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From Holocaust to hunted at 88

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  • Jan Niechwiadowicz
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi- ghosts_hundleyjan08,1,4260286.story?ctrack=1&cset=true Brus, the widow of a distinguished Oxford professor,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 8, 2008

      Brus, the widow of a distinguished Oxford professor, leads a quiet,
      almost reclusive life in an apartment on the edge of the famous
      university town where she and her late husband settled in 1972.

      But Wolinska-Brus, 88, has not been forgotten in her native Poland,
      where the government has spent nine years trying to bring her back to
      stand trial for her role in the 1953 judicial murder of one of the
      country's greatest anti-Nazi military heroes.

      Late last year the Polish government filed a European arrest warrant
      for Wolinska-Brus that would appear to give the British government
      little choice but to arrest her. This follows two lengthy extradition
      attempts that were rejected by the British government, citing her
      advanced age.

      Wolinska-Brus declined requests to be interviewed, but it is clear
      from archival material and information gleaned from people who know
      her that she lived a life buffeted by all the traumas of Europe's
      turbulent 20th Century. The rise and fall of Hitler and Stalin, the
      Holocaust, anti-Semitism, the Cold War and its aftermath all played
      significant roles in shaping her career.

      Those traumas left Europe with psychological wounds that have yet to
      heal. In Poland, the government argues they never will heal unless
      figures like Wolinska-Brus are brought to justice, and that time is
      running out to try them.

      Others, including Wolinska-Brus, contend she is a scapegoat.

      The British government is understandably queasy about arresting an 88-
      year-old Holocaust survivor and bundling her back to Poland.

      She was born Fajga Mindla-Danielak in Warsaw. Wolinska was the name
      that appeared on her forged documents when she joined the Polish
      underground after the Nazi invasion. By all accounts, she served
      valiantly, risking her life as courier in the Warsaw ghetto.

      Most of her family perished in the Holocaust. She was captured by the
      Nazis and put on a train to Treblinka but managed to escape before it

      "I slipped off and just walked away slowly," she said in a 1998
      British newspaper interview. "I knew I would die anyway if I stayed
      on the train. But they didn't shoot."

      The main branch of the Polish resistance was loyal to the Polish
      government-in-exile based in London.

      Its pilots flew with the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain and
      its soldiers fought alongside American forces at Monte Cassino. Known
      as the Home Army, its goal was a democratic Poland.

      Wolinska-Brus served with a different, much smaller branch of the
      resistanceĀ—the communist People's Guard, which was controlled by
      Moscow. It also fought fiercely against the Nazis, but with a
      different political agenda.

      When Harry Truman and Winston Churchill ceded Poland to Josef Stalin
      at the Potsdam Conference in 1945, members of the People's Guard
      became the vanguard of the new communist state.

      Smart and ambitious, Wolinska-Brus rose quickly through the ranks.

      By 1950 she was Col. Wolinska-Brus and served as a senior military
      prosecutor in the Warsaw district.

      It is not clear when she married a young economist, Wlodzimierz Brus,
      but they became separated during the war and each presumed the other
      was dead. They found each other at the war's end but didn't resume
      their marriage.

      Instead, she began a relationship with Franciszek Jozwiak, the head
      of the People's Army and later deputy prime minister.

      At that time, Poland's emerging Stalinist regime was consolidating
      its power by eliminating all potential rivals.

      Its main concern was the disbanded Home Army. From 1948 to 1956, more
      than 60,000 Home Army veterans were hunted down, arrested and
      dispatched to the Soviet gulag.

      As a senior military prosecutor, according to Polish officials and
      historians, Col. Wolinska-Brus signed patently false indictments
      against senior Home Army officers already in prison. These officers
      were then given a quick show trial and executed.

      A war hero is hanged in 1953

      One of them was Gen. Emil Fieldorf, commander of Home Army forces on
      Polish territory during the war. Fieldorf was responsible for some of
      the resistance fighters' greatest successes against the Nazis.

      Poland's communist regime declared him a "fascist-Hitlerite criminal."

      After an eight-hour trial, Fieldorf was hanged on Feb. 24, 1953. His
      body has never been recovered.

