The Minister and the Massacres

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The Minister and the Massacres is a 1986 book written by Nikolai Tolstoy that described the 1945 Bleiburg repatriations as well as the Cossack repatriations. The book's criticism of the British repatriation of collaborationist troops to Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslav government was in turn the target of strong criticism. It continued on the topic Tolstoy started with Victims of Yalta (1977) and Stalin's Secret War (1981), and led to a 1989 lawsuit in which Tolstoy was found guilty of libel.


In the book, Tolstoy accused Harold Macmillan, "minister resident" in the Mediterranean then and later prime minister, of persuading the British General Alexander to ignore a telegram of the Foreign Office that would have excluded individuals who were not Soviet citizens by British law from "repatriation"; application of this directive would have separated Cossacks into emigres and those from the Soviet Union, the former, of course, not subject to repatriation. Another person of interest was Toby Low, 1st Baron Aldington, whom Tolstoy claimed gave a key order on 21 May 1945 that sealed the fate of Cossacks, including the emigres.[citation needed]

In referencing the documents of that time, Tolstoy quoted a General Alexander telegram, sent to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, where Alexander mentioned "25,000 German and Croat units". Further, in a second telegram sent to Combined Chiefs of Staff, Alexander asked for guidelines regarding the final disposition of “50,000 Cossacks including 11.000 women, children and old men; present estimate of total 35,000 Chetniks – 11,000 of them already evacuated to Italy – and 25,000 German and Croat units.” In each of above cases “return them to their country of origin immediately might be fatal to their health.”[1]

Further, Tolstoy "reconstructed what happened when, on May 31, the commandant of the military camp at Viktring, 'Lieutenant Ames', reported that he had received orders for 2,700 of the civilian refugees in Major Barre's camp to be taken to Rosenbach and Bleiburg the following day, to be handed over to Tito's partisans."[2]


Alistair Horne wrote:

Trying to weave a way through the tangled cobweb of truths, half-truths, and downright inaccuracies woven by Tolstoy proved to be one of the longest and most arduous tasks I have ever undertaken as a writer.
[...] his writing came increasingly to reveal a fanatical obsessiveness that was more Slav than Anglo-Saxon. Appalled by the injustice inflicted upon his fellow White Russians, and dedicated to the cause of seeing that it should be requited on a public platform, Tolstoy progressively persuaded himself that the repatriations had flowed from an evil conspiracy.
[...] in it [The Minister and the Massacres] Tolstoy jeopardized what claim he had to be a serious and objective historian by his tendency to shape the facts around conclusions he had already formed.[3]

Stevan K. Pavlowitch wrote:[4]

The story, as told by Nikolai Tolstoy in his most controversial book, The Minister and the Massacres (London: Century Hutchinson, 1986; p. 442. £12.95), is apocalyptic, at the level of the massacres, and shady, at the level of British officialdom. It is a tale that should be told and clarified. The trouble is that the author identifies so strongly with the victims that he is obsessed with the need to find and name the individuals who, on the British side, were ultimately responsible for their fate. [...] Tolstoy's book is history seen from the point of view of the victims, and as the survivors now wish it to be remembered. [...] Tolstoy does not believe that there was a generally accepted 'deal' with Tito, for which he can find no explicit evidence, and he prefers to believe in a 'conspiracy', for which he can find no motive.

Christopher Booker, who had initially supported Tolstoy,[5] later altered his position when he wrote about it in his lengthy analysis of the Bleiburg controversy in A Looking Glass Tragedy. The Controversy over the Repatriations from Austria in 1945.[2]

He wrote that many "massacres" described in lurid detail never took place. He puts the case that Tolstoy distorts the story contrary to the facts, and that there are no traces in the archives of any massacre ever committed in or around Bleiburg or its surroundings (there being only nine documents in the British Army archives related to Bleiburg in May 1945). He notes Tolstoy's reliance on three eyewitnesses who were describing events 40 years before and who were very partial.[6] Almost simultaneously, author Ian Mitchell wrote in "The Cost of a Reputation" (about the ensuing libel case) that the archives had been weeded of most of the incriminating documents,[7] but criticised Tolstoy for ending his book with an unsubstantiated smear that Macmillan was an ally of the NKVD.[5]

Laurence Rees wrote, in response to Booker, that historians should treat every source they use sceptically, and that applies to written sources as much as eye-witness accounts.[8]

Nigel Nicolson, a British officer with 3 Battalion, Welsh Guards, who took part in the infamous forced repatriations from Austria in the summer of 1945, said to me that he had deliberately falsified the historical record at the time, writing that the Yugoslavian deportees had been offered ‘light refreshments’ by their Tito Communist guards. He’d done this because he had been ordered not to tell the truth in his military report – that the deportees were being appallingly treated – and so had written something that he thought was so ludicrous – how could the deportees be given ‘light refreshments? – that future historians would know he was being ironic. But, before Mr Nicolson admitted what he’d done, some historians had taken his written report at face value and used it to try and ‘prove’ that the surviving deportees who now spoke of how badly they had been treated were lying. If Nigel Nicolson hadn’t told the truth years later than that inaccurate report would still be in the written archives and the suffering of the deportees still disputed. So my advice is to be as careful of the accuracy of written archives as you are careful of the accuracy of people.[9]

Libel case[edit]

