Finland was part of the Russian Empire since 1809. Having declared independence in December 1917, the country became involved in the Second World War by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement of August 1939, which assigned Finland to the Soviet sphere of influence, and the resulting Soviet assault in November 1939. The ensuing “Winter War” was ended by the Finnish-Soviet Peace Treaty in March 1940 and cost Finland about ten per cent of its territory, including the city of Wyborg. On 26 June 1941 the country joined Hitler’s war against the USSR in an attempt to recoup the losses incurred the year before. After achieving this objective, Finland did not want to follow Hitler’s lead much further. It did not, for instance, participate in the German attack on Leningrad, and manoeuvred to disentangle from the war. Finland rejected, however, a Soviet peace offer made in April 1944. It was the Red Army’s offensive two months later which made Finland sign an armistice in September 1944. After this, Finnish troops forced the German military in the country to withdraw to still-occupied Norway. Finland formally declared war on Germany in March 1945.
On the eve of the Second World War, Finland had a total population of approximately 3,695,000 inhabitants. There were about 2,000 Jews among them, most of them Finnish citizens. In addition, a few hundred foreign-born Jews had been admitted to the country as refugees in the 1930s. Between 1941 and 1944, the treatment of Jews in Finland depended to a large degree on their legal status: Finnish Jews had the same rights and obligations as their fellow citizens. Foreign Jews, on the other hand, were subjected to police surveillance and threatened with deportation even for minor infractions. Twelve Jewish refugees were handed over to the German authorities by the Finnish Ministry for Internal Affairs and the Security Police. More than 700 Jews were most at risk, as they were part of the 60,000 Soviet prisoners-of-war in Finnish captivity. As a result of Finnish-German Security Police co-operation, the Finnish Security Police and military authorities handed over 521 “undesirable” Soviet prisoners-of-war, including more than 50 Jews, to the German Security Police for execution.. The Germans showed no interest, however, in the remaining Jews in Finnish custody. When Finland began to withdraw from the war in 1943, the country gradually relaxed its policy towards foreigners and prisoners-of-war. “Undesirable” prisoners were no longer handed over to the Germans and a settlement with the Swedish government was negotiated, providing for the transfer of Jewish refugees to Sweden.
The National Archives Service consists of the National Archives and seven Provincial Archives operating under it. As a central government agency, the National Archives themselves are located in Helsinki. They date back to the Archives of the Senate, which were established in 1816. They were renamed the State Archives in 1869 and once again renamed the National Archives in 1994. The first Law on Archives was passed in 1939. The seven Provincial Archives districts correspond with Finland’s current administrative structure. In addition to the archives managed by the Finnish state, there are private archives and museums which hold relevant collections.
Archival material related to the Holocaust can be found mainly with the National Archives – the most important collections being the Finnish Jewish Archives, the archives of the Finnish State Police (VALPO) and the collections of the Military Archives. Other relevant archives include the Archives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Archives of the Jewish Community of Turku in the Provincial Archives of Turku.
EHRI explored the Finnish archives for Holocaust-relevant material, by building upon existing research and a growing scholarly interest in the history of Finland during the Holocaust, which used to be accessible only with adequate language skills. Archival guides on Holocaust-related material in Finland were available only in Finnish. Research institutions outside of Finland, such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, however, do provide a selection of copied Holocaust-relevant sources on Finland and may have reference works in languages other than Finnish.
