Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 10: Final day in Poland

Day started with Dr. Piotr Tomczyk, Dean of Fuels and Energy faculty at AGH University of science and technology. Vice Rektor (President) George Lis gave us an overview of the university and it's various faculties. AGH has over 35,000 students and has its roots cemented in the mining and metallurgy industries in Poland.  Dr. Tomczyk, highly regarded in Europe for his understanding and expertise on energy related matters, explained what AGH's focus and objectives are with regards to fuel and energy.  Though Poland has over 200 years worth of coal reserves, the University is working with global companies towards developing cleaner burning fuels in accordance with the European Union Road Map 2050. 

After a short break the class re-grouped and boarded the bus.  We traveled about an hour out of Krakow to the former concentration camps known as Auschwitz and Birkenau.  We all expected to feel deep emotions, and that they may overcome us, but even then we were not prepared for what we would see or feel.  After meeting up with our tour guide, we reluctantly walked out into the heavy falling snow.  As we approached the front gate, we paused for a few minutes to observe the cynicism of the words over the main gate, "Arbeit macht frei", which means "work makes (one) free".  

The tour led us through various buildings that housed the former prisoners. From their first arrival to daily life as a prisoner, each room told a story about life in the concentration camp.  The incredible volume of personal artifacts initially discovered at the camp, some of which are on display, depict the mass extermination that took place there.  Each pair of shoes, glasses, toothbrush, or lock of hair represents an individual life.  There were also various images showing how the Nazi's used fear and intimidation to control the prisoners.  After the housing facilities we walked in to the first gas chamber.  Walking through these doors and seeing the scratching on the walls of those who were murdered here made those previously mentioned emotions unravel. 

Our synthesis following the day was honest and raw.  The group was deeply impacted for both the good and bad of what we've seen in Poland.  There was a general theme of tolerance and the need to cultivate healthy relationships amongst people.  Several examples of hatred in the distant and recent past and some even occurring now were discussed in light of what we just saw today.  We observed how the Polish people embrace tolerance and are a great example of mutual respect regardless of their differences.  In summation, a few of our Foundation staff left us with the following quotes:  "Don't be ignorant; be lifelong learners."  "Stand up for what is right even in the small things."  

By:  Joey Mendonca, Todd Snider, Matt Fisher

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