February 24th, 2008 Headsman
On this date in 1953, Polish Home Army General Emil August Fieldorf was hanged at Warsaw’s Mokotow Prison by the Polish Communist government as a “fascist-Hitlerite criminal.”
The officer suffered a hard fate for the geopolitical jostling of great powers in its neighborhood. He had escaped German detention to become a Brigadier General and the second-in-command of the Polish Home Army, the occupied country’s resistance movement answerable to its government in exile.
Polish-Russian animosity is an ancient and fragrant vintage, just the sort of intoxicant to lend an especial bloodthirstiness to the ample brutality of politicking under Stalin’s sway.
As the Red Army threw back the Wehrmacht, the rivalry between the government in exile, (organically descended from the less-than-liberal prewar Polish government) and Poland’s Communist soon-to-be occupiers escalated.
Diplomatically, the government in exile engaged a (losing) joust with Stalin over the postwar Polish state’s borders and political structure; on the ground, Polish and Russian forces nominally united against Hitler maneuvered against one another — and at least one researcher has characterized their enmity as an outright dirty war.
Fieldorf had been detained by the NKVD at the war’s end, but he passed under an assumed name and therefore survived an internment in the Soviet Union. Shortly after his return, a sham offer of “amnesty” to Home Army survivors induced him to reveal himself under his true identity. He was convicted in a show trial of authorizing the killing of Soviet partisans. The post-Communist Polish government posthumously pardoned him.
It would be safe to say that “forgive and forget” is not a governing principle in the current memory of Soviet-Polish relations. Fieldorf’s fate is one more bill on the indictment, and in his case, quite literally so: spurred by the general’s daughter, Poland has doggedly pursued the extradition of Fieldorf’s prosecutor, Helena Wolinska Brus, now an octogenarian pensioner in Britain.
The Jewish* Brus, who narrowly escaped the Nazis to join a leftist partisan unit, is contemptuous of the charge. To some, she is shamelessly exploiting her Jewishness to escape her own culpability. To others — aided not a little by the general’s daughter’s own remarks — the charge springs from a Polish polity whose own insistence upon victimhood (of Communism) has authorized historical forgetfulness over its complicity in genocide.
Someday soon — in a year or two, or five or ten; in England or Poland or some other spot — Helena Wolinska Brus will follow the man she hanged into the clay that awaits all us wretches. So will the general’s daughter, only a few years the junior of her foe. The bitter specter of wrongs that can never be righted is sure to long outlive their passing.
* Jewish partisans form a distinct population whose membership will make all-too-predictable appearances in these pages. Communist units were generally happy to have them, while Catholic Poles fighting for the anti-Semitic ancien regime were generally not — although in some instances, all-Jewish partisan bands organized outside these two forces.
Also on this date
- 1937: Desta Damtew, Haile Selassie's son
- 1860: Khan Bahadur Khan Rohilla, Bareilly rebel
- 1942: Five Jews in Sokal
- 1716: Lords Kenmure and Derwentwater but not Lord Nithsdale
- Daily Double: The Fifteen
- 1865: John Yates Beall, well-connected Confederate
- 1613: Ivan Susanin, a life for the tsar
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Famous,Guerrillas,Hanged,Martyrs,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Poland,Posthumous Exonerations,Ripped from the Headlines,Russia,Soldiers,Treason,USSR,Wrongful Executions