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Legendary RFE Polish Service Director Jan Nowak Dead At 91

(Washington/Prague–January 21, 2005) Jan Nowak, the legendary fighter for the Polish resistance during World War II who went on to head the Polish service of Radio Free Europe for a quarter of a century, died Thursday evening, January 20 in a hospital in his native Warsaw. He was 91 years old.

RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine, traveling in Ukraine, said that “Jan Nowak was a great leader. He was a great Polish patriot. He made the Polish section of RFE the jewel in the crown.”

Born in 1913 as Zdzislaw Jezioranski (“Jan Nowak” was his nom de guerre), Nowak first attained prominence thanks to his storied service with the Polish underground during World War II, when he shuttled between London, Stockholm, and Warsaw to lobby allied leaders and to organize the resistance at home. During the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, Nowak oversaw English-language broadcasting from the Polish capital. It was during the Uprising that he married his wife Greta, who was working as a courier for the resistance. Greta Nowak died in 1999.

After the war, as his country fell into the hands of Soviet-sponsored Communists, Nowak continued to fight for Poland’s freedom by helming the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe. His audience included Pope John Paul II, who once told Nowak that he used to listen to him every morning as he shaved. After Jan’s 1976 retirement from Radio Free Europe, the Nowaks moved to the United States, where Jan served as national director of the Polish American Congress and later, at the behest of his countryman Zbigniew Brzezinski, as a consultant to the National Security Council during the Carter Administration. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996.

Throughout his years in the United States, Nowak assumed that he would never see his beloved homeland again, a fact that caused him great sorrow. However, in 1989 the Solidarity movement toppled the Communist regime, and in August of that year Nowak made his triumphant return to the nation to which he had devoted his life. He received a hero’s welcome. He moved back to Warsaw permanently in 2002.