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The Last Battlefield
December 10, 2007 5:17 PM   Subscribe

It has been called the Last Battlefield of World War II in Europe.

On the Dutch island Texel, on April 6, 1945, a batallion of soldiers from Georgia (Soviet Union), who had been impressed into the German army, started a rebellion against the German soldiers and officers on the island [Wiki]. The Germans brutally supressed the revolt in fighting that left dead 565 Georgians (out of an original 800), about 800 Germans (more by some accounts) and 117 Texel residents. A month later, on May 5, the war officially came to an end in Holland. But German troops remained in charge of Texel, and continued to hunt down Georgians in their hideouts, until May 20, when liberating Canadian troops finally arrived. The Georgians were repatriated via a process that is still not completely clear. Not until the fall of the USSR were contacts and visits re-established between Texel and the few surviving Georgian veterans of the affair. In 2005, Georgian president Saakashvili visited Texel as part of a 60th anniversary commemoration. Most of the Georgian dead were buried in a special cemetery on Texel that is named after their leader, Loladse. There's a book on the subject [scroll down for English version; not on Amazon, alas].
posted by beagle (31 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Weird - I spent an incredible afternoon on that island reading and hanging out in the sand dunes and never knew the place was so historic. Great post.
posted by docpops at 5:33 PM on December 10, 2007


Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry

*snort*
posted by briank at 5:38 PM on December 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


They had been given a choice rarely offered by the Germans: the captured soldiers could choose either to remain in the POW camps, which would mean almost certain death, or to serve the Germans and be allowed a degree of freedom. The battalion was formed of men who chose the latter option.

So this group of soldiers were happy to help a disgusting, land-grabbing, resource-seizing, mudering, torturing, lying government as long as it was for their own benefit, only to resist as soon as it became clear that they might have to actually live up to the bargain they agreed to and risk their own safety?

I've seen a recent example of this sort of thing. If only I could remember what it was.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:11 PM on December 10, 2007


So this group of soldiers were happy to help a disgusting, land-grabbing, resource-seizing, mudering, torturing, lying government as long as it was for their own benefit, only to resist as soon as it became clear that they might have to actually live up to the bargain they agreed to and risk their own safety?

Yeah, you let us know just as soon as you have to choose between death or betraying your ideals, OK? Oh, that's right, if it ever actually happens, you'll either be dead (and thus thankfully silent) or too ashamed of your own hypocrisy to bring it up (and thus thankfully silent).
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 6:18 PM on December 10, 2007


Brian, don't you be sneering at the Princess Pats.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:25 PM on December 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Indeed, Steven. The PPCLI are some real tough hombres, and highly professional across the board.
posted by illiad at 6:33 PM on December 10, 2007


Yeah, you let us know just as soon as you have to choose between death or betraying your ideals, OK? Oh, that's right...

When I skimmed your response, I was a bit offended. Then I saw how you frame your rhetoric. Oh, that's right-- you're elderly or really lazy.

Look, I'm glad the Georgian traitors turned their coats once more to mow down some Nazis. But they should have been turned over to the dutch civilians after the war-- they knew how to deal with collaborators.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:41 PM on December 10, 2007


They had been given a choice rarely offered by the Germans

Not so for non-Russian POWs:

"In a better condition were the Eastern Legions, the so-called "Ostlegionen" which, according to Rosenberg's conception, contained only non-Russian volunteers. Hitler limited them to nationalities living far from the frontiers of the "Great Reich." On December 30th, 1941 a top secret memorandum ordered that the Supreme Command was to create, first the Turkestani Legion from volunteers of the following nationalities: Turkomans, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kirghiz, Karakalpaks, and Tadjiks. Second, the Caucasian-Mohammedan Legion, from Azerbaijanis, Daghestans, Ingushes, Lezghins, and Chechens. Third, the Georgian Legion; And fourth, the Armenian Legion. [feldgrau.com]

Mayor Curley, it might help understanding to know that the European volunteers were raised for fighting against the (Russian) Red Army, which, if you recall more history, the Allies themselves were in a quasi- shooting war with in the aftermath of WW I, plus that Cold War thing 1945-1991 of course.
posted by panamax at 6:49 PM on December 10, 2007


M.C., if you had read the fpp you'd know that, allegedly, the Dutch actually helped the Georgians hide from the Germans.
posted by panamax at 6:50 PM on December 10, 2007


pfft.

The last *real* battleground in Europe in WW2 was in Latvia, when Latvian & German troops numbering around 200,000 became isolated on the Courland peninsula. This battle group succesfully held out the Soviets - taking out around approximately 390,000 of them - until ordered to surrender on May 9th, the only substantial German force left in existence at that point. Up to 40,000 Latvians continued a guerrilla campaign from the forests against the Soviets until as late as 1957.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:55 PM on December 10, 2007


On May 12, approximately 135,000 German troops surrendered in the Courland Pocket. On May 23, the Soviet round-up of the German troops in the Courland Pocket was completed.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:57 PM on December 10, 2007


M.C., if you had read the fpp you'd know that, allegedly, the Dutch actually helped the Georgians hide from the Germans.

Oh, I did. I didn't really think that the dutch citizens would treat them as collaborators, seeing as how in act three they killed a pile of Nazis. I just admire the dutch treatment of actual collaborators. I even think it's okay to pretend to collaborate with Nazis provided to kill them on your way out. I was more interested in seeing if I could get nasty email from "'Tex' Connor".
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:01 PM on December 10, 2007


Texel? I lived relatively near there for 8 years and never knew - nor apparently did my Dutch in-laws who live even closer.

Meh, it matter not. You still can't get decent friet there. And the seals? They are tiny little Dutch style seals not worth photographing. Hmmm... no decent frietjes, yet many seals...business opportunity?
posted by digitalprimate at 7:14 PM on December 10, 2007


So, if you're drafted into a war you may or may not care about, captured, and then choose forced labor over starvation and possible execution, you're a filthy collaborator who deserves only death. I'll have to keep that in mind.
posted by agentofselection at 7:25 PM on December 10, 2007


Meh, it matter not. You still can't get decent friet there.

Maybe you should stop covering them with mayonnaise? Just a suggestion.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:48 PM on December 10, 2007


A crap suggestion, but a suggestion nonetheless...
posted by pompomtom at 7:55 PM on December 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Friets don't fail me now.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:06 PM on December 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Didn't the Canadians remove all the Fritz from the island?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:30 PM on December 10, 2007


The paper where my dad worked in Germany was on an old Luftwaffe training base. It had been broken up into parts, and some of the admin buildings and barracks housed a Lithuanian labor service unit that was essentially part of the American army overseas. They did stuff like cleaning ammo and so forth. My dad told me they were guys who'd ended up in the Wehrmacht or similar things during the war, and afterwards, when they were repatriated, were being shot en masse. So the Army gave them jobs.
A little more here.
posted by atchafalaya at 8:52 PM on December 10, 2007


My dad told me they were guys who'd ended up in the Wehrmacht or similar things during the war

I assume that the Lithuanian model would be pretty much identical to the Latvian one:

The Latvian Legion was created in January 1943 on the orders of Adolf Hitler following a request by Reichsf├╝hrer-SS Heinrich Himmler. Technically, it was a volunteer unit, but one month after the unit was founded, German occupation authorities in Latvia started conscripting military age men. They were given a choice between "volunteering" for SS Waffen legions, serving in the German army (Wermacht) as "auxiliaries" (laborers behind the front lines), commanded by German officers and often treated as subhumans, or being sent to a slave labor camp in Germany. Those who tried to avoid either of those options were arrested and sent to concentration camps. As a result, only 15-20% of the soldiers serving in the legion were actual volunteers [...]

Most of soldiers serving in the Legion did not share Nazi ideology and were not completely loyal to Germany. A report by the commander of the 15th Division, Oberf├╝hrer Adolf Ax on January 27, 1945 says: "They are first and foremost Latvians. They want a sustainable Latvian nation state. Forced to choose between Germany and Russia, they have chosen Germany, because they seek co-operation with western civilization. The rule of the Germans seems to them to be the lesser two evils." [4] For some, this choice was the result of Soviet occupation between 1940 and 1941 (known as Horrible Year in Latvia) during which tens of thousands of Latvians were executed or deported to Siberia.

Some soldiers believed that, if they helped Germany win the war, Latvia might be rewarded by independence or autonomy. This naive hope was consciously exploited by the legion command, which would emphasize the fact that the legion was fighting against Bolshevism and underemphase the Nazi ideology.

Another hope was that the legion would fight off Soviet Union, until it was no longer dangerous to Latvia and then turn the arms against Nazi Germany, as a repeat of the Latvian War of Independence of 1918-1920, when Latvia managed to fight off both Soviets and Germany. This was reflected in one of the most popular legion songs which went "We will beat the Russians now and we will beat the Germans after that" (with euphemisms for Russians and Germans).

Due to their shortage of manpower in the second half of World War II, the German Army tolerated a less-than-fully loyal legion.

posted by UbuRoivas at 9:01 PM on December 10, 2007


Peddle those seals as hard as you can, buy you'll never get anywhere with your friets in de prak...

: /
posted by darkstar at 9:25 PM on December 10, 2007


*but*

I hate blowing a good pun with a typo.

Better that blowing a seal, though...
posted by darkstar at 9:26 PM on December 10, 2007


*than*

Sonofabitch, I'll go lie down, now.
posted by darkstar at 9:27 PM on December 10, 2007


So this group of soldiers were happy to help a disgusting, land-grabbing, resource-seizing, mudering, torturing, lying government as long as it was for their own benefit, only to resist as soon as it became clear that they might have to actually live up to the bargain they agreed to and risk their own safety?

I've seen a recent example of this sort of thing. If only I could remember what it was.


Call me daft, but who's this snipe directed at?

Being metafilter.com, I immediately thought it had to be Irak-related. Are we talking Irakky volunteers or something? I don't get it.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:42 PM on December 10, 2007


Regarding the Princess Pats, it's pretty common practice in the Commonwealth for royalty to become patrons of specific military units, and often the units are formally named after their patrons. Women as well as men do this, and it has never been considered an indication that the men in those units were pansies if their patron was a woman.

Another example of that is the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, another very fine unit.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:46 PM on December 10, 2007


I've been a couple of times to Texel, and I never heard this story. If you know the place, it seems extremely weird that such a peaceful, flat, windwept island, little more than a glorified sandbank, was the location of such a bloody fight.

I do also agree about the lack of decent friets, especially as they would go very well with the local lamb and beer...

(And before anybody comes to any hasty conclusion about that URL, in Dutch, "fokker" does NOT mean what you think it means.)
posted by Skeptic at 2:13 AM on December 11, 2007


What surprises me most is that some of the Georgians actually survived repatriation to the USSR. Most repatriated troops were treated with suspicion and summarily shot, particularly those embraced by foreign powers.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:27 AM on December 11, 2007


[a few comments removed - get a room you two]
posted by jessamyn at 5:37 AM on December 11, 2007


Some followups: Part of the story not clear in the links but documented in the book is that the Georgians had long been in contact with the Dutch underground resistance, starting before they were transferred from the mainland to Texel. This had been communicated to the British, as well. During the revolt a boat from Texel made it to England with word of the uprising, but other than a reconaissance flight, the Allies did not respond with support. The Germans couldn't understand a word of the Georgian language, which facilitated the plotting of a rebellion. The Georgians tried to enlist island natives after starting the fight, but it was rather clear on the first day that (a) they were going to lose, and (b) the Germans were executing Georgians and any Dutch collaborators as soon as they were apprehended, so local support after day one was limited to hiding some of the survivors until the war was over. Certainly part of the motivation of the Georgians, once they knew the Allied invasion was certainly going to reach them, was to be on the record as resisting the Germans, rather than being pegged as collaborators with the Germans. But they also hated the Germans with a passion, the majority paid for the decision with their lives, and they are regarded as heroes in the Netherlands.
posted by beagle at 5:50 AM on December 11, 2007


Amazing story, and I knew nothing about it. Thanks for the post (and thanks, UbuRoivas, for the Courland Pocket information—Courland has always been one of my favorite obscure bits of Europe).
posted by languagehat at 6:17 AM on December 11, 2007


Great post - shame that some feel the need to snark about the sort of tough decisions they will hopefully never have to make.
posted by prentiz at 6:28 AM on December 11, 2007


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