So began an unforgettable – but, in the end, horrific – experience for me on my first visit to Poland. Ed was Edward Gierek, the No. 2 in the governing Communist Party, the Deputy Prime Minister who was to be my host for a week, and he had offered to drive me to Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi death camp. [Ed’s picture alongside was taken in 1980.]
I was taken aback, but Ed assured me that it was essential I should see for myself what his country and its Jewish population had suffered under the Nazi regime before we got down to the business of my company in India purchasing vitally needed mining machinery. Fortunately, the weather was benign and our stopover at Katowice permitted Ed to relate to me his and his family’s connection to that city’s mining industry. Indeed, his father had been killed in a mining accident, and he had therefore vowed to use his present powerful position to improve safety conditions in the industry nationwide.
After the hustle and bustle of a major mining center, the chilling all-pervading silence on our arrival in Auschwitz was in stark contrast. Ed encouraged me to spend time there alone and abruptly left me to myself and my own thoughts. Without any interruption, I walked and walked taking in one harrowing scene after another, that the world seemed to have abandoned, until I couldn’t take it any more. Indeed, it was at that point that I sank to my knees in the corner of one of the austere buildings and was utterly still…..
[Background: To put the above into historical context, I had invited Mr. Gierek in his capacity as the Minister of Mines to visit my Sijua headquarters in the State of Bihar, as the Government of India was in dire need of increasing its energy and steel production capacity. I knew from my research that his country was the only one that manufactured the deep-mining equipment that we needed to deploy in our 1,200 ft. deep mines in Bihar, in order to exploit the rich seams below with reduced labor costs and high output.
I picked Mr. Gierek up from Calcutta’s Dum Dum International Airport off his flight from Warsaw via New Delhi, and we flew together in my company plane directly to Dhanbad. During his visit over several days I was impressed by his technical knowledge and eye for detail, and he in turn grasped the fact that our mining engineers were more than capable of using the modern equipment to good effect after suitable training underground.
He, therefore, invited me to visit him in Warsaw, and shortly thereafter, I did so and was picked up at the airport by a Ministry official, who took me directly to his superior. On entering his office, the Minister welcomed me warmly and his opening words were: “Call me Ed – we’re off to Auschwitz via Katowice, as soon as you’ve freshened up after your long air journey from Calcutta!”]