- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

How many people do you know in Washington who have truly inspired you? How many can you single out for selfless service to their country, for modesty and lack of pretension? Chances are that you won't need both hands. Those of us who have had the pleasure and honor of knowing Jan Nowak have to consider ourselves fortunate indeed.
"Jan is a Polish patriot, a freedom fighter and an American hero. He has served both Poland and the United States, and has greatly advanced the cause of liberty and human dignity," says Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for global affairs.
By the end of this month, however, this guide of U.S. Cold War policy, founder of Radio Free Europe's Polish service, national security council adviser under four U.S. presidents, mentor to generations of policy-makers and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, will return home to the country where he was born 89 years ago. Mr. Nowak extended his 30-year sojourn in Washington to attend the state dinner for the president of Poland, Alexander Kwasniewski, on July 16, a crowning moment for his life's work.
"I feel that my mission is finished," Mr. Nowak says. "I came to Washington to use my contacts for my country. But Poland is now a normal country, free and secure, a member of NATO." It is a goal Mr. Nowak worked over half-a-century to achieve.
"Throughout a lifetime of courage and sacrifice, Jan has demonstrated to the world that freedom requires and deserves unwavering dedication," wrote President Bush in a letter of appreciation to Mr. Nowak on June 20. "He and his achievements are a significant part of the history of Europe, the story of transatlantic relations, and the story of liberty."
And an amazing story it is. A Ph.D. student in economics at Poznan University, he was drafted in 1939 as the German army threatened Poland. He was captured by the Nazis, escaped from prison camp and made five daring trips as a courier between the Polish resistance and the Polish government in exile in London.
He returned to take part in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, during which the German army destroyed the city and massacred the population. (The Soviet army waited outside the city, by the way, to allow the Nazis to finish their dirty work.) Mr. Nowak was the first eyewitness of the uprising to reach the West.
During the uprising, he ran a radio station, "Lightning," and radio was to become his next mission. In 1951, he was recruited by the United States to create and direct the Polish service of Radio Free Europe, which he ran for the next 25 years. When Mr. Nowak returns to Poland in late July, he does so as very much a public figure.
Retiring from Radio Free Europe in 1976, he came to Washington and became a National Security Council consultant on Central and Eastern Europe to presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. "I wanted to defend Radio Free Europe," he says, which was then under assault from Sen. William Fulbright and other liberals who wanted to kill this ideological weapon of the Cold War. He also championed support for Lech Walesa and Solidarity, neither of which would have survived without U.S. support. Mr. Nowak's book about World War II, "Courier from Warsaw," was distributed in thousands of copies by the Solidarity underground, and used as a model for underground opposition against communism.
Mr. Nowak's most recent self-assigned mission in Washington was accomplished when Poland was accepted as a member of the NATO alliance at the Washington summit in 1999. That was also the year Mr. Nowak's wife passed away. However, rather than return home to his Polish roots, which were increasingly calling, he chose to stay in Washington to advocate the admission of the three Baltic countries to NATO. (Decisions are to be made in Prague in October and are widely expected to favor Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.)
Mr. Nowak's work for Poland, however, will continue back in Warsaw. "Poland is facing a very difficult referendum on accession to the European Union," he says. "I hope to play a role in that campaign. The Polish economy has made giant strides, but it is not out of the woods. With 20 percent unemployment, the potential for social unrest is there."
He will remain a U.S. citizen. As he wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post last week about America's role in repeatedly saving Europe throughout the 20th century, "Those of us who remember and remain grateful should no longer remain silent. For people like me and there are millions this Fourth of July is a good opportunity to say, 'Thank you, America.' "
It could well be argued that it is the United States that should say, "Thank you, Jan Nowak."

Helle Dale is deputy director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation. E-mail: [email protected]


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