(From Russia, Vol. VI, No.84,
To the Representative of the Don Ataman in North and
In view of the
approaching fourth anniversary of the ghastly tragedy of the Cossacks, namely
their compulsory extradition to the
As already known, the
Cossack Corps of General Domanov, consist ing of about 28,000 persons, including women and children,
on leaving Italian territory in early May 1945, crossed over the mountain pass
into Austria and set up camp in the valley of the river Drau.
The Staff of the
Cossacks and a part of the administrative units were billeted within the city
limits of the town of
The attitude of the
British authorities towards the Cossacks was quite beyond reproach and even
benevolent up to May 26th, and there was nothing to indicate the impending
catastrophe. However, on that particular day two events took place which
foreshadowed the imminent tragedy. Namely, a British truck pulled up before the
Cossacks' Bank, and the soldiers, referring to orders from their superiors,
demanded the keys to the strongboxes, locked them up, and, loading them on the
truck, drove away to an unknown destination. The protest of the Director of the
Bank, and his remonstration that the strongboxes contained but personal savings
of the Cossacks, had no effect. According to the
declaration of the Bank Director, those strongboxes had contained at that time
about 6 million German Marks, and about as much in Italian Lire, all of which
had been personal money of the Cossacks.
On the same day, a
British officer came to the hotel where General Shkuro
and four of his officers had been billeted, and ordered them to pack their
belongings so as to move to other billets. When asked, "Which other
billets," he answered, "Where your Staff will be."
Later on it became
known that General Shkuro and his officers had been
moved to Spittal camp and kept there behind barbed
It is important to note
that simultaneously a British order had been read, according to which all
Cossacks were to receive increased rations and, in fact, were to receive full
British rations, which fact had considerably lulled any suspicions there might
have been among the Cossacks, and had made it easier for the British to carry
out their intentions.
The pleasure of
receiving increased rations lasted but a short while. The next day, May 27th,
On the morning of May
28th all officers, military officials, and medics were ordered to report at
1:00 P.M. to the square before the Staff billets, to be moved in trucks
according to directives from the British General.
The Town Commander of Lienz, the British Major Davis, declared that the luggage
should not be taken, as everybody was supposed to be back in three or four
hours. This declaration was taken at its face value,
nearly all had reported and were driven away. But, actually, as soon as the
truck convoy, carrying over 2,000 officers and officials, headed by General Krasnov, got under way, it was surrounded by British tanks
and escorted to its destination.
Guarded in this manner,
everybody was brought into Spittal camp, which was
surrounded by several stockades of barbed wire, and was strongly patrolled by
later, all these unfortunate prisoners were transported into the Soviet Zone and
were handed over to the Soviets. Only five persons were able to escape by a
miracle. Numerous camp inmates had committed suicide, numerous others were
killed by the guards while attempting an escape, while some had been executed
on the way to the Soviet Zone, and it is unknown to this day exactly how many
reached the Soviet Union.
In the evening of May
29th, British trucks equipped with loud speakers drove up to the tent camp Peggetz, where the Cossack regiments were camping, and
announced that everybody had to get ready to be voluntarily repatriated into the Soviet Union. The British
repeated this announcement on May 30th and May 31st.
unanimous reaction of the Cossacks had been to refuse, and to emphasize their
protest they declared a hunger strike and hoisted black banners. When British
supply trucks rolled up as usual to certain distribution points, there was
nobody to accept the rations and, having dumped the food on the ground, they
drove away. No Cossack touched that food.
On the morning of June
1st the Cossacks of the Peggetz camp had decided to
unite in prayer to God, maybe for the last time. For this purpose an altar was
erected on the camp square and a crowd of thousands of aged, of women and
children, gathered around. Cadets, as if to protect them, formed an outer ring,
holding hands. Black banners were flying from every barrack.
This picture was deeply
moving and awesome at the same time. No human nerves could have endured to
watch this multitude kneeling, intensely praying, and bitterly weeping.
