Several Georgian émigré figures played an important role in building Nazi knowledge and infrastructure in Soviet territories.At the Wannsee Institute
As early as 1936, Reinard Heidrich created the Wannsee Institute, which engaged in the study of politics and economics of Eastern European countries and the USSR, and was a part of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SD-Ausland) of the General Directorate of Imperial Security (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, RSHA).¹
After the outbreak of the Nazi war against the USSR, Ahmeteli developed a program of agricultural reforms for occupied Soviet territories. In December 1942, after a long trip to Ukraine, Ahmeteli wrote a detailed report indicating the mistakes of the Nazi occupation administration, which also contained criticism of some of Hitler’s personal steps. Walter Schellenberg, chief of foreign policy intelligence of the RSHA, summarized and supplemented the note by Ahmeteli in a report submitted to SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler in April 1943. Ahmeteli was almost arrested, prevented only by Schellenberg’s personal intervention.³
During the intensified Allied bombing campaign of 1942, the Wannsee Institute was evacuated to Plankenwart Palace near Graz, Austria. This period was closely linked with preparations for the Zeppelin Operation to recruit Soviet prisoners of war (POWs) for espionage, sabotage, and terrorist attacks on the Soviet home front.⁴
After the war, the materials collected by the Wannsee Institute were transferred to the “Gehlen Organization,” and in 1961, the Baltic German Boris Meisner organized a similar Institute in West Germany, the Federal Institute for East European and International Studies (Germ. Bundesinstitut für Ostwissenschaftliche und Internationale Studien), which became a leading research institution on Soviet studies in the West.⁵Through the Zeppelin Operation
Several Georgian figures contributed even more directly to Nazi policies for the Soviet Union, particularly through the Zeppelin Operation. Mikhail Kedia was the recognized leader and representative of the Meeting of Georgian National Unity in Berlin, published in the émigré magazine Kavkaz
in Paris and then in Berlin. In the summer of 1942, Kedia formed the Special Headquarter Caucasus, or Sonderstaff K, which, if the Wehrmacht had occupied the Caucasus, was to become the base for the occupation administration (Reichskommissariat Caucasus, headed by Arnaud Shikendants*
). Formed by the Ministries of Finance, Interior and Foreign Affairs, with the participation of the General Directorate of Imperial Security (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, RSHA), the Sonderstaff K acted under the aegis of the Zeppelin Operation headed by SS Sturmbannfuhrer (Major) W. Kurrek.
General Spiridon Chavchavadze, an old associate of Colonel Kaikhosro (Kakutsi) Cholokashvili, one of the most famous leaders of the 1924 Georgian insurgency, became the second person in the probe staff after Kedia. The Georgian group of Sonderstaff also included leaders of the Georgian national democrats, including, Alexander Asatiani (1889–1954), Dmitrii Sinjikashvili, and Alexandr Tsomaya, who later became a representative of the Georgian communications staff in the Caucasus section of the Zeppelin Operation. According to Georgian historian Georgy Mamulia, Sonderstaff K had several subsections: Georgian (headed by S. Chavchavadze), North Caucasian (headed by A. Cantemir and A. Magoma), Azerbaijani (headed by A. Alibekov), Armenian (A. Jamalyan), and Kalmyk (Sh. Balinov).⁷
To find a compromise between full Caucasus independence as dreamt by Georgian émigrés and the risk of a Reichs protectorate with full Nazi control, the Sonderstaff K staff, and especially Spiridon Chavchavadze, proposed a unified Caucasian state (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the North Caucasus) under the Nazi protectorate, in which domestic affairs would be left to local collaborationist governments, and foreign affairs would go to the Nazis.⁸
Representatives of the Sonderstaff released a number of Caucasian POWs from the Stavropol camps, who then went on to study intelligence and sabotage at Zeppelin schools. As in the case of the NTS collaborators, the Sonderstaff K members also had a secret goal beyond the Nazis. They hoped that if the USSR disintegrated into national republics, they would proclaim the Provisional Government of Georgia (and possibly a Caucasian Confederation). Kedia hoped that such a Provisional Government could maneuver between Germany and Turkey. After the defeat of the Wehrmacht in the Battle for the Caucasus, Georgian political emigrants sent several unsuccessful letters to Hitler’s leadership demanding recognition of the Caucasian peoples’ independence.