Two major relevant archival institutions, as well as their key collections on the Holocaust, have been identified: the National Archives (Kansallisarkisto) with their seven provincial branches and the Archives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (Ulkoasiainministeriön arkisto). Between them, the two institutions hold eight Holocaust-relevant fonds. For a more detailed description, see the extensive report. Within the National Archives, EHRI has translated the catalogue of the Finnish Jewish Archives into English, and entered it into the local database Vakka. For details, see the extensive report. Furthermore, EHRI has assembled all information on sources regarding the country’s involvement in the history of the Holocaust that is made available by collecting institutions outside of Finland, such as the USHMM or NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
A. EHRI approach to Finland: Pre-existing research and archival guides, expert support
In Finland, EHRI’s exploration of Holocaust-relevant archival sources was able to rely on some important pre-existing research in the field, such as Hannu Rautkallio’s “Finland and the Holocaust” (1987) or Oula Silvennnoinen’s “Geheime Waffenbrüderschaft. Die sicherheitspolizeiliche Zusammenarbeit zwischen Deutschland und Finnland” (2010), which had already made extensive use of archival sources kept both in Finland and a number of other countries. Furthermore, EHRI was able to rely on its Finnish consortium partner, the National Archives of Finland, which tasked Dr Filip Sikorski with translating and coordinating EHRI documentation and coordinating the survey and data descriptions of Holocaust-related sources for EHRI. In collaboration with H. Worthen he recently edited a work on Finland’s Holocaust historiography: “Finland’s Holocaust: Silences of History” (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
As a result, important collections in two Helsinki-based central archives were identified, and some additional material in Finnish provincial archives was discovered. These collections were described, the descriptions then translated and added to the EHRI portal, where they are now accessible in Finnish and English.
B. Characteristics of Finland’s archival system and specific challenges
A considerable number of Holocaust-related sources and collections were created in Finland and can still be found in the country’s archives today. File dispersal is minimal, thanks to negligible wartime destruction of archival material and to the concentration of the country’s archival institutions in Helsinki. Access to archival sources is unrestricted, with the exception of personal data which, according to § 28 of the Population Information Act 661/2009, can only be accessed 50 years after a person’s death or, if the year of death is unknown, 100 years after that person’s birth. A working knowledge of Finnish is necessary for any kind of archival research in Finland, even though documents in other languages (sometimes English, French, German, but mostly Russian and Swedish) can also be found with the help of the local archival staff.
C. EHRI identification and description results on Finland
C.I. In Finland
In Finland, EHRI has identified two archival institutions which hold Holocaust-relevant collections. Both are located in Helsinki:
- the National Archives (Kansallisarkisto), and
- the Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Ulkoasiainministeriön arkisto).
At these two archives alone, eight Holocaust-related fonds have been identified and described in both Finnish and English. The large Finnish Jewish Archives (an important part of which consists of the Helsinki Jewish community archives) is held by the National Archives. The catalogue of the Finnish Jewish Archives was translated into English for EHRI, and entered both into the local database Vakka and into the EHRI portal. It was possible to integrate the data of this large fonds using OAI-PMH or “harvesting” (i.e. Open Archives Initiative – Protocol for Metadata Harvesting), so all levels of the description (including child items) are included.
The descriptions for the other seven fonds were done manually. As such, the National Archives also have descriptions for the large Archive of the Finnish Red Cross, and personal files compiled by the Finnish State Police on Finns and foreigners who were considered politically suspicious. The Holocaust-relevant sources preserved at the Archives of the Foreign Ministry, on the other hand, fit in a small number of boxes and single files, but are important nonetheless. They contain information on the “Jewish question” and Jewish refugees, but also on the war crimes investigation against the head of the Finnish State Police, Arno Anthoni. EHRI has yet to include the archives of the Finnish Ministry of Defence, which have partly been surveyed by the USHMM, and to survey a small number of provincial archives.
Outside the Helsinki-based central archives, the Turku branch of the provincial archives holds the Archives of the Jewish Community of Turku. Six more Finnish provincial archives remain to be surveyed for Holocaust-relevant material.
C.II. In other countries
EHRI’s identification and description work on Finland was important as there are no third parties known to have carried out systematic surveys so far. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has microfilmed a limited number of sources from the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and from the Finnish Ministry of Defence records. European archival institutions, such as NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam and the German Bundesarchiv may hold further Holocaust-relevant material on Finland.