Cossacks and other Russians fought on the German side
Massacre of Cossacks at Lienz
Video: Cossacks in German Army
Video: 800,000 Russians were fighting on the German side during WW2. English.
Book: “Lost Kin”
From: medium.com (link)
By Steve Anderson – Writer, editor, literary translator (German to English). Author of novel “Lost Kin” (2016) and others.
Appeasing Stalin: Forced Repatriation After WWII
The True Yet Unknown Tragedy in Lost Kin: A Novel
Grim rumors were spreading among Eastern Europeans stranded in the West at the end of World War II. Those repatriated back home to areas controlled by the Soviet Union were facing treason trials, mass lynchings, labor camps, executions. Word was, anyone who’d ended up in lands run by the Germans during the war was now considered highly suspect. Peasants, forced laborers, refugees, even POWs. To Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin, anyone touched by the West was contaminated.
Yet the Western Allies kept sending them back to the Soviet Union. In one of the most horrific incidents, the British handed over some 18,000 Cossack peoples to Soviet authorities at the Judenburg collection point in Austria in the summer of 1945. The tragedy has been called the “Betrayal of the Cossacks” and the “Massacre of Cossacks at Lienz.” Faced with overwhelming numbers to send back, the British resorted to subterfuge, then brute force.
Betrayal of the Cossacks at Lienz, 1945. Artist: S.G. Koroloff (faz.net)
Roughly 50,000 Cossacks had ended up in Austria in May 1945, some of them tribes that had fought against the Soviets with the Germans and, with their families, retreated westward as the Third Reich collapsed. With the war ending, they now had nowhere to go. British army units intercepted many of the Cossacks near Lienz and interned them, cramming them into a canyon on the banks of the Drave River. The Cossacks surrendered without a fight. The British fed them and led them to believe they would be protected from undue retribution by the Soviet Army advancing well into Austria, only a few miles to the east. The Cossacks believed the promise. They dared feel something like comfort, like safety.
In late May the British, still pledging protection, disarmed the Cossacks’ couple thousand officers and generals and trucked them to the town of Judenburg, just over the Soviet lines. There the British handed them over. Many of the older officers had emigrated years before — during the Russian Civil War — and were not even Soviet citizens, so they were technically exempt. But the British did it anyway — to appease their wartime ally, “Uncle Joe” Stalin.
Repatriating the Cossack officers was only the start. The British operation had left thousands despairing in the canyon on the Drave — the woman and children, the elderly, the poor regular soldiers who were fathers, sons, brothers. And thousands of their beloved Cossack horses had come with them. Three days later, on June 1, British troops received orders to prod these helpless people at gunpoint into cattle cars and trucks. In the ensuing panic, the British soldiers bayoneted some. Ghastly scenes emerged. Many Cossacks committed suicide, or begged to be shot. The refugees started stabbing themselves, pounding themselves with rocks, whatever they could grab, leaping into the fast river if they could reach it. When the trucks came, people tried to break the British troops’ barrier, great mobs of children and old women — but only so they could jump into the river, off bridges, find the tools to kill themselves. Even after the trucks carrying them started off they leapt out, breaking their backs, or were run over, the trucks not stopping. It was mass hysteria, but not a brief mass hysteria. This played out over days. Similar mayhem was occurring across Southern Austria, involving Cossacks and many other Eastern Europeans.
No matter what the Cossacks did as soldiers, whether fighting to stay alive or even committing atrocities, it’s inexcusable that innocent woman and children should have had to suffer for it. The only sliver of hope in this sordid tale was that some in Lienz managed to escape, helped by British Tommies feeling the strain and looking the other way. A fictionalized group of these escaped Cossacks poses a crucial moral imperative in my recent novel Lost Kin, in which long-estranged brothers Harry and Max Kaspar reunite in war-torn 1946 Munich and resolve to rescue refugees who are in hiding but stranded, the Soviet Army hunting them down.
