Finns claim proudly – followed by an obvious sigh of relief – that even if we were an ally of Nazi Germany during World War 2, anti-Semitism never reached the same levels as in Hungary, Romania and in other parts of Nazi-dominated Europe.
While Finland offers an interesting case with respect to anti-Semitism in war-ravaged Nazi Europe, was tolerance the principal factor that kept Finns from persecuting Jews? Could the underwhelming size of the Jewish community and the fact that they were accepted as Finns offer us better explanations?
Memorial ceremony for Jewish soldiers who fell in World War II presided by Marshal Carl Mannerheim in Helsinki, Finland. Source: Flickr.
The size of the Jewish community in Finland has been small. In the 1870 census, there were 460 Jews and by 1883 they are said to have risen to 1,000. In 1929, it peaked to 1,763.*
Today there are about 1,500 Jews living in Finland.
The Jews were granted Finnish citizenship in 1918. Finland was the last country in Europe together with Romania to do so.
Even if there appears that Finland tolerated Finnish Jews in World War 2, former Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen formally apologized in November 2000 to the Jewish community for the extradition of eight Jews to Germany in 1942. Only one of the eight survived after they were sent to Auschwitz.
While the Jewish question never reached the same proportions in this country as elsewhere in Nazi-dominated Europe, would anti-Semitism have soared if the size of the Jewish community were many times bigger?
There seems to be a connection between the recent rise of racism, xenophobia and growth of far-right parties in Finland and the size of the immigrant community. Certainly factors like the economic recession and rising unemployment play important roles as well.
How can xenophobia grow if the immigrant community is minuscule? How can there be anti-Semitism if there are only a handful of Jews?
Sometimes size does not matter. In neighboring Estonia, an estimated half of the Jewish population, which totaled 4,000, died in the Holocaust. In countries like Poland 3 million Jews perished under Nazi rule.
If we look at history, Finland was far from being “tolerant.” The Restricting Act of 1939 is one of many laws that showed how Finland perceived the world as a threat.
The Jews were in part saved by their acceptance as Finns in the 1940s, but a very important factor must have been their underwhelming numbers.
* Migration Patterns among Jews – Finland. See following link.