In “That Special Relationship” (Vital Signs, February), Christopher Sandford compares British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s attitudes toward communism with those of President John F. Kennedy. I hope that Mr. Sandford’s upcoming book on the subject will provide some crucial historical context by discussing Macmillan’s role in the forced repatriation of Slovenian freedom fighters (Domobranci) to communist Yugoslavia. The Slovenes were assured that they were being sent to Italy to rearm so they could fight the communists in their civil war. Instead, through Macmillan’s willful deception, the 11,000 Slovenian fighters were sent to their deaths and buried in a mass grave. My father was nearly among them, but fortunately his father cautioned him to be patient and not to get on the first train. That was enough time for the Slovenians who stayed behind to receive warning from three stragglers who had avoided a fatal bullet, survived the initial fall into the mass of dead or dying bodies, endured the dynamiting of the pit, and then crawled out and made their way past the communists to warn their comrades what awaited them if they got on the trains the British told them were going to Italy. John Corsellis’s Slovenia 1945 provides an excellent summary, as does The Minister and the Massacres by Nikolai Tolstoy.
Mr. Sandford Replies:
The very grave matter to which Mr. Ferkul refers commands a wide literature, and has been the cause of a number of high-profile lawsuits. Harold Macmillan always maintained that such decisions as the forced repatriation of the Slovenian freedom fighters, and others, were forced upon him by the mandates of the Yalta Conference. Mr. Ferkul does not mention it, but it’s especially poignant that several of the pitifully few survivors of the affair should ultimately make a plea for financial assistance to a British government that was by then led by Harold Macmillan. Their appeal was refused. We can debate further whether, taken as a whole, this constitutes an appalling double blemish on Macmillan’s record. However, it would not seem directly to bear on the record of the Atlantic “special relationship” from 1961-63, which was the subject of my story. I state again my profound respect for Mr. Ferkul’s family members, and for all those who suffered the terrible consequences he describes.
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