History of the Jews in Finland

Finnish Jews
Suomen juutalaiset
יהודים פיניים
Total population
about 1,500[1]
Regions with significant populations
Helsinki (80% of the Finnish Jewish community), Turku (13%), Tampere (3%)[1]
Finnish, Hebrew, Swedish
Related ethnic groups
Russians in Finland, Finnish Tatars

Finnish Jews are Jews who are citizens of Finland. The country is home to approximately 1,500 Jews, who mostly live in Helsinki.[1] Jews came to Finland as traders and merchants from other parts of Europe.


The first Jew said to have settled on Finnish soil was Jacob Weikam, later Veikkanen, in 1782, in the town of Hamina, which was at that point under Russian rule. During that time, most of Finland was included in the Kingdom of Sweden. In Sweden, Jews were allowed to reside in a few towns—all of them outside the territory that is now modern-day Finland. In 1809 Finland became part of the Russian Empire, as an autonomous Grand Duchy, but Swedish laws remained in force, meaning Jews were still unable to settle in Finnish territory.[2]

Despite the legal difficulties, during the period of Finnish autonomy (1809–1917) Russian Jews established themselves in Finland as tradesmen and craftsmen. As Jews were in principle prohibited from dwelling in Finland, almost all these Jews were retired soldiers from the Imperial Russian army. Being cantonists, forced into the Russian army in childhood, they were required to serve at least 25 years. After their term expired, they had, however, the right to remain in Finland regardless of the Finnish ban on Jewish settlement, a right forcefully defended by the Russian military authorities. It was only after Finland declared its independence, in 1917, that Jews were granted full rights as Finnish citizens.

World War II

Finland's involvement in World War II began during the Winter War (30 November 1939 — 13 March 1940), the Soviet Union's invasion of Finland prior to Operation Barbarossa (launched in June, 1941). A total of 204 Finnish Jews fought in the Finnish Army during the Winter War, of whom 27 were killed.[3] Finnish Jews were among those made refugees from the ceded territories.[4] The Vyborg Synagogue was also destroyed by air bombings during the Winter War.[5]

Finnish national anger at the outcome of that war led to Finland's involvement in the Continuation War (1941–1944). While Germany launched Barbarossa, Finland simultaneously resumed hostilities against the Soviet Union. This resulted in Finland fighting alongside Nazi Germany. Approximately 300 Finnish Jews fought in the Continuation War, and eight were killed in action.[6] Some Finnish Jews who were fluent in German served in Finnish intelligence.

As Finland's forces had substantial numbers of German forces supporting their operations, the Finnish front had a field synagogue operating in the presence of Nazi troops. Jewish soldiers were granted leave on Saturdays and Jewish holidays. In addition, the most popular Finnish singer of the time, Sissy Wein, was Jewish. She entertained Finnish troops during the war, and became known as the "soldier's sweetheart" or the Finnish Vera Lynn. She refused to sing for German soldiers.[7][8][9] Finnish Jewish soldiers later participated in the Lapland War against Germany.

In November 1942, eight Jewish Austrian refugees (along with 19 other deportees) were deported to Nazi Germany after the head of the Finnish police agreed to turn them over. Seven of the Jews were murdered immediately.[10][11] Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen issued an official apology over the matter in 2000.[12] According to author Martin Gilbert, these eight were Georg Kollman; Frans Olof Kollman; Frans Kollman's mother; Hans Eduard Szubilski; Henrich Huppert; Kurt Huppert; Hans Robert Martin Korn, who had been a volunteer in the Winter War; and an unknown individual.[13] When Finnish media reported the news, it caused a national scandal, and ministers resigned in protest.[11] After protests by Lutheran ministers, the Archbishop, and the Social Democratic Party, no more foreign Jewish refugees were deported from Finland. Approximately 500 Jewish refugees arrived in Finland during World War II, although about 350 moved on to other countries, including about 160 who were transferred to neutral Sweden to save their lives on the direct orders of Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, the commander of the Finnish Army.[11] About 40 of the remaining Jewish refugees were sent to do compulsory labor service in Salla in Lapland in March 1942. The refugees were moved to Kemijärvi in June and eventually to Suursaari Island in the Gulf of Finland. Although Heinrich Himmler twice visited Finland to try to persuade the authorities to hand over the Jewish population, he was unsuccessful.[11]

