MOST OF THE horrors that resulted from the Yalta Conference of Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill in February 1945 are well known in general terms. The main catastrophe, that of agreeing to a set of conditions that ultimately resulted in the enslavement of half the continent of Europe by the Communists is a familiar nightmare that still haunts the United States today. The Communist seizure of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania, Esthonia, Latvia, Lithuania, part of Finland and half of Germany was agreed to and carried out by brute force, without regard for the principle of majority rule, now applied so rigidly to Rhodesia and South Africa by the U.S. Secretary of State. These European seizures led later to the Communist conquests of China, North Korea, Cuba, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Angola. (ILLUSTRATION: General Vlasov meets Heinrich Himmler [from Signal magazine, 1943])
What still remains unknown are many of the smaller tragedies derived from Yalta that were never reported in the American media either at the time they occurred or later. One such dreadful sequence of Yalta was the use of American and British military personnel in Europe from 1945 to 1947 as an adjunct of the Soviet NKVD.
Under the Yalta Agreement the U.S. and Great Britain committed themselves to repatriation, by force if necessary, of those persons who had been citizens of the Soviet Union on September 1, 1939 and had either been captured in German uniform; or were members of the Red Army on June 22, 1941; or had collaborated voluntarily with enemies of the Soviet Union. It must be pointed out that the concept of “forced repatriation” did not, then nor now, exist in international law and that the U.S. government was well aware of its illegality. This is confirmed by a State Department note sent to the Soviet Embassy in Washington on February 1, 1945, in which explicit reference is made to the Geneva Convention to explain why Russian prisoners in German uniform should not be repatriated against their will. The U.S. would respect this policy of not repatriating foreign nationals against their will a few years later in the aftermath of the Korean War. However, the forced repatriations of 1945-47 in Europe of unwilling prisoners of war, and even civilians and emigres who had never been Soviet citizens, were carried out as a result of orders issued by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. On August 25, 1945, General Patch, of the U.S. Seventh Army, apparently doubting the legality of the order, asked Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), whether he, Patch, should direct the repatriation of such persons. SHAEF, in the person of General Eisenhower, characteristically bucked the order to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. The Joint Chiefs of Staff took four months to compose the following answer: “All Soviet citizens who were in the territory of the Soviet Union on September 1, 1939, must be repatriated without regard to their personal wishes and, if need be, by force.”
As can be seen by the wording, this order went far beyond even the illegal terms of the Yalta Agreement. And it was not just the U.S. military authorities alone who were affected, but also the British forces and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration as well (by their top-secret order No. 199).
In early 1945 there had retreated to within the American Occupation Zone in Czechoslovakia the 600th Infantry Division (Russian) of the Wehrmacht under the command of ex-Soviet General Andrey Andreyovich Vlasov who had, in December 1941, successfully held the center of the Russian forces that had thrown the Germans back from Moscow. Captured later by the Germans in the Battle of the Volkov, Vlasov indicated that, although a Russian patriot, he detested the Communist tyranny in Russia and believed he could organize large, anti-Communist armies among the Russian populations overrun by the Germans, estimated at over 70,000,000 people. In this he was strongly supported by an influential faction within the German Wehrmacht who believed that the National Socialist policy toward the conquered eastern peoples was a fatal error for Germany. Himmler’s policies, this group believed, were forcing Communist Russian troops to fight more efficiently and to the death, and causing German manpower losses that Germany, with one fourth the size of the Russian population, could not afford. Vlasov, a physical giant with an impressive flair for leadership, was certain that he could recruit a large, anti-Soviet military force. “Russia,” he said, “can only be conquered by Russians.” Vlasov, a Slav, could not sympathize with the National Socialist ideology, and he had issued repeatedly, with amazing disregard for the Gestapo and the National Socialist hierarchy, a call for a democratic, free Russia, based on the American political model, and he did this publicly and officially at Hradcany Castle in Prague on November 14, 1944, with a manifesto outlining a constitution for a future republic of Russia. The National Socialist authorities assented to this largely because by this date, as the politically sagacious Vlasov knew, they had no choice. He had got this far through the protection of certain powerful military figures in the Wehrmacht who opposed the National Socialist eastern policies. By the date of Vlasov’s address in Prague, the downfall of the Third Reich was certain. The National Socialists knew it and Vlasov knew it.
In 1942, 1943, and 1944, when Vlasov could have raised several million troops from the Russian population, the National Socialists, as a fundamental point of their ideology, had opposed Vlasov’s views. The Slavs, according to Heinrich Himmler, were doomed to be ruled by the herrenvolk. Hitler did not want a free, democratic Russia and Vlasov, the most prominent captured Soviet general, was squelched. However, by November 1944, a free, democratic Russia to the Germans looked infinitely preferable to what was coming at them from the East, provisioned and armed with Rooseveltian Lend Lease. In that month of a war marked by singular and irrational political actions, the supreme paradox had at last taken place: Hitler and Himmler were arming an eager democratic liberation army and Roosevelt and Churchill were provisioning, through $34,000,000,000 in Lend Lease, the depleted, badly bled armies of a pitiless tyranny.
