Posted Sunday, July 11, 1999

Quick navigation

Alphabetical index (text)

"Forced repatriation was a humanitarian and political abomination - a war crime every bit as much as the ethnic cleansing by Serbs of Albanians."

Peter Worthington, onetime editor of the Toronto Sun

The Toronto Sun

July 11, 1999 LETTERS

Britain's dirty little secret



Ethnic cleansing was called "forced repatriation" after World War II


THE chilling phrase of our times - ethnic cleansing - has different meanings to different people, but at its most benign it is forcing people to become refugees, as happened in Kosovo and, before that, in Bosnia. Britain and Nato have said it was Yugoslav President Slobo Milosevic's alleged plan to "ethnically cleanse" Kosovo of its Albanian population that ostensibly caused the Nato/U.S. air strikes.

Nato's daily press briefings during the 78 days of air strikes, via the ubiquitous working-class accent of Britain's Jamie Shea, seldom failed to mention the horrors of "ethnic cleansing."

A cynic might have noted that it was Britain itself, after World War II, which escalated "ethnic cleansing" into state policy - only in those days it was called "forced repatriation."

Immediately after World War II, tens of thousands of refugees, possibly hundreds of thousands - prisoners of war, escapers from communism - were forcibly sent back to Stalin's Soviet Union and Tito's Yugoslavia and certain death.

Britain instigated the policy, which the U.S. echoed, giving it the cynical code name Operation Keelhaul. This shameful policy has been dubbed by Alexander Solzhenitsyn as the "last secret" of World War II, in violation of every tenet of decency and justice.

British troops forced men, women, children into boxcars headed for the U.S.S.R. and Yugoslavia, using rifle butts as prods.

One British regiment, the London Irish, refused, saying their duty was to fight German soldiers, not club refugee women and children.

American soldiers were more inclined to open the gates of refugee camps, and look the other way as they fled.

Forced repatriation was a humanitarian and political abomination - a war crime every bit as much as the ethnic cleansing by Serbs of Albanians.

No one has worked harder or done more to expose Britain's shameful secret than British historian Count Nikolai Tolstoy.


For some 25 years, he's dedicated himself first to exposing the policy for the world to see, second to perhaps identify those responsible.

He's succeeded admirably in the first, failed wretchedly in the second - and suffered accordingly.

Tolstoy is the great grand-nephew of Russia's great novelist (War and Peace) and humanitarian, Count Leo Tolstoy, who repeatedly put his body on the line against injustice.

Nikolai has written three books on forced repatriation, each more revealing than the previous one, as more suppressed information came to light. Britain has embargoed files pertaining to the policy.

In 1977 his Victims of Yalta was published, followed by Stalin's Secret War in 1981, and then his most controversial book, The Minister and the Massacres, 1986, in which he named names, was sued, and lost a libel case that I consider a travesty and which has been condemned by the Human Rights Court at Strasbourg.

Periodically, Tolstoy visits Toronto, usually to be feted by grateful Slovens, Serbs, Croats, Russians, Cossacks, etc., whose relatives and countrymen died by the tens of thousands when the British forced them back to Stalin and Tito and death.

Britain's Lord Aldington, formerly Brig. Toby Low, successfully sued when Tolstoy identified him as a key figure in implementing the policy.

Aldington acknowledged signing the repatriation orders, along with others, but said there was no way he could have known the refugees would be killed, and that if he had known, they would not have been sent back.

"We were told that international law would be obeyed," he said at the time.

A jury found against Tolstoy and awarded Lord Aldington nearly $3 million in damages in 1990.

Tolstoy, who declared bankruptcy, was denied the right to appeal. He was in Toronto this spring and is anything but subdued. He says he hasn't paid anything, won't pay, can't pay, and has a book in the works about his trial.

So far, there's been no serious attempt to collect damages and he feels the courts are embarrassed by the whole process.

No references

Forced repatriation was such an appalling policy that even Winston Churchill omitted any reference to it in his Nobel Prize-winning history of World War II.

While muted, the issue is far from dead. The European Commission on Human Rights in Strasbourg has supported Tolstoy. A semi-retired American lawyer, Charles O'Neall, living in Switzerland, was so offended at the trial that he offered to represent him, pro bono, at the prestigious Strasbourg Human Rights Court. The mystique of British justice has been mauled.

Also named in the The Minister and the Massacres along with Aldington were the late British prime minister Harold MacMillan and the late Thomas (later Lord) Brimelow.

Soldiers the like of Field Marshall Alexander and Gen. Keightley opposed the policy, but obeyed orders. Some of the displaced people being sent back to communism committed suicide by sawing their throats with barbed wire. Some mothers threw their babies from trains into the river. Panic reigned.

After Tolstoy's trial his Minister and the Massacres book was banned from British libraries and universities. "Interestingly," Tolstoy told me, "it's begun to re-appear on library shelves." To him "the policy was a war crime that fits the definition of war crimes at Nuremberg."

A couple of Canadian officers attached to the British army at the time did their best to short-circuit the policy.

Saving victims

Maj. Herb McFarland of Toronto refused to obey the forced repatriation orders and risked court martial, while Maj. P.H. Barre of the Royal Montreal Regiment worked tirelessly to save the victims. Because Tolstoy was broke after the libel verdict, Britain's High Court ruled that he had no right to appeal unless he came up with about $250,000 in advance to cover Aldington's legal expenses. The court denied Tolstoy access to a defence fund set up in his name. Although the British government would like to silence Tolstoy and any reference to forced repatriation, the Internet has proved an invaluable outlet. Anyone interested can go to Yahoo on the Internet and search "Tolstoy, Nikolai" and see an account of events that is chilling to those who think British justice is pure and fair.

After the trial, the BBC ran an excellent TV documentary on forced repatriation, which explored why and how Britain could be involved in such a policy - especially when Churchill expressly forbade sending unwilling people back to Stalin.

There's even evidence that British officers attached to Tito participated in the execution of these Serb, Croat and Sloven victims.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, President Boris Yeltsin has ordered that Tolstoy be given access to Russian files. Tolstoy says he's amassed hitherto unknown details that will appear in his next book.

I've periodically written about forced repatriation ever since being based in Moscow over 30 years ago when I heard tales of the policy which, frankly, I doubted.

Before Tolstoy's experience, I wouldn't have believed an appeal would be denied anyone in Britain, or that a British trial could be as bizarre as Tolstoy's was.

Some people thrive in adversity - that is, their character sustains them in crises or when times are tough. Nikolai and Georgina Tolstoy and their three grown daughters and son could be called adversity's children. And they stand defiant.

Others stand with them. The school of one daughter suspended fees, and others came forward to help financially. Just as Tolstoy has stood up for the victims of Stalin and Tito when no one else did, so survivors and their kin now stand up for him.

Historian Tolstoy urges British apology for forcing thousands back to death in Soviet Union and Yugoslavia

If you write to a newspaper don't forget: 1. keep it short; 2. add your mail address and a daytime telephone number; they will not print it otherwise.

The above news item is reproduced without editing other than typographical
 Register your name and address to go on the Mailing List to receive

David Irving's ACTION REPORT

© Focal Point 1999 [F] e-mail: Irving write to David Irving