FAST-FIN-1 Finnish Institutions Research Papers

Jews in Finland During the Second World War
Tuulikki Vuonokari, Autumn 2003 (GB)
A FAST-FIN-1 (TRENAK1) Finnish Institutions Research Paper
FAST Area Studies Program
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere

One of the great tragedies of the Second World War was the systematic persecution of Jewish people by the Nazi regime, whose final goal was no less than the destruction of Jewry in Europe. This affected Finnish Jews, too, though unlike in any other country under German influence, their rights were not tampered with in any way during the war. The position of Finnish Jews was unique in another respect as well: several hundred of them fought in the war as Germany's comrades in arms.

Besides native Finnish Jews, there were also Jewish refugees and prisoners of war in the country. In this paper, special focus is on the fate of the refugees, who had arrived in Finland to escape Nazi persecution, but soon found themselves in a country that fought on Germany’s side. Not everyone found the shelter they were looking for.

Finnish Jews

Some Historical Background

The history of Jews in Finland only goes back a couple of hundred years, and their number has never reached two thousand (Harviainen 333). Boris Grünstein describes the Finnish Jewry as not even being a minority, but a curiosity (43). There were virtually no Jewish people in Finland when the country was part of Sweden. The situation changed and the arrival of Jews began when Finland was annexed to the Russian Empire in 1809 (Harviainen 333, 335).

Most Finnish Jews are descendants of so-called cantonists, Jewish soldiers who served in the Russian army (Pentikäinen and Anttonen 163–64). Many of these were orphans and sons of underprivileged families, who could be called to duty as early as at the age of twelve. During the reign of Nicholas I, their term of service was twenty-five years, during which many of them lost contact with home. The aim was for them to abandon their religion and become Christians (Jakobson 152–53).

Alexander II shortened the term of service to 4–6 years and allowed soldiers released from the army to settle with their families in the town where they had served. The lives of those who stayed in Finland were quite restricted, e.g. the ways in which they could earn their living were very limited (Jakobson 153).

The increase in the number of Jews led to debate about their civil rights in the Senate in the 1870s, but no decisions were made, and their position remained insecure until Finland gained independence in 1917 (Harviainen 336–37). Finland was the last country but one in Europe to remove restrictions concerning Jews. The bill granting them civil rights was passed by a vote of 163–6 in December 1917 (Smolar 51–52).

Jews in the Army

The Winter War

In 1939 there were three Jewish congregations and some 1700 Jews in Finland. The congregation in Helsinki had about 1200 members, Viipuri 300, and Turku 200 (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 53). Approximately 260 Finnish Jews participated in the Winter War, 200 of whom served at the front (Harviainen 339). There were also several Jewish volunteers coming from Europe, some of them desperately seeking a way to escape Nazi influence (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 54–55). Jewishness was not emphasised in the army; anti-Semitism was not an issue (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 61–62), and neither was the war particularly problematic for the Jews ideologically, for Finland was merely seen as defending itself against an attack by the Soviet Union (Torvinen, Kadimah 130). The war united the Jews with Finland more strongly than anything before, and it has been said that with their effort, they proved they truly were Finns (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 53, 61). General attitudes towards Germany were not particularly warm at the time due to Germany’s relations with the Soviet Union (Torvinen, Kadimah 130–31).

The Continuation War

In the summer of 1941, Finland joined the war Germany had started against the Soviet Union. In this Continuation War, as it is often called with respect to Finland’s part, the loyalty of Finnish Jews was put to test, and was shadowed by fear and uncertainty. Nevertheless, the Jews fought like everyone else. The Jewish magazine Makkabi declared in December 1942 that they were fighting “for the freedom and independence of Finland” 1 (Torvinen, Kadimah 132–33). During the war, co-belligerence with Germany felt distant and theoretical, and not everyone came into contact with the German troops in Finland (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 122). Many of the Jewish soldiers did not really think about it until after the war (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 143–44).

Relationships with the Germans were described as correct, even friendly (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 125, 127). Most Jews spoke German (Jalowisch in Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 128), which may have contributed to friendships being formed. No serious incidents were reported (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 129), but some Jews felt ill at ease and were afraid (Kaplun in Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 127).

