I really wonder the reaction of the Finns to the Nazi treatment of Soviets and maybe Jews.
What was the Finnish reaction to the Nazi atrocities during Operation Barbarossa? Did they participate in any way?
I think Finland sent 1400 “SS Volunteers” and these were involved. Their Goverment made a report recently which I couldn’t find, anyone?
The Wiesenthal center asked for it in 2018 and Commended Finland for complying.
Finns serving in the Waffen-SS.
Finland allowed covert requiting (around 1400 men) for a Finnish Waffen SS battalion in 1941 before the Operation Barbarossa on the condition that they would only be used against the USSR. Idea had been to imitate the 27th Jägers of the WW I fame - but Germans would allow only service as part of Waffen-SS. Recruitment of too many officers resulted in a number of them being returned. Those who remained (around 1200 men) saw combat in 1942-43 as part of the SS Division Wiking especially in the Caucasus.
They certainly witnessed war crimes being carried out. Some indications and hints are that some members may have taken or been ordered to take part to those as well. However no actual evidence to pin down the blame has been discovered despite of the quite deep research. Battalion was disbanded in 1943 when their agreed service had been completed. Finns didn’t agree to repeat the process.
Of Finland giving Jews to the Germans.
Finland did return few (at least 8) non-Finnish Jewish refugees to the Germans. This however caused a massive outcry which lead to immediate halting of any future returns - later the person who authorized the returns was removed from office too. They were not returned because of their Jewish background but due to claims that they were criminals and hence not eligible to be a refugee. Most likely trumped up charges but charges nonetheless. Seven out of the eight perished.
Finland also ‘swapped’ around 2800 (number uncertain) Soviet POWs for around 2200 German held Soviet POWs. Idea was to get more Finnic (i.e. related to Finns) Soviet POWs to Finland who were believed to be more willing to cooperate with Finland. If they did or did not is not something I am aware. Of those transferred to German control around 80 has been assumed to have been Jewish but they were not given over because of that.
Was Finland aware
There are plenty of indications that Finland was aware of the atrocities. When and at which level is a different matter however. Finland certainly refused giving up any Finnish Jews and increased efforts to get non-Finnish Jews out of Finland to some safe country if possible. Since it was common for the Jews in Finland to be proficient in German (via Yiddish) a number of Finnish Jews ended up serving as interpreters or liaison officers. So some of the Finnish Jews were also aware.
Germans also had camps (POW, prisoner, forced labor) in the northern part of Finland which was under German military control. And a number of Finns civilians (police, etc.) worked with them in various roles and some of them had to have been very well aware of the situation. But again those were under no under Finnish control.
See article about the Wiesenthal investigation.
And another one, it is 100% clear that Finnish SS troops committed atrocities but at least Finland heeded the SWC call and did not go “revisionist/novisionist”. link to the 250 page government report in English. The reports reads like a Sparty episode and and includes a wealth of evidence Such as the diaries of Finns themselves. Also those of some other countries like mine Netherlands countering a some “memoires” Of SS volunteers. It is not about bashing countries and erfschuld (inherited guilt) is nonsense. It is about history’s a science.
Let’s cover a bit of the Finnish handling of Soviets in their control here too…
Situation in Finland
Then the reality of the general situation in Finland. Finland had only in 1938-39 reached the level of being self-sufficient with regards to food production. And this had been achieved with fields in the Karelia in use and with heavy use of imported fertilizers. The start of the WW II meant that both of those were now unavailable. Furthermore large number of men had been mobilized/fallen/wounded so those too were at least periodically unavailable. Also harvests failed in 1939 & 1940. All this meant that Finland as a whole was running out of food.
Those not confined in camps, prisons, asylums could acquire additional means of sustenance. Black market and the rural connections most people still had at the time (Finland was mostly rural at the time) and collecting mushrooms, berries etc. helped. So while the official rations were not sufficient those other means allowed most of the population to survive the famine mostly unscathed. Situation was worst in the winter of 1941/42 and spring of 42 when the sea froze badly enough that grain shipments from Germany became stuck in ice. Those confined however had to rely on government rations which were insufficient - though it was not due to malice.