Such was the moral quagmire the Allies faced in the horrid aftermath of World War II in Europe. The tragic fate of these ill-fated refugees from Eastern Europe is rarely acknowledged to this day. Yet the forced repatriations to the Soviet Union are historical fact, and it happened to far more than Cossacks. By early 1947, the United States, Great Britain, and allies had returned nearly two and a half million refugees, forced laborers, and prisoners of war to the Soviet Union as agreed in the Yalta Conference. These people were sent back forcibly, without consideration of their individual wishes and genuine fears. Like those elderly Cossack officers, thousands of émigrés who had fled Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian Civil War — well before WWII — were sent back to the Soviet Union they had opposed. People of Russian descent who never set foot in Russia were forcibly sent east as well.
As in Lienz, many of the repatriated were tricked into going or outright lied to. When that didn’t work, they were forced at gunpoint. The bloody sellout was already set in motion by the Unconditional Surrender of May 1945, when the so-called Soviet Repatriation Commissions were roaming Western Europe operated by agents of the NKVD and SMERSH. Sometimes the Soviet officials promised those returning that Stalin would give them amnesty, appealing to a yearning to reunite with family and loved ones. Yet after hearing the grim rumors to the contrary, many knew what would happen once Stalin’s agents got to them — they would land in a Gulag, if they were lucky.
Plattling Camp repatriation footage at criticalpast.com, HERE.
The forced repatriations continued, into 1946 and 1947. The Americans ran their own operations, notably at the former concentration camps at Dachau and at Plattling where thousands of Russians were brutally repatriated by US troops. As Nikolai Tolstoy reports in The Secret Betrayal (1977), American soldiers were left “visibly shamefaced” after one nighttime operation where they rousted terrified Russians from their beds at gunpoint shouting and wielding nightsticks and herded them into trucks and, hours later, handed over their prisoners to Soviet trains inside Bavarian woods at the Czech border. The American death march was soon reaping suicide and murder: “Before their departure from the rendezvous in the forest, many [US soldiers] had seen rows of bodies already hanging from the branches of nearby trees. On their return, even the SS men in a neighboring compound lined the wire fence and railed at them for their behavior. The Americans were too ashamed to reply.”
If there’s a lesson in this, perhaps it’s that we should always keep a careful watch on the victors no matter what evil has been defeated. We see it repeatedly, and certainly today, in war and in peace. Peace alone does not spare the innocent.
Adapted from the afterword to Lost Kin and originally posted on my website.
From: medium.com (link)
Allied repatriations sent Russian POWs to certain death
1945 Allied repatriations a crime against humanity
by Patrick J. Gethin
News Weekly, September 19, 2009
Mark Braham (News Weekly, August 22, 2009) may be one of the few astonished by military historian Anthony Beevor’s reference to one of the West’s most shameful World War II actions: its forcible repatriation to certain death of soldiers from the Soviet empire who had fought on the wrong side.
Ostensibly, the people to be repatriated were described as fascists who had fought the Allies in the service of the Axis powers. However, a significant portion of repatriates were non-combatants and civilians, including women and children. Many of the repatriated had never been Soviet citizens (having left Russia before the end of the Russian Civil War) or had been born abroad.
The Cossacks who fought against the Allies did not see their war service as treason towards the Russian motherland, but as an episode in the Russian Revolution of 1917, part of their continuing fight against the Communist government in Moscow in particular and Bolshevism in general. This event, and others resulting from the February 1945 Yalta Conference, is referred to by Nikolai Tolstoy as the “secret betrayal”, because it went unreported in the West.
The research of Nikolai Tolstoy (Victims of Yalta, 1977) and Lord Bethell (The Last Secret, 1974) is widely accepted as presenting an accurate picture of the forced repatriations. Alexander Solzhenitsyn had come to similar conclusions about the forced repatriations (see The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1, p.83, which gives an example of how visiting Western experts inquiring into the fate of World War II repatriatees were hoodwinked by the Communists. Mark Braham repeats the tales brought back by hoodwinked Swedish journalists).
Tolstoy’s credibility had material support from other authorities, including Chapman Pincher, Roger Scruton, Gavin Stamp, Viscount Cranborne (then a Conservative Cabinet minister and Leader of the House of Lords), Lord Braine (then Bernard Braine MP, “father” of the House of Commons), and many eminent lawyers and persons of substance. It was also given favourable publicity in News Weekly.
