Repatriation of Cossacks After World War II - Lienz


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 emotions 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 honor.”

The first to commit suicide, by hanging, was the Cossack editor Evgenij Tarruski. The second was General Silkin, who shot himself. . . . The Cossacks refused to board the trucks. British soldiers with pistols and clubs began using their clubs, aiming at the heads of the prisoners. They first dragged the men out of the crowd, and threw them into the trucks. The men jumped out. They beat them again, and threw them onto the floor of the trucks. Again, they jumped out. The British then hit them with rifle butts until they lay unconscious, and threw them, like sacks of potatoes, in the trucks. — Operation Keelhaul (1973), by Julius Epstein.

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 Helmuth von Pannwitz and soldiers of the XV SS Cossack Cavalry Corps who were killed in action or died as POWs.

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