The German “Ost” policy, aimed at German domination of the eastern peoples, was abrogated too late. Vlasov, freed to operate, formed two divisions which went into battle against the Communists furiously and successfully, but not until April 14, 1945 when the Soviet armies had already penetrated deeply into Germany and Czechoslovakia. All was ridiculously too little and too late, but Vlasov and his men still wanted to fight. Broadcasting from Prague on April 25, 1945, less than two weeks before Germany’s surrender, Vlasov appealed to the nations gathered in San Francisco for the founding of the United Nations. The Czechoslovak democratic forces informed Vlasov’s men that if a Czech democratic government held Prague when the Americans arrived, they would be willing to grant asylum to Vlasov’s troops in a free Czechoslovakia. Vlasov was also urged to fly to Spain before the final German collapse, but he refused to leave his men, although a plane was ready to take off. “I had every chance for victory,” he said, “but the Germans decided against it. I must follow my course to the end.” On May 7, 1945, the Czechoslovak democratic forces voted to accept the aid of Vlasov’s forces in the liberation of the city of Prague. News of Germany’s capitulation reached the Czechs on May 8. To be interned by the American Army was now the Vlasov forces’ last hope for survival.
The second division of Vlasov’s Russian Liberation Army made contact with the U.S. Army on May 5, 1945, and received an ultimatum to surrender within 36 hours. Meanwhile, the first division moved in forced marches to surrender to the American forces at Pilsen. The series of events that ensued paint a dark picture of U.S. political blankness or worse. The 162nd Soviet Armored Brigade moved up to within two miles of the American lines. There was the danger that the Soviets would advance at dawn to overwhelm Vlasov’s soldiers, which would mean death to all personnel, either by direct execution or the familiar Communist technique of slow starvation, overwork, and neglect in Soviet concentration camps.
During the night Vlasov drew up a memorandum in which he stated that the Russian Liberation Army leaders were ready to appear before an international court, but that it would be an atrocity to turn over these tens of thousands of troops to the Red forces and thereby condemn them to death. The text was transmitted by radio to the Allied Supreme Commander, who refused forthwith to give Vlasov’s Liberation Army permission to pass into American custody. At this fatal decision, Vlasov’s other division quickly gave the command “break ranks,” and the completely intact and disciplined force disintegrated within minutes.
That night the great Red manhunt began without interference by the American Army. Special execution squads of Soviet commandos slaughtered or seized about 10,000 men. Half of the small number that managed to get through to the Allied Zone were violently dragged back and turned over to the Soviets. Vlasov himself was permitted to be removed from a column of eight automobiles under escort by an American armored scout detachment. One group of Vlasov’s men, numbering 815, were saved by the American Army commandant at Friedberg who, ignoring his orders, provided them with transit passes to Munich. This was a curious incident: there is no record of disciplinary action against the U.S. commander nor of Soviet protests. However, another sizeable group of Russians under an officer named Baltsev got to Bavaria where they encountered an American armored corps commander who said he was prepared to accept their surrender and not turn them over to the Soviets. This promise was not kept; a wave of suicides took place, but a Cossack contingent broke loose and fought its way over the Austrian border. The largest contingent of these unfortunate victims of Yalta consisted of approximately 35,000 men, women, and children camped near Linz. The closest Allied commander was British and he promptly pledged that none would be turned over to the Soviets.
This proved to be the most unfortunate, and largest, contingent of the Free Russians. On the road they were surrounded by British tanks and turned over to the Soviets, one Turkic component being “repatriated” at Tarent. One group of Cossacks, surprised by Soviet hunters in the East Tyrol, defended themselves to the last man. Hideous scenes were common as the NKVD closed in, accompanied by a wave of suicides. In a savage resistance in one spot to the British, a Cossack contingent lost 132 men killed. British commandos hunted down the refugees until the operation was finished.
Free Russians were turned over to the NKVD not only from Germany and Austria alone, but from Italy, France, Denmark, Norway, and even the U.S. The last to be handed over were the generals — all either killed themselves or tried to. On August 2, 1946, Izvestia carried a terse item announcing their executions. The list was headed by General Andrey Andreyovich Vlasov. This despicable phase of American and British cooperation with Stalin can be summed up in the last words of one of Vlasov’s officers, Colonel Meandrov, shipped back to Russia in 1946:
Streams of blood will flow with the approval of the democracies. The Soviet Union will try to keep it a secret, but the blood will seep through and besmirch the democratic slogans of the freedom loving nations. But we will know how to die with dignity.
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Based on an article in Instauration magazine, October 1976