(from an eyewitness’s account)

-the mournful date, June 1st, 1945: the 60th anniversary of delivery of Orthodox Cossacks-


Within the years of civil war, in times of Communist terror with Stalin’s bloody collectivization, artificial famine and the reprisal’s from the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (KGB), more than two million Cossacks were eliminated.  Because of this political criminal genocide, Cossacks were provoked to flee in enormous masses and transition themselves to the side of Germany with her allies during the years of World War II.  Others ran from the atrocities of Soviet authority and receded  together with the German army.


Escaping Soviet authority, in 1945, within the territories of Italy, Yugoslavia, Germany and France, the Cossacks totaled more than 70,000. Within Austria alone, there were more than 40,000 Cossacks.  In May, of that same year, 30,000 representatives of the Cossack encampment, along with their wives, mothers, fathers and children, traveled from Italy, through the Alps to southern Austria, to the city of Lientz, which was in the occupational zone of the English.  One of the conditions of acceptance, or in receiving such a large group of people “on their land” was for the Anglo-American command to ask that all weapons be voluntarily surrendered.  With this, the Ataman Cossacks were reassured that no one would be violently handed back to Stalin.  In fact, as history has verified,  eyewitnesses have witnessed and documents of that time testify, Churchill and Aldington promised the KGB and Russia’s death squads, to destroy all of the Cossacks: all 70,000 of them!  Aldington, with his Mephistopheles smile told Churchill: “History gives us a chance to destroy one part of Russia’s savages, with the hands of other Russian savages.”


The shameful, dark and bloody page of Lientz’s history began on May 28, 1945, when the English command invited all of the officers and generals of the Cossack encampment to a “a conference” where all of them were placed in lorries and taken to the city of Shpital.  There, 2176 officers were handed over to the organizations of the KGB and the death squads.  Several hundred officers were shot on the spot and again the following day and their corpses  burned.  The rest were sent back to the USSR, placed in concentration camps from where they would not return.


On the evening of May 28, when the officers had not yet returned, their mothers and wives went to the English commander, Major Davis, to find out, what had happened to the officers.  Major Davis very politely answered: “It is unnecessary to worry; all of the officers will return shortly.”  He apologized to them that he could not disclose their location, as it was “a military secret”.  He assured them that “they do not require anything”, and if anyone of them wanted to leave a note or a letter, he promised to deliver it personally as addressed.


In the evening word had spread in Lientz that the officers were handed over to the Red army, but Major Davis continued with his denials.  Not until a motor vehicle appeared with a loud speaker, the Cossacks, in the valley of river Drava, were notified that all of them would be repatriated to the USSR, based upon the Yalta Treaty of Churchill, Roosevelt and the red dragon Stalin.  The load speakers also threatened that any resistance would be met with fire.  In protest, the prisoners of Camp Peggets declared a hunger strike!  The camp’s priest, Father Protopriest Vasily Grigoriev, a Don Cossack, wrote a request of protest signed by thousands of names, to Major Davis, who was also asked to deliver copies of the same to:  the King of England, George VI, a close relative to Czar Nicholas II; to the King of Yugoslavia, Peter; to the Pope of Rome; to the Archbishop of Canterbury and to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Army in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower.  The black flags of death decorated the roof tops of houses, telephone poles and the entrance gate of the camp.


Not only did the Cossacks protest against the brutal repatriation, but also a Catholic priest, from the town of Dolesash, located approximately two kilometers from the camp, protested and hung a huge black flag from the bell tower of his church with the appeal for prayer against the awful inhumane fate which awaited the Cossacks.  This very same flag was removed on the very next day by the “allies”.


No one had an inkling and it never entered anyone’s mind that the British would raise their weapons on the disarmed Cossacks, their wives and their children.


The Ataman of Camp Peggets, Cosma Tolunin, declared to Major Davis that no one will volunteer to return to the USSR, as death would only await them; therefore, they would be better off to die in Austria than in the frozen tundra of the North Pole. 


By this time, the Cossacks understood that they had been deceived and decided to resist to the end.  They refused to be loaded voluntarily unto the transport vehicles, and instead, hung throughout the camp posters declaring: Better  death than returning to the USSR for tortures”.  Resistance to the forced repatriation was lead by 22 military clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.  The tanks and the lorries continued to tighten and tighten their grip around the camp’s inhabitants. 


On May 30th, 1945, suddenly, without any shame and condolences,  Major Davis declared that the repatriation would commence the next day, but because that day was a Roman Catholic feast day, all plans of delivery would commence on June 1st.


Under the cover of night, many managed to escape into the woods, while others spent the early hours of the day in morning prayer.  At the same time, the Red army crept closer with their wagons, unto which  from their lorries the English intended to unload their prey.


