Poland: A Human Rights Symposium
Oct 4-11 SLA Jenny Ruffing led by Prof. Anne Wingenter and alumni John Kurowski and Lenorad Slatkowski
On 4 October 2013, faculty leader Anne Wingenter, SLA Jenny, Delia Surratt, and 12 students departed from Rome to Warsaw to kick off a fall break focused on learning about the history of Poland over the past century and experience a contemporary Polish atmosphere. The legacy JFRC study trip was established and led by JFRC alumnus, Mr. John Kurowski, an American lawyer and frequent visiting professor at Nicolas Copernicus University. The students were also thankful to be accompanied by Mr. Leonard Slotkowski, a JFRC alumnus who has shown tremendous support for the trip year after year.
The trip opened in Warsaw. Here, students embarked on a tour of Warsaw’s brand-new Museum of the History of Polish Jews and a powerful guided walk through the Jewish Ghetto. Afterwards, the students were all in the mood to continue learning and headed to the famed Warsaw Uprising Museum, a hands-on experience that opened many of the students’ eyes to the events of World War II in Warsaw and the brave struggle that many Poles engaged in during that time. Warsaw is also where many students had their first tastes of authentic Polish cuisine and were blown away by how satisfying it was.
With the group’s focus on the Jesuit ideals of social justice and human rights, they journeyed on to the beautiful city of Toruń. Here, Mr. Kurowski was the creator of the trip’s centerpiece, a well-established symposium at Nicolas Copernicus University called Human Rights and A Just Society. This year’s focus was on Jan Karski, a World War II hero who worked for the Polish Underground and undertook important courier missions to such people as Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. The students, faculty, and staff were impressed by the symposium and the man on which it was focused, who many students had read about in the book Story of a Secret State, thanks to a donation of 25 books to the JFRC by Mr. Slotkowski. One key annual experience came after the symposium, when JFRC students gathered with participants of the symposium for dinner and then went to have drinks and mingle with Polish students. As a break, the students were able to go to the city’s Pierniki (Gingerbread) Museum to learn about the history and preparation of the traditional treat. All students agree that the time they had in Toruń was a valuable experience that they will take with them for life.
After Toruń, the group went forth to Krakow. Upon their arrival, they wasted no time and went to the Schindler Factory Museum, where they learned about the history of Krakow during World War II and were exposed to Nazi propaganda and images of the lives of Polish citizens. The next day, they visited Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps and had an experience that few people can put into words. They had the opportunity to not only learn about what had happened there, but to reflect upon the history and pay their respects to those who had lost their lives there. The last day in Krakow proved to be a bit lighter, as the students visited the impressive salt mines of a town nearby. There they learned about the cultivation of salt and saw impressive carvings and ballrooms 100 meters underground and made completely of salt. Afterwards, students had the day free to explore the bustling, surprisingly modern city of Krakow before meeting up for a concluding dinner. Many students felt as though they could stay even longer in Poland but were happy to have the opportunity to continue travelling or return back home to Rome.