As Spectator columnist Richard Lamb put it, “Although Tolstoy lost in court [where the issue was the presence or absence of Brigadier Toby Low (later Lord Aldington) when the fateful orders were given and executed], the general opinion of the media is that he has won the war.” (The Spectator, January 17, 1998).
In addition to the Russians repatriated by the British to Stalin’s USSR, tens of thousands of Croatians (again, civilians included) were deceitfully handed over to Tito’s communist Partisans. Some were shot at the Austrian-Yugoslav border, while others joined the infamous death-marches which took them deeper into the new “People’s Republic” for execution.
The total number of people executed may never be known, but figures from 100,000 to 250,000 have been given. Despite the scholarship and masses of documents proving the contrary, the Yugoslav government denied that the Bleiburg-Maribor massacres or any subsequent liquidation of anti-Communists occurred. As late as 1976, special teams were active in Slovenia and southern Austria covering up evidence of the crimes. The American and British governments, implicated in the forced repatriation that led to the slaughter, also sought to cover up or at least ignore the crimes.
Finally, in July 1990, with the departure of the Communist regime, the truth began to come to light. In underground caverns in Slovenia and northern Croatia, researchers using spelunkers’ equipment descended into the mass graves long before sealed by the authorities. They found layer upon layer of human bones, crutches, rope and wire. Many of the skulls had a single bullet-hole in the back.
Estimates ranged from 5,000 victims in one cave to as many as 40,000 in another. When news was made public, people from throughout Croatia and Slovenia reported other mass grave-sites that had been known to them for years. For obvious reasons none had ever spoken publicly of them before.
British writer Christopher Booker, on whom Mark Braham relies, was part of a private commission of enquiry set up by retired brigadier Anthony Cowgill and including Brigadier Teddy Tryon-Wilson who took part in the repatriations, and Lord Brimelow, a foreign office official at the material time, accused by Tolstoy of the “remarkable falsehood” of claiming that the repatriations had taken place without violence.
Before the private commission commenced its work, Cowgill said to Sir Bernard Ingham the Prime Minister’s chief press secretary, “Look there must be an Establishment picture on this.” Cowgill thereupon made his enquiry’s evidence available to Lord Aldington in the Tolstoy libel case. It was hardly an impartial commission.
My statement that the forced repatriations were illegal comes from my knowledge of international law generally and reading the opinion of Colonel G.I.A. Draper, OBE, then professor of law, University of Sussex; former military prosecutor in the war crimes trials in Germany during 1945-9; legal adviser to the UK delegation at the Diplomatic Conference on Law of War, 1974-77. That opinion appears in the appendix of Nikolai Tolstoy’s 1977 book, Victims of Yalta.
The Charter of the International Military Tribunal (August 6, 1945) specified as one of the major war crimes “violations of the laws of war or customs of war. Such violations to include murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labour … Of civilian populations … Or of prisoners of war”.
Patrick J. Gethin is a retired Western Aust-ralian lawyer. He has travelled to Russia and other republics of the former Soviet Union.
Betrayal of the Cossacks
Repatriation of Cossacks
The Repatriation of Cossacks happened when Cossacks and ethnic Russians and Ukrainians who had collaborated with Nazi Germany were handed over to the USSR after the Second World War.
The repatriations were agreed to in the Yalta Conference; Stalin claimed the repatriated people were Soviet citizens as of 1939, although many of them had left Russia before or soon after the end of the Russian Civil War, or had been born abroad. Most of those Cossacks and Russians fought the Allies in service to the Axis powers, yet the repatriations included non-combatant civilians as well.
General Poliakov and Colonel Chereshneff referred to it as the “Massacre of Cossacks at Lienz”.
During the Russian Civil War (1917–23), thousands of Russians integral to the Volunteer Army and the White Movement fought the Bolshevik Red Army. Cossack Hosts (of which there were eleven at the start of the First World War, 1914–18) composed much of the White Movement, and so were the strongest counter-revolutionary force against the Bolshevik Government. During the Civil War Leon Trotsky imposed decossackization on the Cossacks, leading to many, especially the Don Cossacks and the Kuban Cossacks, to escape Russia for the Balkans where they established the Russian All-Military Union, the ROVS.
