Researching in preparation for writing a book can be as interesting as writing the book itself. Maybe more interesting. I have a writer friend who says she gets “research rapture” as she works on the background that will eventually form her stories.
What happened to my professor?
Wachtang Djobadze (or Djhobadze), my professor of art history at the University of Utah from 1960-62 (I was taking graduate level seminars with him while working on my BS), was a very interesting man. He had mentioned fighting for “both sides” in World War II, but where did that put him?
My interest in the uprising on the Dutch Island of Texel (see previous post) was certainly sparked by my memory of his words, but never did I dream he was actually part of the so-called “Texel Uprising” in which the members of the Georgian Legion murdered their German officers and NCOs in the sleep, and in return were murdered by the German Wehrmacht even after Germany had signed a truce on May 7, 1945.
After all, some 20 million Russian soldiers fought in World War II, and he could have been anywhere in Europe or Russia. I had always thought he had joined partisans or German-formed nationalist organizations in the Ukraine or the Caucasus.
Gelein Jansen, Texel’s local history expert, did some sleuthing after I had spent the day with him. Here is the first cryptic email I got from him (please note that I have seen his first named spelled with both a W and a V):
Hello Mr. Ure: we found out that the real name is Vachtang Tsjtsisjvili, his mother was Djobadze so he took her name as family name. Greetings from Texel
And here was the next email I got from Gelein:
Hello Jim, there’s a rumour that the Canadians on Texel gave the Georgians who didn’t like or dare to go back to their home land, the possibility to come over to Canada with them. Gr. Gelein. PS. He is with his original name on a list from my “spokesman” in Den Helder.
So amazingly, Wachtang was indeed fighting on Texel, this time for the German-formed 822nd Queen Tamara Battalion, and then just as suddenly, against the Germans while wearing a German uniform.
The 1st Canadian Army arrived on Texel and finally quelled the fighting on May 20, 1945.
How he escaped is another question that lingers in my mind: did the Canadians help him? The 228 surviving Georgians were sent by the Canadians to the Dutch mainland on June 16, 1945. Or was he part of a small group who went by lifeboat to England a few days after the uprising? I remember him saying he worked for a U.S. government agency, either the U.S. Information Agency or Radio Free Europe, so somehow he found his way to the U.S. zone and became useful as some kind of propagandist (just guessing at this). He frequently talked about being at Dumbarton Oaks near Washington, D.C., an important research museum which (among other things) specializes in Byzantine art. Its research arm is part of Harvard University. After that he somehow found his way to Utah. He loved the mountains here and a number of his students went with him on picnics in (as I recall), Millcreek Canyon.
A correction to my earlier blog post: The 882nd was a battalion, not a regiment.