In October 1943, the Georgian National Committee (Sonderstaff K) collapsed. It was replaced by Caucasian Liaison Offices acting between Nazi authorities and the different collaborationist legions. The Liaison Offices were recognized by the Eastern Ministry as the political representation of the Caucasus peoples in Berlin, but not by other German ministries and agencies.⁹
The Liaison Offices were divided into departments: political, military, civil, and financial–economic, in charge of transmitting political requests, wishes and suggestions to various German ministries and departments. The Military Department, in cooperation and consultation with the staff of volunteer generals and individual German commanders of the Georgian legions, was, for instance, in charge of protecting and ensuring the rights of Georgian volunteers, as well as the legionaries’ national education. It also petitioned for suitable volunteers to be sent to German officer schools. The Civil Department’s main activity was protecting the rights of Georgian POWs who were working in Germany publishing newspapers, magazines, and brochures for the occupied territories, and training propagandists at specially established courses in Potsdam. The Communications Department had its own representative in the Caucasian section of Zeppelin.
The chairman of the staff and the head of the Civil Department was Giorgi Magalashvili (Magalov), and Mikhail Kedia was the head of the Political Department. The head of the Military Department was Chief Lieutenant (later Captain) Givi Gbiani, who was transferred from the Georgian Bergmann-1 Battalion. Being a former POW, Gbiani was considered to represent the Legionnaires. The Financial and Economic Department was headed by Grigorii Alshibaya’s son, Mikhail. Like the Georgian National Committee, the Georgian Liaison Office in Berlin also maintained close contacts with the exiled Georgian government in Paris, represented by Noah Jordania and former Foreign Minister Evgenii Gegechkori. Every step and initiative of the Georgian Liaison Office was coordinated with the national center in Paris, with which it remained in contact until the Allies entered France in the summer of 1944.¹⁰In the Legions
When Operation Barbarossa began, the chairman of the Georgian community in Poland, Grigory Alshibaya, had already established contact with the head of the formation center of the Eastern legions in the Governor General’s Office, Colonel (later Major-General) Ralph von Heigendorf. As early as June 22–23, 1941, Alshibaya provided Hitler with a plan for the formation of the Georgian Legion.¹²
The order to create the Georgian Legion was given under the heading “top secret” on February 8, 1942. The formation of the Georgian Legion took place in the Polish city of Wiesola. Unlike other Caucasian units, the leading role in the formation of the Georgian Legion was played not by German personnel, but by pro-German Georgian immigrants, led by Colonel of the Army of independent Georgia, former Tbilisi Governor-General Shalva Maglakelidze. The latter had established a special relationship of trust with the German commanders in Georgia as early as 1918, and he had been a staff officer in Abwehr starting in 1937.¹³
In August 1942, as a result of the considerable influx of Georgian volunteers recruited in POW camps, representatives of the North-Caucasian peoples were separated from the Georgian Legion. A six-month, non-commissioned officer school was established near Neuhammer, Silesia.¹⁴
Structurally, each field battalion (numbered 795th to 799th, and 823rd and 824th) that was part of the Georgian Legion consisted of three rifle companies, one machine-gun company, and a staff company of 130–200 men each. The total number of Georgian legionnaires did not exceed 30,000.¹⁵
There are conflicting views on the Georgian Legions’ military effectiveness. While no cases of desertion are known in the Caucasian Special Purpose Unit Bergmann, the 795th and 796th Infantry Battalions of the Georgian Legion saw repeated instances of the legionaries switching to the enemy side. It should be noted, however, that the Georgian formations that were so naturally cleaned up and replenished with genuine volunteers right on the front (and not by prisoners of war) also proved effective in subsequent hostilities.¹⁶In Wehrmacht Troops: the Bergmann Battalion
The Bergmann Battalion was formed on the personal initiative of Chief Lieutenant (named Captain in July 1942) Abwehr and Professor Theodor Oberländer. In terms of the structure and assigned tasks, the Caucasian Special Purpose Battalion Bergmann (German for “Highlander”) differed significantly from other field battalions of the German Army that were part of the Georgian Legion.
By the end of July 1942, the unit was ready for combat operations. By that time, the battalion included about 1,200 men—900 Caucasians and 300 Germans. The structure of the battalion consisted of a propaganda headquarters, a bomber platoon, and five rifle companies. The 5th Georgian Company, which was scheduled to be used during an airborne operation to take the Cross Pass in the rear of the Soviet troops, included one Armenian platoon. The remaining companies were to be used in the avant-garde battles to take control of the Georgian Military Road.
