Re­port: Fin­nish SS vol­un­teers likely killed Jews in WWII

El Dorado News-Times - - Viewpoint -

HELSINKI (AP) — An Is­raeli Holo­caust his­to­rian praised au­thor­i­ties in Fin­land on Sun­day for pub­lish­ing a re­port that con­cluded Fin­nish vol­un­teers serv­ing with Nazi Ger­many's Waf­fen-SS "very likely" took part in World War II atroc­i­ties, in­clud­ing the mass mur­der of Jews.

Efraim Zuroff of the Si­mon Wiesen­thal Cen­ter 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's gov­ern­ment com­mis­sioned the in­de­pen­dent 248-page in­ves­tiga­tive re­port, which was made pub­lic Fri­day. 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 Fin­nishSoviet 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 mainly mo­ti­vated 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 ex­pe­ri­ences in the Win­ter War and the per­ceived threat from Moscow.

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 likely took part in killing Jews and other civil­ians, as well as wit­nessed atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by the Ger­mans.

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 World War II.

A copy of Fri­day's re­port was given to Paula Le­htomaki, a state sec­re­tary with the Fin­nish gov­ern­ment, who said it was a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to ex­ist­ing re­search "on dif­fi­cult and sig­nif­i­cant his­tor­i­cal events" dur­ing Fin­land's com­plex World War II his­tory.

"We share the re­spon­si­bil­ity for en­sur­ing that such atroc­i­ties will never be re­peated," said Le­htomaki.

The his­tor­i­cal probe was launched fol­low­ing Zuroff's re­quest in Jan­uary 2018 to Fin­nish Pres­i­dent Sauli Ni­in­isto.

Fin­land's move con­trasts with the at­ti­tude of some eastern Euro­pean na­tions that have sought to di­min­ish their cul­pa­bil­ity in the Holo­caust.

In Poland, the cur­rent right-wing gov­ern­ment has worked to high­light cases of Poles who acted hero­ically and saved Jews, as well as the large num­bers of Poles who died and suf­fered dur­ing Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion.

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