Oxford don's wife in show trial row fights extradition to Poland

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The Independent Online
THE WIFE of an Oxford don, who faces arrest over her role as chief prosecutor in communist show trials in Poland in the Fifties, says she will not get a fair hearing if she is extradited there.

The Polish justice minister has asked Britain to send Helena Brus, 79, back to Poland to answer charges of falsifying evidence and wrongful arrest. If found guilty, she could be sentenced to 10 years' jail.

The charges relate to the part that Mrs Brus, who is a British citizen, is alleged to have played in the execution of one of the country's leading war heroes more than 40 years ago.

Polish historians claim that charges of killing Soviet soldiers and communists, made against General Emil Fieldorf, a former deputy of the Polish wartime resistance called the Home Guard, were fabricated.

However, Mrs Brus, whose husband, Wlodzimierz Brus, is emeritus professor of modern Russian and East European studies at Oxford, strongly denies the allegations against her. The Jewish pensioner wants to be given the chance to clear her name in this country instead of going back to Poland.

The extradition of Mrs Brus was sought last month by Hanna Suchowka, the Polish justice minister, and relates in particular to the 1952 trial of General Fieldorf.

Mrs Brus, who was known as Helena Wolinska at the time of the trials, allegedly ordered the general's arrest in 1951 after he refused to collaborate with the new communist regime. He was hanged a year after his trial but posthumously cleared of all charges in 1989.

Speaking from the home she shares with her husband in Oxford, Mrs Brus said the allegations were absurd and that she welcomed the chance to present the truth.

"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.

"It makes me furious. I don't give a damn about the Polish authorities but I am upset about the attitude of those in England. I want to make it clear that all the allegations are untrue. I did not know, see or speak to General Fieldorf and I will not speak about him until it is my case. Not before."

She said that she had received little official information about her extradition and had instead been relying on reports in Polish newspapers.

"How can they arrest me? Someone came knocking on my door about six weeks ago but I did not get an official piece of paper to say they want to extradite me," she went on.

"All I have heard is what you have heard. No one from Poland has contacted me. It is only friends who are reading the papers over there.

"They are sending me newspaper cuttings from over there which are telling a pack of lies about me."

Her role during the trials was not something that Mrs Brus was prepared to speak about. However, she did say that she had been in the resistance movement during the Second World War.

"I came from the Warsaw ghetto and was in the underground movement which is how I survived," she said. "It is difficult to understand it all without knowing the Polish history."

The retired lawyer, who has lived in England for 26 years, said the attitude of the Polish authorities had deeply affected her family.

"I'm a citizen, I live here and I love it. I would not be here if I did not," she said.

"It's distressing for my son and for my husband. He is a professor and it's a shame that he is affected by everything which is going on.

"I do not want to go back to Poland. The case would be in the hands of a penal court which does not exist in England. The Polish law is completely different. I want to answer here because I will not have a fair trial in Poland. It was 50 years ago now. I'm very tired and not a young person. It's all a terrible nonsense. That's all I can say."

However, Janusz Palus, a spokesman for the Polish military prosecutor, said that Mrs Brus had contravened communist-era law by holding the general 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 claimed.