In 1942, an exchange of Soviet POWs took place between Finland and Germany. Approximately 2,600–2,800 Soviet prisoners of war of various nationalities then held by Finland were exchanged for 2,100 Soviet POWs of Finnic nationalities (Finnish, Karelian, Ingrian, or Estonian) held by Germany, who might have volunteered in the Finnish army. About 2000 of the POWs handed over by Finland joined the Wehrmacht. Among the rest there were about 500 people (mainly Soviet political officers) who were considered politically dangerous in Finland. This latter group most likely perished in concentration camps or were executed as per the Commissar Order. Based on a list of names, there were 47 Jews among the extradited, although they were not extradited based on religion.[14]

Later in the war, Germany's ambassador to Helsinki Wipert von Blücher concluded in a report to Hitler that Finns would not endanger their citizens of Jewish origin in any situation.[15] According to historian Henrik Meinander, this was realistically accepted by Hitler.[15] Yad Vashem records that 22 Finnish Jews died in the Holocaust, when all died fighting for the Finnish Army.

Three Finnish Jews were offered the Iron Cross for their wartime service: Leo Skurnik, Salomon Klass, and Dina Poljakoff. Major Leo Skurnik, a district medical officer in the Finnish Army, organized an evacuation of a German field hospital when it came under Soviet shelling. More than 600 patients, including SS soldiers, were evacuated. Captain Salomon Klass, also of the Finnish Army, who had lost an eye in the Winter War, led a Finnish unit that rescued a German company that had been surrounded by the Soviets. Dina Poljakoff, a member of Lotta Svärd, the Finnish women's auxiliary service, was a nursing assistant who helped tend to German wounded, and came to be greatly admired by her patients. All three refused the award.[16][11][9]


During the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, about 28 Finnish Jews, mostly Finnish Army veterans, fought for the State of Israel. After Israel's establishment, Finland had a high rate of immigration to Israel (known as "aliyah"), which depleted Finland's Jewish community. The community was somewhat revitalized when some Soviet Jews immigrated to Finland following the collapse of the Soviet Union.[4][17]

The number of Jews in Finland in 2010 was approximately 1,500, of whom 1,200 lived in Helsinki, about 200 in Turku, and about 50 in Tampere.[1] The Jews are well integrated into Finnish society and are represented in nearly all sectors. Most Finnish Jews are corporate employees or self-employed professionals.[1]

Most Finnish Jews speak Finnish or Swedish as their mother tongue. Yiddish, German, Russian, and Hebrew are also spoken in the community. The Jews, like Finland's other traditional minorities as well as immigrant groups, are represented on the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations (ETNO).

There are two synagogues: one in Helsinki and one in Turku. Helsinki also has a Jewish day school, which serves about 110 students (many of them the children of Israelis working in Finland); and a Chabad Lubavitch rabbi is based there.

Tampere previously had an organized Jewish community, but it stopped functioning in 1981.[18] The other two cities continue to run their community organizations.[18]


Historically, antisemitic hate crimes have been rare, and the Jewish community is relatively safe. However, there have been some antisemitic crimes reported in the last decade; the most common types include defamation, verbal threats, and damage to property.[19]

In 2011, Ben Zyskowicz, the first Finnish Jewish parliamentarian, was assaulted by a man shouting antisemitic slurs.[20] Four years later, a few campaign advertisements containing Zyskowicz's picture were sprayed with swastikas in Helsinki.[21]

According to writer and Finnish resident Ken Sikorski, there has been an increase in anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic bias in the country. Sikorski gave a number of alleged examples in his interview with Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld in July 2013.

The Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s largest subscription newspaper, published a satirical cartoon depicting a 1943 scene of a German guard holding a bar of "Free Range Jew soap." However, as the author, cartoonist Pertti Jarla, points out, he was making fun of the double moralism of National Socialism, but the humor was so black that the strip was commonly misinterpreted.[22]

According to Sikorski, another example of anti-Semitism was the journalist Kyösti Niemelä writing in the Helsinki University paper Yliopisto that a Holocaust denier could teach a university class on Jewish history. Niemelä's argument was that even high school teachers can talk about controversial issues without revealing their 'political opinions.' According to Sikorski, Niemelä thus reduced Holocaust denial to a 'political opinion.'

