LONDON (Aug. 12)
A 79-year-old Jewish woman who escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto is facing extradition to Poland on charges of fabricating evidence that led to the postwar execution of a Polish war hero.
Helena Brus — then known as Helena Wolinska — survived the war as a partisan fighter and after the war joined the Communist Party’s Institute for Social Sciences while working in the chief military prosecutor’s office.
In 1968, she fled the anti-Semitic campaign unleashed by the Communist authorities to silence social unrest and quell an internal power struggle.
Four years later she settled in Britain, was granted British citizenship and now lives in the university town of Oxford, where her husband, Wlodzimierz Brus, is emeritus professor of modern Russian and East European studies at Oxford University.
According to the Polish Justice Ministry, which submitted its extradition request this week, Brus was instrumental in the false arrest and execution of Gen. Emil Fieldorf in 1951.
Known by the alias “Nil,” Fieldorf led the underground Polish Home Army against the Nazis and then went on to head the anti-Communist Polish resistance movement “Armia Krajowa,” or National Resistance Army.
Brus is alleged to have ordered his arrest because he refused to collaborate with the secret services of the newly established Communist regime.
She is then alleged to have fabricated evidence against Fieldorf, who was falsely accused of having killed Soviet soldiers and Communists.
He was subjected to a Stalinist-style show trial in 1952 and was executed the following year.
After the collapse of the Communist regime in 1989, however, he was completely exonerated and posthumously cleared of all charges.
Polish military prosecutor Janusz Palus said that Brus, who is also alleged to have engineered the wrongful arrests of 14 other people, contravened Communist- era law by holding Fieldorf for more than six months without charge.
“She used her role as a military prosecutor to persecute opponents of the Communist regime on the basis of their political view or their religious faiths,” he alleged.
Speaking from her Oxford home, Brus strenuously denied the charges and described the allegations — which carry a 10-year jail term — as “a shameful pack of absurd lies.”
“I welcome the news about the extradition request because I will at last be able to give the real answer — to reveal in front of unbiased people the absurdity of the allegations against me,” she said.
But welcoming news about the extradition does not mean she will return voluntarily to Poland because, she said, “I will not have a fair trial in Poland,” adding that she wants to answer the charges in England.
Brus said that after escaping from the Warsaw Ghetto she joined the underground movement, “which is how I survived.”
She refuses to discuss her role during the trials. “It was 50 years ago now. I’m very tired and not a young person. It’s all terrible nonsense. That’s all I can say.”
The drive to extradite Brus is the result of a campaign by Fieldorf’s elderly daughter, Maria, who now lives in the Polish city of Gdansk.
Speaking of her father’s arrest and trial, Maria said she had visited the prosecutor’s office every few days seeking news of her father.
“One day they said, `Don’t come back or send any money for food or cigarettes, we have hanged your father’.
“It was a terrible experience,” she said, “and I vowed to repay them.
“I learned from a rabbi that my father had been in solitary confinement for 23 months in a filthy dark cell. He had been starved and harassed and was under constant interrogation.”
Fieldorf’s daughter accused Brus of having been “one of those careerists who are the pillars of any dictatorship.”
“For the first time we have honest courts in Poland,” she said. “If she really believes she did the right thing, why not come home and clear her name?”