In A Nutshell
The Jewish people were the most badly persecuted of all of the “inferior” races by Hitler’s Germany in World War II. Finland also fought on Germany’s side against the Soviet Union, but did not persecute or deport its Jewish population. Instead, the Jews there fought for Finland. Unsurprisingly, it is rarely mentioned, as Finland considered itself a co-belligerent rather than an ally of Germany.
The Whole Bushel
During the Winter War (1939–1940) between Finland and the Soviet Union, Finland was forced to cede some of its pre-war territory after the Soviet Union eventually overwhelmed Finnish forces. When Germany launched Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, the Soviet Union launched a pre-emptive strike on Finland three days later. Finland joined the war on the German side, allowing German troops in Finland and started to take back territory lost in the Winter War, aided by German troops and supplies.
Among the Finnish soldiers were 300 Jews. Despite Germany demanding that Finland introduce anti-Semitic laws like in the rest of Nazi-controlled Europe, the Finns refused, treating their Jewish soldiers with respect. When Heinrich Himmler visited Finland in August 1942, he asked the Finnish Prime Minister, Jukka Rangell, about the “Jewish question.” Jukka’s reply was brief; “We do not have a ‘Jewish Question.’ ” There was even a field synagogue for the Jewish soldiers, with some Germans actually visiting the synagogue and showing respect for the Jews who prayed there, despite the propaganda they had been shown for years.
Some German soldiers fighting in Finland found themselves having to salute superior Finnish officers who were Jewish. Even more surprisingly, there were friendships between German and Finnish Jew soldiers, with some German soldiers falling for Jewish nurses in army hospitals. Even though they found themselves allied with a country that despised them, the Finnish Jews had no issues with fighting alongside the Germans. They were fighting for Finland, not the Nazis against a common enemy. During the war, three Finnish Jews were awarded the Iron Cross, a German military award for bravery. Not all of the Finnish Jews gladly received them, with one Jewish scientist who was awarded one for evacuating a field hospital while it was under fire from artillery, saying, “Tell your German colleagues that I wipe my arse with [the award]!”
Of the 300 Jews who fought, eight died for Finland in battle during World War II, but the question does remain: What would have happened to them had Hitler won, despite their part in the war?