Antisemitic Incidents Figures Since 2008 [23]

A further example of anti-Semitism Sikorski alleges was the Finnish hypermarket chain Prisma "promot[ing]" the book Jewish Domination by American anti-Semitic politician David Duke.

Finally, Sikorski states that he witnessed Muslims giving the Nazi salute or shouting "Allahu Akbar!" ("Allah is great!") during pro-Israel rallies.[24]

In 2015 the Fundamental Rights Agency published its annual overview of data on antisemitism available in the European Union. The document displays information from a report of the Police College of Finland. Since 2008, the report has covered religiously motivated hate crimes, including antisemitic crimes. The recent documented data is from 2013, when most of the incidents (six out of eleven) concerned verbal threats/harassments.[25]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Helsingin juutalainen seurakunta". Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  2. Jewish Heritage Europe – Finland
  3. admin. "Finland: Where Jews fought on the side of the Nazis". Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  4. 1 2 Hannu Reime (8 October 2010). "Un-Finnish business". Haaretz.
  5. "The Jews of Finland". The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot. Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  6. Simon, John (2017). Mahdoton sota: Kun suomenjuutalaiset taistelivat natsi-Saksan rinnalla [The Impossible War: When Finnish Jews Fought Alongside with the Nazi Germany] (in Finnish). Translated by Antero Helasvuo. Helsinki: Siltala. ISBN 978-952-234-473-1.
  7. Kendall, Paul (9 March 2014). "The Jews who fought for Hitler: 'We did not help the Germans. We had a common enemy'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  8. Suomen juutalaiset sotaveteraanit saivat muistopaaden MTV3. 2002-04-28. Retrieved 2010-02-26.(in Finnish)
  9. 1 2 Paul Kendall, The Telegraph (11 March 2014). "For the Jews who fought for Hitler, discomfort still — despite rejecting Nazi Iron Cross for saving German lives". National Post. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  10. Cohen, William B. and Jörgen Svensson (1995). Finland and the Holocaust. Holocaust and Genocide Studies 9(1):70–93.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 "The Jewish Quarterly". Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  12. Vuonokari, Tuulikki (2003). "Jews in Finland During the Second World War". University of Tampere (Finnish Institutions Research Papers). Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  13. Gilbert, Martin (1985). The Holocaust. Holt. p. 534. ISBN 0-03-062416-9.
  14. Jukka Lindstedt: Juutalaisten sotavankien luovutukset. Historiallinen aikakauskirja 2/2004: 144–165
  15. 1 2 Meinander, Henrik (2009). Suomi 1944. Siltala. p. 17. ISBN 978-952-234-003-0.
  16. STT-IA. "Juutalaiset sotilaat taistelivat saksalaisten rinnalla Suomen itsenäisyyden puolesta". 1997 12 5. Verkkouutiset. Archived from the original on 19 January 2005. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
  17. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 April 2013. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
  18. 1 2 "About Our Community". Jewish Community of Helsinki (in Finnish; English version available via dropdown menu on page). Archived from the original on 2015-11-01. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  19. European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights: Antisemitism – Summary overview of the situation in the European Union 2001–2011, p. 26.
  20. "Man tries to punch Jewish Finnish parliament speaker". The Jerusalem Post - JPost.com. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  21. "Swastikas appeared on Zyskowicz election posters". CFCA. Retrieved 25 April 2015.
  22. Jarla, Pertti: Pakotettuna pyytämään anteeksi. (In Finnish.) Suomen Kuvalehti, 14 June 2011.
  23. "Antisemitism Overview of data available in the European Union 2004–2014" (PDF). European Union agency for fundamental rights. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
  24. "Finland Has Its Own Anti-Semitism". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  25. "Antisemitism Overview of data available in the European Union 2004–2014" (PDF). European Union agency for fundamental rights. Retrieved 20 December 2015.

Further reading

  • Cohen, William B. and Jörgen Svensson (1995). Finland and the Holocaust. Holocaust and Genocide Studies 9(1):70–93.
  • Rautkallio, Hannu (1988). Finland and the Holocaust. The Rescue of Finland's Jews. N.Y.:Holocaust Publications. ISBN 0-89604-121-2.
  • Cohen, William B. & Jürgen Svensson (2001). Finland. In Walter Laqueur, ed., The Holocaust Encyclopedia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. pp. 204–206. ISBN 0-300-08432-3.

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