Zdzislaw Najder was born October 31, 1930, in Warsaw, Poland. Najder studied Polish literature and philosophy at Warsaw University from 1949 to 1954 and then traveled abroad in 1959 to continue his studies at Oxford University. Najder remained at Oxford for ten years, receiving bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in philosophy and Polish literature. Najder returned to Poland on the completion of his studies at Oxford, earning an additional doctorate in Polish literature in 1978. Najder was on the staff of the Institute for Literary Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences and was coeditor of the Warsaw literary monthly Tworczosc (Creativity).
When martial law was declared in December 1981, Najder, internationally renowned for his work on Joseph Conrad, was a visiting scholar at Oxford University. Najder, a supporter of Solidarity, opted to remain in the West rather than return to Jaruzelski’s Poland. On the recommendation of Jan Nowak, Najder was hired as the director of RFE’s Polish-language service. In response, a Polish military court sentenced Najder to death in absentia for the crime of collaborating with American intelligence services. Najder was the first language service director hired right out of the Eastern bloc, which was unfortunately a source of some tension within the Polish service. Najder remained with the Polish service until 1987; under his leadership, the Polish service sharpened its criticism of the communist regime, sometimes blurring the line between news and opinion. One of Najder’s additions to the RFE lineup was a program entitled The Poland That Could Be; as the name suggests, the program speculated about a future Poland free from communist rule.
After the fall of the communist regime in 1989, Najder returned to Poland, serving as an adviser to President Lech Walesa and Prime Minister Jan Olszewski. Najder now divides his time between teaching and politics, serving both as a professor of English literature at the University of Opole in Poland and as an adviser to Poland’s minister for european integration. Najder continues to publish works on Conrad, focusing on the author’s Polish roots; his Joseph Conrad: A Chronicle remains one of the definitive biographies of the writer.
The Najder collection includes extensive documentation of Najder’s time with the Polish service, including diaries, correspondence, broadcast scripts, reports, and press summaries concerning RFE, Polish dissidents, the Solidarity movement, and political conditions in Poland. The Zdzislaw Najder Collection is open to the public and available for research in the Hoover Archives Reading Room.