After visiting the town of Goygol in Azerbaijan founded by German settlers in 1819, only to be deported to Siberia, I decided to read around the subject. I like to think of myself as well read, with a good understanding of modern history but what I found out shocked me utterly. Not only were millions of Soviet citizens and German POWs condemned to decades in the Gulag but also tens-of-thousands of British and American soldiers “liberated” by the Red Army.
At the end of the war, Stalin insisted that the five million Soviet citizens in Allied controlled areas be returned to the Soviet Union. Three million had been forced laborers (OST-Arbeiters) under Nazi control. On their return, the OST-Arbeiters were treated as traitors and executed or sent to labour camps where most died of hunger and overwork. Stalin demanded the return of an additional two-million former Soviet citizens to exact revenge on them. They included anti-communists, Cossacks, Slavs and Poles many of whom were civilians who sought asylum in the West, knowing that a return to the Soviet Union meant execution. To appease Stalin and to ensure the return of more than 50,000 Allied troops captured by the Nazis and later freed by Soviet troops, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to this forced repatriation.
Unfortunately for the Allied troops awaiting repatriation, British intelligence retained a number of anti-Communist prisoners with the intention of reviving “anti-Soviet operations”, under orders from Churchill. In response, the Soviets did not complete the repatriation of the Allied prisoners of war in their possession, leaving roughly 23,500 American and 30,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers in Soviet hands. Some of these men were to be repatriated in the coming years, but others were sent to the GULAG camp system and never returned home.
In The Iron Cage by Nigel Cawthorne [ISBN-10: 1857021010] the author exposes Britain and America’s betrayal of its own soldiers who ended up as pawns in a game over which they had no control. They were never mentioned as a group and have all but disappeared from the pages of history. Occasionally a story did emerge like that of Frank Kelly from Lewisham who was captured by the Germans at Arnhem and ‘liberated’ from Stalag 4B by Soviet soldiers only to be incarcerated in a labour camp until his release eight years later in 1953. On his return to the UK he was immediately arrested for being AWOL.
In June 1992, President Boris Yeltsin admitted that Americans taken in the same way had been imprisoned in Soviet labour camps. ‘We don’t have complete data,” he said, “and can only surmise that some of them may be alive.” See: http://www.arrse.co.uk/current-affairs-news-analysis/24250-britain-ran-secret-prison-germany-after-end-wwii-2.html
Where did they go? What happened tp them? How did they live their lives? How did they die? Where are they buried? Perhaps we will never know but we should not forget that more British troops than all of those who died in Ireland, Cyprus, the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan “disappeared” forever into the endless wastes of Siberia, never to return.