The Greatest British War Crime Ever? with Count Nikolai Tolstoy-Miloslavsky

The forcible repatriation of the Cossacks and the Yugoslav Royalists to certain torture, slave labour and death at the hands of Stalin and Tito during the closing days of WW II

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In the chaos of the last days of the WW II, whole peoples were on the move, many fleeing to save themselves from a terrible fate at the hands of their countries’ victorious and vengeful leaders

Some 30,000 Yugoslav Royalists had surrendered to the British Vth Army Corps in Carinthia, South Austria, whilst Tito’s communist partisans were demanding their return to exact their horrific vengeance.

At the same time some 50,000 Cossacks, including 11,000 women, children and elderly, had also sought refuge in Allied controlled Austria to avoid instant execution or an arguably worse and lingering death in the brutality of Stalin’s Gulags. Many were anti-Bolshevik, White Army veterans of the Russian civil War of 1917-1923. Some had even been decorated by the British.

A direct order not to repatriate these people to their own countries was countermanded by officers in the field, and in the middle of May 1945, the victims were herded into cattle trucks, at first with treacherously seductive inducements of safety in Italy or elsewhere, and later, as their true fate became manifest, at bayonet-point and by rifle-butting. Some committed suicide by cutting their throats with barbed wire, or jumping off the trains at bridges, to avoid an even grislier fate at the hands of their Communist masters. Many were massacred immediately on arrival at their destinations.

This unsavoury aspect of our history remained all but unknown outside small circles of Russian émigrés, until the historian Count Nikolai Tolstoy exposed it with meticulous research

His resulting book The Minister and The Massacres, and a subsequent legal action in 1989 by Lord Aldington, then Brigadier-General Staff, Vth Army Corps, led to one of the most notorious libel cases in our history with strong suggestion that the British Establishment had “closed ranks” to ensure that relevant MoD and Foreign Office documents, essential to Tolstoy’s defence, were either made unavailable, or simply “disappeared”

The Ebenezer is well-aware that all this remains highly contentious. Whatever the detailed whys and wherefores, the Cossacks and Royalist Partisans were forcibly repatriated to meet terrible fates, and the subject remains as fascinating as ever.

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Count Nikolai Tolstoy-Miloslavsky

Nikolai is head of the senior branch of both families (a Miloslavsky married a Romanov Czar) and a cousin of Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy’s father escaped Russia during the Civil War, and Nikolai was educated at Wellington School and Trinity College, Dublin where he read Modern History and Politics. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

The forced repatriations are described in his books, Victims of Yalta (1978) and The Minister and the Massacres (1986) The latter (banned in England and removed from libraries describes the [role Harold MacMillan played in the forced repatriations whilst serving as Minister Resident in the Mediterranean in the closing days of the war (MacMillan rose to become Prime Minister in 1957) A subsequent pamphlet led to the libel case – Tolstoy lost, and was ordered to pay £1.5m in damages. Fans of [Patrick O’Brian, whose book Master and Commander has been made into a major blockbuster, starring Russell Crowe, will know that his stepson, Tolstoy, has written the first volume of a biography - Patrick O’Brian: The Making of a Novelist

His deep interest in Celtic language and culture is evident in his books The Quest for Merlin (1985), The Coming of the King: The First Book of Merlin (1988), and The Oldest British Prose Literature: The Compilation of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi (2009). He has written much else - about his own, not unremarkable, family, The Tolstoys: Twenty Four Generations of Russian History, about Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives, and, inevitably, about Stalin, Stalin’s Secret War, described by Stalin’s daughter Svetlana as “the best biography of my father...”

2011Martin Keeley