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The Jews Who Fought for Hitler: 'We Did Not Help the Germans. We Had a Common Enemy'

World  (tags: violence, war, WWII, loyalty, unusual, Jews, Finland, Russia, Germany, Nazis, humans, interesting, society, world, freedoms, government, ethics, europe, politics )

- 1928 days ago -
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?


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David C (75)
Sunday March 9, 2014, 3:37 pm
fascinating story.....some would and could say "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" least until the enemy is vanquished....

Kit B (276)
Sunday March 9, 2014, 6:07 pm

The human instinct for survival is very strong and if those people had to fight alongside an enemy to keep a greater enemy at bay; I think that is human nature. The most famous and most used recruiting poster of NAZI Germany was a picture of a Jewish man. (a bit of trivia)

. (0)
Sunday March 9, 2014, 6:29 pm
i can;'t get into it. i bet it was a great article. sorry

Carrie B (306)
Sunday March 9, 2014, 7:58 pm

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 realise the “accommodation”, a battlefield Sophie’s Choice, has left deep psychological scars.
Aron Livson’s first taste of military action came in 1939. A 23-year-old son of a milliner from the city of Vyborg, he was drafted into the army when the Soviet Union invaded Finland. In common with many Jews, he was determined to do his duty to the best of his ability, laying down his life for his country if necessary.
Almost without exception, the Jews of Finland descended from Russian soldiers who had been posted to the region during their military service. (Under Russian rule, Jews had been forced into the army at the age of 10 and made to serve for up to 25 years.) They were viewed with some suspicion by the rest of Finland, which itself had been ruled by Russia until its independence in 1917, and the war that broke out in 1939, known in Finland as the Winter War, was regarded by the small Jewish population as a chance to prove they were loyal Finnish citizens.
Livson fought in the Karelian Isthmus and, although the army was eventually forced to retreat by the far larger Russian force, he fought so valiantly, demonstrating such great skill and initiative, that he was promoted to sergeant.
For a while, an uneasy peace reigned between Finland and the Soviet Union, but, when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, his surprise invasion of the communist state, Finland saw an opportunity to regain the territory it had lost in the Winter War and joined forces with Germany.
Like all Jews, Livson had heard Hitler’s venomous tirades against his people. He knew something about Kristallnacht, the attacks against German Jewish homes, businesses, schools and synagogues in November 1938. But, when the orders arrived to rejoin the fight against Russia, he didn’t for one minute consider disobeying.
Livson is 97 now and a frailer version of the tough soldier he once was, but his voice remains loud and clear, his handshake firm and his opinions unwavering.
“I had to do my duty, like everyone,” he says. “We weren’t Jews fighting in a Finnish army – we were Finnish people, Finnish soldiers, fighting for our country.” We have met in the cafeteria in the basement of Helsinki’s synagogue, alongside Livson’s wife and other members of the Finnish Jewish Veterans Society. The atmosphere is friendly, jovial even, in the way conversations among veterans sometimes are, but there is no mistaking Livson’s serious intent. When he’s making an important point, he bangs a walking stick on the floor in unison with each word for emphasis.
As well as doing their duty as soldiers and proving their loyalty to their country, the veterans insist they were happy to fight for another reason: as far as they were concerned Finland and Germany were fighting separate wars, they say; one, a war of self-defence and one a war of conquest. “I had nothing to do with the Germans,” says Livson. “There were no Germans where I was serving. They were 200km north of my regiment.”
But not every Jew was so lucky. On the border with Russia, in the region of Karelia, Finnish and German troops fought side-by-side and Jews had to contend with two enemies: one in front of them and one within their ranks.
They lived in permanent fear of their identity being revealed, but, incredibly, on the occasions that it was, the German soldiers took the matter no further. The men were Finnish, they had the full support of their superior officers, and the Germans – while often shocked to find themselves fighting alongside Jews – did not have the authority to upbraid them. In fact, where they found themselves outranked by a Jewish officer, they were forced to salute.