The Bergmann Battalion also took part in the Battle of the Caucasus in the ranks of the 1st Tank Army under E. von Kleist. They successfully performed in battles, sabotages and propaganda actions west of Elbrus to the town of Mozdok in the Baksan Valley. Groups “Tamara-I” and “Tamara-II,” formed from the Bergmann Battalion, unsuccessfully tried to cut the Soviet oil pipelines in the Caucasus. In September 1942, fighters from Bergmann acted against Soviet partisans in the region of Mozdok, Nalchik, and Mineral’nye Vody, and, on October 29, they were sent to the front as a usual front unit.
Both German and Soviet sources admit that all parts of the Bergmann Battalion acted successfully. They fought hard everywhere, even without heavy weapons. In addition, the high morale of the unit’s personnel is testified to by the fact that not a single deserter was noticed among its ranks during the entire battle in the Caucasus. During the retreat from the Caucasus, its personnel provided rearguard cover for the outgoing German troops and performed some special tasks, such as destroying industrial plants. Even in Crimea, in February 1943, Bergmann fighters guarded the coast near Koktebel—Dvuyakornaya Bay and fought against partisans.
In April 1943, the unit was reorganized. It was restructured into a regiment with three national battalions: the 1st Georgian (with five companies), the 2nd Azerbaijani (with four companies) and the 3rd North Caucasus (with five companies). According to Soviet sources, the Germans planned to create the Caucasus Division based on Bergmann in autumn 1943. The regiment’s personnel, which had been fired on and proved itself well in the battles, was to become its personnel base. The rest of the personnel for the division were to be taken from other parts of the Eastern Legions that were in Crimea at the time. However, those plans remained on paper. In the late autumn and winter of 1943–1944, Bergmann took part in Perekop Isthmus battles. Eventually, in April 1944, the regiment was evacuated to Romania, and from there, redeployed units to the Balkans (1st and 3rd Battalions) and Poland (2nd Battalion). Later on, the fate of its Legionnaires developed differently. The Georgian and North Caucasus battalions continued to take an active part in the hostilities. Throughout 1944 and the first half of 1945, they fought against guerrillas in Greece and Yugoslavia. The German capitulation caught them near Zagreb, Croatia.¹⁸
In the summer of 1943, the German command tried to create a kind of Caucasus Liberation Army from the personnel of the 795th and the Bergmann Battalions. But both battalions had suffered heavy losses in previous battles, and the legionaries that remained in their ranks were losing morale. That is why on October 10, 1943, all Georgian legionaries who remained under Wehrmacht leadership were sent to France, Italy, and the Balkans to fight the guerrillas. That decision accelerated the drop in the legionaries’ morale.¹⁹
Himmler’s proposal to unite all “Eastern” (including Caucasian) formations under General Andrei Vlasov
was rejected by the Caucasians. Nazi leadership repeatedly tried to implement this idea to no avail. The only Georgian who eventually joined Vlasov’s Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (KONR) was General S. Maglakelidze. A few days after KONR proclamation (November 18, 1944), representatives of emigration from Ukraine, Belarus, Caucasus, Turkestan, as well as Volga and Crimean Tatars announced the establishment of the “Assembly of Peoples Enslaved by Russia” to be clearly dissociated from Vlasov’s initiative.²⁰
Under Yaroslav Stets’ko (one of OUN-UPA leaders) the Assembly unified many notorious collaborators involved in Nazi military crimes in occupied territories.
Even before the Allies landed in France, M. Kedia and A. Tsomaya, with the support of high-ranking DS officers Abwehr and Wehrmacht, managed to contact the leadership of Western intelligence through Yuri Skarzhinskii, a Paris-based agent of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He failed, and in early April 1945, Kedia entered into direct negotiations with Allen Dulles, a resident of the OSS in Switzerland. If an agreement was reached, Kedia would hand over to the OSS its entire intelligence network, including ties to underground organizations in Georgia. Emigrants urged the Germans to recognize the National Committees as independent governments in exile, so it would be easier to convince the U.S. authorities and the Western public that the volunteers captured on the Western Front were not working for Nazi troops, and therefore, shouldn’t be extradited to the Soviet Union. On March 17, 1945, the Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories, Alfred Rosenberg, received the right on behalf of the government of the Third Reich to recognize the existing de facto Georgian National Committee “as the sole representative of the Georgian people,” which “has the right to present its views on the future of the Georgian people, as well as to express them through statements and manifestos.” The Nazi minister agreed to “incorporate the Georgians fighting in the Wehrmacht into its own formations with a view to form, together with other Caucasian military units, the Caucasus Liberation Army. [...] That also recognized the Caucasian Committee set up by the Caucasian headquarters to coordinate the activities of all Caucasian peoples on issues of equal concern to them.²¹