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September 2: A Bear Named “Refugee”

September 1, 2015

bearSophie Turner-Zaretsky (Selma Schwarzwald), a Holocaust survivor whose toy stuffed bear named “Refugee” became famous in 2006 when a Space Shuttle Discovery astronaut took a replica of it into space, was born in Lvov on this date in 1937. Turner-Zaretsky and her mother passed as Christians in a resort town near Crakow after other family members had been killed by the Nazis. She gradually forgot that she was Jewish and celebrated her first Catholic communion shortly after liberation in 1945. She received the three-inch tall bear as a birthday or Christmas present from her mother. According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Sophie thought the honey brown bear with eyes that were askew looked ‘a little down and out.’ She later named it ‘Refugee,’ just like she and her mother were refugees of the war. The little bear would be by her side for decades.” In December 2006, Discovery Commander Mark Polansky took a replica of “Refugee” with him, along with an image of a Darfurian refugee child, into space. Upon completion of his mission, he met Sophie Turner-Zaretsky at the USHMM and presented the Museum with the bear replica and the photo, along with NASA space-travel certificates.

“Although we can send people into space, we still can’t seem to stop them from hating and killing one another. A child’s stuffed toy from the Holocaust and a photograph of a refugee from the genocide today in Darfur remind us the lessons of the Holocaust have yet to be learned.” —Bill Parsons, chief of staff, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum