A page torn from Georgian history
10 May, 2014
May 9 was Victory Day, a holiday dedicated to triumph of Allied forces over the Third Reich. As always, our northern neighbors spent this day whipping themselves into an almost religious frenzy over their victory , waving Soviet flags at military parades and drinking themselves to near-catatonia to eye-watering historical dramas about WWII on TV.

Our own celebration was much humbler – a visit to the memorial dedicated to fallen soldiers, Prime Minister’s congratulatory speech to war veterans and remembrance of Georgians
who died in the conflict. What surprised me, however, is that the ceremony seemed to be dedicated only to those who died fighting for the Soviets. However, there existed a sizeable Georgian military formation in WWII that is no less worthy of remembrance and praise. Unfortunately, very few Georgians know its name or are even aware of the fact that it existed.

But first, let’s focus on a bit of history. As it is widely known, Georgia was not a willing member of the USSR. In 1921, the Red Army invaded our country, smothering its nascent independence and establishing a corrupt, inhumane communist regime. It is noteworthy that the invasion, which resulted in over 3000 casualties among Georgian soldiers, was engineered by Georgian communists Joseph Stalin and Grigol Ordzhonikidze. These people, both of them convicted criminals in the past, were forced to flee their country at some point in their lives, only to return there years later at the helm of Russian armed force, bringing ruin to Georgia, forcibly incorporating it into USSR and allowing Turkey to take advantage of the conflict and seize its Southwestern part, namely cities Artaani and Artvini. The takeover of Georgia was followed by a massive purge of civilians, mainly representatives of upper class and intelligentsia, with over 5000 people dead and many more banished from the country.

What communists did not foresee, however, is that the people they drove from their homeland were anything but complacent sheep and that these people would not let the communist atrocity go unpunished. Shalva Maglakelidze, a Georgian lawyer, was among such people. Upon fleeing to Latvia, he immediately began consolidation and assembly of other exiles from the Caucasus, but his newly founded organization was fractured by ethnic strife and he was forced to leave together with his Georgian adherents for France and later Germany.

Upon his arrival to Germany, Maglakelidze quickly got in touch with the rising National Socialist movement, seeing in it an opportunity to overthrow communists in Germany and subsequently in Georgia. He had very close ties with NSDAP, which, after Hitler’s rise to power, ensured that Shalva Maglakelidze would be among the first people to be appointed commander of the newly created Georgian Legion, set on liberating Georgia from communist rule.

The Georgian Legion drew its recruits mainly via the activity of Germany-based Georgian organizations “Tetri Giorgi” (White George) and “Kartvel Traditsionalistta Kavshiri” (Union of Georgian Traditionalists). German-Georgian intellectuals and social activists Alexander Nikuradze and Mikhail Akhmeteli, close friends of Alfred Rosenberg, head of the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, publicly expressed their fullest support for these organizations and were responsible for much of the agitation for joining the Legion among Georgian émigrés.

Noteworthy is the fact that despite the existence of military formations such as Battalion ”Bergmann” (which consisted mainly of North Caucasians), Armenian Legion and Azerbaijani Legion, the largest amount of privileges of all foreign military formations in Wehrmacht’s fold was enjoyed by Georgian troops. They were not subject to contempt endured by other foreign conscripts by German officers and were well-equipped and rationed. In addition, they were allowed to wear the German Imperial Eagle on their uniforms, a privilege that all other non-Germanic militaries were denied. Georgian legionnaires’ oaths of allegiance made no mention of Adolf Hitler, swearing on “Georgian land” instead. They also received a lot of leeway from the Third Reich’s authorities when it came to accounting for deserters.

Shalva Maglakelidze, in direct defiance of orders, insisted that the Georgian Legion only be sent into battle against regular Soviet regiments instead of Eastern European resistance forces, as it was initially intended. The main goal of the Legion was to reclaim Georgia from the communist rule, and this was the reason why most of their military engagements took place in Ukraine and North Caucasus, paving the way to Georgia. It culminated in Operation Edelweiss, which saw a lot of bloody battles, such as taking of Krasnodar and siege of Tuapse. The victory was short-lived, however, because due to increased pressure on other fronts, Germany was forced to withdraw its forces from the region and relocate them elsewhere.

This is when the sun started setting on the Georgian Legion. Due to heavy losses it sustained in Stavropol and Tuapse, its commanders were forced to start replenishing its ranks from Georgian POW’s, which, in turn, caused a sharp decline in morale and an increase in desertion. The Legion became scattered, parts of it fighting in France, Poland, Italy and Netherlands. Its Netherlands-based regiment ended up rebelling against its allies in the final months of the war, an event known as Texel Uprising.
After the war, Shalva Maglakelidze was abducted from Germany by Soviet agents and was forced by torture to denounce his allies and fellow commanders as “Western spies”. As a final mockery, he was allowed to live in Tbilisi under constant surveillance and was turned into a poster child of “Soviet mercy” by propagandists.

Despite the whole idea of Ostlegionen (Eastern Legions) being eventually branded by Alfred Rosenberg as “daring, but disappointing” and a large amount of Georgian Legion’s members executed by Soviet forces for “treason” or sent to rot in the labor camps in Siberia, their struggle against Soviet invaders and a truly noble goal of liberating their country should not be forgotten. Their sacrifice should be honored on par with those Georgians who were forced into a meat grinder by the Soviet war machine.

By Zurab Amiranashvili