June 26, 2016
Jackson, NJ: Clergy & Faithful Remember Victims of Lienz Massacre
June 5, the Sixth Sunday of Pascha, of the Blind Man, the faithful
gathered at St. Vladimir’s Cemetery in Jackson, NJ for a panihida at
St. John the Baptist Chapel to commemorate the victims of Lienz.
Eastern American Diocesan secretary Archpriest Serge Lukianov
(chaplain of the Kuban Cossack Voisko Abroad), celebrated the Divine
Liturgy, co-served by Protodeacon Leonid Roschko (cleric of St.
Alexander Nevsky Diocesan Cathedral in Howell, NJ). Praying at the
Liturgy was cathedral cleric Archpriest Boris Slootsky.
June 1, 1945, at the conclusion of the Second World War, over 20,000
Cossacks were rounded up by the British Army near the town of Lienz,
Austria, and handed over for deportation to the Soviet Union. This
action was in accordance with agreements at the Yalta and Tehran
Conferences of the Allied Powers, which determined that all Soviet
refuges and prisoners of war be repatriated if found within other
Allied-controlled zones. As many of the Cossacks at Lienz were White
émigrés and their children, they refused repatriation on account of
the fact that they had never been Soviet citizens. This led to an
organized forcible removal, which began while the Cossacks had
gathered to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in an open field. The
resulting operation left hundreds of Cossack men, women, and
children dead, while hundreds more were sent to certain death in the
Soviet camps. By tradition, the Kuban Cossack Voisko Abroad
commemorates the victims of this tragedy every year on the nearest
Sunday to June 1, and St. John the Baptist Chapel – built in honor
of the Holy Passion-Bearer Tsarevich Alexis, Most August Ataman of
All Cossack Hosts – likewise commemorates those fallen at Lienz.
Upon completion of the Liturgy, a panihida was served for the
murdered Cossacks. Fr. Serge then addressed the faithful with the
the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!
In the history of 20th century Russian Cossackdom,
there is a day which enters a tragic page into the history of this
people: a people that has, throughout the many centuries, guarded
the Russian frontiers from infringement upon the integrity of the
Russian state. June 1, 1945 is such a day.
The Second World
War was ending. Together with the retreating German troops went the
Cossacks also, who had taken part in the Second World War on the
side of Germany. For many of the Cossacks, this war was a
continuation of the Civil War in Russia, a battle for the right to
live freely. But none of them knew that their fate had already been
sealed by the Allied commanders. According to the agreement at the
Yalta Conference, the Anglo-American Allies promised to extradite
all displaced persons, formerly citizens of the Soviet Union as of
1939, to the USSR after the end of the War. And the primary events
of the violent betrayal of the Cossacks developed in the Austrian
town of Lienz.
During the night of March 31 to June 1, 1945, the Cossack camp in
Peggetz, outside Lienz, was surrounded by English tanks and lorried
infantry. The camp commandant, Major Davis, was scheduled to arrive
in camp at 7 AM and begin the population transfer. Learning of this,
the Don Cossack chaplain Fr Vasily Grigoriev, bade all Cossacks to
gather by stanitsa (unit) for a service in the castral field before
The service under the open sky began early in the morning. Upon the
platform built in the center of the camp stood priests with
gonfalons and icons, and around them gathered over 15 thousand
people, among whom where a great number of women and children. In
answer to the call to begin loading into the arrived trucks, the
Cossacks answered in refusal, stating that it was better to die by
bullet than be surrendered unto the USSR!
The English tanks and armored vehicles moved in upon the prayerful.
The Cossacks were shot point-blank by machine guns, automatics, and
rifles. The Cossacks believed that some sort of madness had
overtaken the English soldiers. Swinging batons and gun-butts
reigned down haphazardly: upon men and women, the young and old. The
priest and his concelebrants were felled, the icons stomped into the
ground. An aged Cossack who was holding an icon during the service
was beaten so badly that blood ran down his face, arms, shirt, and
along the icon itself.
The soldiers yanked people from the crowd and threw them into the
trucks. In those Paschal days, cries were heard from all sides of
the throng: “Get behind me, Satan! Christ is Risen! Lord, have
The Cossacks and priests who remained alive were able in some places
to break through the line of English soldiers and race to the bridge
over the Drava River. Meanwhile, upon the opposite bank of the
river, the English began to fire their machine guns upon unarmed
people running toward the bridge. In desperation, they began to swim
across the turbulent river, but success came to only a few hundred
of the Cossacks, who attempted to flee into the mountains.
Similar events happened in the region of the city of Klagenfurt, 70
km from Lienz. Transferring Cossacks to Soviet authorities on the
bridge in the town of Judenburg, the English confiscated their
personal effects. They knew perfectly well what sort of fate awaited
the Cossacks in the USSR.
The extradition lasted over a month. The English conducted brutal
raids into the neighboring forests and population centers,
attempting to capture those who were able to escape into the
mountains. The massive violent extraction of Cossacks happened not
only in all of Austria, but in Germany, Italy, France, and
Czechoslovakia as well.
In all, by varying accounts, the English occupying forces handed
over between 45-60 thousand Cossack soldiers and refugees to the
Soviets. Many preferred death to captivity, debasement, and mockery.
Just in the cemetery in Lienz, in 18 mass graves, approximately 700
fatalities are buried; another approximately 600 human bodies,
plunged into the river and having drowned (this being principally
women and children), are buried in various places down-current of
the Drava River.
Many of the Cossacks were shot immediately after their arrival in
the homeland. Women, children, and the elderly were sent to the
Stalinist Gulag. To survive and live until the death of Stalin among
those tens of thousands was a rarity…
The tragedy in Lienz firstly showed that Cossackdom is not a
political organization. It, in first order, is one family. The way
of life, based upon the Orthodox Faith, love of the homeland, and is
characteristically for Cossackdom a sense of dignity. Throughout
time, Cossacks above all else valued duty and honor, manliness and
valor, a readiness to give one’s life for the Fatherland and “for
his friends.” It was the Cossacks who for many years were the
backbone of the state, a force that could be brought to bear upon
enemies, such that their enmity would cease.
Dear brothers and sisters! Let us pray for the repose and honor the
memory of the Cossacks and our countrymen, ending their earthly
journey with the cross of suffering near the Austrian city of Lienz,
and today, as we on earth, celebrating the Feast of Feasts and
Triumph of All Triumphs.
In the following bright paschal days, today’s solemn observance
notwithstanding, I call upon all of you gathered here to live this
Paschal joy. In the Holy Scriptures, the word “rejoice” is found 365
time – once for each day. Each day for us is a feast, that is, free
time, open for us to socialize and rejoice together one with
another. Let us use the opportunity.
May the Lord keep and bless you.
Afterwards, a memorial luncheon was then held at the Kuban Cossack
Hall in Howell, at which time guests were also invited to visit the
conjoining Cossack Museum.
Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese