Daily Archives: 8 May 2005

Forced Repatriation of Soviet Citizens after VE Day

Among the many controversial decisions they made at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin agreed that all Soviet citizens, whatever their individual history, must be returned to the Soviet Union. Although the protocols signed at Yalta did not explicitly command the Allies to return Soviet citizens against their will, that, in effect, is what happened….

Some wanted to return home…. Others, frightened by what might await them, were nevertheless convinced to return by the NKVD officers who traveled to the POW and displaced persons camps scattered all over Europe. The officers trawled the camps, looking for Russians, offering them smiling visions of a bright future. All would be forgiven, they claimed: “You are now considered by us as true Soviet citizens, regardless of the fact that you were forced to join the German army … “

Some, particularly those who had fallen on the wrong side of Soviet justice before, naturally did not want to go back at all. “There is enough room in the Motherland for everyone,” the Soviet military attaché in Britain told a group of Soviet soldiers living in Yorkshire POW camps. “We know what sort of room there will be for us,” one prisoner replied. Allied officers were nevertheless under orders to send them–and so they did. In Fort Dix, New Jersey, 145 Soviet prisoners, captured wearing German uniforms, barricaded themselves inside their barracks to avoid being sent home. When American soldiers threw tear gas into the building, those who had not already committed suicide rushed out with kitchen knives and clubs, injuring some of the Americans. Afterward, they said they had wanted to incite the Americans to shoot them.

Worse were the incidents that involved women and children. In May 1945, British troops, under what they were told were direct orders from Churchill, undertook to repatriate more than 20,000 Cossacks, then living in Austria. These were former anti-Bolshevik partisans, some of whom had joined Hitler as a way of fighting Stalin, many of whom had left the USSR after the Revolution, and most of whom no longer held Soviet passports. After many days of promising them good treatment, the British tricked them. They invited the Cossack officers to a “conference,” handed them over to Soviet troops, and rounded up their families the following day. In one particularly ugly incident at a camp near Lienz, Austria, British soldiers used bayonets and rifle butts to force thousands of women and children onto trains which would take them to the USSR. Rather than go back, women threw their babies over bridges, and then jumped themselves. One man killed his wife and his children, laid their bodies neatly on the grass, and then killed himself. The Cossacks knew, of course, what would await them upon their return to the Soviet Union: firing squads–or the Gulag.

SOURCE: Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum (Anchor Books, 2003), pp. 436-437

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