Finns and Soviet POWs
During the Winter War the number of POWs taken was rather low, only around 5 700 men. These men faired well mainly due to the short duration of the war. Though they may have suffered more after being returned.
During the Continuation War (1941-44) large number of Soviet POWs perished in the Finnish POW camps. Or around 64 000 POWs around 30% died. This was not however intentional process but had multiple causes. First the Finns had expected the war to last only few months or maybe a year at worst and also expected the Soviets to be equally unwilling to surrender as they had been during the Winter War. So once the war started the preparations were done according to those assumptions.
This meant that when the Soviets did start surrendering the Finnish system quickly got overwhelmed from the around 56 0000 POWs captured in 1941 when planning had allowance for around 10 000 (or 20 000, can’t be sure of the number, sorry). Furthermore the extreme rate of mobilization in Finland meant that POW camp guards were the scrapings of the bottoms of the barrels. This in turn meant that (i) there was insufficient quartering (some had only cardboard tents), (ii) there was no supply system for that scale, (iii) mental health of some of the guards was dubious.
While technically the POWs received the sufficient amounts in reality the food that eventually did reach the camps was of the lowest quality and the least nutritional. So while there might have been quantitatively (per book values that is) enough food it was still not enough qualitatively. Furthermore POWs were used at labor duties and they got extra rations for doing it, but frankly the extra rations were probably not worth it. Which led to cases of malnutrition, and sickness. Which were the principal causes of deaths in the Finnish POW camps. Most of the deaths occurred in spring and summer of 1942 due to aforementioned causes.
The guards did participate to some cruelties towards the prisoners. However these were local issues and not mandated at higher levels. The treatment towards the POWs varied greatly from camp to camp. Some took it seriously while others did not, some abused the system while others did not. These issues were found out when investigations to the POW deaths started in 1942 and remedies were taken. A number of camp guards also faced courts after the war.
Finns and Soviet civilians
Finns did confine a large number of Soviet civilians to internment camps as well. There are many reasons for this. Three most commonly mentioned… Partly as the Soviets (and Finns too) fairly often applied the scorched earth tactics. Partly as Finns did not want civilians to live next to the front line. And partly because the Finnish anti-partisan measures included removal of civilians from the affected areas.
Roughly speaking about a third of the original population had remained behind in the areas the Finns occupied. Of these around one third ended up being confined at one point or the other. Which meant roughly 24 000. Though the number changed (in 1942: 15 000 for example) a lot as civilians were relocated from camps to safe areas. Of these around 4 300 died. Causes were mostly the same as with the POWs.
Number of deaths was affected by the vulnerable state of the people left behind by the Soviets. Those who were fit and/or of fighting age had been evacuated leaving behind mostly the elderly and the women with underaged children. Also here the treatment varied greatly between individual camps.
Camps did have segregation though. Between ‘nationals’ and ‘non-nationals’ (not sure of translations here). Essentially between those which were of Finnic background and those which were of some other background (mostly Russian). This was at least in part because it was believed that should Finland receive any lands after the war the ‘non-national’ civilians would not prefer to stay while those ‘national’ civilians on the other hand would prefer to stay.
The summary conclusion of the study with regards to involvement of the Finnish Waffen-SS volunteers are these:
The investigation of the large archival documentation and the literature has confirmed several cases in which the Finnish SS-volunteers engaged in violent acts against civilians and Jews. However, the documentation in diaries, recollections, notes, and documents is certainly vague and cannot really be confirmed in an entirely reliable way
As the documentation on these events only occasionally mentions the number of civilians killed by Finnish volunteers, the real numbers are likely to be higher, perhaps at least a few dozens.
Although the documentation is poor, the Finnish volunteers are nevertheless likely to have participated in the deliberate killing of several hundred Soviet POWs in Ukraine and the Caucasus