Britain must not stand in the way of Polish justice
THINGS are becoming embarrassing for Rosa Klebb and she is understandably indignant.
Last Tuesday a court in Warsaw issued a European arrest warrant for the extradition of Colonel Helena Wolinska, former Communist military prosecutor, now living in Oxford as a British citizen, on charges of being "accessory to a court murder", classed as a Stalinist crime and a crime of genocide. The victim was one of Poland's most revered patriots, General Emil August Fieldorf, hanged by the Communists in 1953.
"I don't know why the whole business is coming up again," declared Wolinska dismissively. "This is an old case, it is 10 years old." Colonel Wolinska should realise that not all courts handle their proceedings as expeditiously as hers did in Communist Poland. If the attempt to extradite her has dragged on wearisomely, that is because of the refusal of the British Government to allow this venerable Stalinist to face trial in democratic Poland.
The first extradition request was refused in 1999, the second in 2001, on "humanitarian" grounds. Wolinska said haughtily that she would not return to that "despicable country" where "they write such ghastly things about me". Now that Poland is a member of the EU, she may no longer have any choice. Wolinska, now 88, has lived in Britain since 1971; last February her husband, Wlodzimierz Brus, the Stalinist economist who was a Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, died. His obituary in the Guardian was headed "Economist committed to market reforms and democracy in Poland" and politely deplored "politically motivated extradition proceedings against his wife, Helena".
The extradition proceedings relate to the judicial murder of General Fieldorf, deputy commander of the Polish Home Army underground resistance. He was arrested on a warrant signed by then Colonel Wolinska, as military prosecutor, and this illegal detention was renewed by her over the period of his torture and show trial. Fieldorf was imprisoned in solitary confinement for 23 months in a dark, dirty cell where he was partially starved, but still refused to collaborate with the Communist secret police. Wolinska accused him of having ordered the execution of Soviet partisans and, after a one-day trial, he was hanged in the Mokotow prison, Warsaw, at 3.30pm on February 24, 1953, as a "fascist-Hitlerite criminal". His body has never been recovered.
This fascist-Hitlerite criminal, as a commander of the Polish Home Army, had organised the assassination of the notorious SS General Franz Kutschera in 1944, besides many other effective actions against Nazi occupation forces. The year after Fieldorf's execution, Wolinska received one of Poland's highest awards, the Order of Polonia Restituta; the President of the Republic formally stripped her of this honour last year. Even the Communist authorities came to have reservations about Wolinska's cavalier disregard of legal process. A government report in 1956 concluded she had been involved in biased investigations and show trials.
During her period as military prosecutor, she was either married to or the mistress of Franciszek Jozwiak, commander of the People's Militia (she had lost touch with her husband during the war, believed him dead and remarried him in 1956). Today she is alleged, besides her complicity in the murder of Fieldorf, to have arranged the wrongful arrest of 24 other people.
To all charges, Wolinska-Brus has responded with arrogant denial and impenitence. Her most distasteful tactic, however, has been to play the Jewish card. She is a Jew and her family was murdered by the Nazis. She is now attempting to exploit this by denouncing attempts to bring her to trial as prompted by vengeance (for what?) and anti-semitism. Unfortunately, this ploy is seriously undermined by the character and career of her most famous victim, after General Fieldorf: Wladyslaw Bartoszewski.
Bartoszewski (Auschwitz inmate number 4427) is a gentile who managed to get out of the notorious death camp and joined the special section of the Polish Home Army tasked to assist the Jews. He helped organise the Warsaw Uprising, has been awarded the Jewish diploma 'Righteous Among the Nations' and honorary citizenship of Israel. Does he sound like an anti-semite? He has twice served as foreign minister of post-Communist Poland. He was one of the Home Army officers arrested by Wolinska and imprisoned for 18 months without trial. He has described how he was shown a sheaf of arrest warrants already signed by her, with the name and date left blank, to demoralise him with the knowledge he could be imprisoned indefinitely.
When Wolinska-Brus declares sanctimoniously that she will not return to the land of Auschwitz and Treblinka, she defames Poland. The death camps stood on Polish soil, but the nation that built them was Germany. Her claim that she will not receive a fair trial in Poland provokes the question: why did EU officials pass Poland's judicial institutions as satisfying the requirements for membership of the Union? This case is a test for Britain. Our Government cannot complain about Russia's refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi as a suspect in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, while obstructing Polish justice.
For too long, a double standard has rightly demonised Nazism, but wrongly humanised Communism. The nauseating cult of 'Uncle' Joe Stalin was part of it; so were the Cambridge traitors. On any festive occasion in pre-1989 Moscow, the podium at Lenin's tomb was creaking beneath the weight of British trades unionists and fellow travellers. Even today, students who would never dream of wearing Nazi insignia will cheerfully sport red stars, hammers and sickles and other Stalinist kitsch. The Nazis murdered 20 million souls, the Reds 100 million. Does a nine-figure score for genocide transport an ideology beyond the gravitational pull of moral censure?
The extradition procedure against Helena Wolinska-Brus is a result of the indefatigable efforts of Maria Fieldorf Czarska, herself now an elderly woman, to secure posthumous justice for her father, the late General Fieldorf. Britain and the West sold out Eastern Europe at Yalta; it is to be hoped this country will not impede justice now.
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