On Saturday 14 May 2011, IWP history professor and current holder of the Kościuszko Chair in Polish Studies Dr. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz delivered a lecture at the 70th anniversary celebration of Polonia Technica, Inc., The Association of Polish-American Engineers. The event took place at the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York City.
The topic of Dr. Chodakiewicz’s lecture was “The Generation of Engineers in Independent Poland: For Those No Longer with Us [Inżynierskie Pokolenie Polski Niepodległej. Nieobecni].”
Interwar Poland – devastated as a result of military operations, and backward as a consequence of the policies of the partitioning powers (especially Russia and Austria-Hungary) – was in desperate need of specialists, particularly in the technical field. Accordingly, the patriotic youth swarmed the engineering departments at Poland’s polytechnic universities. Yet the activities of young engineers in the Second Polish Republic were hardly limited to their professions.
They never expected hand-outs from the state. Instead, they demonstrated inexhaustible initiative in their work on behalf of the country. After all, they heard constantly the mantra of their parents’ generation: “We fought to resurrect this country. It is now your job to build it up!” Many embraced the broadly-conceived conservative orientation, including the nationalist movement. Sometimes, their political and social activism had its roots in elementary or middle school, particularly in scouting organizations. Others embarked upon this journey at the polytechnic universities.
One striking feature of this phenomenon is that these polytechnic students and engineers were veritable “Renaissance men.” Often, in addition to their great technical abilities, the young engineers were humanists interested in philosophy, poetry, and history. Yet they sacrificed their passions on the altar of service to their country. Nevertheless, they never succumbed to so-called professional deformation. They eschewed the one-sidedness, which is all too often a side effect of narrow specialization, and treated their professions as integral elements of their social position and the obligations towards society and Poland this entailed. They constructed roads and bridges whilst, simultaneously, also penning poetry and researching history.
Moreover, during the Second World War, many prewar Polish engineers sacrificed everything, including their lives, to defend Poland against the Nazi German and Soviet Communist occupiers. Let the lives and accomplishments of these Polish Nathan Hales serve as an inspiration.