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Operation Keelhaul

From Academic Kids

Operation Keelhaul was a program carried out in Austria by British forces in May and June 1945 that decided the fate of thousands of post-war refugees fleeing eastern Europe.

One of the conclusions of the Yalta Conference was that the Allies would return all Soviet citizens that may find themselves in the Allied zone to the Soviet Union. This immediately affected the Soviet prisoners of war liberated by the Allies, but was also extended to all other persons.

The refugee columns fleeing the Soviet-occupied eastern Europe numbered tens of thousands of people. They included assorted fascists, Nazi collaborationists, anti-communists and civilians, both from the Soviet Union and from Yugoslavia. The group included around 70,000 Cossacks from the Soviet Union and Ustaše from Yugoslavia, while around 11,000 of them were women and children.

They were rounded up in Austria and forcibly repatriated to Stalin and Tito. Most were headed for the Soviet zone of Germany in the east, or for Slovenia in the south. Many of the refugees were summarily executed (as revenge for the crimes committed by fascists during the war), sometimes within earshot of the British. The killings at the hand of the Yugoslav forces are known as the Bleiburg massacre.

Among those handed over were White Russians who had never been Soviet citizens including the General Andrei Shkuro and the Ataman of the Don Cossack Host Pyotr Krasnov, despite the British Foreign Office policy stated after the Yalta Conference that only Soviet citizens, after September 1, 1939, were to be compelled to return to the USSR.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn called this operation "the last secret of World War II". He contributed to a legal defense fund set up to help Nikolai Tolstoy who was charged with libel in a 1989 case brought up by Lord Aldington over war crimes allegations made by Tolstoy related to this operation.

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