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Finns took part in Jews’ mass murder
An Israeli Holocaust historian has praised authorities in Finland for publishing a report that concluded Finnish volunteers serving with Nazi Germany's Waffen-SS “very likely” took part in Second World War atrocities, including the mass murder of Jews.
Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre lauded the determination of the National Archives of Finland to release the findings even if doing so was “painful and uncomfortable” for Finland.
Zuroff called the decision an “example of unique and exemplary civic courage”.
Finland commissioned the independent 248-page investigative report. It said 1,408 Finnish volunteers served with the SS Panzer Division Wiking during 1941-43, most of them 17 to 20-years-old. “It is very likely that they (Finnish volunteers) participated in the killing of Jews, other civilians and prisoners of war as part of the German SS troops,” said Jussi Nuorteva, director general of the National Archives.
A significant part of the study was based on diaries kept by 76 of the Finnish SS volunteers. Eight of the Finnish SS volunteers are still alive, Nuorteva said.
Finland was invaded by Moscow in November 1939. The fighting in what became known as the Finnish-Soviet Winter War lasted until March, 1940, when an overwhelmed and outnumbered Finland agreed to a bitter peace treaty.
The small Nordic country lost several territories but maintained its independence. Isolated from the rest of Europe and afraid of another Soviet attack, Finland entered into an alliance with Germany, receiving weapons and other material help from Berlin.
As part of the pact, Nazi SS chief Heinrich Himmler insisted that Finland dispatch soldiers to the SS Wiking division, similar to the volunteers it demanded from Nazi-occupied Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and elsewhere.
Reluctantly, Finland complied and covertly recruited the first group of 400 SS volunteers to be sent for training in the spring of 1941. The vast majority of them had no ideological sympathies with the Nazi regime, the report said.
When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June, 1941 under Operation Barbarossa, Finnish regular army troops fought independently alongside Wehrmacht soldiers on the northeastern front. In 1941, the Finns advanced in the Karelia region outside Leningrad.
The Finnish soldiers were not under Nazi command, and the country’s leadership was motivated mainly by the desire to take back the territories lost to Moscow.
“At the beginning of the attack (on the Soviet Union), Finns were unaware of the Germans’ goal of eradicating the Jews,” Nuorteva said.
“Finns were, above all, interested in fighting against the Soviet Union” due to their brutal In this way, “the starting point for Finns’ involvement was different compared to most other countries joining SS foreign volunteers,”, he said.
Finnish SS volunteers with the SS Wiking division operated on the eastern front until 1943, entering deep into Ukraine.
The leading Finnish military historians who undertook the study of the country’s wartime role wrote that the Finnish SS volunteers probably took part in killing Jews and other civilians, as well as The volunteers returned to Finland after the Finnish government sensed the tide of the war had turned against the Germans. Many of them then served in the Finnish military until the end of the war.
Paula Lehtomaki, a Finnish state secretary, said: “We share the responsibility for ensuring that such atrocities will never be repeated.”