A report released Friday by the National Archives of Finland found that Finnish soldiers participated in mass murders of Jews, foreign civilians, and Russian prisoners of war during World War II.
The report concluded that 1,408 Finns volunteered in the Nazis’ Fifth SS Panzer Division (Wiking), and participated in massacres in Ukraine and the Caucasus between 1941 and 1943.
It’s hard to determine how many Jews and other people were murdered with the participation of Finnish soldiers, the report said, but the figure probably totals around 10,000 people. The massacres took place in dozens of cities, including Hrymailiv, Ozerna, Skalat, Tarnopol, Zboriv, Zolochiv, and Krivichi, mostly in the summer of 1941.
The study was initiated following a request by Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who has exposed hundreds of war criminals over the years. A year ago, Zuroff wrote to Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and asked that Finland carry out in-depth research on the subject in light of new findings about the involvement of Finnish soldiers in the murder of Ukrainian Jews.
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Zuroff acknowledged that this would be a painful step for Finland, but argued that it is "the only way to courageously face the mistakes of the past and to prevent such crimes in the future."
The report published Friday is based on documents from archives in Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Holland and other European countries. These include dozens of diaries and memoirs written by Finnish SS volunteers. Due to the large amount of time that has passed since the war and the nature of the evidence, the report said it was impossible to be certain about what happened. Nevertheless, it concluded, it is highly probable that Finnish soldiers participated in massacres.
Prof. Jussi Nuorteva, director of the National Archives of Finland, said the Finns were initially unaware of the German plan to exterminate the Jews, and their main motive for joining the SS was a desire to fight the two countries’ common enemy, the Soviet Union. Among other things, the Finns hoped to receive military training that would help them fight the Red Army.
World War II lasted from 1939 to 1945, and during the space of those six years, Finland fought four wars: three against the Soviet Union and one against Nazi Germany. The country’s Jewish community numbered some 2,000 people in 1939, but was augmented by hundreds of Jewish refugees after the war began. Eight of them were handed over to Germany, and Moshav Yad Shmona – literally, “a memorial to the eight” – is named after them. The moshav, located near Jerusalem, was established by Finnish volunteers.