Finland has taken affirmative steps to fulfill the objectives of the Terezin Declaration with respect to education and remembrance of the Holocaust. Despite some strong efforts by researchers, the Government of Finland has yet to make significant progress toward documenting possible confiscated Holocaust-era property in the country or creating a legal framework that would resolve claims for property restitution or compensation.
Finland’s Jewish population dates to the arrival of Jewish soldiers garrisoned in Finland, when it was part of the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Until 1918, Finnish Jews lived under restrictions dating back to the period of Swedish rule, according to which they were required to apply regularly for residence permits to remain in Finland, were limited to certain professions, and were prohibited from conducting business outside of their homes. Following the normalization of residence regulations in 1918, Jews with Finnish citizenship gained equal status under the law.
Finland was a co-belligerent with Nazi Germany during the early years of World War II. With the signing of the Moscow Armistice on September 19, 1944, Finland agreed to expel all German troops; the last troops departed in April 1945. Finnish Jewish soldiers initially found themselves in a unique situation during the war, fighting with German forces against the USSR. During the period of cooperation with Nazi Germany, Finnish politicians defended the rights of Jewish citizens against possible deportation and asset expropriation, although Jewish refugees from Eastern and Central Europe lacking Finnish citizenship were not treated as equals. Finnish state police aided in the deportation back to Nazi-occupied central Europe of eight non-Finnish Jews, seven of whom were killed. The disposition of their property is not known. Recent research based on records in Finland’s state archives has shown that some Finnish volunteers in the Waffen-SS participated in massacres of Jews, Soviet POWs, and civilians during the Nazi invasion of Ukraine during the war.
Following the war, many Finnish Jews emigrated. Today, the largest Jewish community is in Helsinki. The Synagogue of Helsinki is home to a congregation of 1,100 and provides community amenities, religious schooling, and religious services. Members of the community estimate between 1,500 and 2,500 Jews reside in Finland, with smaller communities in Turku and Tampere, although there are no official figures or regular surveys.
Specific challenges for Finland include the lack of research on the provenance of suspect works of art. Officials and museums have faced minimal internal pressure to research works of art of questionable provenance. Other sources of stolen or expropriated property in Finland reportedly were the Nordic, Central European, and Soviet art markets. Finns may have purchased works of art or other movable property from the Soviet Union that had previously been taken by German or other Axis forces during the war. This complex route has further complicated provenance research.
Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property
There are no known claims for immovable private property or communal property confiscated during the Holocaust era. All the religious, academic, and government sources interviewed stated that the only property that could have been confiscated was movable.
Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art, Judaica, and Jewish Cultural Property
It is likely that there is Nazi-confiscated and looted art in Finland. Only the Finnish National Gallery has taken steps to inform the public of the possibility of looted art in its collection. The Gallery lists on its public website 64 works of “foreign art whose provenance between the years 1933–45 has not yet been fully investigated.” It does not indicate when the gaps in provenance occur. The National Gallery reports that since 2007, it has critically assessed the provenance of new items added to its collection. It maintains that there is no record of anyone filing a claim on works of art in the Gallery in relation to Holocaust-era confiscation.
According to museum personnel, art gallery representatives, and academics, there is little to no ongoing research on the provenance of suspect works of art at the national level. The only significant effort to document such works of art took place at the University of Jyvaskyla between 2001 and 2006, when four researchers assessed the contents of 30 public and private Finnish collections. Ultimately, they found 180 items in Finland with questionable gaps in provenance dating to the Holocaust-era. The researchers have made this list available on the international clearinghouse for Nazi-confiscated art, the German Lost Art Foundation. The researchers stated that they encountered significant resistance from officials at Finnish museums and owners of private collections, who required payment from researchers to permit access to works of art or who refused permission entirely. Journalists and representatives of the Finnish Jewish community stated they have no information as to the current whereabouts of movable property of the Central European Jews whom Finnish security services deported.