The Jewishness of these soldiers was not hidden from the Germans, and there even was a field synagogue. Furloughs were given for Sabbaths, and some came from considerable distances to attend. The Germans were aware of the synagogue but did not interfere (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 127, 129–132). Some of the Jewish soldiers even liked to proclaim their religion to provoke the Germans, whose reactions were mainly surprised but not particularly negative. When asked about their Jewish soldiers, Finnish superiors usually defended them, saying they were no different from other Finns (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 128–129). Jewish medical officers treated German patients and saved their lives, even risking their own (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 133, 141). Several Jews were awarded German decorations, but they refused to accept them (Poljakoff in Torvinen, Kadimah 135; Smolar 155–57).

Since most of the members of the Helsinki and Turku congregations were Swedish-speaking, for some of the Jewish soldiers military service was a chance to make better contact with the Finnish-speaking majority. This worked both ways, for many of their comrades in arms had never met a Jew before (Kuusi in Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 35, 36, 43–44). The Jews’ relationships with other Finnish soldiers were generally very good (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 129), though not everyone felt comfortable advertising their religion (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 148), for there were sometimes anti-Semitic comments (Wardi in Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 148; Rautkallio, Holocaust 124). Sometimes Jewishness could even be an obstruction in the way of a successful military career (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 143).

There were not a lot of Jews in the armed forces before the wars, and attitudes were one of the reasons. This was especially seen in admittance to the Reserve Officers Training Corps (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 47). John Anker recalls his surprise when he was not sent back from the Naval Academy (in Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 155). There are other examples as well: The Jewish soldiers’ association was not allowed to join the federation during the war, for the federation thought it better to “keep the Jewish soldiers in the background” (Lefko in Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 144). A Jewish medical officer felt he did not get duties corresponding to his medical expertise (Zevi in Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 134). An official of the State Police, Ari Kauhanen, tried to get Jews assigned to staff duty transferred elsewhere, implying they were not “real Finns” and that they would have a bad effect on the Germans as well as the Finns, whose opinion of Germany had “recently turned appreciably more favourable” (in Rautkallio, Holocaust 171–172).

Rautkallio points out that most of the Jews in the army saw themselves first of all as Finnish soldiers; their Jewishness was a secondary consideration (Aseveljeys 154). Max Jakobson recalls feeling different in his battalion, because he was very young and from the city – he does not even mention his Jewishness in this connection (336–38).

The Home Front

Already before the Winter War broke out, the Jewish congregation arranged a collection for the benefit of the Finnish defence (Torvinen, Kadimah 130). The home front took care of soldiers, their families, and other members of the community who had suffered because of the war, such as the Jews of Viipuri, who were evacuated mainly to Helsinki after the Winter War. Besides this, the congregations took care of Jewish refugees from Europe, as well as the approximately 300 Soviet Jews who were in Finland as prisoners of war (Torvinen, Kadimah 135–36; Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 63–64). The Finnish congregations themselves were lent a helping hand from abroad, e.g. children were sent to Sweden, where they stayed with local Jewish families (Torvinen, Kadimah 157).

Jewish Prisoners of War

The Jewish community saw no conflict of interest in helping the Jewish prisoners of war, though at first they were careful for fear of a communist label by those who might think they were helping the 'Soviet' enemy. Their willingness to help was quite natural in the light of their own history as well. Some even had relatives among the prisoners, but hesitated to contact them (Smolar 163–164, 170).

Help from the Jewish community was of vital importance to the Jewish prisoners. They received food, clothing, and medical supplies. Not only material needs were taken into consideration, but prayer and other books were delivered as well, and the prisoners were visited by representatives of the congregation. This aid significantly contributed to the prisoners' survival in the difficult conditions, especially in the spring of 1942, when the lack of food was at its worst. The Red Cross accused Finland of bad treatment of prisoners, and nearly one third of all prisoners of war did die; many of them starved or froze to death (Smolar 163, 168, 170–72; Torvinen, Kadimah 136).

Bad conditions were not the only threat to the well-being of the prisoners. According to Smolar, over two thousand prisoners of war were extradited to Germany – among them at least seventy Jews (173). These extraditions have been studied by Elina Sana (formerly Elina Suominen), whose book on the subject, Luovutetut – Suomen ihmisluovutukset Gestapolle, was published in November 2003.

