Four Air Force Academy cadets will ponder some of the worst decisions made in military history this summer during a two-week trip to Auschwitz to study the Holocaust.
The cadets, Blake Abrecht, Jessica Adams, Nathan Orrill, and Regan Rogers, were selected by the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation for a fellowship aimed at teaching future military leaders about ethical decision-making.
An estimated 3 million people died at Auschwitz during World War II when it was run by the German military. Nine of 10 people killed at the camp were targeted for their Jewish heritage. In war crimes trials that followed allied victory, a string of troops from the camp justified their actions by saying they were following orders.
"That's why we thought the program was important for future military leaders," said program spokeswoman Betsy Aldredge.
Before heading overseas, the Air Force cadets will meet with cadets from other military academies to study the history behind Auschwitz. On the trip, they'll learn about the vibrant Polish communities that were snuffed out by the Holocaust. They'll also meet survivors of the death camp.
Along the way, Aldredge said, they'll study the ethical questions that pit military duty against moral responsibility.
"It's all about ethical behavior, taking responsibility, and upholding the values of their country, their armed forces and their own values," Aldredge said.
Cadets were chosen for the program through an application process. Rogers wrote that the experience will help him "to keep the memories of the Holocaust alive for the sake of our posterity."
Cadets are fanning out across the globe this month for summer training experiences. Academy spokesman John Van Winkle said 164 cadets will participate in a variety of summer research programs.
But the Auschwitz program could hold the most meaning.
"It's one thing to read about the Holocaust, but you only get so much from a book, an article or a web posting," Van Winkle said. "It's another thing entirely to stand at the site, view what remains and, in this case, to think about what happened to so many innocents."