The Cossacks who remained in Russia endured more than a decade of continual repression, e.g. the portioning of the lands of the Terek, Ural, and Semirechye hosts, forced cultural assimilation and repression of the Russian Orthodox Church, deportation, and, ultimately, the Soviet famine of 1932-1933. The repressions ceased and some privileges were restored after publication of And Quiet Flows the Don (1934) by Mikhail Sholokhov.
The Second World War
On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the USSR. The Soviet Union had already been a part of World War II with its occupation of eastern Poland, its attack on Finland and its occupation of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia. During the attack some ROVS, especially the Cossack émigré generals Pyotr Krasnov and Andrei Shkuro, asked Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels’ permission to fight alongside Nazi Germany against Communist Russia. Goebbels welcomed this idea, and by 1942 General Krasnov and General Shkuro had mustered a Cossack force — mostly from Red Army POWs captured by the Wehrmacht — who would be under the command of General Helmuth von Pannwitz.
The Wehrmacht recognized the Cossacks as military units with their own uniforms and insignia; the 1st Cossack Division was established the next year. Although the Cossack units were formed to fight the Communists in Russia, by the time they formed, the Red Army had already recaptured most of the Nazi-occupied territory, so they were deployed to the Balkans to fight the Communist Yugoslav Partisans commanded by Josip Broz Tito and into northern Italy, “where their brutality was notorious”. By the war’s end, the Cossack units had come under the command of the Waffen-SS.
Yalta and Tehran Conferences
The Big Three: Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at the Yalta conference.
Although the agreement for the deportation of all “Soviet” citizens did not include White Russian emigres who had fled during the Bolshevik Revolution before the establishment of the USSR, all Cossack prisoners of war were later demanded. After Yalta, Churchill questioned Stalin, asking, “Did the Cossacks and other minorities fight against us?” Stalin replied, “They fought with ferocity, not to say savagery, for the Germans”.
In 1944, General Krasnov and other Cossack leaders had persuaded Hitler to allow Cossack troops, as well as civilians and non-combatant Cossacks, to permanently settle in the sparsely settled Carnia, in the Alps. The Cossacks moved there and established garrisons and settlements, requisitioning houses by evicting the inhabitants, with several stanitsas and posts, their administration, churches, schools, and military units. There, they fought the partisans and persecuted the local population, committing numerous atrocities.
When the Allies progressed from central Italy to the Italian Alps, Italian partisans under General Contini ordered the Cossacks to leave Carnia and go north to Austria. There, near Lienz, the British Army interned the Cossacks in a hastily established internment camp. For a few days, the British fed them; meanwhile, the Red Army’s advance units approached to within a few miles east, rapidly advancing to meet the Allies. On 28 May 1945, the British transported 2,046 disarmed Cossack officers and generals — including the cavalry Generals Pyotr Krasnov and Andrei Shkuro — to a nearby Red Army-held town and handed them over to the Red Army commanding general, who ordered them tried for treason. Many Cossack leaders had never been citizens of the Soviet Union, having fled revolutionary Russia in 1920; hence they believed they could not be guilty of treason. Some were executed immediately. High-ranking officers were tried in Moscow, and then executed. On 17 January 1947, Krasnov and Shkuro were hanged in a public square. General Helmuth von Pannwitz of the Wehrmacht, who was instrumental to the formation and leadership of the Cossacks taken from Nazi POW camps to fight the USSR, decided to share the Cossacks’ Soviet repatriation, and was executed for war crimes, along with five Cossack generals and atamans in Moscow in 1947.
On 1 June 1945, the British placed 32,000 Cossacks (with their women and children) into trains and trucks, and delivered them to the Red Army for repatriation to the USSR; similar repatriations occurred that year in the American occupation zones in Austria and Germany. Most Cossacks were sent to the gulags in far northern Russia and in Siberia, and many died; some, however, escaped, and others lived until Nikita Khrushchev’s amnesty in the course of his de-Stalinization policies (see below). In total, some two million people were repatriated to the USSR at the end of the Second World War.
