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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Vancouver the first stop on tour revealing Allied massacre of Ukrainians at end of WWII

Two European historians are visiting western Canada May 5-15 to reveal the virtually unknown story of a 20th century massacre in Austria by British forces at the end of WWII in what is known as "Operation Keelhaul."

It's a story of betrayal and brutality, known in the region as "The Tragedy on the
Drau." The victims were mostly Ukrainian Kuban cossacks and their families who had escaped soviet communist tyranny during WWII and were led to believe that the British were giving them sanctuary along the banks of the river Drau. Even when forced at gunpoint and bayonet-point to return to the soviet union, they resisted. Some Cossacks and their family members were killed by British troops while praying enmass, or trying to escape into the woods. Many preferred death by drowning rather than torture and/or starvation and threw themselves into the rushing river. A few managed to escape through the woods. Little is known of the fate of those the British did manage to send back into the arms of Uncle Joe.

The two men are in Canada to raise awareness of this tragedy, and funds for an interpretive memorial at the site. They launched their tour last night here in Vancouver.

The evening began with a slide presentation by Dr. Harold Stadler: "The Fate of the Cossacks in Lienz During the 20th Century." Dr Stadler is Professor of Archaeology at the Leopold Franzens-University, Innsbruck, Austria. He gave a gripping overview of the leadup to the massacre and the public perception in East Tyrol Ukrainian cossacks. He told us that the vast majority of Austrians and Germans don't know the difference between Ukrainians and Russians and that he feels it is important that they do. As an archaeologist and historian with "a slavic soul" he is working on "The Bridge of Remembrance," the name of the memorial at the site of the massacre.
As well, author Anthony Schlega (writing as Anton Shleha) of Lenggries, Germany, launched his book,Surviving Lienz, an eye-witness account by a survivor of Operation Keelhaul. He gave an emotional and very touching account of why he wrote this book, which is the story of his father's close friend. His own father died when the Anton was only 21, shortly after he had begun to understand the underlying causes of their troubled relationship and its link to this massacre, the war, and the strain of fighting fascists (literally) left and right.

Last night's presentation and book launch was held at the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox auditorium, 154 E 10th Ave in Vancouver. Their next stop is Winnipeg (May 10) followed by Saskatoon (May 11) and Edmonton (May 15).
If you are in or near one of these cities, I highly recommend taking in this presentation. The schedule, times, and location are below and in their media kit which you can view or download here.
Please support this project by attending the presentation and making a donation for their memorial. More information about the memorial and the work these two wonderful men are doing can be found at their website here.

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