‘While Jews serve in my army I will not allow their deportation’

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by Timppa, Oct 29, 2013.

  1. Timppa

    Timppa Active Member

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    Despite sixty years’ intensive research and thousands of publications, certain aspects of the Second World War are still little known or remain to be discovered. It is only now, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, for example, that we can reconstruct the full story of Finland’s participation in the war.

    Consider the paradoxes. Finland fought on the German side (although it always refused to call itself an ally and insisted that it was only a co-belligerent). Yet it refused to deport, persecute or even discriminate against its Jewish population. And the country even behaved humanely towards Jewish prisoners of war.

    Even stranger, Jewish soldiers fought in the Finnish ranks as equals – thereby, inevitably, helping the Germans achieve some of their war aims. Yet in doing so, I will argue, they also served Jewish interests. This article explains the background to these startling anomalies

    During the war, the lives of the Finnish Jews continued as before: synagogues and communal institutions functioned and the Jewish newspaper was published. Three hundred Jewish officers and soldiers served in the Finnish army during the Continuation War (eight were killed in battle).

    Yet they faced an agonizing dilemma. Those who took part in the Winter War knew that they were fighting against an aggressor. Now Jewish soldiers understood that, by serving in an army fighting the USSR, they were also helping Hitler. Throughout the Continuation War, they had to collaborate with the Germans. Some who were fluent in German served in the Intelligence Service and so, throughout constant liaison with German Intelligence, acquired information about the extermination of European Jewry. On the other hand, Jewish soldiers remembered the words of Marshal Mannerheim when Himmler tried to persuade Finnish leaders to deport the Jews to concentration camps: ‘While Jews serve in my army I will not allow their deportation.’ By serving in the Finnish army Jewish soldiers hoped to prevent the community from being persecuted.

    The maintenance of Jewish religious tradition was of paramount importance to soldiers fighting on the Finnish—Soviet front. A field synagogue was established a mere 2 kilometres from the German troops. This was the only field synagogue on the German side of the 2,000-mile front line which in 1942 stretched all the way from the North Cape in Norway to El Alamein in Egypt. The Finnish High Command granted leave to Jewish soldiers on Saturdays and Jewish holidays. Worshippers came to pray from near and far, some on skis, some on horseback, most on foot. The Germans were astonished and frustrated to see Jewish soldiers holding religious services in an army tent. It is also interesting to note that the most popular Finnish singer, the ‘soldier’s sweetheart’ (or Finnish Vera Lynn), was Jewish. Yet she entertained only Finnish soldiers and refused to do the same for the Germans.

    Three Jews serving in the Finnish army were awarded Iron Crosses by the German command for their bravery (Hannu Rautkallio, ‘Cast into the Lion’s Den’, Journal of Contemporary History 29, 1994). Major Leo Skurnik was a descendant of one of the oldest cantonist Jewish families. He served as a doctor, organized the evacuation of a German field hospital and thereby saved the lives of more than 600 German officers and soldiers. He refused to accept the decoration on the grounds of being a Jew. Captain Solomon Klass saved a German company that had been surrounded by Soviet forces. Two days later, German officers came to offer him the Iron Cross. He refused to stand up and told them contemptuously that he was Jewish and did not want their medal. The officers repeated their ‘Heil Hitler’ salute and left. A third Jew, a nurse, also refused the Iron Cross.

    Mannerheim’s war aims were quite different from those of the Germans he fought alongside. He merely wanted to recover Finnish territory lost in the Winter War and to preserve the country’s independence. He had no desire to destroy the USSR because, as he once put it, ‘Russia will always be our neighbour.’ And he never pursued Hitler’s racial policies. Indeed he helped ensure that Finnish Jews had equal rights with the Christian majority.
    ...

    In August 1944 Mannerheim was elected President of Finland and initiated peace negotiations with the USSR. The armistice agreement was signed in September 1944. According to this agreement Finland started military actions against German troops deployed in Lapland – an action in which some Finnish Jewish soldiers also took part.

    On 6 December (Independence Day) 1944 President Mannerheim visited the Helsinki synagogue, took part in a commemorative service for the Jewish soldiers who had died in the Winter and Continuation Wars and presented the Jewish community with a medal.

    It was because of Mannerheim that Finland remained an independent state, unlike the many East European countries which became satellites of the Soviet Union. Finnish Jews continued to have every opportunity to live as a vibrant community or to emigrate to Israel. Twenty-seven Jews with battle experience went there in 1948 to take part in the War of Independence.

