Foreign - Tuesday 4.11.2003
UNTO HÄMÄLÄINEN / Helsingin Sanomat
More than just eight deportations to Nazi Germany
New book reveals 3,000 foreigners handed over during World War II
By Unto Hämäläinen
Researcher Elina Suominen shocked Finns in the autumn of 1979 with her book Kuoleman laiva s/s Hohenhörn ("Death Ship S/S Hohenhörn"). Suominen had dug up a blemish on our history that had nearly been forgotten: during the Continuation War (1941-44) eight
Jews were sent to Germany to concentration camps, and Finland came very close to handing over even more.
The book sparked a long debate, and even now - nearly a quarter of a century later - references are made to the book. The
fate of the extradited Jews became a part of Finnish history. Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen apologised to the Jewish community in early November 2000 at a ceremony on Helsinki's Observatory Hill in which he unveiled
a monument to Jewish refugees.
Already when the book appeared, Suominen said that she had other material from the time of the Continuation War about extraditions
from Finland to Germany. "Someday that could also be written in book form", predicted journalist Raija Forsström in Helsingin Sanomat on October 1, 1979.
Now that day has arrived. Next week a new book, Luovutetut - Suomen ihmisluovutukset Gestapolle ("The Extradited - Finland's Deportations to the Gestapo") is to be published, showing that many more people were handed
over to Germany during the Continuation War than has been generally known.
- The world has undergone considerable changes in the time that has passed since the previous book came out. There is no more Soviet Union, Germany
is united, and Finland is a member of the European Union. Also, there is no more Elina Suominen; she is now Elina Sana. However, much remains of the young researcher of whom Dr. Jukka Tarkka wrote: "The pent-up zeal is the strength of Suominen's text, but also the weakness of this book".
On the outside Sana does not look zealous in any way. She appears to be a quiet and unpretentious woman who approaches her
work with an attitude of humility.
This 56-year-old Master of Social Sciences and mother of three has worked for more than 30 years in Finland and abroad in
projects involving development cooperation, gender equality, and education. Most recently she served as secretary-general
of a consultative committee on equality issues. That came to an end in May. Now she is an unemployed researcher.
"When I worked for the UN, life would toss me to all corners of the world. The stack of papers grew and travelled around with
me in moving boxes. Finally I stored them away in my attic instead of carrying them around with me in these last African countries",
Sana says, recalling the phases of her book project.
- There is no single reason why the work was interrupted in the autumn of 1979. There was the responsibility of a single parent for a family, and she
also had to move house many times because of her work. The spirit of the times undoubtedly also had an impact. It was the
time of the Cold War, and history was one of the weapons in the ideological battle.
The prevailing atmosphere did not encourage handling sensitive subjects. Sana waited for someone else to grab the bait and
start to examine the deportations of the Continuation War. This did not take place, and the work that was left undone started
to bother her.
Three years ago Sana returned from a foreign assignment to Finland and decided once again to go back to the papers, read them
through, and add material that had piled up over the years. She thought that she might arrange the papers so that they might
be available to future researchers in public archives, but the material itself was just too compelling. She simply had to
write the book that she had once promised to write.
- It will have been 60 years since the end of the Continuation War next year. Much has been written about the war, so it is understandable that readers
will look at a new book on the subject with a certain amount of suspicion. Is there anything new that can be found in the
Elina Sana is quite sure that her results are accurate.
"The way that our history is written needs to be be changed in exactly the same way that it changed as the result of my first
book", she says.
That is asking quite a bit, because changing the way that history is written is no insignificant process. It would have an
impact on the work of researchers, public debate, and the teaching of history in schools, and on the collective memory of
the nation - that is, the image that all Finns have of the Continuation War.
And the image that we have of the Finland of the Continuation War is a positive one. A small nation survived a war of two
dictatorships by allying itself with Germany in 1941 and by making a separate peace with the Soviet Union in 1944. The country
was spared an occupation, and managed to guarantee the security of its own citizens, and even to oppose Germany's intentions
to eliminate Finland's Jews.
Sana's book puts something of a crack in this image. The most important conclusion that can be drawn from the study is that
Finland had a hand in the destruction of people who sought refuge in this country, or who became prisoners of war here.
- "Finland's part in the holocaust is much bigger than has been admitted so far", Sana says.
According to her research, 3,000 foreigners were extradited from Finland into the hands of the German security service (Sicherheitsdienst, SD), and to the secret police - the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei), which was subordinate to the SD. Decisions to extradite were made especially in the early part of the Continuation War,
in 1941 and 1942.
"In 1943 there was a turnaround. It was then that the torrent dried up and became a trickle", Sana says.
Those who were extradited included Jews, Russian POWs, and, for instance, people from countries of Central Europe who found
themselves in Finland, and were considered to be "undesirable elements" by the Finland of that time.