      The archives indicate that Wolinska-Brus did not actively fabricate
      evidence against or prosecute Fieldorf. She merely signed the papers.

      By 1956, Wolinska-Brus had left the military, ended her relationship
      with Jozwiak and remarried Brus, then a professor at Warsaw

      She took a job working for the Communist Party's Institute of Social
      Science; he served the party as an economic adviser. But the couple's
      careers took a turn for the worse in 1968 when a party power struggle
      resulted in an anti-Semitic purge.

      The couple left Poland in 1971 and were granted political asylum in
      Britain. The Cold War was at its height, and as persecuted Jews from
      behind the Iron Curtain, few questions were asked.

      A year later, Wlodzimierz Brus secured a teaching post at Oxford,
      where his work on market socialism was much admired. Colleagues say
      his wife was reclusive.

      After communism's collapse, Poland's new leaders quickly
      rehabilitated the reputations of heroes such as Fieldorf. They also
      began going through the files and building criminal cases against
      those responsible for the worst of the Stalin-era crimes. In 1999 the
      Polish government asked for Wolinska-Brus' extradition.

      She replied with disdain: The charges were "idiotic," she said, and
      Poland was a "despicable" country.

      "If they don't like you, they accuse you of being an ex-communist and
      a Jew," she told The Jewish Chronicle, a prominent British
      publication. She vowed to never return to "the land of Auschwitz and

      But while anti-Semitism is a touchy issue in Poland, "she is being
      asked about her responsibility for the death of a very important
      Polish hero, and that has nothing to do with being Jewish," said
      Rafal Wnuk, a Polish historian and expert on the Stalin era.

      One prominent Pole who feels strongly that Wolinska-Brus should stand
      trial is Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a former foreign minister, former
      Auschwitz inmate and now a special foreign policy adviser to new
      Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

      Bartoszewski, 82, also served in the Home Army, where he helped
      organize Zegota, the Council for Aid to Jews. Although he is not
      Jewish, his efforts were recognized by Israel, which made him an
      honorary citizen.

      After the war, Bartoszewski was among the thousands of Home Army
      officers arrested by communist authorities. He was charged with

      "I have a copy of an original document signed by Wolinska-Brus. ...
      It is her signature on the indictment against me, dated 1952. I was
      sentenced to 8 years in prison for espionage," he said in a telephone

      "She never saw me or questioned me, never interrogated me," he
      said. "I didn't know anything about her. It was only years later that
      I found out about her."

      Anti-Semitism a red herring?

      Bartoszewski said that "anti-Semitism does not come into
      consideration in this case," nor should Wolinska-Brus' age be used as
      an argument to drop the charges.

      "I'm not saying she should sit in prison, no," he said. "But there is
      the value of social education [in trying her], and historical truth
      requires that we do not put our heads in the sand."

      In 1989, when Tadeusz Mazowiecki became Poland's first democratically
      elected prime minister, he called on the nation to draw a "thick
      line" under its past.

      The idea was that Poland's new democracy should not become bogged
      down in settling scores with the past.

      Following that advice has proved difficult for Poland and several
      other former communist countries in Central Europe.

      "The 'thick line' didn't mean criminals should go unpunished,"
      Bartoszewski said. "It was one thing to be a communist, and another
      to be someone who was in the KGB."

      The last Polish government, headed by Prime Minister Jaroslaw
      Kaczynski (whose twin, Lech, is still president), often seemed to be
      obsessed with score-settling. That, according to many analysts, is
      part of the reason it was defeated in October's election.

      But the change hasn't helped Wolinska-Brus. The new government in
      Warsaw seems to feel strongly that she should have her day in court.

      After Poland's first extradition request was turned down by the Home
      Office, it filed another in 2001. That one was rejected in 2006.

      Undeterred, Poland is trying a different approach.

      As a member of the European Union, it has access to a powerful new
      legal tool: the European arrest warrant, designed to harmonize legal
      systems of EU members, remove political questions from the
      extradition process and speed the hand-over of people charged with

      British authorities declined to comment on the case, but it appears
      likely they will have to arrest Wolinska-Brus. She then would be
      entitled to a hearing within 21 days at which she could raise issues
      of religious persecution or her age.

      This time the case will be decided by a judge, not the Home Office.
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