Resistance fighter faces extradition, 50 years on
AN 88-YEAR-OLD Oxford woman faces being sent back to Poland for her alleged involvement in the death of a nationalist hero more than 50 years ago.
A Polish court this week renewed efforts to secure the arrest of Helena Brus, a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, after two failed extradition attempts stretching back a decade.
As a military prosecutor under the Communist regime in Poland, she is said to have signed the arrest on trumped-up charges of General Emil Fieldorf, leader of the Polish Home Army against the Nazis, who was put to death in 1953.
Mrs Brus, née Wolinska, lives in a block of flats in a leafy, tree-lined street of North Oxford. When the JC rang her intercom on Wednesday, Mrs Brus said clearly that she was not ready to talk to the press. “I will not speak about my case because I don’t know what’s going on.” She refused to comment further.
But in December 1998, at the time of the first extradition request, she told the JC: “If they don’t like you, they accuse you of being an ex-Communist and a Jew.”
In 1971, she came to Britain after leaving Poland with her husband Wlodzimierz Brus in the wake of the Communist Party’s antisemitic purges. Prof Brus, who became an Oxford University economics don, died this August.
Jesmond Blumenfeld, the convenor of the Oxford Jewish congregation’s education programme, said: “They weren’t members of the community but he is buried in our cemetery.”
Jonathan Webber, vice-chairman of the Institute of Polish-Jewish Studies, who lives in Oxford, said the case has its roots in the bitter struggles between Polish nationalists and Communists during and immediately following the Second World War.
Helena Brus — whom he has known for 20 years — had been “a courier in the Warsaw ghetto for the Communist underground. She was blonde and blue-eyed and spoke fluent Polish. After the war, she got involved, as many Jews did, with the Communist party, which took power.”
She had escaped the ghetto, following Wlodzimierz’s earlier disappearance, but they met by chance in the street in Warsaw some time later, he said, and subsequently remarried. “Each had assumed the other was dead.”
Jews involved in Polish politics during the period had tended towards the left, Prof Webber explained, while the Home Army had contained some antisemitic elements who spread it about that Poland was being betrayed to Stalin’s Russia by the Jews.
Mrs Brus, he said, “would say that they are picking on her simply as an exercise to pick on a Jewish Communist, when so many other Communists have not been prosecuted”.
Prof Webber added: “Officially, the government is not involved in antisemitic behaviour, but there are circles who do have grudges and resentments of all kinds and who would like to confront that.
“They think it would be a good idea to put Lena Brus on trial.”
In June last year, the Home Secretary told the Polish authorities that they would not be proceeding with the extradition request.
But since Poland has joined the European Union, its judiciary has now been able to issue a European arrest warrant under a new fast-track extradition scheme.