Culture - Tuesday 18.11.2003

Wartime refugees made pawns in cruel diplomatic game

 Elina Sana book describes history of refugees extradited from Finland to Nazi Germany

By Max Jakobson

There is a monument on Observatory Hill in Helsinki commemorating the extradition of eight Jewish refugees to Germany on November 6, 1942. There were five men, who were joined voluntarily by the wife of one of the deportees and their two children. Only one of these deportees - a man - survived the war.
A small drop in the sea of millions of victims; nevertheless the event had serious repercussions for Finland. The deportations led to public debate in Finland for the first time since the beginning of the Continuation War. An editorial in Helsingin Sanomat warned the government not to violate standards of international justice. An editorial in the Social Democratic newspaper Suomen Sosialidemokraatti said that the deportations could shake the foundations of an independent country with the rule of law.
A petition was submitted to Prime Minister Rangell. It was signed by several well-known professors, as well as Eljas Erkko, the managing director of Helsingin Sanomat. The petition warned of the foreign policy repercussions that the deportations might bring.

The public protests showed
that freedom of expression had not been completely crushed.
I do not remember that the right of refugees to asylum would have been defended as passionately in the 1970s, when refugees who escaped to Finland across the eastern border were quietly returned to the Soviet Union.
The protests were not ineffective. There were still about 150 Jewish refugees in the country, whom VALPO (the State Police) had planned to hand over to the Germans, but who were allowed to stay in Finland - albeit in difficult conditions in closed work camps.
Far away in Southern Russia the battle of Stalingrad was raging. It is from there that a suspicion that Germany might perhaps not be victorious started to percolate all the way through to Finland.

A documentary book on the extradition
of the eight Jewish refugees - Kuolemanlaiva SS / Hohenhörn ("Death Ship SS / Hohenhörn") by Elina Suominen was published in 1979. Now the same author, under the name Elina Sana, has written a new book, Luovutetut ("The Extradited"), based on archive research and interviews conducted during the past 24 years. It tells about the people sent from Finland to Germany during the Continuation War.
The deportations have been discussed in several history books, but Elina Sana has her own personal perspective:
"I wanted to write specifically from the point of view of those who were deported - from 'below' as it were... I have wanted to write a history of the vanquished instead of that of the victors."
Alongside archive material and statistics, Elina Sana recounts the experiences of individuals. She has interviewed many people who suffered as victims of pitiless and even cruel actions taken by officials during the war years.
Elina Sana divides the extraditions into two different categories: some were implemented by the leaders of the Defence Forces, and the others by VALPO, the State Police. They differed in character. The Defence Forces implemented prisoner exchanges with the Germans, while VALPO deported foreigners for political reasons.

No fewer than 56,500 Soviet prisoners of war
were captured by Finland in the early years of the Continuation War. A third of these - about 18,700 - died in the hard conditions of the POW camps.
A total of 2,829 prisoners of German or other non-Russian ethnicity were sent to Germany, and Finland got 2,181 Soviet prisoners captured by the Germans of Finno-Ugric origin, or who spoke Finnish. The book does not reveal what happened to them. Were they sent back to the Soviet Union after the war?
Some of the Jewish soldiers among the Soviet prisoners of war were sent to Germany, but no exact figures on how many there were are available. Some of the documents concerning the POWs were destroyed at the end of the war. According to one estimate, 74 of the prisoners of war handed over to Germany were Jews. Their fate was sealed in advance.

To save the Jewish prisoners of war
, the Jewish Congregation of Helsinki proposed to the Defence Staff that all Jewish prisoners should be placed in a separate camp. The formal reason for this was that in this way they might safely practice their religion.
The congregation also promised to send them food and to provide health care. The military brass agreed to this, but with certain conditions: officers, politruks, and other special prisoners were not transferred, nor were those Jews who worked as medics or had other essential duties.
About 150 Jews were housed in special camps in October 1942. A few years ago two former Soviet prisoners of war now living in Israel came to Helsinki to thank the Jewish Congregation for the "paradise" that their camp was called. This is not mentioned in Elina Sana's book.

Details are also sketchy
on the deportations implemented by the police. VALPO destroyed many of its documents. According to one estimate, the number of people handed over to the Gestapo in 1941 was either 78 or 129, depending on how the VALPO archives are interpreted.
The names of 29 deportees were in Finland's criminal register. They had all served their sentences before being handed over to the Germans. About ten of them are believed to have been Jews. The reasons given by VALPO for their extradition were quite vague for nearly all of them: the people sent out of the country were "undesirable and criminal elements".
"Communists were persecuted in Finland", Elina Sana writes. However, the primary reason for this was not the fact that they believed in the doctrines of Karl Marx, but rather because they were seen to have worked on behalf of Finland's arch-enemy, the Soviet Union. And lurking behind the Soviet Union was Russia...

Finland went into the Continuation War
on the coat-tails of the strength of Germany. It was believed that Germany would save us from the fate of the Baltic States. The brutality of the Nazi regime, the violations of the rights of small nations - all of these were swept under the carpet.
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Throughout the ages this rule has been a guiding light for states and nations in moments of peril.
One typical case was the comment made by Winston Churchill when Germany attacked the Soviet Union "If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons."
From the Finnish point of view, Hitler had invaded Hell.

The Continuation War
had two goals in its early stages: one involved Realpolitik, and the other was one of national romanticism.
The former aimed at the restoration of territory ceded to the Soviets in the Moscow Peace Treaty (which ended the Winter War in 1940), and the achievement of an advantageous line of defence. The goal linked with national romanticism was the liberation of ethnically Finnish tribal brothers from under the yoke of foreign occupation, and the annexation of their territory by Finland.
At the end of 1942 and the beginning of 1943 the national romantic dream of a Greater Finland was extinguished, but the line of national realism remained.
Elina Sana's book reveals that there was little respect for human rights at that time. However, Finnish citizens were protected. When Hitler's close aide Heinrich Himmler visited Finland in the summer of 1942 there were fears that he would demand that Finland hand its Jews to Germany. During a drive in a car with Prime Minister Rangell, Himmler had asked about Finland's Jews.
Rangell's answer was: "Finland has a couple of thousand Jews - decent families and individuals, whose sons fight in our army just like other Finns, and who are as respected as citizens as all others".
He ended his comments by telling Himmler: "Wir haben keine Judenfrage" ("We have no Jewish question"). And that was the end of the conversation.

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 11.11.2003

Max Jakobson is a former diplomat and Finland's permanent representative at the UN, and is probably the country's best-known commentator on international affairs and the author of several works on recent Finnish history. He is also a prominent member of Finland's Jewish community.

More on this subject:
 Wartime refugees made pawns in cruel diplomatic game
 Book on Finland's wartime deportations generates considerable interest abroad

Previously in HS International Edition:
 More than just eight deportations to Nazi Germany (4.11.2003)
 Lipponen apologises to Jewish community for wartime deportations (6.11.2000)

 The Jews of Finland and World War II - examines the difference between Finnish Jews and Jewish refugees in WWII

Helsingin Sanomat

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