It was during this
Liturgy that the British surrounded the camp area on three sides with tanks and
soldiers armed with machine guns. The fourth side remained free: there was the
deep and swift
The British waited
awhile. Then, seeing that the people did not discontinue their prayers, they
fired a volley into the air, charging at the same time into the defenseless
people who had sat down on the ground, embracing one another, and refusing to
board the trucks.
Now there began a
beastly, brutal, and inhuman bloodshed, a massacre of innocent human beings.
They hit them with gunbutts, causing an indescribable
panic. Soul-piercing screams filled the air. In this inconceivable cataclysm
many were trampled to death, mainly children.
Whoever was able to do
so put up a desperate defense as long as he had any strength left.
It was only the
unconscious, many of them with broken limbs, whom the British were able to grab
and dump like logs on their trucks filled with bodies.
When already on the
trucks, some Cossacks, regaining consciousness, had jumped off. They were
beaten until they fainted and were thrown on the trucks again. The cadets put
up the fiercest resistance. They defended not only themselves, but did
everything humanly possible to aid the women, the children, and the aged to
escape imprisonment, repatriation, and their eventual doom in the
Numerous Cossacks and
their wives committed suicide on that day, preferring death rather then
deportation to a barbarous country which had once been
and heavily wounded - that is how they filled the death train.
For unknown reasons the
"Honorable Authority" had decided to give a respite, and the next voluntary transport "home" with
respective victims was scheduled to take place on June 3rd. This respite saved
the lives of many Cossacks and their wives.
During the night from
June 1st to June 2nd there began the second act of the Cossacks' tragedy: the
local population began to ransack the possessions of the Cossacks. Like black
ravens who gather at the smell of fresh blood, the Austrians now looted the
property of the Cossacks by the carload.
During these very days,
and with equal procedures, the 15th Cossack Corps, consisting of 18,000 men,
had been handed over to the Soviets near the town of
That is how, on May
29th, June 1st, and June 3rd, 1945, 45,000 Russians had been handed over to
suffer violent retaliation, by close cooperation on the part of those
governments of foreign powers, for whose integrity and interests the Russian
Nation had shed its blood and had won victories in World War I.
At present the Peggetz camp is abandoned and has disappeared. Only in one
of its comers there are, even now, as a momento of
the Cossacks' tragedy, some forgotten graves of victims, with small, weather
A future historian will
pass an unbiased verdict on this bitter tragedy, a verdict on those
representatives of "Proud
Losses in personnel as
great as had been suffered by these two units, namely that of General Domanov and the 15th Cossack Corps, in the course of a
couple of days, in conditions of a finished war, have no precedent in Russian
Within these units
there had been representatives of the Don Cossacks, and they had formed the
main cadres. However, there had been also Cossacks and their wives from other
Within the 15th Cossack
Corps there had been a number of compatriots who were not Cossacks.
Among the slain were
heroic warriors of the former Army of the Russian Empire during World War I,
and the leaders of the White
in the years of the Civil War: General Ataman P.N. Krasnov,
the Generals Shkuro and Prince Sultan-Girei-Klytch, and others.
In the capacity of the acting
Don Ataman, I believe it to be my direct duty to remind the Cossacks of this
monstrous catastrophe, and of its victim, the distinguished Don Ataman and
White leader, Cavalry General Peter Nikolaevich Krasnov.
I ask you to give this
event wide and expressive publicity, and to commemorate the days of the tragic
anniversary in a solemn way wherever there are areas in which Cossacks have
settled more densely.
I believe that all
Cossacks, also those of our co-nationals who are non-Cossacks, will offer their
sincere prayers to commemorate the perished Russian soldiers.
I am convlnced that the Cossacks, united in common grief in
these days of mourning, will forget their personal discords, and that they will
ever closer unite to serve our dear Fatherland and its loyal sons, the
The original signed by:
The Acting Don Ataman,
Major General of the General Staff POLIAKOV