Finns say their SS vol­un­teers likely killed Jews in WWII

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - WEATHER DESK -

HELSINKI — An Is­raeli Holo­caust his­to­rian praised au­thor­i­ties in Fin­land on Sun­day for pub­lish­ing a re­port that con­cluded Fin­nish vol­un­teers serv­ing with Ger­man Waf­fen-SS units 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 the Nordic na­tion.

Zuroff called the de­ci­sion an “ex­am­ple of unique and ex­em­plary civic courage.”

The Fin­nish govern­ment com­mis­sioned the in­de­pen­dent 248-page in­ves­tiga­tive re­port, which was made pub­lic Fri­day. It said 1,408 Fin­nish vol­un­teers served with the 5th SS Panzer Di­vi­sion Wik­ing in 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 them are still alive, Nuorteva said.

Fin­land was in­vaded by the Soviet Union 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 leader Hein­rich Himm­ler in­sisted that Fin­land dis­patch sol­diers to the Wik­ing Di­vi­sion. Re­luc­tantly, Fin­land 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 Nazis, the re­port said.

When Ger­many in­vaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 un­der Op­er­a­tion Bar­barossa, Fin­nish reg­u­lar army troops fought in­de­pen­dently along­side Wehrma­cht sol­diers on the north­east­ern front.

The Fin­nish sol­diers were not un­der Ger­man 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.

The lead­ing Fin­nish mil­i­tary his­to­ri­ans who un­der­took the study 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 armed forces un­til the end of World War II.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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 the Nordic na­tion.

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