Washington, D.C. — Today marks the 10th anniversary of the passing of Zofia Korbońska, a member of the anti-Nazi resistance movement who later immigrated to the United States as a political refugee from Soviet Communism and long served the Voice of America (VOA) Polish service.
Born in Warsaw in 1912, Korbońska (née Ristau) was a member of the Polish Underground Army, which fought against the Nazis. On a daily basis, she risked her life writing and coding secret shortwave radio transmissions sent from Poland to the Polish government-in-exile in London. A number of her dispatches that reached the free world were broadcast back into occupied Europe by the BBC. They broke news about Gestapo murders of the Polish intelligentsia, Nazi extermination of Polish Jews, and medical experiments on women prisoners at concentration camp.
In addition to her clandestine radio work, Korbońska was also a partner in the work of her husband, Stefan Korboński, the leader of Poland’s anti-Nazi civil resistance and the last head of the Polish Underground State. (He was later honored in 1980 by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for taking great risks to save Jews.) Shortly after the end of the Second World War, Korbońska and Korboński were arrested in Poland by the NKVD Soviet secret police but were released after several lengthy interrogations. Fearing another arrest, they escaped to Sweden in 1947, hiding in a ship transporting coal.
After they found refuge in the United States, Korbońska was hired by VOA in 1948 on the recommendation of former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Arthur Bliss Lane. She worked first in New York and later in Washington, D.C., using the pen name “Zofia Orłowska” to protect her family and friends in Poland. She continued to serve VOA for over three decades, writing and recording occasional programs in the 1980s even after her retirement.
In 2006, Korbońska was awarded the title of honorary citizen of the capital city of Warsaw. She also received from the president of Poland one of the country’s most prestigious civilian awards. She died in Washington, D.C. on August 16, 2010. Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, delivered a eulogy at her funeral, in which he stated, “Zofia Korbońska – heroically brave in battle, prudent in political exile – was an example of what a dedicated and successful service in a great cause entails.”
The U.S. Agency for Global Media and VOA will always honor Zofia Korbońska and all of their journalists, past and present, whose reporting has advanced freedom and democracy.
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