20160814 - Helsinki

posted 16 Aug 2016, 06:08 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin   [ updated 16 Aug 2016, 10:27 ]

20160814 - Helsinki

In the early 1940's there was a country at war that saw Jewish soldiers and Nazi German soldiers sharing trenches, shooting at a common enemy, even drinking from the same flask.
Unrealistic as it sounds, misery does acquaint a country with strange bedfellows.

After the Winter War of 1939, when Finland survived Stalinist Russia invasion attempt through the sheer strategic brilliance and determination of Gustav Mannerheim, its military and political leader.


Ongoing Russian attacks forced the Finns to throw their lot in with the Axis, and allow German forces to station Wermacht forces here.

During the Russian rule, the pail of settlement precluded almost all Jews from living in Finland, except for the cantonists who survived for years in the Tsar's army - and remained Jews by the time of discharge, Thus, Jews only fully established themselves in Finland after the country gained its independence from Russia in 1917. They took a prominent place in the country's life (nu, what else is new?).

As a result, many Jewish officers and soldiers fiercely fought for Finland both in 1939 and 1941.
Finland steadily refused to introduce anti-Jewish laws. The Jews in the Finnish army had a field synagogue, and were granted leave on Shabbat and yontef. As you can imagine, it irked their German "comrades in arms" to no end.

Finland also refused to give away Jewish refugees to Germany. Its history and record is not without blemish; some of the POWs, mostly from Russia, were sent to Germany, and 300 of those were Jews. Most of them perished. Yet in spite of the growing pressure of the Nazi Germany (Heinrich Himmler personally made two visits to Helsinki in hope to move the government from its position regarding the Jews), no civilian refugees were given up. In 1944, Mannerheim had 160 Jewish refugees who did not have a legal status to protect them in Finland 'deported' to Sweden in order to save them from the Germans.

The first time I visited Helsinki synagogue more than 20 years ago, there was a special event. The Union of Jewish Soldiers of Finland were celebrating here for 50 years since the end of the war.


Yes, the war ended for Finland with clearing the Germans out of the land. And - no, they did not go peacefully. Lapland still remembers the Nazi tactic of scorched earth.

Here is an interesting article on the history of the Finnish Jews:

‘While Jews serve in my army I will not allow their deportation’

Rachel Bayvel reveals the extraordinary story of the Finnish Jewish soldiers who fought alongside the Germans in the Second World War.

In my childhood, Finland had yet another significance for us the refusniks. Under the treaty with the Soviets, they had to return any runaways from Russia. Which meant that if you ran across the border (and a number of people did successfully do it through the forests of Soviet Karelia) you were not safe unless you crossed all of Finland and into Sweden.
The old dissidents of my childhood hated Finland for it.

Yet here's a story that I heard first-hand from a man who managed to escape Russia, only to be caught in the vicinity of Turku.

Brought to the police station in Helsinki, he was interrogated by a middle-aged polite Finnish policeman. Having established his identity, the policeman said:
- I am going to take a long smoke now. Please note that in my absence, you are not allowed to open this drawer of my bureau, nor remove the 50-mark bill I am placing here. You are definitely not allowed to break this little window here, nor turn the handle from the outside and get out. And, of course, most importantly, you are definitely prohibited from walking left to the second corner, turning left, reaching the pier and buying a ticket to the Stockholm ferry leaving in 22 minutes. Any of those actions would have been criminal acts, and I warn you officially against committing any of them...

In the 90's, he went back to find and thank the man.
Not everyone was so lucky - but we'll do well to remember there is always another side to the story.

Shabbat Shalom,