In April 1986, Nikolai Tolstoy’s The Minister and the Massacres was published in Britain. Like his earlier Victims of Yalta (1978) and Stalin’s Secret War (1981), the book was uncompromising in its indictment of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan personally and of British foreign policy generally at the end of the war. “In the second week of May 1945,” Count Tolstoy summed up recently in an appeal for his Forced Repatriation Defense Fund, “British military authorities in Austria accepted the surrender of tens of thousands of Cossacks, White Russians, Slovenes, Croats, Montenegrins, and Serbs. They comprised prisoners of war and political refugees, and were accompanied by large numbers of women and children. At the end of the month and the beginning of June the majority were handed over to Stalin and Tito, the operations being effected by a combination of brutal force and treacherous deception. Many were massacred at the point of handover within sight or sound of their British escorts. The overwhelming majority of the remainder either died a lingering death in Soviet forced labour camps, or were slaughtered in circumstances of appalling brutality. . . . No one has accepted responsibility, no one has suffered retribution, displayed repentance, or attempted recompense. It is too late for punishment, which is in any case precluded by legal considerations. . . . Nevertheless, the fact that this dreadful crime remains unrecognized, and the memory of its victims officially consigned to oblivion, is an insult to the dead and a wounding affront to survivors, relatives, and compatriots of those who suffered.”
In the spring of 1986, Count Tolstoy’s crusade in behalf of the victims of peace suffered a setback as the British Broadcasting Corporation abruptly canceled a planned series of broadcasts on the controversy precipitated by The Minister and the Massacres. In August, Count Tolstoy’s interview with a student magazine caused it to be closed down. According to The Times, on November 12, 1986, Norman Tebbit, the Conservative Party chairman, decided
to sever the party’s links with the right-wing 14,000-strong Federation of Conservative Students because of its politically embarrassing behaviour. It will lose its annual £30,000 grant and be banished from offices at Conservative Central Office. . . . A new body known as the Conservative Collegiate Forum will be set up to enable students and academics to have a voice in party circles. Unlike the FCS, membership will be vetted to keep out those whose views are not considered part of the Tory tradition. . . . Mr. Tebbit’s crackdown was prompted by the storm over the last issue of New Agenda in which Mr. Harry Phibbs, its editor, published an interview with Count Nikolai Tolstoy, the historian, in which he accused Lord Stockton, the then Harold Macmillan, of being responsible for returning 40,000 Cossacks to the Soviet Union in 1945 to die at the hands of Stalin. . . . Mr. Tebbit’s tough action was signalled by his reaction to the Stockton attack in August. He interrupted his holiday to issue an apology to the former Conservative Prime Minister and to denounce the article as “disgraceful.”
But no sooner had Mr. Tebbit resumed his holiday . . . Early in 1987 The Times reported:
The spectre of the Cossacks who were murdered after being sent back to the Soviet Union by the British at the end of the second world war has returned to haunt a senior Tory figure. . . . Lord Aldington, war hero, Conservative politician and now warden of Winchester College, has been compelled by the activities of Nigel Watts, a 48-year-old property developer from Tunbridge Wells, to launch a libel action that will bring about the first court airing of the Cossacks controversy. The dispute follows the row last year over allegations against Lord Stockton, formerly Harold Macmillan, published in the Federation of Conservative Students’ magazine, New Agenda. This time, however, the row seems unlikely to fade away, as it did after Stockton’s death last December halted public debate over his alleged responsibility for the repatriation. . . . Aldington, 72, filed a writ of libel . . . after Watts had begun to circulate 10,000 copies of a four-page pamphlet among the parents, staff and old boys of Winchester College, MP’s, peers, and journalists. The pamphlet makes a number of allegations about Aldington’s involvement with Macmillan and his role in the forced repatriation of the Cossacks. At the time. Aldington, then Brigadier Toby Low, was chief of staff to General Keightley’s Fifth Corps in Austria. The allegations in the pamphlet are drawn from The Minister and the Massacres, the book by Nikolai Tolstoy that was the source of the New Agenda accusations last August.
The headmaster of Winchester, whose playing fields, like those of Eton and Harrow, bear witness to history, was unmoved. Not only did James Sabben-Clare refuse to look into the allegations against the warden, but he also hit the enemies of Tory order where it really hurt, banning a review of The Minister and the Massacres from appearing in the school magazine.
In fact, Count Tolstoy explains in his appeal, the text of Nigel Watts’s pamphlet “War Crimes and the Wardenship of Winchester College” was “written by myself,” and, when Aldington sued Watts, Tolstoy’s lawyers wrote to Aldington’s lawyers “requesting that he consent to my being made a defendant to these proceedings. Such consent not being immediately forthcoming,” a summons was issued. “As a result,” Tolstoy concludes triumphantly, “I am, with Nigel Watts, now being sued by Lord Aldington.” It is indeed a triumph. “For the first time, this major tragedy and betrayal will be subjected to public examination in a court hearing.”
