The Betrayal of the Cossacks , also known as The Tragedy of Drau and The Massacre of Cossacks at Lienz refers to the forced repatriation of Cossacks and ethnic Russians to the U.S.S.R. at the Second World War's end as agreed in the Yalta Conference. Many of the repatriated were never Soviet citizens (having left Russia before the end of the civil war) or were born abroad. Ostensibly, the people to be repatriated were described as fascists who had fought the Allies in the service to the Axis powers. In practice, however, many innocent people including non-combatants were repatriated. The Cossacks who fought against the Allies did not see their war service as treason of the Russian motherland, but as an episode in the Russian Revolution of 1917, part of their continuing fight against the Communist Government in Moscow, in particular, and Communism, in general. This event, and others resulting from Yalta, is referred to by Nikolai Tolstoy as "The Secret Betrayal", because it is unpublished in the West. The repatriation at Lienz, Austria, is the most recognized and studied of these events, because there the Cossacks used physical force to resist the Allies.
On June 22, 1941, Germany attacked the U.S.S.R., prompting its entrance to World War II. Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and Soviet occupation of Poland, Baltic States, etc., was de facto and de jure an entrance of the U.S.S.R. to the WWII. This created a conflict of interest among Cossacks in the Soviet Union: either fight with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany or fight with Germany against the Soviet Union, which had abolished the Cossack Republics. The anti-Communist struggle of some Cossacks to liberate their homelands from the Bolsheviks prompted them to join the ranks of the German Army, with the aid of which they hoped to regain their lost countries.
The Cossacks were first recruited by German commanders in the field. In 1942 their military units received recognition and wore their own insignia, but by early 1943 the German High Command authorised the creation of the 1st Cossack Division which was trained in summer of 1943, to deploy to Yugoslavia to fight the Communist Tito partisans. By war's end, the S.S. controlled the Cossack Division, despite General Helmuth von Pannwitz's refusal of its absorption to the S.S.; together with his division, enlarged as the XVth Cossack Cavalry Corps, it was administrated by the SS for replacements and supplies, though not organically part of the Waffen-SS.
The agreements of the Yalta and Tehran Conferences signed by President Roosevelt, Premier Joseph Stalin, and Prime Minister Churchill had a great impact upon the fates of the Cossacks who chose to not fight for the Soviet Union, because many of them were P.O.W.s in German military prisoner of war camps.
Premier Stalin demanded the repatriation of every Soviet citizen held prisoner; neither the British nor the American governments contested that, largely due to concerns that the Soviets would delay or refuse to repatriate allied prisoners of war who were at that time starting to be liberated from German POW camps in Eastern Europe by the Red Army. After Yalta, Churchill questioned Stalin, asking: Did they [cossacks and other minorities] fight against us? Stalin replied: they fought with ferocity, not to say savagery, for the Germans. That was true with respect to most Cossacks who fought against the Soviet Union, most notably Tatar Caucasian Division that boasted said description. However, those few Cossacks who fought the Western Allies usually did it reluctantly.
Per the Yalta and Tehran agreements, the Allies (i.e. the British and the Americans) forcibly rendered the Cossacks to the Red Army for repatriation to the U.S.S.R. At war's end, General Krasnov and other Cossack leaders persuaded Hitler to allow civilians and non-combatant Cossacks to permanently settle in the sparsely settled Carnia, in the Italian Alps. The Cossacks moved there and established a refugee settlement, with several stanitzas and posts, their administration, churches, schools, and military units.
When the Allies progressed from central Italy to the Italian Alps, Italian partisans under General Contini ordered the Cossacks to leave Carnia and go to north to Austria. There, on the Drava River, near Lienz, the British army imprisoned the Cossacks in a hasty internment camp. For a few days the British fed them, creating the impression that they understood the political problem of this fascist group. The Red Army's advance units were only a few miles east, rapidly advancing to contact the Allies. Most Cossacks began believing that, under British protection, they were safe from repatriation to the Soviet Union.
On May 28, 1945, two thousand and forty six Cossack officers and generals, including the cavalry Generals Pyotr Krasnov, Andrei Shkuro, and Kelech-Giray, were disarmed and transported in British cars and trucks to a nearby Red Army-held town. There they were handed over to the commanding Red Army general, who ordered them tried for treason. Many Cossack leaders had never been Soviet citizens, having fled revolutionary Russia in 1920, hence they could not be guilty of treason. Some were executed immediately; the higher-ranking officers were tried in Moscow and then executed. Most notably, General Pyotr Krasnov was hanged in a public square. Von Pannwitz, a German, chose to accompany the Cossacks in their Soviet repatriation, and was executed with five Cossack generals and atamans in Moscow in 1947.
On June 1, 1945, the British forced an additional thirty-two thousand Cossacks, including women and children, into cattle rail cars and trucks, and rendered to the Red Army for Soviet repatriation. Similar repatriations occurred that year in the American zones of occupation in Austria and Germany. The majority of Cossacks were sent to labor camps in the far North and Siberia. Most died; however, some escaped or lived until they were given amnesty by Moscow (see below). Some two million people were repatriated to the Soviet Union following WWII. While the exact number of repatriated Cossacks is unknown, most modern historians estimate between 45,000-50,000; other estimates (usually not widely accepted) range between 15,000–150,000.
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 [armed] 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.
The British drove two thousand seven hundred forty-nine Cossacks (including 2,201 officers) to a prison where the Soviets took custody of them. In Lienz is a graveyard and memorial site in the Peggetz. There is a memorial commemorating General von Pannwitz and soldiers of the XVth Cossack Cavalry Corps Killed in action or died as POWs in Tristach.
First, they refused to leave their barracks when ordered to do so. The military police then used tear gas, and, half-dazed, the prisoners were driven under heavy guard to the harbor where they were forced to board a Soviet vessel. Here the two hundred immediately started to fight. They fought with their bare hands. They started — with considerable success — to destroy the ship's engines. . . . A sergeant . . . mixed barbiturates into their coffee. Soon, all of the prisoners fell into a deep, coma-like sleep. It was in this condition that the prisoners were brought to another Soviet boat for a speedy return to Stalin's hangmen.