- Historic Sites
Yanks In Siberia
SENT ON A HOPELESSLY VAGUE ASSIGNMENT BY WOODROW WILSON, AMERICAN SOLDIERS FOUND THEMSELVES IN THE MIDDLE OF A FEROCIOUS SQUABBLE AMONG BOLSHEVIKS, COSSACKS, CZECHS, JAPANESE, AND OTHERS
August 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 5
With his subsidy of a hundred thousand dollars from the Japanese, Semenov ranged the Trans-Siberian in an armored train called The Destroyer . His private car was fitted out with Oriental rugs, silk bed sheets, and several mistresses. With members of his Savage Division, Semenov would steam into a settlement and order his Mongol cavalrymen to round up all the inhabitants. The male villagers were mowed down with machine guns and most of the nubile women raped. Then the train would roll on to another helpless village. His brain fevered with vodka and cocaine and flashing with apocalyptic visions, Semenov aimed to establish a new Mongol empire, carved out of Manchuria, Mongolia, and eastern Siberia. Meanwhile he presented himself as an American ally, one, as it turned out, whom the Americans would be eager to disavow when he executed sixteen hundred persons in Adrianoka one day and late in 1918 killed a Swedish physician attached to the International Red Cross.
Semenov, however, was a proper gentleman compared to two of his collaborators who had served in Semenov’s regiment on the Caucasian front against the Germans and Turks. Ivan Kalmikov, ataman of the Ussuri Cossacks, had established himself as “dictator” of Khabarovsk, which was an American garrison town. Soon after the Americans arrived, Kalmikov, who was also on the Japanese payroll, captured a United States patrol and held them on charges of not having Russian passports. They were rescued by another American detachment but not before the prisoners had been severely beaten with Cossack knouts. “The worst scoundrel I ever saw or heard of” was General Graves’s verdict. “Kalmikov murdered with his own hands, where Semenov ordered others to kill, and therein lies the difference between Kalmikov and Semenov.”
The other Semenov collaborator was a psychopathic sprig of the Baltic nobility named Alexander von Ungern-Sternberg, whom the czar had promoted to major general for his service on the Galician front. Since then the baron had declared himself the reincarnation of Genghis Khan, gathered a following of Mongol horsemen, Cossack adventurers, and Chinese deserters, and seized the Dauria province of Manchuria. A convert to Buddhism, he misconstrued his new religion and sincerely believed that when he killed all Jews he could lay hands on and all people suffering from disease or who were disabled or elderly, he was doing them a favor.
General Graves was so outraged at being forced to witness the depredations of Semenov, Kalmikov, and Ungern-Sternberg that he could only angrily disavow them as collaborators or comrades in arms. The world, he wrote, believed the Siberian massacres were conducted by Bolshevik partisans, but “the anti-Bolsheviks killed one hundred people in eastern Siberia to every one killed by the Bolsheviks.”
It was all the more galling that an anti-Bolshevik campaign was being mounted in the United States, and many of his countrymen were urging that he join the White partisans. Wilson’s Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer, was imprisoning or deporting thousands suspected of carrying the Communist virus, and many American newspapers, besides supporting those measures, reprinted the statement of Kolchak’s liaison officer in Vladivostok that “the United States soldiers are infected with Bolshevism … most of them are Jews from the East Side of New York City. …” This was, to say the least, a gross exaggeration.
Graves, far from being influenced by the journalistic tom-toms, protested against two incidents that seemed to epitomize the unselective attitude of his government. A representative of the newly organized Siberian cooperatives, which were nonpolitical attempts to revive the Siberian economy, was sent to the United States with his blessing. The Siberian was refused entry by United States immigration authorities, who labelled him a Bolshevik. A few weeks later one of Semenov’s lieutenants made the same journey, without Graves’s blessing, and was warmly received in Washington.”… One can only assume,” Graves wrote, “that character was ignored and political classification alone considered, in determining whether a Russian should be permitted to enter the United States.”
As early as November, 1918, the War Department was urging withdrawal of the S.E.F. , but President Wilson was preoccupied by the coming peace conference and felt he could not take unilateral action without endangering his plans for the League of Nations; meanwhile dominant elements in the State Department were urging that the S.E.F. support Admiral Kolchak in his expected march on Moscow.
Graves and his troops were increasingly revolted by the activities of Kolchak’s forces and their GossackMongol allies; even the hardened veterans of Philippine razzias, in which villages were razed and Moro tribes decimated, found the excesses of Semenov and Kalmikov hard to bear. The populace in and around Khabarovsk repeatedly complained to the American garrison that Kalmikov was kidnaping and murdering everyone he suspected of sympathizing with the Bolsheviks. Just one case in which Graves ordered an investigation involved two miners arrested by the ataman. Graves demanded their release, but Kalmikov’s Japanese “military adviser” replied that they had escaped. Actually Kalmikov had tied stones around the prisoners’ necks and thrown them into a lake. They were among an estimated three hundred persons killed during one of Kalmikov’s experiments in terror.