Surviving Lienz

Book Launch - Canada 2009

'The Fate of the Cossacks in Lienz during the 20th Century'

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05 May 2009, Vancouver, Canada, Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Centre.
10 May 2009, Winnipeg, Canada, St. Andrews College, Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral.
11 May 2009, Mohyla Institute, Saskatoon, Canada. 
15 May 2009, Cossack Centre, St. Elias Ukrainian Orthodox Centre, Edmonton, Canada. 

Gruess Gott, Dobrei Vechir, and thank you all for coming.
I’d like to welcome all of you to our presentation, Fate of the Cossacks in the 20th Century, and introduce you to my book Surviving Lienz, the story of a man who survived a brutal act of forced deportation by the British, in Lienz, Austria, after World War II.
 

My name is Anthony Schlega, or as my Ukrainian name appears on my book, Anton Schleha. I live in the village of Lenggries, located about forty miles south of Munich, Germany, in the Bavarian Alps, bordering Austria.
I was born in October 1959 in Lancashire, England. My mother was English, and my Father, Semen Schlega, was born 1918, in Yekaterinaslav, now called Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine.

It wasn’t easy growing up in England with a father who spoke little English and, with a name like Schlega, attending an English school was difficult sometimes. Many of you here probably felt the same discrimination. Children especially can be hurtful.
My father arrived in England, from a DP (Displaced Person) Camp in Austria in 1954. He was part of a colony going to work in a steelworks in Stockport, near Manchester.

He was a man aged 36, full of spirit and charm, and after years of hunger, war and refugee camps, at last he was given the opportunity to work and earn his own living. I can only imagine, after all that he had lived through, that he felt, probably for the first time in his life, freedom.
Although he and his fellow DP workers had to report every week to the local police station, I believe he started to enjoy life again. Maybe a little too much. He became known as “one for the women.” Too much spirit maybe. And if there wasn’t enough spirit to go around, then he would make his own, out of honey and dried figs.
In England, after the war, there was as a shortage of men, and along came all these good-looking Ukrainians (loaded with spirit), and with my father’s charm, well, my mother fell for him. She stayed with him for about three years.
Unfortunately, my father suffered from paranoia, so it wasn’t long before he drove my mother out of the house. His fear of someone trying to find him made him move house quite often. Five times in fact, and with every move, for me it was a new school.
As a child, I didn’t understand what was going on in my father’s mind. I now know his fear was of SMERSH, the Russian counterintelligence group. They wanted their so-called “Soviet” people back.

All things being said, however, my father raised me as best he could; unfortunately I also grew up a little wild, and at the age of eleven, Child Welfare took me into their custody until I was almost seventeen.
Finally, when my Father and I at last managed to get know each other, and I was old enough to understand what troubles he had gone through, he died from a heart attack.
So, for me, my father’s past is a mystery, a mystery I have set out trying to solve by following his trail backwards in time, to the DP Camps, where the few documents he kept give us the locations and dates where he was registered.
    

His documents have led me on a fascinating journey, meeting, talking and writing to people of historical expertise, people like Archaeologist Dr Harald Stadler, whom I met in Lienz at a commemoration ceremony, at the place where the British Army forcibly deported the Cossacks and all the people who had joined their encampment searching for a safe haven.
This incident has become known as the ‘Tragedy of the Drau’ and is part of Professor Stadler’s fascinating historical lecture of the ‘Fate of the Cossacks in the 20th Century.’

And on this journey, I have met people like the Very Reverend George Podtepa, of St Elias Orthodox Church in Edmonton. Our fathers fought together in WW II, and both of his parents, Markar and Halina, were very close to my father during their stay in the DP camps.

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Just recently, my research took me back to England, where I met the Very Reverend Bohdan Matwijczuk of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Great Britain in Rochdale. These are two distinguished and dedicated men I have come to respect a great deal.
I was baptised Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox, and I went looking for my religion. The Prodigal Child has returned.

Also in England, I met the retired Father Michael Diacenko, who knew my Father before I was born. He told me about Spittal, the next largest city to Lienz down the Drau Valley, heading toward the cities of Villach, and Klagenfurth.

He explained to me the locations of the 1st Ukrainian Division and of the Kuban Cossacks, known as ‘Old Yugoslavia’ under General Andrei Grigoriyevich Shkuro, who commanded the area where I believe my father was.
I visited some Ukrainian descendants of my own age group, and went reminiscing to see what information I could find that might help me in my research.
I visited a lady called Anna. She told me we used to live in the same street when I was young. She is a little older, and her memory of my childhood is more vivid. As we swapped memories, she told me of the DP camps her parents were forced to live in, in Austria.

