By Tony van den Bergh
THERE was a Catholic, a chief rabbi and a stateless ex-Communist. Last week the three met in a small bedroom in an Earls Court hotel.
The Jew was the chief rabbi of Denmark, the ex-Communist was Michael Brojde Trepper and the Catholic was myself recording a radio programme for the BBC.
At the end of last month, Michael Trepper's younger brother Edgar went on a hunger strike outside the United Nations in New York. He was not protesting against the Vietnam war, unequal pay for women or the atom bomb.
Instead, he was appealing to the Polish Government to grant his father an exit visa. His was a humanitarian appeal not a political one. He only terminated his fast on his father pleading with him not to sacrifice his life in vain.
One can appreciate the hesitation of the Polish authorities to allow Leopold Trepper to leave the country for, during the war, he was the "conductor" of the "Red Orchestra" — the Soviet spy network in occupied Europe.
On the defeat of the Nazis. Leopold Trepper journeyed to Moscow to tax Stalin with having ignored the warning he had sent from Paris telling of the German plans for invading Soviet territory.
He was rewarded for his temerity in criticising the Cornmunist dictator by imprisonment in the Lubianka. On the death of Stalin, he was released, awarded a pension and offered the highest honour. He refused the decoration because he had been a secret agent out of idealism, not for money. He believed that only by international Communism could injustice and racialism be eliminated.
Today Leopold Trepper lives in his native Warsaw. As well as suffering from a heart disorder, he also has Buerger's Disease: perhaps the most painful complaint known to man. In Poland they have neither the facilities nor the specialists to treat it.
Such treatment is only available in Britain, the United States and Israel. Many of his family have already emigrated to Israel and he only wishes to join them so that he may die among his own people.
The eldest of his sons Michael recently carried out the first ever hunger strike in a Scandinavian country. He was encouraged in this demonstration by the chief rabbi of Denmark, Bent Melchior. Rabbi Melchior lobbied representatives of the Danish Parliament and the Catholic and Protestant churches of Denmark. Together they have made a united appeal to the Polish Government.
Ecumenism at its most effective was demonstrated in the experience of Edgar Trepper the second son. Born in 1936, he graduated in Russian literature from Moscow University. Perhaps because he had associated with Soviet intellectuals critical of the State. he was refused an exit visa to Israel. Further, he found that universities and schools in Poland were closed to him.
Eventually he visited the Dutch Embassy and through them appealed to Israel for citizenship. At the same time he applied to the Catholic university of Lublin for employment. He did this on the basis that the Catholic Church of Poland had a long and proud tradition of saving the lives of Jews in peril.
In the history of the university only one non-Catholic had ever been employed and that at the turn of the century. The university authorities knew only too well that if they employed him they would be antagonising the Polish Government.
Nevertheless, they wrote saying that they were giving him a group of students and that if his course proved suc
cessf u I they could confirm his appointment on the staff.
On the day he received their invitation he learned that he had been granted Israeli citizenship. Now the authorities had to decide whether to face headlines such as: "Catholic university appoints Jewish professor" or allow him to leave.
The Israeli citizenship afforded them the excuse they needed and a week later Leopold Trepper saw his son off at the frontier. But no sooner had the train for Warsaw left than Edgar was taken to a cell, stripped and searched. He was then told that he would remain in the cell until he decided "of his own free will" to return to Warsaw. After 24 hours he still maintained that he wished to leave. After several telephone calls someone, somewhere, relented and he was allowed to depart.
Today Edgar Brojde Trepper says that had it not been for the intervention of the Catholic University of Lublin he would undoubtedly still be seeking work in Poland. Now free, he is able to join his brothers — the youngest Peter is campaigning in Canada — in their battle to free their father.
One can understand the Polish Government's reluctance to allow a former spy to go to the West. But have their doubts any real substance? Leopold Trepper "conducted" the "Red Orchestra" over 30 years ago. Nothing dates quicker than espionage.