Jewish Refugees

The Arrival of the Refugees

By the summer of 1938, more and more Central European refugees were arriving in Finland, many of them by ship from Stettin (Suominen 31–32). Most of them did not identify themselves as refugees (Rautkallio, Holocaust 67). The Finnish authorities were alarmed by the growing numbers, and tightened regulations concerning entry into the country, especially after they found out the refugees’ return visas were invalid, for they had had to sign a paper stating they would never return (Torvinen, Kadimah 121; Smolar 97). After some sixty refugees from Stettin on board the steamship Ariadne were denied entry, the number of arriving refugees decreased (Suominen 33, 36). Altogether, approximately 500 Jewish refugees arrived, some 350 of whom moved on to other countries. The remaining 150 were mostly from Germany, Austria, and Poland (Torvinen, Kadimah 124).

The main responsibility for taking care of the refugees fell on the Jewish congregations in Finland, and a refugee committee was established to deal with the matter (Torvinen, Pakolaiset 144–45). The state did not grant financial support (Torvinen, Kadimah 120; Karlsson in Suominen 44), so the congregations had to depend on themselves and aid from abroad, e.g. from Jewish organisations such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (Torvinen, Kadimah 122–23). Some of the refugees stayed with Jewish families, and many found themselves work in their businesses or elsewhere. The Social Democratic Party helped political refugees, and some other communities and individuals lent a helping hand as well (Torvinen, Kadimah 124; Smolar 124).

Work Service

Leopold Basch, one of the refugees, has said, “Up to June 1941, we lived in relatively peaceful conditions, without being disturbed” (in Rautkallio, Holocaust 93). Sylvi-Kyllikki Kilpi, a member of Parliament, who had taken an interest in the refugees’ cause early on, noted that prior to 1941 the attitudes of the Government and the authorities to the refugees were still quite reasonable (in Torvinen, Pakolaiset 163). In the beginning of 1941, however, a new government was formed, and the State Police (Valpo) also appointed a new chief, Arno Anthoni.

After the Continuation War broke out in the summer of 1941, the Jewish refugees were moved from towns to the countryside, except for those few whose work in towns was considered essential and those who were taken into custody. The reason given by the State Police for the move was preventing the refugees from coming into contact with German soldiers, who had appeared in towns. The congregations did not object. Most of the refugees were taken to the parishes of Hauho and Lammi, and left there to look after themselves, for no accommodation had been organised in advance, and the arrangements made by the authorities were quite poor in other senses as well. Because of the war, foreign aid had ceased, and the Jewish community struggled to take care of the refugees. A loan was taken to be able to support them, and fundraising went on. The congregations tried to find work for them, but the State Police did not consider their proposals (Torvinen, Pakolaiset 164–65).

In March 1942, some forty Jewish refugees were summoned to work service, as were over 68,000 other people. They were taken to a work camp in Salla, Lapland, which caused great concern among their supporters, for the refugees were in the vicinity of German troops. However, Arno Anthoni insisted the arrangement was only temporary (Torvinen, Kadimah 138).

In the camp the Jews were isolated (Székely in Suominen 102), and their treatment was sometimes rough. Some refugees have reported they were told to work until their nails bled (Werber and Székely in Suominen 103, 104), and German officers sometimes amused themselves by jeering at them when passing by (Zilbergas in Suominen 102). The conditions were “military” (Rautkallio, Holocaust 115–16), and the refugees’ clothing was insufficient for the cold climate (S. Kollmann in Suominen 17). Numerous requests were made to have the refugees transferred elsewhere (Torvinen, Pakolaiset 167).

In June, the refugees were moved to another camp in Kemijärvi, but they were not much happier (Torvinen, Pakolaiset 166–67); one of them even attempted suicide (Kilpi in Suominen 109). The conditions were perhaps slightly better (Rautkallio, Holocaust 121,122) but the Jews kept appealing to their influential acquaintances. Their constant petitions for furlough and release made no favourable impression on the State Police, and they were seen as lazy and unco-operative (Rautkallio, Kahdeksan 94, 96–98). In reports they were claimed to be faking illnesses and loitering (Ojasti in Rautkallio, Kahdeksan 97–98). The State Police was never in favour of their petitions, but the Army Staff was not as strict, and some were granted furloughs and even release from work service (Suominen 107–08). In July, the refugees were moved south, to Suursaari, an island in the Gulf of Finland, where the State Police thought they would not be able to keep in touch with their frie nds (Valpo in Torvinen, Pakolaiset 169).

