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Book talk: Depravity’s Rainbow: A Dark History of Space Travel

July 13, 2023 @ 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm

A V-2 ballistic missile built by concentration camp inmates, the first man made object to reach spaceDepravity’s Rainbow explores the influence of imperialism, the Holocaust, and the Cold War on contemporary space exploration. When and where does the history of space exploration begin? For many people, it might be in 1969, when American astronauts landed on the moon, for others it might be in 1953 when the Soviet Union launched the first satellite. But the first manmade object to reach space in fact arrived far earlier, in 1944, and it was not a peaceful scientific instrument, but a ballistic rocket, a violent weapon of war built by slave labourers in a German concentration camp.

Depravity’s Rainbow examines the origins of rocketry and space exploration during the Holocaust, when nascent space technology was mobilised by the Nazi regime as a weapon which they hoped might turn the tide of war. The book focuses on the developers of these rockets, many of whom were not avid Nazis, but who made a Faustian pact to pursue rocketry. After the war many of these men went on to work prominently at organisations like NASA, and so this wartime pact and the post-war choice to utilise the knowledge that it produced continues to haunt the field of space exploration nearly a century later.

Depravity’s Rainbow employs a mixture of contemporary photographs made during visits to key early rocket development sites across Europe, many of them today largely forgotten, alongside historic photographs, documents, and other materials from a variety of government and scientific archives. Alongside these texts, an extended essay examines the history and politics of space technology, and the way that the militaristic dimensions of this field have often hidden themselves behind a cloak of peaceful civilian science.

Shortlisted for the LUMA Rencontres Dummy Book Award 2018 and 2020, The Kassel book award 2019, and the Aftermath Grant 2018.

About the speaker

Lewis Bush is a researcher and photographer. His photographic projects focus on the activities of powerful and often inscrutable organisations, and the role their current or past actions play in shaping the world we know. Previous projects have focused on fields ranging from intelligence gathering to multinational property development and offshore finance.

His books and prints are held in national and international collections including at The Museum of London (UK), The Victoria & Albert Museum Library (UK), The Tate Library (UK), The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (UK), The Library of Congress (USA) Wende Museum (USA), Luma Foundation (FR), and the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (DE).

He is senior lecturer in photojournalism and documentary photography at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, and a current PhD researcher at the London School of Economics department of media and communication.

Chaired By:

James Bulgin is Head of Public History at Imperial War Museums and was previously Head of Content for the award-winning new Holocaust Galleries. Before joining IWM James worked as a commercial theatre producer and director, with work in the West End and on national tour. He has recently completed his PhD at Royal Holloway College, University of London on ideas of apocalypse in Holocaust and Cold War history and he has an MA (with distinction) in Holocaust Studies. His academic research focuses on issues of representation in Holocaust literature and film and he has presented papers at conferences in the UK, Germany and Israel. He is the author of the book The Holocaust and is the presenter of How the Holocaust Began for the BBC.

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The Wiener Holocaust Library
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