At five o’clock in the morning, the Cossack priesthood asked for permission to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in an open field, before the storming waters of the river Drava,  permission was granted.


From all ends of the encampment, crowds of worshipers with Icons and banners, led in front by the priests, pulled themselves to the open field, where by this time a make-shift church was built.  By six o’clock, the field was filled with people, cadets, and although unarmed, they encircled the praying people.  Everyone on this morning partook of the Sacrament of Confession and when Holy Communion commenced, the prayerful Cossacks were surrounded on three sides by tanks and motor vehicles. The soldiers began in teams to disengage from their vehicles and tanks, brandishing their automatic weapons, rifles with bayonets, awaiting their orders.  Expecting their awful fate, the Cossacks began to sing the prayer: “Our Father...”.


In the middle of the prayer, shots were heard.  The Englishmen began to squeeze on the crowd from two sides.  After several minutes, more shots were heard in rapid succession, which were volleyed into the crowd.  The crowd, even more so now, began to tighten into a one monolithic wall.  The British witnessed the resistance and let their bullets fly along with their bayonets and rifle butts.  Blood began flow like a river.


At this time, the cadets, forgetting their youth, within moments grew into heroes. Applying their weaponless powerful hands, they crumbled the British, took hold of some of the lorries loaded with human cadavers, decapitated corpses or with people with head wounds.  Seeing this, the blood hungry British directed at this youth their tanks and ran them over, killing all of them!  In this brutal and inhumane fight, the British killed either with bayonet or by the butt of their rifles.  Soul tearing cries were carried through the valley.  In this cataclysm, many were run over to their deaths, mainly the small children.


Wailing screams and outcries of the mothers smothered the valley of Lientz, and in truth, within the history of Christianity, the words of Prophet Jeremiah came to life again: “weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they were no more”;  the Cossack mothers cry for their children and do not want to be comforted, for they are no more.


My entire family was in the center of this tragic whirlpool.  My father, uncle Vasya, my brother, the future Hieromonk Ignaty, my two sisters and my mother, who always held me by the hand as I was only four years and two months old.


And here, for the first time, I saw blood.  Blood of a baby raised by a British bayonet and thrown into the river!!!  A soul chilling picture.  Further at the river, a mother with her children in her arms, damning the murderer Stalin, throws herself  and disappears into the waves of the storming river.  At this time, my father saw a small girl, wandering in tears.  Father took her into his hands and with all his might shouted: “to whomg does this little one belong to?”  A female shout responded, with a sobbing voice from across the other side of the river, waving her arms to attract attention.  “She is my own.  Dearest one, save her for God’s sake and rescue her”.  Father threw himself and the little girl into the river, crossed it and gave her back to her mother and with the same path, returned.


The crowd waved like lava, under the pressure of the British bayonets.  Yes, the Sea Power deserved this indelible eternal shame.  People were thrown into lorries, some of them with torn off hands, contused broken heads, with bloody faces, without feet.... Many of the Cossack women and men committed suicide, wishing death over repatriation to a barbaric country, which not long ago was Russia, our Fatherland!


My mother, seeing all around the events that were taking place, said to me: “let us run, as the bridge is still open!”  We ran over the bridge and disappeared into the woods.  After having caught our breath, we went down into the valley and here, without any notice, a British soldier appeared and without any thought, raised his automatic weapon upon us.  Mother pressed me against her trembling chest, dropped unto the grass, shielding me with her body, we rolled and landed in a ditch, from which we saw standing over us the same soldier who aimed his automatic rifle on us. He stood and stood and then fired five shots on top of the trees and then left.  We quickly ran to our encampment.


My father who could not find us, with great effort found my brother.  He saw that the bridge was occupied by the Englishman, who killed anyone trying to attempt to run across the river by way of the bridge.  Father took my brother’s hand and ran as far away as he could from the bridge to that place where the river Drava raged.  With no guards present, he threw himself and his son (who was holding on with a tight grip) into the river and crossed it.  Only by night fall, did they arrive at the wagon train.


And where were my sisters, uncle Vasya?  My sisters returned the next day, having to seek refuge in the mountains.  As soon as the murderers removed their machine guns from the bridge, at night, they crept back over the bridge and came running back to the encampment.  And uncle Vasya?  With great power he tried to fend off the British, but they overtook him, beat him and threw him into a lorry.  Uncle Vasya would spend 10 years in Siberia.


Up to their final tragic end at the Stalin’s Gulag and the torture chambers of Lybyanka, Cossack Atamans and ranked Cossacks remained faithful and steadfast and did not falter from their Christian Faith and Sacred Orthodoxy.   Their names, You, my God, only know!  Preserve their eternal memory.


With love in Christ,

Protopriest Anatoly Trepatschko



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