Tolstoy had been in contact with a property developer, Nigel Watts, who had a dispute with Lord Aldington over an unpaid insurance claim (Aldington was chairman of Sun Alliance). In his dispute with Aldington, Watts sought to attack his character by drawing together the accusations made in The Minister and the Massacres. Tolstoy wrote a 2,000 word text for him, and Watts then published a pamphlet called "War Crimes and the Wardenship of Winchester College", which he distributed to anyone he thought might have heard of Aldington.[10]

In 1989, Lord Aldington, a former post-war Chairman of the Conservative Party, and subsequently Chairman of Sun Alliance, commenced a libel action.[11] Although Tolstoy was not the initial target of the action, he felt honour-bound to join Watts as defendant. Aldington also sued Century Hutchinson as publishers of The Minister and the Massacres; in June 1989, before the pamphlet case came to trial, Century Hutchinson accepted the accusations in the book were untrue, paid £30,000 damages[12] and agreed not to republish the book.[13]

Watts withdrew and settled. Tolstoy continued, lost, and was ordered to pay £2 million (£1.5 million in damages and £0.5 million in costs). Tolstoy avoided making payment by declaring himself bankrupt, 'while continuing to live in his big house, and send his children to expensive schools.'[14] Documents subsequently obtained from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) by Tolstoy's backers[14] suggested [clarification needed] that under Government instructions files that could have had a bearing on the defence case might have been withdrawn from the Public Record Office and retained by the MoD and Foreign Office throughout the run-up to the trial and the trial itself.[15] Tolstoy sought to appeal on the basis of new evidence which he claimed proved Aldington had perjured himself over the date of his departure from Austria in May 1945. This was ruled inadmissible at a hearing in the High Courts of Justice, from which the press and public were barred, and his application for an appeal was rejected.[16]

In July 1995, the European Court of Human Rights concluded unanimously that the British Government had violated Tolstoy's rights in respect of Article 10 of the Convention on Human Rights, although this referred strictly to the amount of the damages awarded against him and did not overturn the guilty verdict of his libel action. The Times commented in a leading article:

In its judgment yesterday in the case of Count Nikolai Tolstoy, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Britain in important respects, finding that the award of £1.5 million levelled against the Count by a jury in 1989 amounted to a violation of his freedom of expression. Parliament will find the implications of this decision difficult to ignore.

Tolstoy refused to pay anything in libel damages to Lord Aldington while the latter was alive. On 9 December 2000, two days after Aldington's death, Tolstoy paid £57,000 to Aldington's estate.[17]

In Lord Aldington's obituary, Andrew Roth indicated that Tolstoy's criticism of Aldington was misdirected and should have targeted Macmillan and Winston Churchill.[18]


  1. ^ Tolstoy, 1986, pp. 124-125
  2. ^ a b Booker, 1997, p. 85
  3. ^ Horne, Alistair (5 February 1990). "The unquiet graves of Yalta.". National Review. 42: 27. ISSN 0028-0038. 
  4. ^ Pavlowitch, Stevan K. (January 1989). "The Minister and the Massacres review". The English Historical Review. 104 (410): 274–276. doi:10.1093/ehr/civ.ccccx.274. 
  5. ^ a b Ian Mitchell, "The Cost of a Reputation", Topical Books, 1997, pp. 145-146
  6. ^ Booker, 1997, Chapter 12. 2. "Bleiburg: The Massacre That Never Was", p. 188.
  7. ^ Ian Mitchell, "The Cost of a Reputation", Topical Books, 1997, p. 77-78. Many of the documents had survived in other archives, including those of the United States, or the Foreign Office.
  8. ^ Musgrove (ed.) 2009, p. 70
  9. ^ Rees, Laurence (2007). Their Darkest Hour: People Tested to the Extreme in WWII. London, UK: Ebury Press. ISBN 978-0-09-191757-9. 
  10. ^ Ian Mitchell, "The Cost of a Reputation", Topical Books, 1997, pp. 151-52.
  11. ^ Guttenplan, David (2002). The Holocaust on Trial: History, Justice and the David Irving Libel Case. London: Granta. pp. 269–271. ISBN 1-86207-486-0. 
  12. ^ "£30,000 for Aldington libel", The Times, 20 December 1989, p. 5.
  13. ^ "Aldington gets £30,000 over Tolstoy book", The Guardian, 20 December 1989, p. 4.
  14. ^ a b "Lord Aldington". The Guardian. London, UK. 9 December 2000. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  15. ^ The Sunday Times, 7 April 1996.
  16. ^ The Guardian, 28 May 1992, p. 19, and 8 June 1992, p. 4
  17. ^ Alleyne, Richard (9 December 2000). "Tolstoy pays £57,000 to Aldington's estate". The Telegraph. 
  18. ^ Andrew Roth (12 September 2000). "Lord Aldington". Guardian. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 


  • Tolstoy, Nikolai (1986). The Minister and the Massacres. Hutchinson. ISBN 978-0-09-164010-1. 
  • Booker, Christopher (1997). A Looking-Glass Tragedy. The Controversy Over The Repatriations From Austria In 1945. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd. 
  • Musgrove, D., ed. (2009). BBC History Magazine, Falsified Yugoslav Handover to Tito. Bristol: BBC Worldwide Publications. ISBN 978-0-9562036-2-5.