In Operation Keelhaul: The Story of Forced Repatriation from 1944 to the Present published in 1973, author Julius Epstein documents, in great detail, “Operation Keelhaul,”* the code name applied by the U.S. Army to the involuntary, forced repatriation of upwards of five million anti-communist defectors and refugees of Russian origin to Stalinist Russia from areas in the European theater of World War II under U.S Army and British Army control.
These defectors and refugees, including expatriated “White Russians” who had emigrated from Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution, Russian Red Army POWs, civilians captured by the Nazis, and members of General Andrei Vlasov’s Russian Liberation Army who fought on the side of Germany against the Russian Red Army, had fled from Stalin’s tyranny. In fact, many of the defectors and refugees had surrendered to American and British forces based on the promise of asylum in the West. Indeed, millions of American leaflets had been dropped from Allied airplanes promising these individuals that they would not be sent back to Russia against their will if they surrendered to American or British forces.
However, from 1944 to 1947, in violation of our promises of asylum as well as international law, the American and British Armies, under written orders from General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, rounded them up and turned them over to the Russians against their will, sometimes using guns, clubs, and bayonets to do so. Knowing that they faced certain death, torture, or slave labor camps if returned to Russia, tens of thousands committed suicide. The Russians considered them as traitors and persecuted them. Most were condemned to lengthy terms in Siberian slave labor camps and many were indeed executed.
The author also documents similar atrocities occurring after 1947, specifically by Austria and Italy, in the forced repatriation of anti-communist refugees to Yugoslavia and other Iron Curtain countries without so much as a protest by the United States.
Although much about World War II and the subsequent Cold War as been documented in articles, books, movies, etc., this is my first exposure to the horrors committed by the United States and Great Britain with respect to the forced repatriation of individuals seeking asylum in the West from the evils of communism. These events do not cast favorable light upon General (and later President) Dwight D. Eisenhower, nor upon the Roosevelt and Truman administrations during which time these events took place. This is certainly a dark chapter in the history of the United States.
Operation Keelhaul: The Story of Forced Repatriation from 1944 to the Present is written in a very detailed manner and is most suited to a serious student of history rather than the casual reader.
* The word “keelhaul” refers to the cruelest torture used in 18th century navies. It meant throwing a man overboard and hauling him by ropes under the bottom of the ship. Few survived the punishment.