On 28 May 1945, the British Army arrived at Camp Peggetz, in Lienz, where there were 2,479 Cossacks, including 2,201 officers and soldiers. They went to invite the Cossacks to an important conference with British officials, informing them that they would return to Lienz by six o’clock that evening; some Cossacks worried, but the British reassured them that everything was in order. One British officer told the Cossacks: “I assure you, on my word of honour as a British officer, that you are just going to a conference”. By then, British–Cossack relationships were friendly to the extent that many on both sides had developed feelings for the other. The Lienz Cossack repatriation was exceptional, because the Cossacks forcefully resisted their British repatriation to the USSR; a Cossack noted: “The NKVD or the Gestapo would have slain us with truncheons, the British did it with their word of honour.”
The British transported the Cossacks to a prison where the Soviets assumed their custody. In the town of Tristach, Austria, there is a memorial commemorating General von Pannwitz and the soldiers of the XV SS Cossack Cavalry Corps who were killed in action or died as POWs.
On 1–2 June, 18,000 Cossacks were handed over to the Soviets near the town of Judenburg, Austria; of those in custody, some 10 officers and 50–60 Cossacks escaped the guards’ cordon with hand grenades, and hid in a nearby wood.
Near Graz, Austria
The Russian Cossacks of XV SS Cossack Cavalry Corps, stationed in Yugoslavia since 1943, were part of the column headed for Austria that would take part in the Bleiburg repatriations, and they are estimated to have numbered in thousands. Nikolai Tolstoy quotes a General Alexander telegram, sent to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, noting “50,000 Cossacks including 11,000 women, children and old men”. At a location near Graz, British forces repatriated around 40,000 Cossacks to SMERSH.
Fort Dix, New Jersey, United States
Although repatriations mainly occurred in Europe, 154 people were repatriated to the USSR from Fort Dix, New Jersey in the United States; three committed suicide in the US, and seven were injured. Julius Epstein described the scene:
The Cossack officers, more politically aware than the enlisted men, expected that repatriation to the USSR would be their ultimate fate. They believed that the British would have sympathised with their anti-Communism, but were unaware that their fates had been decided at the Yalta Conference. Upon discovering that they would be repatriated, many escaped, some probably aided by their Allied captors; some passively resisted, and others committed suicide.
Of those Cossacks who escaped repatriation, many hid in forests and mountainsides, some were hidden by the local German populace, but most hid in different identities as Ukrainians, Latvians, Poles, Yugoslavians, Turks, Armenians, and Ethiopians. Eventually, they were admitted to displaced persons camps under assumed names and nationalities; many emigrated to the US per the Displaced Persons Act. Others went to any country that would admit them (e.g. Germany, Austria, France, and Italy). Most Cossacks hid their true national identity until the dissolution of the USSR in late 1991.
After the death of Stalin in 1953, partial amnesty was granted for some labour camp inmates on 27 March 1953 with the end of the GULAG system, then extended it on 17 September 1955. Yet, some specific political crimes were omitted from amnesty: people convicted under Section 58.1(c) of the Criminal Code, stipulating that in the event of a military man escaping Russia, every adult member of his family who abetted the escape or who knew of it is subject to five to ten years’ imprisonment; every dependant who did not know of the escape is subject to five years’ Siberian exile.
The event was documented in publications such as Nicholas Bethell’s The Last Secret: The Delivery to Stalin of Over Two Million Russians by Britain and the United States (1974).
Nikolai Tolstoy describes this and other events resulting from the Yalta Conference as the “Secret Betrayal” (cf. Western betrayal), for going unpublished in the West.
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn describes the forced repatriation of the Cossacks by Winston Churchill as follows: “He turned over to the Soviet command the Cossack corps of 90,000 men. Along with them, he also handed over many wagonloads of old people, women and children who did not want to return to their native Cossack rivers. This great hero, monuments to whom will in time cover all England, ordered that they, too, be surrendered to their deaths.”
In Lienz, Austria, there is an eighteen-gravestone cemetery commemorating the “Tragedy of the Drau”.