Complicity

At the end of World War II, Western governments collaborated with Josef Stalin in extraditing various people who sought refuge outside the Soviet Union. In The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn describes the plight of a few who ultimately fell back into Soviet hands.


At the same time, in May, 1945, Great Britain also acted as a loyal ally of the Soviets; the usual modesty of the Soviet leadership prevented this action from being publicized. The English turned over to the Soviet army command a Cossack corps of forty to forty-five thousand men which had fought its way to Austria from Yugoslavia. The extradition was carried out with a perfidy which is characteristic of British diplomatic tradition. The gist of the matter is that the Cossacks meant to fight to the death or emigrate overseas, maybe to Paraguay, maybe to Indochina, anywhere--as long as they would not have to surrender to the Soviets alive. The British provided the Cossacks with military food rations of extra quality, dressed them in fine British uniforms, promised them that they could serve in the British army, and even held military reviews. Therefore, the Cossacks did not grow suspicious when they were asked to turn in their weapons, on the grounds that this was necessary in order to standardize their equipment. On May 28 all officers, from squadron commanders upward, were summoned separately from their soldiers to the town of Judenburg, on the pretext that they would confer with Field Marshal Alexander about the future fate of the army. En route the officers were surreptitiously placed under a strong escort (the British beat them until they bled), and the whole motorcade was gradually surrounded by Soviet tanks. When they arrived in Judenburg, police vans were waiting, as were armed guards holding lists of names. They could not even shoot or stab themselves to death, since all their weapons had been taken away. Some jumped off the high viaduct into the river or onto the stones. Among the generals thus turned over to the Soviets, the majority were emigres who had fought as allies of the British during World War I. During the Civil War the British had not had enough time to show their gratitude; now they were paying their debt. In the following days the British extradited the enlisted men as treacherously, in trains which were covered with barbed wire.

In the meantime, a Cossack transport had arrived from Italy, carrying 35,000 people. They stopped in the Drava Valley near Lienz. There were Cossack soldiers among them, but also many old people, children, and women; none of them wanted to go back to their beloved Cossack rivers. The hearts of the British were not troubled, nor were their democratic minds. The British commanding officer, Major Davies, whose name will certainly survive from now on in Russian history at least, could be exuberantly friendly or merciless, as needed. After the surreptitious extradition of the officers, he openly announced on June 1 that there would be a compulsory extradition. Thousands of voices yelled: "We will not go!" Black flags appeared over the refugees' camp, where church services were being celebrated non-stop: people arranging their own funeral services while they were still alive! ... British tanks and soldiers arrived. The order was given through loudspeakers for everybody to get into the trucks. The crowd was singing hymns from the requiem service; the priests lifted their crosses high above their heads; the young people formed a chain around the elderly, the women, and the children. Then British soldiers started beating them with rifle butts and clubs, grabbing them and throwing them onto the trucks, including the wounded, as if they were packages. As the crowd retreated, first the platform on which the priests were standing broke down under their weight; then the camp fence collapsed. The crowd rushed to the bridge over the Drava; British tanks rolled on to stop them, but entire families sought death by throwing themselves into the river. Meanwhile, the British units in the neighborhood pursued and shot at the fugitives. (The cemetery where the people who were shot or trampled to death were buried still exists in Lienz.)

In those same days, just as treacherously and mercilessly, the British extradited to the Yugoslav Communists thousands of their regime's enemies who had been Great Britain's allies in 1941! They, too, were to be shot and exterminated without trial.

But even that was only the beginning. During all of 1946 and 1947 the Western allies, faithful to Stalin, continued to turn over to him Soviet citizens, former soldiers as well as civilians. It did not really matter who they were as long as the West could get rid of this human confusion as quickly as possible. People were extradited from Austria, Germany, Italy, France, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, from the American occupation zones, and from the territory of the United States as well.

I myself fell under Vlasov fire a few days before my arrest. There were Russians in the East Prussian "sack" which we had surrounded, and one night at the end of January their unit tried to break through our position to the west, without artillery preparation, in silence. There was no firmly delineated front in any case, and they penetrated us in depth, catching my sound-locator battery, which was out in front, in a pincers. I just barely managed to pull it back by the last remaining road. But then I went back for a piece of damaged equipment, and, before dawn, I watched as they suddenly rose from the snow where they'd dug in, wearing their winter camouflage cloaks, hurled themselves with a cheer on the battery of a 152-millimeter gun battalion at Adlig Schwenkitten, and knocked out twelve heavy cannon with hand grenades before they could fire a shot. Pursued by their tracer bullets, our last little group ran almost two miles in fresh snow to the bridge across the Passarge River. And there they were stopped.

Soon after that I was arrested. And now, on the eve of the Victory Parade, here we all were sitting together on the board bunks of the Butyrki. I took puffs from their cigarettes and they took puffs from mine. And paired with one or another of them, I used to carry out the six-bucket tin latrine barrel.

Now, a quarter of a century later, when most of the Vlasov men have perished in camps and those who have survived are living out their lives in the Far North, I would like to issue a reminder, through these pages, that this was a phenomenon totally unheard of in all world history: that several hundred thousand young men, aged twenty to thirty, took up arms against their Fatherland as allies of its most evil enemy. Perhaps there is something to ponder here: Who was more to blame, those youths or the gray Fatherland? One cannot explain this treason biologically. It has to have had a social cause.

Because, as the old proverb says: Well fed horses don't rampage.

Then picture to yourself a field in which starved, neglected, crazed horses are rampaging back and forth.


Back to May Day 2008: A Day of Remembrance

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