The pilgrimage to Kočevje included three destinations that are closely connected to the main event, a memorial service at the Kočevje pits for the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of themassacre which took place there.
As the tragic events at the end of the Second World War connected to the Russian and Serbian peoples overlap in several places, the organizers of the pilgrimage decided to connect two great tragedies – for the Serbs, Kočevje, for the Russians, Lienz – on this memorial pilgrimage.
Two Memorial Crosses: “Remember Kočevje” and “Lienz” which were worn by the Serbian pilgrims.
The itinerary was set as following: Lienz, Nova Goritsa (the resting place of Serbian patriot Dimitry Ljotić), Kočevje. The group of pilgrims from Serbia, led by His Grace Bishop Akakije, started from Belgrade in the evening of May 31st, in order to participate, on the 1st of June, in the 70th anniversary commemoration of the Cossack tragedy in Lienz, Austria.
The official event of the commemoration of the Cossack tragedy at Lienz was organized by the anti-Bolshevik Cossack organization led by the well-known Cossack activist Vladimir Melechov, whom, unfortunately, the government of the Russian Federation forcefully prevented from making the trip to Lienz (the police in the Moscow Demodedovo airport, behaving like brigands, ripped papers out of his passport and thus prevented him from leaving the country). The city government of Lienz also traditionally commemorates the tragedy of 70,000 anti-communist Cossacks who, in June of 1945, were disarmed, and along with the elderly, women and children, were given over by the English to certain death at the hands of the bloodthirsty executioners of Stalin’s Red Army.
Every year on the first of June, many Cossacks from the entire world, along with Austrian veterans who respect the Cossacks’ anti-communist fight, gather together at the Cossack cemetery in Lienz.
On the occasion of the 70th anniversary, the organizer of the Cossack anti-Bolshevik memorial, Vladimir Melechov, with the help of the Austrian Black Cross Organization, built a beautiful Russian-style memorial log chapel with a Russian cupola and cross at its peak in the Cossack cemetery. Every year, the participants’ attention is especially drawn to the Cossack veterans who are among the few survivors who were miraculously saved and lived to be eyewitnesses of this horrifying crime. In Lienz this year, only one surviving Cossack veteran came, from Australia, Alexander Mikhailovich Pevnyev, Ataman of the Kuban army in the diaspora.
His Grace Bishop Akakije with Cossack veteran Alexander Mikhailovich Pevnyev.
In the absence of Vladimir Melechov, the official event was led by Ataman of the Don army in the diaspora, General-Major Yaropolk Micheyev.
Bridge on the Drava River - the place where Cossack women and their children threw themselves to be drowned rather than to be caught alive by the Red Army.
The city of Lienz hosted all of the guests in a large banquet hall nearby, where lunch was served, during which there were various speakers. Vladimir Melechov’s assistant from Germany, Cossack Major Evgeny Martinyuk, read Melechov’s speech of greeting to the participants in the Lienz tragedy commemorations, in which he expressed his bitter disappointment at the Russian Federation government’s violent prevention of his journey to Lienz, along with that of other well-known Cossacks and Cossack groups from Russia. One German gentleman on the stage conveyed the heartfelt greetings of the son of General Helmut von Pannwitz, who also expressed an apology that he was not able to come to the commemorations. In the end, Cossack songs were sung heartily for a long while.
After all of the official events at Lienz drew to a close, our pilgrim group from Serbia held their own panikhida at the Cossack cemetery in memory of all of the Cossack victims of the Lienz tragedy. The panikhida was served by our friend from St. Petersburg, Cossack activist Protopresbyter Aleksey Lebedev, with a choir of Russian scouts from Germany.
ŠEMPETER PRI GORITSI
After spending the night in the picturesque alpine village of Ketchah, the pilgrims from Serbia traveled through the Alps to Nova Goritsa, a town right on the Italian-Slovenian border, where they served a panikhida at the grave of Dimitry Ljotich in the small town cemetery, Šempeter Pri Goritsi. A Serbian nationalist activist, Goran Davidović, who because of political persecution currently is living in Italy with his spouse, was also present at the memorial. On this occasion, His Grace Bishop Akakije presented Gordan Davidović a “Remember Kočevje” memorial cross. After the panikhida was served, all those present gathered at a local Italian café for refreshing drinks and pleasant conversation.
From Nova Goritsa, the Serbian pilgrims’ road led to the last and main destination of the pilgrimage, the Slovenian alpine town of Kočevje, where reserved rooms awaited us at the homey Tushek Hotel on the banks of Lake Kočevje. The next day, June 3rd, driving along the stone-paved forest roads, the pilgrims revived the memories of those martyrs of Kočevje , imagining the convoys of trucks which day and night brought victims to the edges of the gaping maw of the Kočevje pits. His Grace Bishop Akakije gave a moving introductory speech at the “Kren” pit, reminding all present of the horror of the events which had taken place in the forests here in 1945. Next to the crevasse, we set up a memorial plaque in honor of the 70th anniversary of the Kočevje Golgotha, and then the central ceremony of the pilgrimage was carried out, a panikhida for the uncounted Serbian volunteers, Montenegrin Chetniks, and Russian White Army soldiers, “the officers and soldiers who suffered at the hands of the godless and laid down their lives for the faith, king, and fatherland.” The panikhida was led by His Grace Bishop Akakije and concelebrated by Priest Jovan, with the singing of Abbess Efrosinia and Nun Alypia. Much time must have passed since someone last burned Orthodox incense or lit pure wax candles at this place; much time must have passed since the Serbian Volunteer Corps flag and the black Chetnik banner flew above. Perhaps they never had until now. To attend such an event (however unusual it may be, one that every Serb should feel it his duty to do!), was truly painful but at the same time deeply joyous and uplifting. There passed before our eyes the shadows of the Kočevje martyrs, those fearless warriors for the faith, king and fatherland, who had been deceived, betrayed, humiliated, tortured, mutilated, and - worst of all - FORGOTTEN by their own people for whom they had fought, not sparing their young lives even for a moment.
Our chests tightened, all had to fight back tears, but it was as if in our prayerful presence we saw all of their numberless wounds, especially the terrible and painful wound of being forgotten.
We have not forgotten you, dear brothers! Here we are, after 70 years, censing your martyrs’ bones and firmly raising the battle flag under which you once so bravely fought. You are not forgotten, your battle for the Precious Cross and Golden Freedom we will carry on from where you were forced to stop…
The crowning momentof the memorial was the sonorous intonation of Bishop Akakije, “In a blessed falling asleep…” to which the thundering, heartfelt response broke forth from all those present, “Memory eternal…” Through the billowing clouds of incense, those words echoed out over the chasm and through the endless expanse of the Serbian Katyn, the Kočevje forest.
After the panikhida, all those present were served a beautifully decorated koliva for the departed along with Serbian rakija, while at the hotel a lunch in memory of the Kočevje martyrs had been prepared.
The ornate koliva at the pannichida for the Kočevje sufferers.
Thus ended the pilgrimage on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Communist slaughter at Kočevje.
The next day, the pilgrims from Serbia returned to their Fatherland bearing within themselves the unforgettable impressions of this truly magnificent memorial journey.