June 26, 2016
Jackson, NJ: Clergy & Faithful Remember Victims of Lienz Massacre

On 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.

On 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 following words:

In 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 Davis’ arrival.

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 mercy!”

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