OPINION: by Patrick J. GethinNews Weekly
1945 Allied repatriations a crime against humanity
, 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
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.