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Jan Nowak

In 1948, Jan Nowak-Jeziorański landed a job at the Polish Desk of the BBC, and in 1951 became director of the Polish Section of Radio Free Europe. His first radio program in Polish was broadcast from the Radio Free Europe seat in Munich on May 3rd, 1952.

The station, established by the Americans, with its seat in Munich became for many Poles a basic source of information unavailable in the censored media of communist Poland. RFE broadcasts were regularly jammed, and communist propagandists sought to convince listeners that the station has a hotbed of “American-German fascism.” As an “enemy of People’s Poland” it was surveilled by the communist secret police. Jan Nowak-Jeziorański and his wife became the target of attacks – anonymous phone calls full of vicious insults and threats, and practically not a single RFE staff escaped blackmail attempts by the secret police.

A true sensation in 1954 was a series of broadcasts involving Józef Światło, deputy director of the Ministry of Public Security’s 10th Department. He had escaped to the United States and began revealing Security Service (UB) crimes. His testimony led to the release of many political prisoners, the liquidation of the Ministry of Public Security and the demotion of the most compromised communist politicians. Millions of brochures containing Światło’s revelations were dropped over Poland by balloons, and in that way RFE evaded the censorship of jamming devices. South-westerly winds wafted the special helium-filled balloons from Munich to Poland. Not only the Światło brochures but also George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” as well as RFE Bulletins made their way to Poland via that same route.

In June 1956, RFE provided extensive coverage of the bloody quashing of worker protests in Poznań. In October it supported the return to power of Władysław Gomułka, simultaneously dampening spirits in Poland to prevent Russian intervention and bloodshed. The station also called for an amnesty for thousands of Poles still held in the USSR. Thanks to RFE, in December 1970 Poles learnt of the massacre of Polish workers on the Baltic coast.

It has been estimated that from 40 to 67 percent of Poles regularly listened to RFE. Listenership varied from year to year and depended on political events. According to American estimates, during the 1968 Warsaw Pact intervention in Czechoslovakia, up to 80 percent of Poles may have tuned in.

Although financed by the Americans (in part by the CIA), RFE enjoyed autonomous status. Jan Nowak-Jeziorański fought hard for its independent program line including freedom to discuss Poland’s Odra-Nysa frontier which the Germans did not recognize. (Please note, that the station was based in Munich)

Jan Nowak-Jeziorański served as Radio Free Europe director until 1975. After terminating his work at RFE, he and his wife moved to a mountain home in Pass Thurm, Austria. There Jan Nowak worked on “Courier form Warsaw”. The book not only chronicled the life of the Home Army emissary, who miraculously cheated death on more than one occasion, but also presented the complicated picture of Polish history and the Polish Underground during World War Two. “Courier from Warsaw” was published in London for the first time in 1978. Before “Courier from Warsaw” could officially be released in Poland in 1989, it was one of the most frequently smuggled émigré publications.