Friday book #10: The Last Secret

Today’s book tells the story of the forcible repatriation of Soviet citizens and former subjects of the Russian Empire by the British Army at the end of the Second World War. Some of these were Soviet prisoners of war who had joined General Vlasov’s Russian Liberation Army, which fought alongside the Germans. Others were Cossacks (and their families) who were veterans of the White armies who had fled Russia after the end of the Civil War. Many of these had fought with the German-backed Russian Corps in Yugoslavia.

lastsecret

At the time, the British view was that all these people – including the non-Soviet Cossacks – were ‘traitors’. The British government felt no obligation towards them, and considered good relations with the Soviets more important than protecting people who had fought on the side of Britain’s enemies. British opinion later shifted and began to consider the repatriations as a ‘betrayal’ of people who had either acted under duress or, as long-term opponents of Bolshevism, had some understandable reasons for acting as they did. The episode came to be seen as a shameful sacrifice of human lives to a brutal dictatorship.

As a result of this book, originally published in 1974, and of a 1978 work on the same subject by Nicholas Tolstoy, a monument dedicated to those handed over to the Soviets in 1945 was unveiled in Cromwell Gardens, London, in 1986.

communist victims
The Communist Victims Memorial, London
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7 thoughts on “Friday book #10: The Last Secret”

  1. “At the time, the British view was that all these people – including the non-Soviet Cossacks – were ‘traitors’. The British government felt no obligation towards them…”

    And what’s the British view now – that Soviet soldiers who switched sides and fought for the nazis were freedom-fighters? And what ‘obligations’, including to non-Soviet Cossacks?

    WWII was probably the most brutal conflict in human history. After the war, thousands (if not tens of thousands) of nazi collaborators were executed in western Europe. Over 10 million of Volksdeutsche were stripped of all their property and expelled from central-European nations, with a death toll possibly in millions. The British were expelling the Dutch from Germany to the Netherlands. What a bloody mess.

    And so, what’s with all this moral agonizing about some group of nazi fighters? Don’t the Brits have any better group of victims to grieve for – all those Indians they starved in Bengal in 1943?

    Nah, this is just garden variety anti-communist propaganda, circa 1970s.

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    1. Maybe you can ask yourself how it is that the Soviet Union turned up millions of “traitors”, when other nations had hardly none. How many Japanese or British soldiers or German fought against their own motherlands? One? Two? Yet as Solzhenitsyn pointed out in the Gulag Archipelago, the Soviet Union under Stalin was unique in this regard.

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      1. So, since you put “traitors” in inverted commas, you really do mean that they were liberators, do I get it right? Nice going, Ivan.

        In fact, there were millions of collaborators all over Europe. In France, there was a whole puppet state, with a whole government bureaucracy and all that. And didn’t I mention executions of tens of thousand collaborators, after the war?

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  2. I think a copy of this book passed through my hands at some point as well, just like the previous Friday Book. How coincidental.
    On a different note, Paul, have you seen the book I’m Going to Ruin Their Lives by Marc Bennetts, slated for release sometime this April? It’s about Putin’s supposed ‘war on Russian liberal opposition’, and since you’ve written posts on the opposition before, I thought this might be of interest to you.

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  3. I have Bennett’s ‘Kicking the Kremlin: Russia’s New Dissidents and the Battle to Topple Putin’. I’m guessing the one you mention must be a sequel. I also learnt today of an other about to be released book: Charles Clover, ‘Black Wind, White Snow: The Rise of Russia’s New Nationalism’, which I will get in due course.

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    1. I’m not sure whether ‘I’m Going to Ruin Their Lives’ is supposed to be a sequel. Have you read ‘Kicking the Kremlin’? I’ve seen it on the shelves of my local bookstore, but I’ve avoided reading it because it looks like just another one of those books lionizing the “dissidents” and demonizing Putin with little regard for facts. Correct me if I am wrong – perhaps you could convince me it’s worth reading.
      ‘Black Wind, White Snow’ also seems very interesting. Thanks for giving me the heads-up. I haven’t seen many books about Russian nationalism, with the exception of ‘Russian Nationalism and the National Reassertion of Russia’ by Marlene Laurelle. Let’s hope ‘White Snow’ is a sober analysis.

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