Obituary: Jadwiga Nowak

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The Independent Culture
JADWIGA NOWAK was one of the many Poles who refused to accept the simultaneous invasion of their country in 1939 by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. She immediately joined the resistance to the occupying forces and was assigned to Action N, a psychological warfare unit in the Home Army, being given the codename Greta.

In recognition of her service she was given several high-level awards by the Home Army Commander-in-Chief, General Tadeusz Bor- Komorowski, including the Cross of Valour and the Silver Cross of Merit with Swords, one of four young women in Action N decorated for outstanding courage and valour.

A student at Krakow University at the time of the invasion, Jadwiga and her sister joined the Polish underground resistance movement. In June 1941 she was sworn in as a soldier of the Home Army. Her clandestine career began in smuggling documents between Warsaw and Krakow.

The Home Army assigned her to Action N, and for the next four years she defied the Gestapo and occupation troops as she carried messages and instructions between resistance units and underground printing presses in secret locations throughout the city.

Her unit was primarily involved in propaganda among German troops and occupation administration, aimed at destroying their morale. She became a prime target of the Gestapo and was required to carry a vial of poison for use in case of capture.

She took part in the Warsaw Uprising against the Germans which broke out on 1 August 1944, when everyone believed the Soviet Red Army was about to evict the Germans from the Polish capital. Instead, the Red Army held its positions as the Germans moved to crush the uprising.

In September, during the height of the Warsaw fighting, she married Jan Nowak, a lieutenant in the Home Army, in a seven-minute church ceremony interrupted by machine-gun fire from German tanks. Only days before, her sister had been killed and everyone feared the worst. "The end is drawing near," Jan told her, "Let's face it as man and wife."

Shortly before the collapse of the uprising, she and her new husband were assigned to try to make their way through enemy lines to Britain, concealing in their clothes and a plaster cast thousands of feet of microfilm documenting the story of the uprising. They escaped Warsaw and headed south, where they saw her parents for the last time.

They left Poland in December 1944 and, after a number of narrow escapes as they crossed hostile borders, they finally reached London the following month - the first survivors of the uprising to reach Allied territory. The microfilm they carried to safety later formed the basis of the film The Last Days of Warsaw, which was widely shown in Britain and the United States.

After the war, Nowak initially served with the first battalion of the Polish Women's Auxiliary Service, based in Scotland. Her husband joined the BBC in 1947 and they lived in London until 1951, when he took up the job of head of the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe, based in Munich.

When he retired from Radio Free Europe in 1976 they moved to the United States, settling in Annandale in Virginia, where she was active in local churches and civic groups.

In retirement, Jan Nowak wrote up the story of their wartime experiences in the book Courier From Warsaw, published in 1982. The handbag she used to smuggle the microfilms to Britain is in the collection of the Polish Underground Movement Study Trust in London.

Felix Corley

Jadwiga Wolska, resistance worker: born Zydaczow, Poland 12 October 1917; married 1944 Jan Nowak (nee Jezioranski); died Fairfax, Virginia 1 May 1999.