fly bird (26)
Sunday March 9, 2014, 7:59 pm
very interesting. thanks for posting Carrie

Carrie B (306)
Sunday March 9, 2014, 7:59 pm

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. When Heinrich Himmler, the architect of the Final Solution, visited Finland in August 1942 and asked the prime minister Jukka Rangell about the “Jewish Question”, Rangell replied: “We do not have a Jewish Question.”
“You have to remember,” says John Simon, who has been interviewing veterans about the war for several years, “that only 20 years beforehand, Finland had gone through an ugly, brutal civil war which had split society in half. Ever since, there had been a concerted effort, led by a few brilliant politicians, to unite the country – to get the Reds and the Whites together. Jews were part of this act of bringing everybody together.
“Politicians were determined to protect every citizen, even former communists. If they had broken ranks, even for the Jews, it would have annihilated that argument.”
One general, Hjalmar Siilasvuo, was positively proud of his soldiers’ Jewish ancestry. In the memoirs of Salomon Klass, another Jewish soldier who was offered the Iron Cross, Klass, who had lost an eye in the Winter War, tells a story about the general calling him into a meeting and introducing him to German officers present as “one of my best company commanders”. “General Siilasvuo knew full well who I was and what segment of the population I belonged to”, Klass wrote. The Germans said nothing.
Perhaps more uncomfortable are incidents, revealed by the Finnish historian Hannu Rautkallio, of friendships struck up between Jews and ordinary Wehrmacht soldiers.
“I have heard a story about one Jewish soldier who was making his way back to camp with a German of a similar rank,” says Simon. “The Jew said to the German, ‘When we get back to camp, don’t tell people I’m Jewish.’ The German replied, ‘But nothing would happen to you – you’re a Finnish soldier. It’s me who would get into trouble.’ ”
Feelings ran particularly high among the injured. A scrapbook that belonged to Chaje Steinbock, a Jewish nurse in the main hospital in Oulu, 370 miles north of Helsinki, contains several heartfelt messages from German patients. “To my darling, what you are to me I have told you,” begins one from a soldier calling himself Rudy. “What I am to you, I have never asked. I do not want to know it, I do not want to hear it, because to know too much may destroy happiness. I will tell you just one thing: I would give you everything your heart desires. You are the woman I have loved over everything else. Until now, I had never believed that anything like this existed.”

Of course, many of the details of the Holocaust were still secret at this point. The Jewish soldiers didn’t know about the gas chambers and the horrors of Auschwitz, Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. But most were in contact with relatives in Poland and other countries in Eastern Europe.
“They got letters,” says Simo Muir, adjunct professor of Jewish Studies at Helsinki University. “They knew about the deportations.”
Leo Skurnik was certainly aware of the dangers. A talented scientist whose career had been blocked by anti-Semitism in Finland, he had travelling salesmen in his family who had written to him about the gathering clouds over Europe. “He knew enough to be afraid,” says his son, Samuli. Nevertheless, as a doctor responsible for both German and Finnish soldiers, he refused to discriminate.
“If you want to describe my father, the one feature that came across very strongly was his humanity. He had taken the Hippocratic oath and, because of that, he wouldn’t turn away an injured man, whatever his nationality.”
And there were many injured Germans who needed his help. The sector where Skurnik was stationed saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war and both his regiment, the 53rd infantry, and the German SS division with whom they were fighting, suffered heavy losses.
“It was really awful,” says Samuli. “There were a lot of casualties and my father didn’t have enough medication.” But Skurnik never gave up. At one point he even ventured into no-man’s land to rescue wounded German soldiers when no other officers dared. Finally, with no sign of a let up in the Russian shelling, he took the decision that the field hospital had to be evacuated. That operation, across five-and-a-half miles of bogland, won him the Iron Cross, but, like Klass, who won his decoration for clearing a path for a German charge up a hill, and Dina Poljakoff, Skurnik turned his award down.
“When the Germans decided they’d like to give this decoration to my father, they told General Siilasvuo. He then told my father who thought it had to be a mistake and decided to see what happened when Berlin found out he was a Jew. But, after a while, General Siilasvuo came back to my father and told him the award had been approved. He said, ‘My good friend, do you think I can take that kind of decoration? Tell your German colleagues that I wipe my arse with it!’ The general told them, word for word, what my father had said.” The Germans, infuriated, then told Siilasvuo to hand Skurnik over for punishment, but he refused.

