Luovutetut. Suomen ihmisluovutukset Gestapolle
[The extradited. Finlands extraditions to the Gestapo]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2003. 468p., ill.
€ 31, hardback
Those who spoke did not know. Those who knew did not speak. When,
at the beginning of November, the journalist and scholar Elina Sana
published her book about the people Finland handed over to the Gestapo
during the Second World War, a few historians hurried to remind us
that there was nothing really new about Sana’s information about
the handing over of about 3,000 prisoners of war and civilians to
Nazi Germany. The figures had simply not, for one reason or another,
become public knowledge, and no comprehensive book about the extraditions
had until then been written.
In the weeks that followed her book’s
publication, Elina Sana found herself repeatedly answering the questions
of the Finnish and foreign media. But it appears that the complex
series of events that Sana chronicles over almost 500 pages was not
sufficiently sexy for the media, and the author later found herself
resignedly correcting the simplifications and misunderstandings that
had appeared in the news. Attention rapidly focused on the information
that there were Jews among those extradited to Nazi Germany, and,
in a letter sent to the Finnish president in November, the Simon Wiesenthal
Centre, which studies Nazi crime, demanded an explanation of the matter.
The respected historian Heikki Ylikangas, who was appointed a one-man
‘truth commission’, did indeed, in a report submitted
in January, recommend the instigation of a research project to cast
light on the extradition on prisoners to both Germany and, immediately
after the war, to the Soviet Union.
The Finnish war record was stained. Deservedly
so, as a reading of Elina Sana’s book reveals.
Finland was among the losers of the Second
World War. Among those countries which had fought alongside Germany,
it was apparently the only one was able to make defeat sound like
a moral victory. The country was not occupied by either Germans or
Russians, the number of civilian deaths was, compared to most other
nations engaged in the war, insignificant, and Finland did not persecute
its Jewish population.
In November 1942 the Finnish police force
did, it is true, send eight Jewish refugees from central Europe –
men, women and children – on the German steamship Hohenhörn
to German-occupied Tallinn, where they were handed over to the Gestapo;
only one of them survived. In Finland the extradition aroused such
strong disapproval, even before the departure of the death-ship, that
after the war and when the whole picture of the holocaust had been
revealed, this undeniable transgression of human rights was presented
as a small victory: even though ‘we’ were forced to make
this small concession under German pressure, ‘we’ defended,
in a difficult situation, humane and democratic values. The head of
the national police force later had to face charges of – hmm
– over-enthusiasm, but there was insufficient documentary evidence
to convict him.
The incident of the eight Jews on board the
SS Hohenhörn would have remained a marginal historical
note if a certain journalist had not, in the autumn of 1979, published
a documentary work that provoked extensive debate and shock. For the
writer of Kuoleman laiva s/s Hohenhörn (‘SS
Hohenhörn – death-ship’) was Elina Suominen,
now Elina Sana. A couple of decades later, in 2000, a memorial to
the extradited Jews was unveiled and the then prime minister, Paavo
Lipponen, apologised to the Jewish community.
Now an apology is due to many more.
The extraditions to the German security services
and its secret police, the Gestapo, were not, after all, a heroic
delay tactic in the face of the demands of tyranny that ruled Europe.
According to Elina Sana, it was a question of a systematic usage practised
by both the police force and military officials.
At the end of the Second World War, the Finnish
national police force or Valpo destroyed a large proportion of its
archives concerning extradition, but Sana persevered and was able
to track down copies of the documents from other official archives
in Finland and Germany. It was not believed that the extradition agreement
between Valpo and the Gestapo would be found, but Sana uncovered letters,
receipts and other documents that made direct reference to Valpo’s
chief, Arno Anthoni, and the director of the Gestapo, Heinrich Müller.
Through Valpo’s ‘police line’,
according to Elina Sana’s calculations, 129 persons were extraditioned;
91 of them were citizens of the Soviet Union (and the Soviet-occupied
Baltic states). Among them were convinced communists, undoubtedly
some Soviet secret agents, but also ordinary refugees who, in the
spy-hysteria of wartime, were suspected of working for the Allies.
Finnish-born Finns who had at some time of their lives been in the
Soviet part of Karelia building socialism, but had returned home disappointed,
were also recorded as Soviet citizens. In one case the nationality
of a Finnish man convicted of petty crime was changed during his prison
sentence, and he was extradited as a Soviet citizen to the Stutthof
Most shocking of all, even from the super-patriotic
perspective of the time, was the fate of a few Belgian, French and
Swiss nationals. They had come to Finland to participate in the Winter
War against the Soviet Union as volunteers in 1939–40. Finland
rewarded their sacrifice by handing them over to the Gestapo as politically
The Gestapo was generally also the final recipient
of Finland’s ‘military line’ extraditions, whose
number was considerably greater than those handed over by the police,
according to Sana’s investigations at least 2,829. The extraditions
were in accordance with an exchange trade between Finland and Germany.
It was a mix of ideological fanaticism and naked calculation of the
exploitation of slave labour.
Finland wanted, from the enormous hordes of
prisoners of war taken by the Germans, Finnic, and particularly Finnish-speaking,
prisoners capable of work. The intention was to settle them in the
extensive territories of Karelia which Finland had captured from the
Soviet Union when the area was, at some future point, ethnically cleansed
of its Russian inhabitants. To begin with they would have eased the
shortage of labour on the home front. To replace them, Finland agreed
to deliver Russians and representatives of other nationalities who
had fought in the Red Army and had been captured on the Finnish front;
the Germans said they were hoping to use them to gain information
about possible Soviet security police agents active in the areas they
It looks as if Jewishness was not necessarily
a basis for extradition, although in certain circumstances it might
well be. The Germans received lists of prisoners from Finland and
could on that basis demand the extradition of particular persons.
Political commissars in the Red Army who had
fallen prisoner met a harsh fate. In the hands of the Gestapo, a quick
execution awaited them, according to Hitler’s orders, but even
in Finland, in the camps of these hardened and supposedly dangerous
communists, food was even scarcer than in other camps and the death-rate
was similar to that in German concentration camps. Professor Ylikangas
indeed suggested that deaths in Finnish prisoner-of-war camps should
also be examined. In this context it should be remembered that the
food situation in Finland as a whole was, in those war winters, poor,
and that welfare was dependent on German consignments of grain.
At the beginning of January Luovutetut
won the prestigious Finlandia Prize for Non-Fiction. At the moment
of victory, the book was also criticised for poor editing. If it were
an academic work, it would not perhaps fulfil the severest formal
scholarly requirements, but as well-documented investigative journalism
it astonishes, agitates and opens horrifying perspectives into the
atmosphere of wartime Finland and the thinking of leading figures.
It leaves the most painful question of all to be answered by other
scholars: how high in the Finnish political and war leadership responsibility
for the extraditions went.
The most frightening thought is that Elina
Sana has only shown the beginning of the road. The clues offered by
her book will be sufficient for numerous scholars. What followed immediately
after the war – the return of as many as a hundred thousand
Ingrians and Estonians to the Soviet Union – is an issue that
demands a similarly pioneering study. In his report, Professor Ylikangas
came to the same conclusion.
Elina Sana alternates archive work with interviews,
which add deep black brushstrokes to the dark grey ground. Luovutetut
is not a book about numbers – themselves uncertain and open
to interpretation – but about people who, on the basis of nationality,
inhuman exchange trade or even the weakest of policitical suspicion,
were consigned to a journey without a return.