What do Jim Crow, Nuremberg Laws and Finland’s Restricting Act of 1939 have in common?

by , under Finland

All forms of intolerance have one factor in common: They are violent ways to disenfranchise and control groups through social exclusion. Jim Crow laws in the United States sought to ensure that blacks remain marginalized in the same way as the Nuremberg Laws of Nazi Germany took away all power from the Jews. In Finland, foreigners were controlled by the Restricting Act of 1939 (law 219/1939) and the lack of any laws that ensured them basic human rights. 

While in different historical contexts, all three laws had the same aim: Dominate and control groups perceived to be a threat. Whites in the United States feared that blacks would become their masters. The same argument was used in the Final Solution of the Jews.

Rudolf Hoess, Auschwitz camp commandant 1940-43 and 1944-45, justified the extermination of about 2.5 million Jews [1] with the following twisted logic.

Hoess: “I had my personal orders from [Heinrich] Himmler [to exterminate Jews].”

Question: “Did you ever protest?”

Hoess: “I couldn’t do that. The reasons Himmler gave me I had to accept.”

Question: “In other words, you think it was justified to kill 2.5 million men, women, and children?”

Hoess: “Not justified – but Himmler told me that if the Jews were not exterminated at that time, then the German people would be exterminated for all time by the Jews.”

Certainly myths must be created in order to depict “us” as the good guys and “them” as the bad guys as we exclude other groups. This can be done to justify mass murder or through an oppressive system like Jim Crow, which permitted mass murder through mob violence and the lynching of blacks.

The reason why intolerance continues to dominate our societies these days is because we still believe that certain groups are a threat. The massive number of black and Hispanic USAmericans that are incarcerated reveal a New Jim Crow, while anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe under many masks like Islamophobia.

All three laws – Jim Crow, Nuremberg Laws and the Restricting Act of 1939 – had the same aim: To take away rights from other groups in order to neutralize and control them. In Finland it was not only done with the 1939 law but with no law that ensured foreigners had no civil rights in this country.

It was only 66 years after independence that Finland enacted its first Aliens Act in 1983.


Näyttökuva 2014-12-28 kello 8.37.46
While the targeted group was different in the Nuremberg Laws and during Jim Crow (Mississippi), both laws are similar because their aim and arguments are the same even if they are in different national and historical contexts.


Just like the Nuremberg Laws prohibited Jews marrying white Germans, Jim Crow prohibited blacks from marrying whites. Schools and public spaces were segregated for Jews in Germany and blacks in the United States, especially in the South.

In Finland too white Finns were discouraged from marrying foreigners. Some white Finnish immigrant women in Sweden married Asian and African men. Those that did usually lost their Finnish citizenship until a new law in 1968 permitted them to regain it.

Even if Finland was the first European country to give women the right to vote, it didn’t trust women with foreigners. Until 1984, only Finnish males could pass Finnish citizenship to their children.

The Restricting Act of 1939 prohibited foreigners from owning real estate and acquiring a majority stake in Finnish companies – limiting this to 20% normally and 40% under special permission. The Act stipulated that foreigners could not own shares in sectors such as forestry, securities trading, transportation, mining, real estate and shipping.

The Restricting Act of 1939, which was passed during the Great Depression, became redundant in 1992.

If the Restricting Act wasn’t enough to ensure that you couldn’t publish newspapers, organize demonstrations, be a chairman of a Finnish association or own land, the lack of any law that protected immigrants in this country meant that the authorities didn’t have to respect your human rights and could imprison and deport you and ask questions later.

Like Jim Crow and the Nuremberg Laws, the Restricting Act had the same aim: to wipe out and keep the foreign population to a minimum. Finland almost succeeded at making the country “foreigner free.” From a high of 29,685 immigrants in 1929, the foreign community had plummeted in the following 41 years to a mere 5,483 in 1970, according to Antero Leitzinger.

If we take into account that a large number of these “foreigners” were native Finns who were naturalized Swedes, the amount of non-Finns living in the country was even smaller.

Is it a coincidence that intolerance and xenophobia raised its rude head in such a forceful way in the 2011 parliamentary elections, when the Perussuomalaiset (PS)* saw its support rise from 5MPs in 2007 to 39MPs?

Should we be surprised why there is still so much suspicion, intolerance and nativist nationalism in Finland? All we have to do is look at our past laws and history to find the answers.

Blinding  our view, however, are those myths about ourselves and excuses that keep us in our national comfort zone.

[1] Leo Goldensohn: Nuremberg Interviews. Vintage Books. New York 2004. p. 296.

The Finnish name of the Finns Party is the Perussuomalaiset (PS). The English -language names adopted by the PS, like True Finns or Finns Party, promote in our opinion nativist nationalism and xenophobia. We therefore prefer to use the Finnish name of the party on our postings.