They fought alongside them, healed them, and often befriended them. But how do Finland’s Jews feel today about their uneasy – and little mentioned – alliance with the Nazis?
Video: George Soros talking about his time working for the Nazis during German occupation in WWII. Soros worked with confiscating the land of the Jews in Hungary. He explains this experience as the “happiest time” in his life.
The Jews who fought for Hitler: “We did not help the Germans. We had a common enemy”
In September 1941, a medical officer performed a deed so heroic he was awarded an Iron Cross by the German high command. With little regard for his own safety, and in the face of heavy Soviet shelling, Major Leo Skurnik, a district doctor who had once fostered ambitions of becoming a concert pianist, organised the evacuation of a field hospital on the Finnish-Russian border, saving the lives of more than 600 men, including members of the SS. Skurnik was far from the only soldier to be awarded the Iron Cross during the Second World War. More than four million people received the decoration. But there was one fact about him that makes the recommendation remarkable: he was Jewish. And Skurnik was not the only Jew fighting on the side of the Germans. More than 300 found themselves in league with the Nazis when Finland, who had a mutual enemy in the Soviet Union, joined the war in June 1941. The alliance between Hitler and the race he vowed to annihilate — the only instance of Jews fighting for Germany’s allies — is one of the most extraordinary aspects of the Second World War, and yet hardly anyone, including many Finns, know anything about it.
“I lived here for 25 years before I heard about it, and I’m Jewish,” says John Simon, a New Yorker who moved to Helsinki in 1982. “It’s not a story that’s told very much.”
The reasons why it’s rarely told go right to the heart of what it means to be Jewish and that race’s quest to be accepted by a long list of unenthusiastic host nations. The Jewish veterans – a handful of whom are still alive today – insist they’re not ashamed of what they did. But spend an evening in their company and talk to other members of the community who have examined the events in detail, and you soon realize the “accommodation”, a battlefield Sophie’s Choice, has left deep psychological scars.