In Suursaari, however, the situation did not change. The main job of the refugees was to make barbed wire cylinders, which, according to their foreman, was one of the easiest jobs (Rautkallio, Kahdeksan 100). The Jewish refugees disagreed, complaining that their hands bled and that they were forbidden to use tools (S. Kollmann in Suominen 18). Because of low productivity, their pay was reduced (Valpo in Rautkallio, Holocaust 124).

The Deportation

The beginning of the Continuation War brought Valpo and the Gestapo closer to each other and intensified their co-operation (Rautkallio, Holocaust 125). The Gestapo offered to receive all suspicious and criminal foreigners in the country that Finland considered undesirable (Suominen 62). The Finnish refugee policy was also tightened, and the State Police began to check the backgrounds of foreigners staying in Finland (Rautkallio, Holocaust 100, 106). The suspicion was further nourished by the fact that evidence connecting a few Jewish refugees to espionage and other crimes was found, and this affected the attitude to them all (Rautkallio, Kahdeksan 75).

It has been suggested that the increased suspicion of the State Police towards the refugees was also partly due to the irritation caused by one of the refugees, Doctor Walter Cohen, who was very popular in his home town of Pietarsaari, had friends in high places, and sharply criticised the treatment of the refugees. He had been arrested for breaking travel restrictions, and he even escaped from the Suursaari work camp in September 1942. At the same time, the Cohen family’s residence permit was to be reviewed, as was the case with the permits of some others, too. Now they were looked into very carefully indeed. On September 10, extension of the Cohens' residence permit was rejected (Rautkallio, Holocaust 180–194).

On October 27, 1942, nine Jewish refugees were taken from the Suursaari work camp to the Valpo headquarters in Helsinki. They were to be handed over to the Gestapo in Estonia along with some twenty other foreigners. On the way from Suursaari they had managed to send a postcard to Abraham Stiller, a distinguished member of the Jewish congregation in Helsinki. He took action, and immediately contacted several influential people. The word spread, and eventually reached the press. On October 30, Martin Sandberger, the Chief of the Gestapo in Estonia, had already been informed that twenty-seven people were on their way to Tallinn. However, because of the intervention, the action was cancelled at the last minute, and the whole matter was postponed by Minister of Finance Väinö Tanner, acting as the most senior Cabinet Officer, for Prime Minister J. W. Rangell and Minister of Internal Affairs Toivo Horelli were out of town elk hunting. Tanner decided no action was to be taken before their r eturn. As it happens, Arno Anthoni was in the same hunting party as the ministers, so the matter was dealt with by Tanner and the Vice-Chief of the State Police, Ville Pankko (Torvinen, Pakolaiset 190–92).

Several newspapers wrote about the right of asylum; a petition was signed by well-known intellectuals, stating that Finland’s reputation abroad might be damaged by the deportation; members of the Jewish congregation appealed to ministers; and another petition, signed by more than five hundred people, was delivered from Pietarsaari to support Walter Cohen, whose name was on the list of deportees (Torvinen, Pakolaiset 192–95).

The Government discussed the issue in an unofficial meeting on November 3, and despite the resistance of several ministers, the decision was left to Minister Horelli. Minister of Social Affairs K.-A. Fagerholm threatened to resign, but he was reassured by President Risto Ryti that the refugees would not be deported (Torvinen, Pakolaiset 195–96). Thus it came as a surprise to him, as well as the Jewish community, which already believed in a positive outcome in the matter (Torvinen, Kadimah 145; J. Jakobson in Rautkallio, Holocaust 216), when on November 6, eight Jewish refugees were sent to the Gestapo in Tallinn together with nineteen other deportees, who were mostly Estonian and Soviet citizens suspected of espionage and communism (Suominen 154–55).

Who Were They?

Despite the fact that protests had not prevented the deportation of the eight Jewish refugees, something was certainly accomplished, for among those eight were only two of the nine men brought to Helsinki from Suursaari (Suominen 148). The rest, including Walter Cohen, were taken back to the island (Torvinen, Pakolaiset 241).

