Simon Wiesenthal Center Director Efraim Zuroff attends a protest against the annual procession commemorating the Latvian Waffen-SS (Schutzstaffel) unit, also known as the Legionnaires, in Riga March 16, 2014. (REUTERS/Ints Kalnins).
(photo credit: REUTERS/INTS KALNINS)
The Wiesenthal Center welcomed a decision by the government of Finland to investigate the participation of Finnish volunteers in Holocaust crimes, in the wake of new research on their service in Ukraine in 1941.
In a press release published over the weekend, the center’s chief Nazi hunter, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, praised the prompt decision of Finnish President Sauli Niinistö to fund an independent research survey of the operations of the Finnish SS volunteers.
Zuroff appealed to Niinistö, in a letter sent on January 4, to probe the findings of Dr. Andre Swanström, chairman of the Finnish Society of Church History. His research, published in October, strongly suggests that Finnish volunteers who served in the Viking Division of the Waffen-SS were actively involved in the mass murder of Jews in Ukraine.
Some 1,400 Finnish citizens served in the Finnish Volunteer Battalion of the Waffen SS between 1941 and 1943.
In a second letter sent to Niinistö on Thursday, Zuroff wrote: “Thank you very much for your letter and the positive decision... to ‘fund a further independent survey of the operations of the Finnish Volunteers Battalion of the Waffen-SS and particularly examine its operations in Ukraine.’ In addition, we particularly welcome your mention of the need for a legal response as well ‘should any criminal activities be uncovered.’”
“Finland can be proud of the willingness of its leaders to honestly investigate sensitive issues regarding the difficult years of World War II,” he continued. “The determination to do so is a reflection of integrity and requires a degree of courage, neither of which are particularly common these days in many other societies.”
Zuroff added that the Wiesenthal Center would be willing to cooperate with the Finnish government to assist in the investigation as well as in other aspects of Holocaust commemoration and education.
Niinistö’s communications director, Katri Makkonen, told Finland’s national public-broadcasting company Yle that the probe will be commissioned by the Prime Minister’s Office and carried out in cooperation with the National Archives of Finland.
Finland protected its Jewish community during the Holocaust, thus the findings of Swanström’s recent research came as a surprise.
Probing the actions of the volunteers, Zuroff told The Jerusalem Post
earlier this month, is essential to maintaining accuracy during the Holocaust.