It’s worthwhile to recall the aims and mission of the renown broadcasting station, Polish Radio Free Europe which beamed its programs from Munich Germany for over 42 years.
RFE’s programming was divided into 4 blocks, each 4 and ½ hours in length , and broadcast from 5:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. daily. Besides current news, there was coverage of politics, education, culture and even entertainment. All of the texts of RFE were created for and directed at the objective of joining listeners in a sense of unity and purpose: to keep hope alive in a captive and terrorized nation. Major goals were to expose the omnipotent authority of the U.B. (The Polish Ministry of Security- Public Security Service), its propaganda, deceitful accusations, repression and falsification of history and allowing Poles to learn the truth by revealing the true crimes and criminals.
The number one subject of the station was the political scene as it existed between Poland and the Soviet Union, particularly in the area of political games played out at the top levels of the Communist Party. Not without reason, a joke circulated that top party officials listened to the broadcasts from Munich to find out what positions they played on the chessboard of power currently and would in the future. In only the second year of its existence, reliable information was obtained by the station in the case of the escape of Joseph Swiatlo, a highly placed official of the U.B.. Swiatlo provided real facts about the prosecution of former soldiers of the Home Army, how their court cases were built on lies and the sentences meted out were based on groundless findings and often included death penalties. In more recent times, particularly during the rise of the Solidarity movement, the radio was first to inform the people about efforts to democratize the country and make known the persecution of those opposing the regime; particularly about the murder of Father Popieluszko, and the fatal beating of Gregorz Przemyk, a high school student who happened to be the son of a well known activist of the opposition movement.
Without exception, whoever was at the top of the Communist party in Poland, whether it was Boleslaw Bierut, Wladyslaw Gomulka, Edward Gierek or Wojciech Jaruzelski, Radio Free Europe was for them, enemy number one. Journalists working for Radio Free Europe were held in contempt and continually under fire by the party bosses, each with his own set of epitaphs for the station until it became a unique symbol of evil, variously known as the “Squawker of the Imperialists,” “the incubator of sabotage against Poland”, “ the reptile press from Munich working in collaboration with foreign intelligence sources.” Such invectives were used in endless (and often creative) diatribes against the station.
The most pressured individual was the chief editor and director of the station who served in his position the longest ( from 1951 to 1975) Jan Nowak Jezioranskiborn Zdzislaw Jezioranski. He was accused of all that was horrible and evil – from being mentally ill to being a Nazi collaborator during Hitler’s occupation of Poland.
Actually, Jan Nowak’s entire life was dedicated to the service of Poland and the Polish people, whether it was with arms in hand during the outbreak of war in 1939, as a courier crossing many borders at great risk to reach England, or as a soldier in the Home Army fighting in the Warsaw Uprising. As Director of the RFE, he was skilled at discharging his duties. He was able to secure the independence of the station’s programming because he knew how to talk to the American institutions financing the station who were not particularly knowledgeable about the fine points or specifics of Polish politics and issues.
The funding of the station was adequate to ensure salaries for the employees, as well as fund emigrant writers, artists and editors banned from publishing or producing their creations in Poland.
Even though there was a careful process of screening candidates for positions at RFE, there were mistakes. A highly publicized affair was the disclosure that Capt. Andrzej Czechowicz, employed by the station for seven years turned out to be an intelligence officer of the Polish government and the U.B. Upon accomplishing his mission, he returned to Poland and communist propaganda sources ecstatically gloated about his success and how Czechowicz had misled Western intelligence services. He wrote two books and many articles about his experiences as a spy. Having disclosed his true identity and operations, he quickly became useless in that capacity. Attempts to infiltrate the station were many, some with success, but none were so widely publicized.
As testament to the formidable foe that RFE was for the communists, was the practice of jamming the radio-station’s airwaves. Humorists called the station “Buczka” or “The Buzzing” due to the buzzing, droning, clicking and other annoying sounds that were well known to the listeners. It was radio for the patient and determined, or residents of smaller towns and cities. The larger cities were saturated with Polish and Soviet jamming equipment. The expenses incurred to install and maintain huge networks of jamming transmitters have been estimated at 80 million zlotys annually. Even with such a huge effort, it was impossible to deaden the sound or distort the signal completely.
After many years, the words of Jan Nowak have come to pass. Every year Jan Nowak would address his staff “Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the persistent vision I have before me. I imagine that there will come a day when we will board a train between Munich and Warsaw and that we will arrive in our own country which has been liberated and is independent. I truly, deeply believe that this will occur during our lifetimes.”
The final sign-off of Polish Radio Free Europe’s signal occurred June 21, 1994. Jan Nowak Jezioranski died in January 2005 in Warsaw.
Translated by Zofia Wisniewski