- A common feature of the deportees was that they were "dissidents" of some kind or another - communists, or suspected communists. The same fate was shared by
a number of Finnish communists who had come to Finland from the Soviet Union and were imprisoned here.
Included among the Russian prisoners of war were a large number of political officers of the Red Army - "commissars". When
they extradited them to Germany, Finnish authorities were well aware of the order given by Adolf Hitler already at the beginning of the war: the commissars must be liquidated immediately.
The deportees did not end up in German hands by accident or bad luck: their fates were sealed by decisions made by Finnish
"The extraditions were systematic", Elina Sana says.
- It remains unknown, and it is unlikely that it will ever be ascertained with any certainty, what happened to the deportees once they were in
German hands. However, at least some of them - probably a large part of them - lost their lives. They would either have been
summarily executed, or they would have succumbed to the harsh conditions of the prison camps. In any case, only a few of them
ever came back.
The biographies of a few of the extradited, whose stories the researcher found particularly touching, were investigated for
the book. The most poignant was the fate of a Finnish man who had been born in the Pori region.
"The man was jailed for stealing hay during the Continuation War. As he was serving his sentence, officials noticed that the
man had been in Soviet Karelia in the 1930s. While he was in prison his status was changed to that of a Soviet prisoner, and
after serving his sentence he was handed over directly to the Gestapo", Sana explains.
She traced the man's fate, but the trail came to a dead end. The last mention was on the list of incoming inmates at the Stutthof concentration camp.
- Elina Sana rolls out a massive amount of archive material for her readers. She has gone through studies that have already been published on issues
such as the treatment of prisoners of war during the Continuation War. She has also compares information in various archives,
and draws her own conclusions.
The deportations were difficult to trace because the documents in question have been meagre, and some extraditions were carried
out in secret. Much of the archive material was destroyed at the end of the war.
According to the book, deportations followed two different routes. One of them was the "police route" - the Finnish State
Police VALPO. The other was the "military route", involving military officials.
Sana estimates that 129 people were handed over by VALPO. Most of them were Russians, Estonians, or Finnish-born communists.
Also included were soldiers from the Winter War who refused to fight alongside Germany.
The book contains a table that progresses from day to day, revealing that the first handover of prisoners to the Germans took
place on September 23, 1941 in Rovaniemi, and that the last one was in Hanko on August 19, 1944.
Prisoners were handed over on 49 separate occasions, and a total of 2,829 prisoners of war were involved. The prisoners mostly
came from POW camps. Included among them were more than 500 political prisoners and Jewish prisoners of war.
"The total number is higher than that mentioned in lists drafted after the war, because it also includes information that
had been kept in the archives of the camps", Sana writes in the summary of her book.
- When a white page of history is opened up, a debate on whom to blame usually ensues. Sana's study might spark discussion of why Finland did not refuse
"There were many kinds of pressure directed at Finland... The thinking was that nothing else could be done", Sana says, commenting
on the decisions that were made at the time.
Perhaps there was some cold calculation involved. By deporting "foreigners" it might be possible to protect Finnish citizens
against German demands. This is also what was done by Germany's other allies.
- In addition to officials and military personnel, civilians were also ordered to deal with the prisoner of war question. Those ordered to do the work included Uuno Hannula, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Pohjolan Sanomat, and Eljas Erkko, Managing Director of Sanoma Oy, which published Helsingin Sanomat. Before the war Hannula had been the Minister of Finance, and Erkko was the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the centre-left
government of A.K. Cajander.
The book includes Hannula's desperate letter to Erkko. Hannula was the head of the prisoner of war camp of Northern Finland,
and Erkko held a high position in POW affairs in Helsinki.
"My situation is difficult: on the one hand my sense of duty says that I must stay in my post. On the other hand, the task
that has fallen upon me is a terrible one", Hannula wrote at the end of 1941, and he asked to be relieved of his duties, in
which he felt that he had "thoroughly failed".
Hannula got his wish, and in the following summer Erkko left his post in POW administration, and in the autumn of 1942 he
was one of the signatories of a public appeal opposing the deportation of Jews.
- In her research on the fates of the deported, Elina Sana found herself face-to-face with her own family history. During the war her father
had served as an interpreter for German forces in Northern Finland, and it is likely that he knew something about the handing
over of refugees to the Germans.
"My father suffered psychological damage caused by the war, right up to his death. I was never able to talk to him about those
times. I do not believe that he did anything bad. However, he probably saw something, and I am sure that it was the reason
for his anguish."
Sana believes that hundreds of Finns have borne the same burden, and that many still do. They saw things, but were unable
to do anything under the prevailing conditions.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 1.11.2003
- Previously in HS International Edition:
- Lipponen apologises to Jewish community for wartime deportations (6.11.2000)
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