The people in the camps were slave labourers, known in German as ‘Ostarbeiters.’ They worked in the factories of Linz, Austria, not to be mistaken with Lienz. They are two very different cities.

Anna told me that her parents had witnessed acts of deportation; they watched their friends being shipped away by train, taken to the Soviets at Judenburg, and they feared for their own lives. When we discussed these acts of deportation she said that her father had told her, “It all depended on which train you got on.”
What a profound statement that is.
“It all depended on which train you got on.”
They were playing Russian roulette with trains.
I asked Anna what her parents thought of Winston Churchill, and she answered: “They thought he was a war criminal. That is why they refused to get British Citizenship.”
A few days later I met another two eyewitnesses Lena, and Maria, who were also slave labourers working in the Linz area. Lena worked and lived in a hospital as a nurse, and Maria went to work on a farm. Both ladies swooned over their time in Linz. I asked Maria why didn’t she stay there, if she liked it so much.
Her answer was a proud, determined one, ‘I go were my people go.’
And Lena - why didn’t shestay there? “Well,” she said, “I couldn’t leave Maria alone by herself.”
Then I asked them, “What do they think of Winston Churchill?” They had nothing but praise for Winston. “He saved our lives,” they said.

However, the story in my book, Surviving Lienz is not about these contrasting stories points of view, and it is not about me, or even my father. It is about one of the many interesting side stories I am finding on my journey back in time, on my journey to Dnipropetrovsk, and the birthplace of my father, Semen Schlega.
Surviving Lienz is not a tale out for revenge, nor is it meant to be a catalyst for any radicals. Surviving Lienz is the story of a man who did all he could to keep his family together, and prevent them from falling into Soviet hands. It is the story of my father’s friend, Ivan, and his journey. It is an eyewitness report that parallels not only my father’s life in places, but that of many others like them, and possibly even some of you sitting here.

My father first met Ivan in 1945, in a Displaced Persons Camp in Kapfenberg, Austria. About 200 miles east of Lienz, and 45 miles from Judenberg were the Cossacks and other exiles opposed to Stalin and his regime. They were handed over to the Soviet authorities by the British Army.
Let me now read to you my introduction to Surviving Lienz.

 

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With Stalin’s Order 227, a crippling chain of destruction was sent through Europe that was to change the lives of millions of people for many generations to come. Genocide of the peoples of Eastern Europe during World War II was now imposed by the Soviet Union, and the western governments were forced to accept this. These same governments had ignored the Holodomor, the Soviet-imposed Ukrainian famine of 1932-33, where seven to ten million died of starvation, and now, acting under a shield of valour, were turning a blind eye to the acts of their barbaric ally, Josef Stalin.
Wearing a calculated cloak of nonchalance at the conference in Yalta, “Uncle Joe” (Stalin’s nickname) gave the impression that he wanted to have his people back to help rebuild his country, which of course his brother knights willingly agreed to.
After all, this solved their problem of what to do with the huge number of Soviet prisoners and refugees in Europe. The code name for this act of deportation was Operation Keelhaul. What they didn’t realize was that, in complying with Uncle Joe’s wishes, they had created another cause that inevitably prolonged the war.
Human beings who were waiting for the end of war, waiting for peace, wanting only to return home and pick up their lives again, exiled citizens of both sexes, decided to die fighting the Soviet Union rather than return to Uncle Joe's Gulags.
Forging this bond of resistance was their pain: their wives, their children, their men, their brothers, their sisters, and their kin had been tortured, raped, pillaged and murdered by the Soviets.

 
What Allied soldiers had died for fighting against the Nazis was being repeated right under the noses of Churchill and Eisenhower by their Soviet ally.
Men and women were used as slaves, the young women were used in the Communist breeding kennels, the elderly were discarded or shot.
Their only hope was to be captured by the Americans or the British. However, their hope was to be brutally destroyed by a devastating betrayal. Thousands of victims were turned over to the Soviets after being promised refuge by the British if they would peacefully surrender, which a battle-weary Cossack Army gladly accepted. This episode in history turned into a nightmare which was forgotten in the archives of time, only to be awakened by the memories of a few living survivors who have tried, but are unable to forget the horrific hardship of their earlier lives.
This story is of how Allied treachery made an impact, not only on their lives, but also the lives of their offspring for many generations.
Surviving Lienz is a true account of a survivor of the massacre, which will shed some light, and give recognition to the “Tragedy on the Drau” and the Cossacks’ last ride.
 

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