There were plenty of other acts of mini rebellion during the war. A doctor stationed in Oulu, who was less – or, some might argue, more – principled than Skurnik, refused to operate on Germans and was transferred to another sector. Sissy Wein, a Jewish singer who was Finland’s answer to Vera Lynn, refused to sing for the German troops. And Aron Livson’s father and brother, stationed in the city of Kotka displayed their disdain for their so-called “allies” on a daily basis. “My brother, who was an acting sergeant for the air defence, used to refuse to greet the Germans and my father, when the Germans came into his shop, would throw them out,” says Livson. Such behaviour in another part of Europe would have meant their certain death.
Nevertheless, after the war, as the horrors of the Holocaust revealed themselves, a discomfort about their special treatment spread, both among the Finnish Jews themselves and the wider Jewish community. At a meeting of war veterans in Tel Aviv in 1946, the Finns were almost thrown out as traitors. Had it not occurred to them, they were asked, that, by helping Hitler, they had prolonged his time in power and thus ensured more Jews went to the gas chambers than would otherwise have been the case?
That discomfort is still detectable today. When I repeat the line about Finland “helping Germany”, I feel the temperature in the room drop.
“We did not help the Germans,” snaps Kent Nadbornik, the chairman of the Finnish Jewish Veterans Guild. “We had a common enemy which was the Russians and that was it.”
Semantics aside, the veterans’ other principal justification – that it proved their loyalty to the Finnish state – has also been under attack in recent years. The “party line” is that the existence of Jews in the army not only put paid to the country’s anti-Semitism; it also protected the entire Jewish population of Finland from the Holocaust.
A key quote supposedly delivered by the wartime commander-in-chief Gustav Mannerheim to Himmler – “While Jews serve in my army I will not allow their deportation” – has been questioned by historians, who now think Mannerheim wasn’t even aware Jews had fought in the Finnish army until a visit to a memorial service at a synagogue in Helsinki in 1944. “Perhaps,” says Simo Muir, “in the post-war era, the value of Jews fighting for Finland has been overemphasised.” If they were guilty of anything, it was of trying too hard to fit in.
Unlike Islam, which urges its followers to reform the law of their host nation so that it complies with Muslim law, Judaism’s key texts emphasise the importance of adhering to the law of the land, even if the society is secular. Hundreds of years of persecution and a desire to escape the ghettos, attend university and play a proper part in politics and society, have added to Jews’ strong drive to fit in.
“Over the centuries, Jews have wanted to prove that they were the best kind of citizens,” says Lea Mühlstein, a rabbi at the Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue. “They wanted to show there was no conflict between being Jewish and being a patriot; that there was no double loyalty.”
But the Finnish Jews were on an impossible mission. Whatever they did there would always be one inescapable difference between them and their Finnish compatriots: the latter were fighting for their future, but, if Hitler had won, the Jewish soldiers would have had no future. What were they supposed to do? That is the question nobody can answer.
For more information about Finland's participation in the Second World War visit the Museum of the Winter and Continuation Wars in Säkylä, Finland;
Finland and the Holocaust by Hannu Rautkallio is available from

. (0)
Sunday March 9, 2014, 8:41 pm
thank you for posting this. what an interesting piece of history. on the news today a 90 yr old american finnaly accepted an award that for years he had turned down because he wanted to forget. he finally accepted for his grandchildren. what is interesting is how all through time the jews have been all but eradicated. but somehow are still here. a strong brave people. thank you again for posting it so i could read it. my dad was in the war but lucky he was stationed in the figi islands and came home safe.

Star S. (54)
Monday March 10, 2014, 1:09 am
thank you very much for this most interesting article. It is something that I would not have easily discovered, as I imagine this something that has not circulated very much.

