was an integral part of it. His decision to bring
several artifacts from the Holocaust into space was a reflection of who he was.
When Yoya told him the story of the scroll, Ilan said, ‘I’ve got to think about
this.’ And then he said, ‘You know, my mother and grandmother are graduates of
Auschwitz.’ I see this as the intersection of three people’s stories – Yoya’s,
the rabbi’s and Ramon’s. It’s powerful, and I felt a responsibility to tell it,”
A pencil drawing by another inmate who attended Joseph’s
barmitzva survived, and Cohen shows it in the film. One of the most effective
sections of the film shows the story of Joseph’s bar-mitzva illustrated by a
series of pencil drawings.
“We had another artist do some more drawings
in the style of the original sketch. It’s a way to fill in the blanks of what
the horror of life in the camp must have been,” he says.
brought a drawing of the Earth as seen from the moon, which was done by Petr
Ginz, a 16- year-old from Prague who died at Auschwitz.
disaster, Cohen learned of the story of the Torah scroll and decided to
make the film.
But it took seven years to complete. Although the
story is compelling and unique, it was not easy to get the funding.
people said, ‘Oh, it’s just a Holocaust story; we’ve seen that.’ Others said,
‘It’s a story about the shuttle; we’ve seen that,’” says Cohen, who presented a
copy of the film to the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum during his visit to
Israel. “You have to have a passion for what you are doing to make
documentaries,” says Cohen, who has a background in television
Ramon said he was taking the Torah scroll “from the depths of hell
to the heights of space. And by doing that, he made it ‘an article of hope.’”