The eight Jews who were sent to Tallinn on Board the S/S Hohenhörn were Elias Kopelowsky, Hans Robert Martin Korn, Hans Eduard Szübilski, Heinrich Huppert and his son Kurt, and Georg Kollmann and his wife Janka and son Franz Olof (Torvinen, Pakolaiset 197–98). According to a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, these were people who had lost their asylum through their own actions (in Torvinen, Pakolaiset 216). Minister Horelli insisted they were “saboteurs, spies and robbers” and that the matter had nothing to do with race (Rautkallio, Holocaust 230). Huppert and Korn had criminal records in Finland; Huppert had broken rationing regulations, and Korn, who had been a volunteer in the Winter War, had served a ten-month sentence in prison. In the State Police papers, criminal activities, such as embezzlement and forgery, are mentioned in connection with Kopelowsky and Georg Kollman as well. Szübilski had been suspected of being a spy (Rautkallio, Holocaust 231–33).

According to Anthoni, the deported were chosen by Horelli, who had consulted Minister of Foreign Affairs Rolf Witting and Erik Castrén, the legal advisor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Rautkallio, Holocaust 226). Indeed, Castrén’s statement concludes that “the granting of asylum to aliens in Finland depends wholly, according to both international and domestic Finnish law, on the discretion of the Finnish authorities concerned.” However, the statement is dated December 14, so it was given afterwards (Castrén in Rautkallio, Holocaust 226). It has even been suggested that the selection was random (Brusiin in Suominen 259; Torvinen, Pakolaiset 199).

From Tallinn the Jews were taken to Berlin, and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau. On their arrival, Janka and Franz Olof Kollmann, Elias Kopelowsky, and the Hupperts were taken straight to gas chambers. Apparently, Szübilski was later shot to death. The details of Hans Korn’s death are not known, but according to Georg Kollmann, who was the only survivor among the eight, Korn was sent to Warsaw (Kollmann in Rautkallio, Kahdeksan 201). Suominen suggests he might have been one of the prisoners who were sent to clear up the remains of the destroyed Warsaw Ghetto, and were killed afterwards in order to eliminate eyewitnesses (166–67).

Several sources say that Janka Kollmann and the children left Finland voluntarily (Jakobson 374; Rautkallio, Holocaust 225–26; STT in Torvinen, Pakolaiset 216). Georg Kollmann could not tell whether this was the case with his family, for they were kept apart during the journey (in Rautkallio, Kahdeksan 201). In any case, the decision about his deportation applied to his family, too (Suominen 117).

The Move to Sweden

A new government was formed in March 1943, headed by Edwin Linkomies, and the situation of the refugees improved. Some of those on Suursaari were released from work service, and the rest were moved to Jokioinen to do farm work (Torvinen, Pakolaiset 241). Horelli had not touched applications for citizenship by aliens of Jewish origin, but now they were considered, and in most cases citizenship was granted (Linkomies in Torvinen, Pakolaiset 210–11). Anthoni expressed his resistance, pointing out that people so hostile to Finland’s cobelligerent, Germany, could harm the country (Anthoni in Suominen 210–11). In the autumn, the remaining Jews in Jokioinen were released from work service.

Already after the deportation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had begun to make plans for the rest of the Jewish refugees to be moved to Sweden. This was something everyone agreed upon, including the refugees themselves, the Jewish congregations and the State Police, as well as the Social Democratic Party, which had been active in the case of the refugees from the very beginning (Torvinen, Pakolaiset 255–56; Rautkallio, Holocaust 247–48, 250). In June 1943, a new committee was established by the initiative of the Social Democratic Party to pursue the interests of the refugees.

No words were spared by the Jewish congregation, the Social Democrats, and the committee to persuade Sweden to accept the refugees. Some of the most impatient refugees wrote highly exaggerated horror stories of Nazism and bad treatment in Finland to the USA. Finally in 1944, most of the Jewish refugees moved to Sweden. In 1945 some of those who had left wanted to return, but the Jewish congregations resisted the idea owing to the difficult situation at that time: there was a shortage of accommodation, food, and clothes (Torvinen, Pakolaiset 257–61).

The Anthoni Trial

Right after the Continuation War ended in September 1944, Arno Anthoni, who had resigned from his post in February 1944, escaped to Sweden but soon returned. He was placed in custody in April 1945, and charged with misconduct. The charge concerned not only the eight Jews who had been sent to Tallinn, but also nearly seventy other people who had been handed over to German authorities during the years 1942 and 1943 (Torvinen, Pakolaiset 199–200).

