THE DON'S WIFE, THE MURDERED HERO AND JACK STRAW'S LATEST HEADACHE; Helena Brus Lives in Genteel Oxford, Where Her Husband Is a Professor. Fifty Years Ago, It Was So Different. A Fugitive from the Nazis, She Became a Stalinist Who Helped Send a Polish War Hero to His Death. Should the Home Secretary Force Her to Go Home to Face Justice?
Byline: JOHN TORODE
BEHIND the mullioned windows of an imposing Victorian house in north Oxford, the 80-year-old wife of a leading don is waiting for the police to knock at the door.
She knows the sensation well. A lifetime ago, before her comfortable college life, she had been a lieutenant-colonel in the state security apparatus of Stalin's Soviet-occupied Poland.
She has probably forgotten many of those she ordered to be arrested, who were then led away down grim, subterranean corridors to their cells - or to oblivion. But she won't have forgotten General Emil Fieldorf, a war hero of the non-Communist Home Army, who was secretly hanged in 1953. Hers was the signature at the bottom of his arrest warrant.
Helena Wolinska, wife of Wlodzimierz Brus, Emeritus Professor of Russian and East European Studies, has been summoned to stand trial in Warsaw for her alleged part in General Fieldorf's judicial murder.
She is refusing to attend the hearings, claiming she is the victim of a Rightwing, anti-Communist and anti-semitic witch-hunt, and will not receive a fair trial.
Even though she is virtually unknown in Oxford, it is a stance that has won her some support at the liberal university, with its residual Marxist sympathies, abhorrence of racism and instinctive desire to protect its own.
Although Professor Brus is a convivial figure who has slipped effortlessly into the Oxford social scene, Mrs Brus seldom entertains and has not been seen for many years at formal dinners or sherry parties.
After nearly 30 years in Britain, her English is still strongly accented, and the wife of one academic described her as 'bizarre . . . a very private person'.
Perhaps she was wary of drawing too much attention to herself in a country where many previous emigres well remember her highflying career in Communist Poland.
For the moment, Oxford is closing ranks. At Wolfson College, where Professor Brus is a Fellow, staff have been instructed not to reveal his address or phone number.
HELENA cannot, however, hide for long from the fact that the Polish authorities have issued a warrant for her arrest. If she does not return voluntarily to stand trial, the Polish Government will seek her extradition.
It will be hard for Home Secretary Jack Straw to refuse in the aftermath of the Pinochet case, given that the new Poland is a friendly democracy, whose courts we respect. The case highlights the moral quagmire the Government finds itself in.
The only facts which are beyond dispute in this sorry tale are that Helena was a young, but very senior, military prosecutor working for the repressive Communist Government of Poland, which was established after World War II. She accepts that her signature appears on the warrant for General Fieldorf's arrest, which led, inexorably, to his execution, after a farcical trial in which he was accused of being 'a fascist-Hitlerite criminal'.
To understand that ludicrous charge it is necessary to know something of the history of Poland. Hitler and Stalin agreed to carve up the country in 1939, but when Germany invaded Russia, two anti-Nazi movements emerged.
The Home Army, of which General Fieldorf was a leading officer, was responsible to the Rightwing Polish government in exile in London. The rival Communist resistance was controlled by Moscow. It was to this that Helena Wolinska was drawn.
As a Jewish girl, she had escaped from the Warsaw ghetto in 1942. Her family were butchered at Treblinka.
She would have suffered the same fate had she not jumped from a death train to one of the camps and joined the Communist People's Guard. It was the only way she could fight back against the Nazis, as the residual anti-semitism of the Polish Home Army discouraged Jewish recruits.
With the arrival of the Russians, Helena began to rise through the ranks.
As elsewhere in the Eastern Europe 'liberated' by Stalin, the dirtiest jobs were handed to Jewish Communists. …