British Returning Soviet Prisoners end of WWII

Betrayal of Cossacks at Lientz. Painting by S.G.Korolkoff
At first the administration had no reservations about handing over to the Russians even unwilling Soviet citizens. In June 1945, for example, the Combined Chiefs of Staff authorized SACMED Field Marshal Alexander to transfer to the Soviet authorities approximately 50,000 Cossacks who had been serving with the German armed forces at the time of their capture. But the pressure on Washington had a cumulative effect, especially as public opposition to forced repatriation increased and there were no American soldiers in territories under Soviet control. Finally, on 21 December 1945, the commanding general of U.S. forces in the European Theater and the commander in chief of U.S. forces of occupation in Austria were instructed not to compel the involuntary repatriation of persons who had been citizens of and actually had resided within the Soviet Union on 1 September 1939 but who did not fall into any of the following classes: those captured in German uniform; those who had been members of the Soviet armed forces on or after 22 June 1941 and who had not subsequently been discharged; and those who had been charged by the Soviet Union with having voluntarily rendered aid and comfort to the enemy. By the time these instructions were given, more than 2 million Soviet citizens had already been repatriated from western Germany. This left only approximately 20,000 Soviet citizens in the U.S. zone in Germany. Moscow had attained its goal, but so had Washington: it achieved the quick repatriation of U.S. pows liberated by the Red Army all together approximately one-third of all U.S. pows and at the same time succeeded in ridding itself of the responsibility for millions of unwanted Soviet citizens in western parts of Germany.
The dispute between the British and the Soviets became public when, on 30 April 1945, Pravda published an interview with Colonel General Filip Golikov, head of the Soviet Repatriation Committee.�Golikov compared a figure of more than 1.5 million Soviet citizens repatriated from areas overrun by the Red Army with the lowly figure of 35,000 Soviets repatriated out of a total of more than 150,000 liberated by the Allies. Thousands of Soviet citizens, he claimed, were forced to wait many months for transport to their native land. Not everywhere, he charged, were former Soviet pows being treated as citizens of an Allied power. The Russian repatriation official then gave several examples of breaches of the Yalta agreement by the Allies: failure to report the presence of more than 1,700 Soviet citizens in three American-run camps in Britain; failure to hand over 300 Soviet citizens whose existence in Britain was known; efforts to deter Soviet citizens in Egypt from returning to the Soviet Union; failure to properly segregate Soviet pows from Germans in Camp 307 in Egypt; and failure to expedite the return to the Soviet Union of 1,156 Soviet officers and men. Sick Russians, furthermore, were being sent to German camp hospitals. Local censorship, he asserted, had prevented the Soviet repatriation administration from discovering these infamies until much later.
While the Foreign Office preferred to avoid public recriminations with Golikov for fear that this would poison the atmosphere further and impede finding solutions to thorny pow questions, Whitehall recognized that they could not entirely ignore Soviet propaganda, especially as Golikov’s statements had given rise to a number of parliamentary questions. On 2 May, for example, mp Thomas Henry Hewlett asked the foreign secretary ‘‘whether, in view of the excellent treatment given by the Russians to British prisoners of war whom they liberate, he can state whether special effort is made to extend similar treatment to Russian prisoners of war liberated by the British.’’ Undersecretary of State Richard Law dispelled ‘‘misleading statements’’ that had appeared in the press about British officials’ treatment of Soviet citizens liberated by British forces. Law told the House that many of the large numbers of Soviet citizens who had been liberated by the advancing Anglo-American armies since D-Day had been, or were at the time of their liberation, serving in the Todt and other German official criminal organizations; furthermore, a considerable number of them had fallen into Allied hands while still in German uniform. Law’s tactic was first to categorize the Soviet citizens as German collaborators and then to state that the vast majority of Soviet pows had been forced to serve the Germans against their will.
Members of Parliament were further told that 42,421 Soviet citizens had been repatriated from the United Kingdom and the Mediterranean area since October 1944; to this figure ought to be added the 14,565 liberated by U.S. forces. With the exception of one ship provided by the Americans, all the shipping and other transport for these 56,986 Soviet citizens had been provided by London, which meant there were less funds for other vital purposes. Pointing a finger at the Soviets, Law contended that the remaining Soviet citizens in western Europe could have been repatriated much earlier if the Soviet government had also provided shipping. For their part, the Soviet authorities had notified Britain of 3,854 British subjects liberated by their forces up to 21 April 1945; of these, 3,639 had passed through the camp in Odessa, which was the most advanced point to which the Soviet authorities had allowed British officers to have regular access. In this case, too, British shipping alone had been employed to bring these men home. Law concluded by giving a hint of Whitehall’s dissatisfaction with the Soviets’ decision to go public with their criticism.

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