In court, Anthoni claimed he had had no idea of what would happen to the Jews in Germany (Rautkallio, Holocaust 237). The prosecution presented as evidence a report of a visit to Estonia in the autumn 1941 by a State Police official, Olavi Viherluoto. On his visit Viherluoto had heard from Estonian police officers that there were few Jews left in Estonia, for all men had been killed. He also mentioned a German SS officer who had been surprised to hear the number of Jews in Finland. “So few! Are they still alive?” the officer had asked, and another had remarked, “Not for long” (Viherluoto in Rautkallio, Holocaust 134–136 and in Suominen 55–56). Anthoni denied having read the report, though his initials were on it. He explained he had seen it but not read it (Rautkallio, Holocaust 136, 139). He also referred to his “weak eyes” as having impeded his finding out about the persecution of Jews from newspapers and reports (Suominen 264).

Nevertheless, Anthoni had been in close contact with Martin Sandberger (Anthoni in Rautkallio, Holocaust 137) and visited Estonia himself (Anthoni and Sandberger in Rautkallio, Holocaust 149). However, Sandberger, who was questioned in 1948 while awaiting the execution of his death sentence for war crimes, stated that Anthoni had not been aware of the full extent of the persecution, and that Sandberger had not been allowed to discuss such matters with him (Sandberger in Rautkallio, Holocaust 145). Indeed, the fate of the Estonian Jewry had been revealed by Estonian police officers, not Gestapo men. In addition, after the deportation Anthoni had asked Sandberger about Elias Kopelowsky’s fate because of rumours about his death (Anthoni in Rautkallio, Holocaust 235).

Georg Kollmann appeared in court and surprised those present by expressing his wish that Anthoni be punished as mildly as possible, for he had no desire for revenge. Later on, he could not believe he had made such a statement (Kollmann in Suominen 263, 294–296).

The defence stated that Anthoni could only be accused of a “crime against humanity” 2, and there was no such concept in the Finnish criminal law (Suominen 266–67). On May 28, 1948, Anthoni was found not guilty of misconduct, but his actions were described as inexpert and harmful to Finland’s foreign relations (Suominen 267–69). Both parties appealed (Suominen 269), and on February 14, 1949, the Supreme Court sentenced him to receive a caution for misconduct. He was paid compensation for the time spent in custody (Suominen 282–83).

Were There Demands?

After the deportation of the eight Jewish refugees, fears among the Jewish community rose. There were rumours about plans to send all of Finland’s Jews to Germany (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 126). The fears surfaced again in the summer of 1944, when the Soviet forces launched a massive attack, and Finland turned to Germany for assistance (Torvinen, Kadimah 160). Some Jewish soldiers went as far as making arrangements to leave the country in case something went wrong and the Germans took over in Finland (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 160). The Jewish congregation in Helsinki had also taken precautions (Jakobson 374; Torvinen, Kadimah 160). The annual report of the congregation for 1944 states that the Jewish community in Finland had “never before been threatened by such a great danger” 3 (Torvinen, Kadimah 158).

Apparently at least the Helsinki congregation believed there were demands (Torvinen, Kadimah 143), and gratitude to the Finnish authorities was expressed accordingly: On December 6, 1944, on the Finnish Independence Day, in a memorial service held in the Helsinki synagogue to honour the Jewish soldiers who had died in the wars, Rabbi Elieser Berlinger thanked Finland for treating Jews equally “in spite of pressure” 4 (Torvinen, Kadimah 162). A similar statement was made in an international Jewish conference in October 1944: Finland was referred to as “the only country under the influence of Nazism that resisted all pressure and refused to deprive its Jewish citizens of their constitutional freedom and rights” 5 (Helsingin Sanomat in Torvinen, Kadimah 164).

The claims about German demands can be traced back to at least two sources, Friedrich Pantzinger and Felix Kersten, and are in close connection with two events: Arno Anthoni’s business trip to Berlin in April 1942 and SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler’s visit to Finland in the summer of the same year.

Pantzinger (sometimes spelled Panzinger), who was the chief of the Fifth Administrative Bureau of the German security police at the time, gave his version of the events when he was interrogated in 1947. According to him, Jews in Finland were discussed during Anthoni’s visit, and the Gestapo expressed its wish to have the Jews under German control. Anthoni was supposedly eager to have them handed over and sent to concentration camps, and had even brought a list of them with him. However, it is questionable whether Pantzinger’s account can be trusted, for he also made claims that can be proven inaccurate, e.g. he stated that the plan was indeed carried out, which certainly is not true (Rautkallio, Holocaust 156–58).

