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Finland’s Nazi Past

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Finnish volunteer soldiers serving in the Nazi Waffen-SS units on the eastern front in World War II took part in the massacres of Jews, Russian prisoners of war, and civilians generally during the German march eastward through Ukraine and into the Caucasus from 1941 to 1943, a new report from the Finnish State Archives reveals.

Finnish SS Volunteers in Farewell parade in Ruhpolding

Finland concluded a secret agreement with Nazi Germany before the invasion of the USSR that would allow Finland to secretly send Finnish volunteers to Heinrich Himmler’s Waffen SS forces. Himmler formed a Finnish Waffen SS Volunteer Battalion from these Finnish troops called “Nordost”.

The Finnish Battalion was attached to the “Nordland” Waffen SS Regiment of the 5th SS Division “Wiking”, one of the most brutal and fanatical Nazi SS Divisions of World War II, commanded by Felix Steiner. Finnish Nazi SS troops formed the vanguard and spearheaded the German Wehrmacht assault against the Stalingrad and Caucasus regions in 1942 and advanced to the Grozny oil fields in Chechnya.

This was the farthest Nazi advance into the Soviet Union by the Axis, spearheaded by Finnish Nazi Waffen SS volunteers. It is important to remember that the Finnish government of Risto Ryti sent the Finnish Nazi SS volunteers.

There was government action on the part of Finland. Ryti should have been prosecuted for war crimes and for genocide. But he never was. Finland’s Nazi past and role in the Holocaust was blurred and obscured by Finnish propaganda.

Finns were initially considered non-Aryans because they belonged to the Finno-Ugric language group, not regarded as Indo-European under Nazi racist policy. Nevertheless, Himmler accepted Finns into the elite, racially pure, Waffen SS, as belonging to the Nordic racial stock and regarded Finns as among his best SS troops.

In 1999, Martti Ahtisaar (President of Finland from 1994-2000) and his government supported official government plans to honor and to commemorate Finland’s Nazi World War II Waffen SS volunteers.

The government planned to mark the graves of Finnish Nazi Waffen SS volunteers who had been killed in the Soviet Union. Finland had over, 1,400 Finnish volunteers in the Nazi Waffen SS, 300 of whom were killed in the Ukraine and in the Caucasus.

The memorial would consist of a small monument or plaque erected by Ahtisaari’s government at a burial site in southern Ukraine where the remains of 150 Finnish Nazi Waffen SS volunteers are buried.

Finland’s Jewish groups protested to President Martti Ahtisaari because his government was subsidizing or financing the project. Gideon Bolotowsky, a Finnish Jewish leader, accused Ahtisaari of financing Nazism. Bolotowsky told Reuters: “They (the government) are giving money to a Nazi cause. They did not fight for Finland. …It is a mistake of the government.”

Remarkable is that Ahtisaari’s government defended this honoring of Finnish Nazi SS war criminals. In a May 10, 1999 Reuters news story, it was reported: “Officials defended the plan to commemorate the SS men, saying it would be a gesture of remembrance rather than approval. ‘All governments erect monuments or plaques to their war dead,’ said Heikki Hakala, executive director of the Society for Remembrance of the War Dead. ‘This (momument) would be to honor the fallen soldiers, not for any particular deed…’ An official at the ministry of education, which donated 500,000 markka ($91,000) to the society, said the government saw nothing wrong with the plan as there was no evidence the Finnish SS battalion was involved in any Nazi artrocities.” In 1958, the Finnish government completely exonerated the Nazi SS volunteers and gave them full “combatant rights”. Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement: “Just when the German government is applying legislation to strip such volunteers of their war pensions, Finland is acting to effectively vindicate Nazi units associated with war crimes and thus to balances the Holocaust by equaling perpetrators and victims.'’ Samuels asked Martti Ahtisaari to use his influence with the government to “desist from this act of historical revisionism.'’ Martti Ahtisaari and his government defended the plan: “Officials defend the plan to commemorate the SS men, saying it would be a gesture of remembrance rather than approval.” Samuels told Reuters that he had written to President Martti Ahtisaari that honoring Finnish Nazi SS volunteers would “betray the image of Finnish neutrality as much as it (would) offend the honor of the victims of Hitlerism.'’ The Paris-based European Jewish Congress said in a statement that Ahtisaari’s commemoration of the Finnish Nazi SS war criminals “is an offence to all victims of the Nazis and jeopardizes the educational objectives of the European Union member countries to combat racism and anti-Semitism.” SOURCE

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