Posted Thursday, August 12, 1999

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The Toronto Sun

August 12, 1999


More dirty secrets of World War II


THE Foreign Office in London has responded to Count Nikolai Tolstoy's request that Britain acknowledge "crimes" it committed at the end of World War II with what, in effect, is a curt: "Buzz off."

In light of Britain's resolve to see justice done in Kosovo and war crimes exposed and investigated, Tolstoy had written Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in June and asked if he intended to review Britain's forced repatriation policy after World War II that sent hundreds of thousands of Russians, Cossacks, Slovenians, Croats and Serbs back to the mercies of Stalin and Tito.

Tolstoy is an historian and author and the one mainly responsible for bringing the infamous policy to public attention - a policy that has been called "Britain's most shameful secret." Tolstoy urged Britain to acknowledge culpability and to atone by giving token compensation to the few and fading survivors of the infamous policy, which the U.S. called "Operation Keelhaul."

Forced repatriation was the postwar version of today's ethnic cleansing. British troops waded into prisoners of war, refugees, women and children and forced them back to the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, where most were killed or died in prison camps. Many chose suicide rather than return. Some British soldiers refused to obey orders.

In his memoirs, Winston Churchill avoided any reference to the policy, which the likes of Field Marshal Harold Alexander opposed.

In his letter to Robin Cook, Tolstoy also asked if the present Labour government upheld the previous Conservative government's decision to oppose Tolstoy's appeal of a private libel case on the forced repatriation at the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg, which ruled in favour of Tolstoy. He'd like the £1.5 million ($3 million) judgment against him reduced.

Catherine Mackenzie of the Foreign Office's human rights department, responded for Cook. No, the government would do nothing about the 1990 libel award (which hasn't been paid and no effort made to collect it). Astonishingly, Mackenzie and the Foreign Office contend: "We are not aware of any evidence to support such allegations" of crimes committed by British soldiers against Russian PoWs and civilians.

She says only "we are aware" of the repatriation of Cossacks (the 15th Cossack Cavalry Corps and dependents) who lived inside the Soviet Union at the start of World War II and were recruited by the Nazis.

This has invoked an outraged response from Tolstoy.

As for "evidence" of British wrongdoing of which the Foreign Office is "unaware," Tolstoy wrote back on July 19: "The evidence, which continues to accumulate, is so extensive as to be impossible to recapitulate here." There are war diaries, eyewitnesses, there are soldiers - one of whom was a Canadian, Maj. Herb McFarland, attached to the Brits, who risked court martial by refusing to obey orders to force people back.

Tolstoy has written three acclaimed books on the topic - including The Minister and the Massacres, which was banned in Britain, but is easing back into circulation.

Tolstoy concludes his letter by saying he can't believe the government's claim they were "not aware of any evidence." Of the 15th (Cossack) Cavalry Corps, he notes that a significant minority had never lived in the U.S.S.R., were not emigrants, carried passports of other countries, or were registered as stateless persons by the League of Nations. Some wore British decorations. As well, some 1,000 German and Austrian officers and NCOs were delivered to the Soviets, most of whom died in labour camps.

Yalta ignored Yugoslavs

The Yalta agreement which accorded concessions to Stalin did not apply to Yugoslav nationals -- the opposite, in fact. Yet "comparable crimes were committed against tens of thousands of equally helpless Yugoslav refugees."

To Tolstoy, the Foreign Office's attitude seems to "expose the government to a charge of gross hypocrisy in prosecuting Serbian war criminals while continuing to protect well-connected British perpetrators of crimes of comparable magnitude and barbarity."

He adds: "Is it really considered laudable over 50 years after the event to continue covering up a crime condemned intra alia by the overwhelming majority of the British people?"

By refusing to acknowledge complicity or to consider compensation for "war crimes" perpetrated in Austria in 1945, the British government is displaying a "cynical attitude unparalleled ... by the government of any other belligerent country in World War II."

Tolstoy may yet have the last word, if not laugh: His next book, with co-operation from Russia and Yugoslavia, adds even more evidence to what is already a conclusive case.

To some this may seem ancient history. Yet as has repeatedly been demonstrated, those who refuse to acknowledge their history are doomed to repeat it. Which may be what is happening in Kosovo, courtesy of British political leadership.

Britain's dirty little secret, by Peter Worthington: Ethnic cleansing was called forced repatriation after World War II

Tolstoy: Apologize for Britain's Shame, By PETER WORTHINGTON

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.

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