While Count Tolstoy was fighting for the memory of the martyrs—as his great uncle, of War and Peace fame, once fought for the Old Believers—another installment of the same tragedy was unfolding on both sides of the Atlantic. On August 24, 1987, Reuters reported that “in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, a crowd of 500 defied warnings from the authorities and gathered in front of St. Anne’s Church in the Old City. There they sang patriotic songs and chanted ‘freedom, freedom.’ Some wore black armbands to commemorate Lithuanians who fell victim to Stalin.” Reports from Riga, the capital of Latvia, spoke of “a crowd of 2,000 gathering to protest against Soviet influence in the republic,” and a similar demonstration took place in Tallin. Simultaneously, “Long newspaper articles gave the Soviet interpretation of the 1939 [Hitler-Stalin] treaty: that it protected the interests of the Soviet Union and the Baltic states by protecting them from German occupation.”
That same day, August 24, according to The Times, “The Soviet Union officially asked Britain to extradite a 71-year-old Lithuanian, now living in Edinburgh, who they say is guilty of war crimes. . . . Earlier this year representatives from the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles came to Britain and presented a dossier of allegations against Mr. Gecas to the Home Secretary.”
Meanwhile, in the United States, on the strength of “videotaped testimony” provided by the Soviet “authorities” (KGB? All-Union Committee for an Ecologically Sound Environment? Goslitizdat? Cosbank? Inturist? Dr. Chazov? Who cares?), Karl Linnas, a 66-year-old American Citizen, has been stripped f his citizenship, pronounced guilty by judges of the U.S. Federal Circuit Court, arrested and placed in solitary confinement, and ordered to be deported to Russia—to be shot after a brief farce of a trial. His plight became known largely because the Estonian King Lear was fortunate to have three loyal Cordelias as his daughters, who sent an open letter to American journalists (which some of them—one or two—thought important enough to publish). Some 42,000 Americans are said to be potential suspects facing a similar charge. Will Soviet “videotaped testimony” replace due process of law for them as well?
But perhaps more importantly, is it not those who invaded and annexed Estonia, by destroying everyone resisting, who should be on trial as war criminals—not this American citizen who is to be shot by them on the basis of their “videotaped testimony”? And, ultimately, is there any evidence that the post-1917 regime in Russia has been more dedicated to justice and, in particular, less guilty of war crimes, than the National Socialist regime in 1933-1945? For, even if the persecution of Jews is the only measure of injustice, there is no denying that it was only Stalin’s death that delayed (although perhaps not indefinitely) a wholesale extermination of Jews on Soviet territory.
By the autumn of 1987, the Wiesenthal Centre hysteria was becoming a media epidemic. “How the SS Came to Britain,” proclaimed the title of an exhaustive Spectrum series of articles in The Times, prompted by the controversy around the case of Mr. Gecas. Here is a sample paragraph, conceived and written without, apparently, even a twinge of irony:
“Operation Keelhaul” [devised by General Keightley and his Fifth Corps] “to implement the Yalta Agreement and repatriate Soviet citizens to Russia, among them 50,000 Cossacks” was launched by the British and the Americans to satisfy the Russians’ demands; its failure [relatively speaking] was due to deliberate sabotage [!] by a British officer, Major Denis Hills, who was unsympathetic [!] to the notion of repatriation. British policy, however, was clear: if any of the Ukranians were Russians, they would be returned [my italics].
Poor Major Hills! Unsympathetic to the notion of murder! He must have been a Ukrainian, not a Russian like Mr. Gecas or Mr. Linnas . . .
But back to Count Tolstoy. On January 25 of this year, the London Standard reported:
The wise and kindly Nigel Nicholson, who’s just turned 71, is not a man to enter lightly into a fray. But he heads a list of some striking grandees who’ll be supporting Nigel Watts and Count Nikolai Tolstoy in the libel courts before long. . . . Nicholson . . . provided Tolstoy with important military documents on which the author. partly based his attack on Aldington in the book. He says that if necessary he’ll supply further documents, kept secret since his time as an Army Intelligence Officer in central Europe immediately after the war. He denies that he is courageous to join the attack on the nation’s war heroes at such a late hour. “I wouldn’t claim courage,” he says. “I was a witness to it and it’s my duty to give evidence,” he says.
At the end of January, students at Cambridge were looking forward to a Cambridge Union debate: “This House sees Glasnost as a step towards fundamental reform in the Soviet Union,” with Count Tolstoy, Lord Bethell, and Vladimir Bukovsky scheduled to speak in opposition. I was looking forward to having lunch with Nikolai Dmitrievich, to hear the latest news of the lawsuit.
On January 22, the Union Society President, Stephen Greehalgh, wrote to Count Tolstoy:
I have extremely disappointing news about the forthcoming debate on Glasnost.
The disappointing news was that Lord Bethell had refused to speak in the same debate with the litigious Count Tolstoy, who explained to me that the only conceivable reason
for Lord Bethell’s otherwise inexplicable behaviour is that he is very frightened indeed that Lord Aldington may choose to sue him as well, in connexion with the forthcoming libel case in which I am engaged. This seems to me not only less than courageous, but also a wholly mistaken view. Since Lord Aldington was compelled against his will to sue me, it is scarcely likely that he will go out of his way to undertake actions against others. . . . That is Lord Bethell’s affair, however, and does not concern me. What does is the extreme bad manners of the Union President, who chose to withdraw the invitation extended to me. . . . It all seems a far cry from the days when my father was President of the Union in 1935, which was also the year of my birth.
And a far cry it was. The debate, on February 12, took place in what the Soviets call a “friendly, constructive atmosphere,” in keeping with the spirit of glasnost.