Editorial – September 2002
• The Transfer of Soviet-Jewish POW's from Finland to Germany During WWII
Ethic and judaism
• Committed or not
• Face the past
The Transfer of Soviet-Jewish POW's from Finland to Germany During WWII
While in Israel, if you drive from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, you pass a small village some 15 minutes before Jerusalem called Yad-Hashmona. It is a village with Finnish members and others, who chose that name in order to commemorate 8 Jewish refugees, handed over to the Germans by the Finnish authorities in November 1942.
It is customary to think, that the Jews in Finland where treated well during the Second World War in spite of Finland having been a comrade in arms of Germany, quite contrary to what happened to Jews in other countries such as Hungary, Rumania ? German allies as well.
Indeed, native Finnish Jews were treated well, fought in the army, sometimes in the vicinity of German soldiers.
The refugees allowed into Finland in the late 1930?s were interned in camps, but as mentioned, 8 only, if you may say only, were handed over to the Germans.
A third category of Jews in Finland has been totally ignored.
This is the category of Russian Jewish Prisoners of War and amongst them, tens were handed over to the Germans.
Two Finnish-Russian wars took place on the margins of World War Two. Whereas in the Winter War (30.11.1939- 13.3.1940) Finland fought without allies and international support, during the Continuation War (25.6.1941- 19.9.1944), she fought with a strong comrade in arms, Hitler?s Germany.
When the Continuation war broke out, the attacks were swift and the first part of the war was over in late October 1941. A stalemate position evolved until 1944.
All in all, Finland captured 64,188 Soviet Prisoners of War.
My father, alav hashalom, was a Finnish Jewish soldier in the war. One day his comrades called for him and said a Jewish POW had been captured. My father ran over to him and muttered a few words in Yiddish. The POW thought he was in the Other World already ? to hear Yiddish from an enemy soldier out in the forests.
Every Soviet POW was interrogated at the camp he was first taken to and a POW card and a tag were filled in.
The main details in addition to name, surname, name of parents and an address were what nationality the POW belonged to.
The main purpose of this division was to find loyal Finnish related (Finno-Ugaric) POWs in order to re-educate them to settle in Eastern Karelia. Karelia, the eastern-most part of Finland was considered a fruitful and rich part of Finland that Finland had to hand over to the Soviets in the Peace of Dorpat in 1920. Since then, especially the right-wing, dreamt of re-capturing and settling it. The number of inhabitants was low and during the Soviet period, a third of the population were now native Russians.
The division was made into as many as 89 nationalities. Caucasians, every small people separately, Jews and others were singled out.
The POWs were transported to camps inside Finland.
Officers were separated into a special camp and so were political POWs as well. Jews were part of the Russian category.
Finnish historical research hardly treats the issue of POWs. The main impression we get from testimonies and a documentary film made by Finnish Television on the fate of the POWs, called ?A Heaven for POWs?, is that Jewish POWs were treated even better than other POWs held by the Finns. This is a partial truth ?the fate of the 70 Jewish POWs I am going to describe now, tells another story.
The first time Soviet POWs were handed over to Germans was in Salla Northern Finland) on October 26, 1941. On the list of those handed over we find the 28 year-old Jewish barber Zalman Kuznetzov, professor Alexander Malkis, Haim Osherovitsh Lev- a tailor. Next to the name of the POW, the supposed reason for his handing over to the Germans was stated. They were either ?agitators? or ?politruks?. While professor Malkis might have fit the category a Bolshevik, this was hardly the case with barber Kuznetzov or tailor Haim Lev.
Single Jews were handed over the following months as well. On March 4, 1942, at least 17 out of 60 POWs were Jews. Close to a third ? exactly 28.3%.
From the POW cards we learn, that app. 3 months after being interrogated at the Military Headquarters, Jews were handed over. In January, not surprisingly, we find a wave of Jews bought in for interrogation. In March the above-mentioned POWs were passed over to the Germans. This was the result of co-operation between the Finnish Secret Police and the Gestapo. Another group of 9 Jews were handed over in September 1942. After this only single Jews are found on the lists of POWs handed over. Especially remakable is that I could not find a single Jewish name on the list of 501 POWS handed over in Hanko in January 1943 Most pows here were kaukasians, gruzians ? unproportionately many. In November 1943 a certain Vladimir Levin was handed over, but his nationality was stated as Russian.
Why were the Jews handed over and what happened in October 1942 that more or less ended this policy?
Raija Hanski, a Finnish scholar, in her study on the treatment of Soviet POWS claims that ?politically dangerous POWs were handed over to the Germans... Jews were considered especially dangerous?.
Out of the 70 Jewish POWS handed over to the Germans whom I found mentioned in archives in Finland ? at least 18 are under 25 years of age ? hardly commissars. At least 18 are rank and file soldiers ? privates ? hardly political agitators. We find carpenters, photographer, barbers, postal workers, a decorator, a musician ? hardly political activists.
Indeed ? many are older, some are officers, Professor Malkis being a Regimental Commissar and Ratner a historian and a commissary.
My conclusion ? some were indeed considered ?politically dangerous?, but many definitely not. They were handed over in exchange for Germany handing over POWs, who were from Finnish related- peoples intended to settle Karelia.
What happened in October 1942, that halted this process??
The transfer of the 8 refugees I mentioned earlier became a well-covered issue in the Finnish press and among Finnish politicians and reached the interest of the Swedish press as well.
The person most active for the refugees was businessman Abraham Stiller, a member of the Jewish Community in Helsinki and a long time activist for the cause of the refugees. On hearing on the plight of the refugees, that were to be handed over to the Germans, he called upon every politician he could in order to change the verdict. His efforts bare partial fruit. On November 6, 1942, in spite of all the lobbying 8 Jews are sent to Estonia upon the ship Hohenhorn. Only one of them survived the war.
Abraham Stiller did intervene for the Jewish POW as well.
Another person, whose intervention was crucial, was Marshal of Finland, Mannerheim himself. In the autumn of 1942 he already realizeds, that the stakes in the war were against the Germans. Orders were given to change the treatment of the POWs in general and seemingly also of the Jews in particular. Some Jews, who had been separated into an own camp in Loukolampi in Finland, even received wine and matzot for Pesach and were visited by a Rabbi from the Jewish community in Helsinki.
Can Finland be justified for handing over POWs they caugt in war? The Military Order given in June 1941 on the treatment of prisoners of war states that the POWs are in the hands of the Finnish Government and have to be treated in a human manner. Passing them over to the Germans meant not being in charge.
Did the Finns know, what would happen to Jewish POWs?
In November, an official belonging to the Secret Police in Finland visits German troops in Estonia. He reports, that he had heard all male Jews in Estonia had been shot and while being asked how many Jews there were in Finland and he had answered 2000, the comment went ?Not for much longer?.
I claim, that at least since 1942 the Finnish secret Police knew, what the fate of Jewish POWs in the hands of the Germans would be.
The conception that Finland treated Jews well during WW II is thus only partially true. Jews not considered ?part of the Finnish people? were treated less well and as we saw, some were transferred to the Germans.
Finland was not a haven for all POWs. True, the treatment improved after the end of 1942, but before that we witness transfers to Germany and harsh treatment.
*Serah Beizer has a Master of Arts Degree in Contemporary Jewry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has researched the Holocaust Period in Sweden and Finland. Presently she heads the Resource Center of the Jewish Agency.