The Jewish soldiers of the Finnish Army
Did you know that Finish Jewish soldiers had to fight side by side with the German army during WWII?
Finland's involvement in World War II began during the Winter War (30 November 1939 - 13 March 1940), when the Soviet Union under Stalin invaded Finland.
When Hitler surprisingly launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union in 1941, Finland saw an opportunity to regain the territory it had lost in the Winter War and simultaneously resumed hostilities against the Soviets in the Continuation War (1941-1944). This resulted in Finland fighting a mutual enemy alongside Nazi Germany.
327 Finnish Jews fought for Finland during the war, of which 15 were killed in action in the Winter War and 8 in the Continuation War.
Finnish Jews in the army created a makeshift synagogue near the front lines, with a Torah imported from Helsinki. They held regular worship services in the midst of the Nazi troops and were granted leave on Saturdays and Jewish holidays. Three Finish Jews were even offered the German Iron Cross for their wartime service, which they all refused.
There may have been German troops in Finland and the German command and Gestapo in Helsinki, but Finland rejected Hitler's demands to introduce anti-Jewish laws. However, the SS leadership did not give up on persecuting the Jews in Finland, they just put their plans on hold until a decisive German victory would have been secured. Eventually Finland switched sides, severing ties with Germany and fighting the Lapland War against it from September to November 1944, in which Finish Jewish soldiers also participated.
Finland was the only European country fighting on either side in WWII that lost not a single Jewish citizen to the Nazi's "Final Solution" as the only Finnish Jews died in combat. However several Jewish refugees from other European countries were indeed handed to the Nazis or deported back to German controlled areas while Finland's alliance with Germany lasted.
In 1948, 28 Finnish-Jewish veterans joined the War of Independence in Israel.
Even today, these veterans are often seen as collaborators. The Finnish Jewish Veterans Guild denies such accusations, deeming the situation far from black and white: "We did not help the Germans. We had a common enemy which was the Russians and that was it."
As well as doing their duty as soldiers and proving their loyalty to their country, the veterans insist that as far as they were concerned Finland and Germany were fighting separate wars, they say; one, a war of self-defense, and one a war of conquest. The dilemma remains as controversial as ever.