    In 2005 an exhibition dedicated to Marshal Mannerheim was held at the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg, and Finnish historians had an opportunity to show for the first time Mannerheim’s role in saving Leningrad. It is here, perhaps, that the Finnish Jewish soldiers who took part in the Second World War on the German side can take consolation. By fighting alongside the Germans, paradoxically, they helped to save not only the Finnish Jewish community but the Jewish community of Leningrad as well.

    I would like to express my gratitude to Boris Ben-Ari (London) and Gideon Bolotowsky (Helsinki) for valuable information about the participation of Finnish Jewish soldiers in the Second World War.

    Rachel Bayvel has a Masters degree from the University of Design and Technology in Leningrad. She has lived in London since 1978 and researches Eastern European history.

    The Jewish Quarterly
     
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  2. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    That was pretty interesting.
     
  3. Capt. Vick

    Capt. Vick Well-Known Member

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    Well what do you know...interesting.
     
  4. imalko

    imalko Well-Known Member

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    You learn something new every day... Interesting article. Thanks for posting.
     
  5. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Fascinating stuff. War is never "black and white" and here's a classic example. I always perceived Finland more as fighting against Soviet aggression than fighting for the Axis side. It's a subtle distinction but it merits being made. For all Hitler's efforts to "encourage" Finland towards closer integration and interoperability with Axis aims and objectives, Mannerheim and other Finnish leaders steadfastly refused and maintained a far narrower, nationalistic agenda (much to their credit, I might add!).
     
  6. vinnye

    vinnye Member

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    Thanks for posting this. Very informative.
     
  7. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    Great post Timpa. And very interesting.
     
  8. silence

    silence Active Member

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    I had a friend at university who was from Finland and the son of missionaries. He was one of the most impressive people I have ever met, in every conceivable way. Now he's a Professor of Computer Engineering (Ph.D) at University of Wisconsin-Madison. If he's representative of the Finnish people, then what a wonderful society. Plus they play great hockey!
     
  9. pattle

    pattle Member

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    You have to remember that Russia was also very cruel towards it's Jewish population. I understand that during World War One German soldiers were welcomed by the Jewish population in areas previously under Russian control.
     
  10. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    Sad fact is that the German Jews in WWI fought with distiction, over 30,000 receiving decorations including Wilhelm Frankl, who recieved the Pour le Merite (he had 20 aerial victories). That's out of an estimated 100,000 Jews who served under the Kaiser.

    There's no doubt, that had Hitler and his lackeys not persecuted the Jews, the German army would have had the same tenacious fighters in it's ranks during WWII.
     
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  11. redcoat

    redcoat Active Member

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    Mannerheim was once asked by Hitler what was he going to do about the 'Jewish problem', he merely replied "we don't have a Jewish problem".
     
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  12. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    Good to see someone reposting this from time to time. I did it last in 2007.
     
  13. mikec1

    mikec1 Banned

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    Greeting Guys, and Gals;

    I have a problem with your word Jew...... To be politically correct, should not that word be
    Hebrew.............. 8)


    Mike
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  14. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    If I may ask, what's problem is there with the word 'Jew'? Not attacking you, merely curious, I'm not a native English speaker.
     
  15. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    What if the word "politically correct" was offensive to some? :lol:
     
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  16. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    ".....I have a problem with your word Jew...... "

    I have a problem with the way you format all your posts , mikec1, silly punctuation and affected ... but you don't see me complaining, do you? :)


    .
    .
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    Greeting Guys, and Gals;

    I have a problem with your word Jew...... To be politically correct, should not that word be
    Hebrew.............
     
  17. pattle

    pattle Member

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    One of my mates is Jewish and he says he's a Jew, I have never heard anyone say they are Hebrew. People in the UK generally don't go about telling each other what religion they belong to, we don't have professional Jews in the UK like in some countries.
     
  18. fastmongrel

    fastmongrel Well-Known Member

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    Hebrew is a language and an archaic term for one of the tribes of Isreal
     
  19. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    Guys, I think if one of us has a problem with certain words and he has good reasons for that, we should respect that. For me and I guess for Timpa as well, English is only a secondary language, so we don't know all the subtilities in it and can insult people without meaning to do so. It is good if someone points it out in a friendly manner and explain.
     
  20. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    In all honesty, some things can be mis-interpreted.

    Some people seem to find the word "Oriental" offensive, yet it merely defines the far-eastern portion of Asia and is a very old description.

    The name "Jew" is as descriptive to a person of the Hebrew faith is, as "Christian" is to those folks of that religion. Shouldn't be anything wrong with it.
     
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