WW2Total Finnish Army 1941-1944 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Finland’s National Archives has released a report confirming that over a thousand Finnish soldiers participated in mass killings of Jews during the Holocaust.
The report was initiated last year by Dr. Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who appealed to Finnish President Sauli Niinistö to launch an inquiry into the participation of Finnish volunteers in Holocaust crimes. Zuroff cited new research which revealed that they had served, and possibly participated, in murder in Nazi-occupied Ukraine in 1941.
The report found that 1,408 Finns volunteered with the Waffen SS Division Wiking, participating in massacres against “Jews, Civilians and Prisoners of War in Ukraine and the Caucasus Region” between 1941 and 1943 while serving on the Eastern Front.
Zuroff praised Finland for its “willingness to investigate and expose a dark chapter in its history, which had previously never been revealed, [which is] an example of unique and exemplary civic courage… and for their determination to expose the historical truth even if it was painful and uncomfortable.
“Throughout Eastern Europe, we are witnessing systematic attempts to rewrite the narrative of World War II and distort the history of the Holocaust to hide the crimes of local Nazi collaborators in a shameful manner,” Zuroff said. “In the Nordic countries, the role played by local SS volunteers has never fully been examined. Finland’s course of action regarding the role of local Waffen-SS volunteers is an example of the opposite, one which we hope will be emulated elsewhere.”
According to the report, at least 10,000 civilians – of whom over 6,000 were Jews – were believed to have been killed by these units between July and August 1941.
The massacres took place in dozens of locales, including Hrymailiv, Ozerna, Skalat, Tarnopol, Zboriv, Zolochiv and Krivichi.
The diaries of 76 Finnish SS volunteers were used during the writing of the report, with most showing a clear understanding and awareness of the atrocities taking place, but described with minimal details.
Some of the diary entries also prove that the Finnish SS soldiers participated in the massacres
One of the diary entries described how Thor-Bjorn Weckström, together with seven other volunteers, had taken part in a firing squad that had executed Jews.
“The Jews were brought one by one to the edge of a pit, which they already had been ordered to dig,” Weckström is quoted as saying in the diary.
“The firing squad had then executed the Jews with a rifle salvo. The first firing squad had shot five Jews, and after that another squad continued. [He] walked away from the site of the execution, joined the other Finns and told them that he thought the action unpleasant, but that it was necessary to follow a given order.”
To his interrogators, Weckström claimed that “as he fired against the refugees, he [deliberately] aimed away, because of his feelings of disgust against the action.”
Weckström admitted that he certainly “had never had any sympath[y] for the Jews, but with regards to humanity he could not approve of actions like this.”
Other testimonies show that Finnish volunteers did participate in carrying out atrocities against Jews and civilians: “Weckström in the village of Novosilky/Nowosielce on July 2, 1941; the two unknown Finnish volunteers who shot two civilians in the village of Podhorylce in the first week of July 1941; the participation of Ilmari Autonen in the 203 killing of a Soviet Commissar in Dnipropetrovsk in August 1941; and the killings in Toldzgun on December 31, 1942 under the command of the Finnish SS Hauptsturmführer Karl-Erik Ladau.”
Moreover, in the report, Finnish historian Dr. André Swanström drew attention to a letter dated July 24, 1941, from volunteer SS-Unterscharführer Olavi Karpalo (and five co-signatories) to the Finnish Liaison Officer and military chaplain SS-Obersturmführer Ensio Pihkala. “In the letter, which was probably written near the town of Tarashcha, about 100 km. south of Kiev, Karpalo claims among other things that for the execution of Jews, poorer shooting skills than those maintained by the Finnish volunteers would be adequate.
“Owing to the vague wording, it is difficult to conclude precisely what Karpalo means. Dr. Swanström considers Karpalo’s words to be clear evidence that Karpalo himself ‘really had shot Jews,’” the report said.