A review of a book on the Texel Uprising of 1945

Like his earlier book “Operation Basalt”, historian Eric Lee has managed to take a little-known and – in the grand scheme of the Second World War – small-scale incident and turn it in to a fascinating story by putting the events into a wider context with a variety of points of view.

Both “Operation Basalt” and “Night Of The Bayonets” are set on a Nazi-occupied island but, whereas the first was located on a tiny member of the British-owned Channel Islands and involved only a handful of deaths, the second took place on the much larger Dutch island of Texel off the west coast of the Netherlands and the death toll was more than 3,000 with probably three-quarters of them being Germans. 

What makes the uprising between 6 April – 20 May 1945 truly astonishing is that it lasted more than two weeks after the surrender of German forces in the Netherlands and the attack on the occupying Wehrmacht was conducted by men wearing the same uniform: the Georgian members of the 822nd Eastern Battalion who had been taken prisoner from the Soviet Army and effectively forced to switch sides or instead to be killed or starved to death.

Commenting on the Georgians’ change of sides on two occasions, Lee states: They were young men who were simply trying to survive the war and get home”.

Lee only devotes some 45 pages of a main text of 190 pages to the Texel Uprising itself, what he calls “the final battle of the Second World War in Europe”, but cleverly and fascinatingly he goes back and forward in time to set the incident into a wider contect and to provide the reader with not just a story from history but an exercise in historiography.

So, drawing on another of his books (“The Experiment”), Lee takes us back to 1783 when Georgia lost its independence and became a protectorate of the powerful Russian Empire. He explains how, during the First World War, there was a Georgian Legion on the German side of the conflict and then, when there was an independent Georgia with a social democratic government from 1919-1921, the new state had the support of the Germans.

Therefore, by the time of the Second World War, relations between the Georgians on the one hand and the Russians and Germans on the other was not a simple matter.

Then, looking at how the Texel Uprising has been commemorated and memorialised from immediately after the war (when the returning Georgians were treated by the Soviet Union as heroes rather than as traitors) through successive decades leading to present-day independent Georgia, Lee revals how different parties at different times have interpreted and presented those weeks of battle on Texel in ways which have offered a self-serving narrative.

History may be in the past but it is never dead as this book illustrates all too well.


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