Poles seek extradition of British woman, 79

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A POLISH military court isexpected to issue an arrest warrant for an elderly British woman on charges of illegally ordering the imprisonment of a wartime resistance hero who was later executed in Stalinist Poland.

Once the warrant is issued, the Polish authorities will apply to Britain for the extradition of Helena Wolinska, 79, who lives in Oxford. Like Chile's General Pinochet, she is being called to account for alleged crimes that took place decades ago.

Polish-born Ms Wolinska is the wife of Wlodzimierz Brus, emeritus professor of modern Russian and East European studies and a fellow of Wolfson College. The couple have been married since 1940.

In the Fifties she was a military prosecutor in Warsaw, when Poland, with much of post-war eastern Europe, was in the grip of a Stalinist regime.

She is accused of illegally ordering the arrest of General August Emil Fieldorf, after the pro-Soviet secret police accused him of organising the execution of Polish Communist fighters against the Nazis.

During the war Fieldorf was a high-ranking commander of the Polish Home Army (AK), the main resistance body and rival to the Communist-dominated People's Army.

Charged with attempting to overthrow the Polish Communist state, he was arrested and sentenced to death in April 1952 after a one-day trial, heldsecretly, at which Ms Wolinska was alleged to have been the chief prosecutor. He was hanged in 1953.

Ms Wolinska was purged from the party a few years later. General Fieldorf was rehabilitated in 1989.

This week the Polish Justice Minister, Hanna Suchocka, gave the go-ahead for the Warsaw Military Court to consider Ms Wolinska's case. Polish sources say the British Government has indicated it will not put up obstacles in principle to the extradition to Poland of a British subject.

Ms Wolinska's background is Jewish, and the prospect of an aged Polish Jewess, one of only a tiny minority to survive the Holocaust, being extradited to the country that is the site of Auschwitz and Birkenau is likely to trigger a storm of protest from Jewish organisations.

Like many of her co-religionists, Helena Wolinska believed that Communism and the Soviet Union was the best bulwark against resurgent fascism.

There was little love lost between the Jewish Communists, many of whom had returned to Warsaw, Prague and Budapest after the war from exile in Moscow, and former officers in national resistance groupings such as the AK.

But ironically, it was Ms Wolinska's one-time allies in the Polish Communist Party who organised the 1968 anti-Jewish campaign that finally drove her and her husband to Britain.