One of the most tragic pages in the history of the Russian diaspora was marked by a solemn panikhida held on Monday, June 1, 2015, at St John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington, DC. The tens of thousands of Cossacks who were repatriated by the Western powers to the USSR in 1945 were honored.
“Many parishes in the emigration since World War II have marked the anniversary of the betrayal by the Allie of tens of thousands of Russian Cossacks who were repatriated to the USSR. They naively believed that in collaborating with Hitler, they could emancipate Russia from the Communist yoke,” said Protopriest Victor Potapov to RIA Novosti. ” He noted that “within the framework of the agreement signed at the Yalta Conference, Stalin demanded that all Soviet citizens found in the West be returned to the USSR. I grew up in the emigration, and I know from our older generation that the Allies felt obliged to execute their agreement with Stalin,” he said.
“The battalions of Russian Cossacks handed over their arms in the Austrian city of Lienz. They believed the Allied forces’ assurances and never dreamed that they would be betrayed, handed over to certain death,” said Fr Victor. “At the end of May and beginning of June, 1945, British officers gathered the Cossack atamans [leaders] and told them that they would be sent to a conference, then returned to their families. In reality, there was no such conference. When the Cossacks learned the truth, they asked their clergymen to celebrate Liturgy. But the British lost their patience and did not allow the service to continue. Many Cossacks then committed suicide, mothers threw their children into the river, hoping they would somehow be saved.”
Fr Victor said that the grandmother of his daughter-in-law endured the Lienz tragedy. “She was miraculously able to save her child by throwing him in the river. She, too, was also able to survive, and later the family was reunited,” he said.
The priest noted that “Many of the Cossacks betrayed at Lienz were not even Soviet citizens, and so were not in principle subject to deportation to the Soviet Union.” Many were executed upon their return, or enslaved in Stalin’s concentration camps.
“This is a tragic page in history which we cannot forget,” noted Fr Victor.
The cathedral’s clergyman noted that “On May 8, the eve of the Day of Victory, we also performed a memorial service to commemorate all those who gave their lives in the struggle against Hitler.”
After the pannikhida for the Cossacks, a film by renowned director Alexei Denisov on the tragedy in the Alps was shown in the parish hall. During the discussion that followed, many parishioners shared the history of their own families relating to the fate of the Cossacks in World War II.