Report: Finnish soldiers with Nazi units likely killed Jews and other civilians

Finnish Professor Lars Westerlund had access to international archives, newspaper and magazine reportage, photographs, personal letters and diaries when he wrote his report.

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Report into Finnish SS volunteers and atrocities 1941-1943 / Credit: News Now Finland

A new investigation into the involvement of Finnish soldiers in an SS unit during the Second World War has concluded that Finns took part in some atrocities, but that the perpetrators are now dead.

Some 1408 Finnish volunteers served in the SS Panzer Wiking Division from 1941 to 1943, and this new report looks at their actions as German forces attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941 in particular.

“At the beginning of the attack, Finns were unaware of the Germans’ goal of eradicating the Jews. It is very likely that they participated in the killing of Jews, other civilians and prisoners of war as part of the German SS troops” says Jussi Nuorteva the Director General of the National Archives of Finland.

“We have a few cases where we know the soldiers, also known by name, have participated in atrocities. However, it is a question whether they were subordinate to orders given by German officers. This is the first question. If you are a soldier in the SS you can’t refuse, because you are risking your own life by refusing” Nuorteva tells News Now Finland.

Those atrocities mostly took place in what is now Ukraine, but the individual Finnish soldiers who are thought to have carried out atrocities are not named in the new report.

There are still eight Finnish SS volunteers alive today, but all of those who are believed to have committed acts of murder or violence against Jews and other civilians are now dead.

“The youngest generation were close to 17 years when they joined, and none of them are mentioned in the [investigative source material] says Nuorteva.

Finnish SS volunteers were encouraged to keep diaries of their wartime experience / Credit: Diary of Finnish SS volunteer Herkko Kosonen

How the report happened

The latest research was carried out by Professor Lars Westerlund, and commissioned by the Prime Minister’s office after the Simon Wiesenthal Center contacted President Niinistö in January 2018, and asked him to prepare a report about Finnish volunteers who served with the SS.

Professor Westerlund and his investigator looked at official archive records in Finland, journals from 76 Finnish Wiking Division volunteers, newspaper and magazine reportage from the 1940s, as well as private letters and photographs. The Professor was also able to examine archives in Russia, Ukraine, Germany and other Nordic countries putting together the pieces for his final 247-page report, published in English.

There is unlikely to be any further action such as criminal charges, believes National Archives Director General Jussi Nuorteva, because all the named suspects are now dead, But he says that anyway this would be for Ukrainian authorities to decide.

Professor Westerlund’s conclusions

Professor Westerlund’s full report documents recruitment, service and atrocities that were connected to Finnish volunteers, although he notes that “in the summer of 1941 when the bulk of the atrocities occurred, the share of Finnish volunteers in the SS Wiking Division was 2%”.

Those Finnish volunteers didn’t form any particular unit, instead, they were scattered among 20 different units of the Wiking Division.

There was certainly mixed attitudes towards Jewish people from the Finnish SS volunteers who went to fight in the war.

“Obviously some of the Finnish volunteers participated in atrocities, but there is also documents in which the volunteers tells how they refused to participate in the killing of Jews and [other] civilians” says report author Professor Westerlund.

Two Finns who applied to join the SS wrote on their application forms “anti-Semite” under political affiliation.

Others said that Finns arriving in Germany didn’t know very much about German attitudes towards Jewish people, but were soon told they should have nothing to do with Jews, and advised by a Finnish SS-official not to give up their seats for Jews on public transport.

Another Finn noted that he and his comrades were uncomfortable at the way the Germans made local Jews in Radomir remove their hats when passing.

While in Lublin, one un-named Finn admitted that he took part in the maltreatment of Jews in the ghetto there; and another Finn wrote in his memoirs that while stationed in Lviv he saw a Soviet partisan “with a Jewish look” executed in the courtyard of the unit’s quarters.

One Finnish volunteer wrote “the German soldiers make them polish their boots. We Finns don’t pay much attention to them […] All Jews here are shot before long”.

In April 1941, Finnish SS volunteer Olavi Karpalo & five companions wrote to Finnish officials asking for a transfer, saying “poorer shooting skills than ours are enough for executing Jews”. These Finnish volunteers wanted to fight Russians, not to participate in killing Jews.