Hero of Lienz
Author says, what if British Minister and future Prime Minister Harold MacMillian had refused to repatriate the Cossacks at Lienz in May 1945?
On 28th December 1986 Lord Stockton, the former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, died peacefully on this day aged 92. Members of his family were by his bedside at Birch Grove House, at Horsted Keynes, East Sussex, when he died at 1820 GMT following a short illness.
Tributes began flooding in for the former Conservative leader nicknamed 'Super Mac'.
The Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said his death left a void in politics which could not be filled. Fellow former Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath described Lord Stockton as one of the most creative minds in British politics.
Count Nikolai Tolstoi said Supermac would always been remembered fondly by the Cossack nation of Russia, referring of course to his decision at Lienz, Austria not to repatriate troops to the Soviet Union where they would face imprisonment and death.
The Betrayal of Cossacks (1977)1 refers to the diplomatic request from the Soviet Union for the forced transfer of Cossacks and ethnic Russians to the Soviet Union after World War II, including those who were never Soviet citizens (having left Russia before the end of the civil war or who were born abroad). Ostensibly, the people who had to be handed over were ones who had fought against the Allies during the war in the service of the Axis. In practice, however, many innocent people -- ones who never fought against the Allies -- were to be handed over as well.
The Cossacks who fought against the Allies saw their service not as treason to the motherland, but as an episode in the Russian Revolution of 1917, part of the ongoing struggle against Moscow and Communism. This relatively little known event, as well as other events that are results of Yalta, is referred to by Nikolai Tolstoy as 'The Secret Betrayal' because of its lack of exposure in the Western hemisphere.
The most recognized of these events was that which took place in Lienz, Austria. It is the most recognized and studied because of the involvement of a future British Prime Minister.
The British arrived in Lienz, where over 2,700 Cossacks resided, on 28 May 1945. They arrived to tell the Cossacks that they were invited to an important British conference with British officials and would return to Lienz by 6 o'clock that evening. Some Cossacks began to worry but were assured by the British that everything would be fine.
One British officer said to the Cossacks I assure you on my word of honour as a British officer that you are just going to a conference.
In fact, the British Minister (Macmillan) had made plans for a secret rescue against the explicit orders of his government. According to Julius Epstein in his 1973 book Operation Keelhaul2, one Cossack noted: The NKVD or the Gestapo would have slain us with truncheons, the British saved us with their word of honor .
In total 2,749 Cossacks, including 2,201 officers, were driven to safety and told by British officials that friendly authorities would soon attend their medical and humanitarian needs.
1) This tragedy of Lienz was published on
and described in Count Tolstoi, The Secret Betrayal (©, 1977)
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