It raises many questions in mind about many things.

I do however understand the Finnish Jews dilemma and why they acted as they did. and I certainlly do not have the right to judge them, although I may not agree with their choices. Both the Russians and the Germans were aggressors.
Sometimes people can be presented with choices which in fact both have the risk of death, for example, in order to survive you may be have to choose between jumping of the cliff into the sea or or swim in a river of crocodiles. Which do you choose? When it is a question of survival not everyone can behave in the same way.
I commend these former soldiers for having the courage to defend their actions and being honest despite the criticism that they may be faced. Honesty is very important.

Louise D (44)
Monday March 10, 2014, 6:16 am
Lets just say the Finns did not hold the Germans in particularly high regard, it was common knowledge that the Germans were committing war crimes against Finnish soldiers. The term Cuckoo comes to mind, when the Germans used to chain Finnish soldiers to rocks dressed in SS uniforms to hold back the Russians when the Germans were running away.

Robert O (12)
Monday March 10, 2014, 7:51 am
Thank Carrie.

John B (185)
Monday March 10, 2014, 8:24 am
Thanks Carrei for the link to the extremely interesting article by Mr. Kendall. I never knew any of this. Read and noted.

Diana P (12)
Monday March 10, 2014, 9:22 am
We do what is necessary to survive. Thank you for the article

Past Member (0)
Monday March 10, 2014, 11:00 am
We do so. Reality bites. Stanford experiement..70's..another later..repressed sadistic authoritarianism..something all people of all races, colors, religions, politic, do when they have no awareness of the psychological process of their own minds, some who are aware of either negative or positive outcomes die gracefully rather than break their own codes. A human trait held by the wild man of the jungle that guides too many people goes with the flow to survive, perfectly normal human behavior..we all want to live..or most of us . ;)
SO we judge ourselves when we judge others..just ruined my self indulgent justification for running my mouth too much. :0)

Monday March 10, 2014, 11:48 am
War creates many lasting human conflicts that were not there before it started. To me, War is nothing more than the destruction of the human spirit and soul. Thanks Carrie for sharing.

Ellie K (8)
Monday March 10, 2014, 11:49 am

Past Member (0)
Monday March 10, 2014, 1:51 pm
Those Jews don't bother near as much as the ones who helped finance Hitler, like the Rothschild's and the Warburg's.

Birgit W (160)
Monday March 10, 2014, 1:53 pm
Interesting, thanks for sharing.

JD She (0)
Monday March 10, 2014, 5:30 pm

Patricia Martinez (63)
Monday March 10, 2014, 5:54 pm

Good for them. Stalin was just about as bad as Hitler. Too bad they couldn't kill both fiends.

It says something about the Germans, too.


Julie Botsch (12)
Monday March 10, 2014, 7:01 pm
Thank You.

Star S. (54)
Monday March 10, 2014, 7:26 pm
I just wanted to add the following. for what its worth. I personally enjoy reading my fellow care2 members comments at times more than the posting because I can have insight on their feelings and thoughts on issues. Of greatest interest for me, however, are the comments that express a viewpoint or opinion very different or opposed to my own. It's these opinions that help me understand why and were we have differences.

However, i do feel sad, and when some comments turn personal, and truly wish we could avoid this happening.

Carrie B (306)
Monday March 10, 2014, 8:23 pm
Helen, you are a treasure. Thank you so much for your comments.

Carrie B (306)
Monday March 10, 2014, 8:24 pm
And Patricia, as usual your hate and bigotry is showing.

T M (0)
Tuesday March 11, 2014, 1:04 am
Thanks for posting this. So few people outside Finland have heard of the Winter War, let alone this particular aspect of it. Finland was the only country that openly refused to hand over its jews to the Germans. There is still bitterness in Finland over the fact that Russia was allowed to keep the land she stole after the war ended.

patrica and edw jones (190)
Tuesday March 11, 2014, 1:29 am
Why must you dredge up the past Carrie - there were Quislings in every country who would do anything to save their necks.. Unless you lived through those heinous years you would not know diddly squat about the human soul and what it is capable of.