Felix Kersten, a Finnish citizen, was Heinrich Himmler’s masseur, and accompanied him on the visit to Finland. According to Kersten, Himmler arrived in Finland with the intention of demanding the handing over of Finland’s Jews. In case of refusal, he was prepared to threaten to halt food supplies from Germany. Kersten himself had saved the situation by making up excuses about “technical problems” (Kersten in Torvinen, Pakolaiset 181–84). However, Kersten’s reliability has been questioned (Rautkallio, Holocaust 164–69 and Aseveljeys 171–73; Torvinen, Pakolaiset 184 and Kadimah 158–59), and Jakobson points out he did use his position to help persecuted people, but also had the bad habit of twisting the truth in order to appear a hero (372).

There is also another event that is sometines mentioned in connection with Himmler’s visit. Kustaa Vilkuna, the chief Finnish censor at he time, revealed in 1954 that during the visit the contents of Himmler’s briefcase were photographed (in Rautkallio, Holocaust 168–69), and it has been claimed that among the contents was a list of Finland’s Jews (Torvinen, Pakolaiset 184; Smolar 148). Vilkuna, however, emphasises he “had nothing to do with the business” (in Rautkallio, Holocaust 168–69), and Rautkallio points out that though the story has spread, there is no evidence to support it (Rautkallio, Holocaust 169).

Prime Minister Rangell’s account of the visit is that Himmler brought up the question of Jews in Finland once. Rangell then told him they were decent people and that there was no Jewish question in the country. That was the only time the matter was discussed (Rangell in Rautkallio, Holocaust 168).

What is more, German demands seem unlikely in light of what happened in 1943. After the extradition of the eight Jewish refugees and the reactions that followed, Wipert von Blücher, the German envoy in Helsinki, expressed his concern over the negative effects the German racial policy might have on the opinions of the sensitive Finnish people (in Suominen 207). At the same time, a report arrived from Germany which instructed him to inform the Finnish government that Jews of foreign nationalities would no longer have special status in territories under German rule. The government was thus given a chance to arrange the safe return of Finnish Jews residing in the Third Reich (Luther in Suominen 89). The matter concerned only a few Finnish citizens, and yet the Germans repeatedly urged the Finnish authorities to make sure everyone had returned (Rautkallio, Aseveljeys 119–121). If the Nazis were as eager to send Finnish Jews to concentration camps as Kersten claimed, why was such a n effort made to protect these few people?

Despite the fact that Finland’s Jews were listed on the Wannsee protocol, which was drawn up in January 1942, when the decision about the final solution of the Jewish question was made (Torvinen, Kadimah 139), the Finnish Jews were, as Rautkallio concludes, an exception in Nazi Germany’s Jewish policy. Finland was simply too precious an ally for Germany to jeopardise the relationship by bringing up the Jewish question, especially since the government had firmly expressed that all demands were out of the question (Rautkallio, Holocaust 258–59).

Epilogue

During the Second World War Finnish Jewry was spared the persecution that the Jews of so many other European countries were subjected to. However, this was not the case with all foreign Jews in Finland at the time. Since it is unlikely there were any demands from the German part for the handing over of Jewish people from Finland, the policy of Finnish authorities during the war was at least partly that of voluntary extraditions with no regard to their fatal consequences.

On November 6, 2000, Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen apologised to the Jewish community on behalf of the Government and the Finnish people for the extradition of the eight Jewish refugees. In November 2003, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, an international Jewish human rights organisation, requested an account of the handing over of Jewish prisoners of war to Germany. The Finnish Government assigned Professor Heikki Ylikangas to investigate all extraditions of prisoners during the war.


Notes

1, 3-5 Quotations translated by Tuulikki Vuonokari [Back to The Continuation War, Were There Demands?]

2 What is nowadays commonly known as "a crime against humanity" is in Finnish "rikos ihmisyyttä vastaan". However, the expression originally used in the trial was not this, but "rikos inhimillisyyttä vastaan", which can be translated the same, though there is a slight difference in meaning. [Back]


Works Cited

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Last Updated 22 April 2010