Carrie B (306)
Tuesday March 11, 2014, 1:31 am
Patricia and Edw Jones, I am dredging up nothing. I posted a news worthy story ~ I did not write it.

fly bird (26)
Tuesday March 11, 2014, 2:02 am
patricia and edw jones< such remarks are disrespectful, rude and arrogant.
Carrie posted a newsworthy story. No one is dredging up anything, except you. Uncalled for.
"Alliances" change, and that makes history...sometimes, it is the 'path of least resistance', or a 'temporary means to an end'....
Sometimes people refuse to 'compromise' their values/beliefs, and are prepared to fight, rather than make a 'devil's deal'. There are countless examples, but I won't go into it.
"Choices" are often hard ones, but they do exist, regardless of how they may, later, be rationalized.
There are always consequences, one way or another.

Stan B (123)
Tuesday March 11, 2014, 2:56 am
Pat and Ed. Your comment is one of the few worth reading on this thread. It's impossible to know how we would react in this type of situation. Life or death is a big deal.
Big green star on its way to you.

Past Member (0)
Tuesday March 11, 2014, 3:28 am
Noted, ty.

Sheryl G (359)
Tuesday March 11, 2014, 3:35 am
I wasn't aware of this piece of history, thanks for sharing it.

Gillian M (218)
Tuesday March 11, 2014, 7:20 am
Perhaps noting that the Jews were stuck between a rock and a hard place may describe this story.

Russians killed Jews for fun and Germans killed them because they could. Now, what would you do?

My family on my father's side came from that side of the world and may well have thought Germans the lesser of 2 evils. The Finnish, having been subject to Russia's autonomy would probably have agreed and supported the Germans. It is only with hindsight that we can ALL see that the evil from Germany was worse than the "fun" in Russia. The Russians were in Berlin before expected and raped any female they saw from an old lady to a baby, their idea of fun!

I look at the asinine comments from people like jess & carrie who have no knowledge, understanding or compassion when it comes to Jews or Israel, and have absolutely no difficulty in understanding why carrie posted this story.

Past Member (0)
Tuesday March 11, 2014, 8:04 am
The article is interesting, but the title is misleading: Finnish Jews fought for the Finland, to get back lands, taken by Russia in 1939, and not for the Hitler.

The fact, that Jews fought bravely in Finnish army is hardly surprising. They fought bravely in German army in WWI, in Russian army in WWI and WWII and now they are doing as great in the Israeli army.

Carrie B (306)
Tuesday March 11, 2014, 9:28 am
G.M., just exactly what asinine comments have Jess and Carrie made? I am quite interested.

M B (62)
Tuesday March 11, 2014, 11:05 am
Thanks Carrie for the post. War is filthy.

Marija Mohoric (25)
Tuesday March 11, 2014, 1:09 pm
Thank you Carrie.

Past Member (0)
Wednesday March 12, 2014, 12:02 am
I was not aware of this story at all. It never gets talked about or even briefly mentioned. 'Dredging up the past' is a very important part of human history. Archaology, psychoanalysis are two examples of dredging up the past. Would this world be a better place without it? Definitely not. It is so important to remember and try to understand what has happened and why.

Debra G (0)
Wednesday March 12, 2014, 1:24 am
I, too, was unaware of this. And agree, it's a terrible choice to make, but they were Finnish soldiers first.

Past Member (0)
Wednesday March 12, 2014, 2:25 am
I confess I have never heard of this until today.

Elizabeth M (65)
Sunday March 16, 2014, 7:56 pm
I had never heard of this story. In my opinion the Finnish Soldiers did not have much of a choice if they wanted to live. This is a part of history that brings us all the realization of what hard choices are made when at war.
Thank you for this interesting article Carrie.

. (0)
Monday April 21, 2014, 2:17 pm
i will not/cannot pass judement on those years, and what people did to survive.
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