Finland is a party to the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, which the government implemented in Finnish legal code 877/1999, and to The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. Finnish statute HE 236/2010 addresses when seizures of objects in exhibitions are prohibited and when seizures are allowed. The right to prohibit seizure does not extend to cases where the prohibition would be in contradiction with international agreements binding Finland or European Union laws, or cases where the object would be put up for sale during the exhibition, or otherwise commercially utilized in an equivalent manner.
The Department of State knows of no claims for Judaica or Jewish cultural property confiscated during the Holocaust era.
Access to Archival Documents
The National Archives of Finland has consistently supported the preservation of documents related to the Holocaust era and has carried out thorough investigations of events that took place in Finland or that involved Finns located elsewhere in Europe. Although the Archives have responded to international requests for Holocaust research assistance, sensitive archival ownership documents likely rest with private owners, law firms, or banks, which held liquid assets of the deported victims, rather than public institutions. Finland does not have a public archive of documents related to the Finnish Jewish community nor any clearinghouse for relevant documents that could prove ownership of expropriated assets. There were no reports of Finnish private institutions publicizing the presence of archival documents from the Holocaust era or proactively seeking the heirs of unclaimed property.
Finnish researchers, including from the National Archives of Finland, have cooperated with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Yad Vashem to conduct investigations and share archival resources.
Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites
Lessons regarding the history of the Holocaust have been part of the Finnish school curriculum since the 1950s. Since 1993, the Finnish Holocaust Remembrance Association (HUM), an NGO open to all citizens, has worked to raise awareness about racism and anti-Semitism and to keep the memory of the victims of the Holocaust alive. In 2010, HUM became a partner of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. In 2016, the National Board of Education added a module to the national core curriculum dedicated to the historical and ethical context of human rights and crimes against humanity.
Formal Holocaust remembrance events have included commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day and periodic public educational events. Since 1995, HUM has organized Holocaust Memorial Day events on the same day as the Yom HaShoah (Days of Remembrance) in the Jewish calendar. Starting in 2001, the Memorial Day date changed to January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and in 2002, the Ministry of Education began to provide financial support for commemoration activities. In 2003, organizers held the memorial event at the University of Helsinki, where Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen gave the keynote speech. On April 1, 2019, HUM organized a seminar in Helsinki’s new Central Library Oodi to coincide with the publication earlier that year of an extensive National Archives report on the role of Finnish volunteers in the Nazi Waffen SS. The seminar included a film project about Finnish sailors in German concentration camps; the placing of commemorative markers, also known as “stumbling stones” (in German, Stolperstein) in memory of the Jews handed over to Nazi Germany; and the release of a new book documenting the life of a Holocaust survivor who settled in Finland.
The most significant recent public research regarding Finnish participation in the Holocaust was conducted by the Finnish National Archives following a public appeal from the Simon Wiesenthal Center to President Sauli Niinistö on May 31, 2018. In response, the Finnish Prime Minister’s Office initiated an independent probe into the role of Finnish Waffen SS soldiers in the killing of Jews and civilians between the years 1941 and 1943. The Secretary General of the Office of the President announced that any criminal activities uncovered during the investigation would be subject to possible prosecution. The National Archives published the report on February 8, 2019, concluding that Finnish volunteers serving in the Wiking Division of Germany’s Waffen-SS between 1941 and 1943 “very likely” participated in the execution of Jewish people and other civilians, as well as prisoners of war on the eastern front.
Finland does not host any research institute specifically focused on the study of the Holocaust and genocide. Finland maintains one public memorial site for victims of the Holocaust, located at Tähtitorninmäki Hill in central Helsinki. The site honors eight people whom the Finnish police deported to Gestapo custody in Estonia and ultimately to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Only one man, Austrian citizen Georg Kollman, survived. At the ceremony opening the memorial in 2000, Prime Minister Lipponen presented a public apology on behalf of the Finnish government and all Finns.
The Welfare of Holocaust (Shoah) Survivors and Other Victims of Nazi Persecution
Representatives from the Jewish Community of Helsinki estimate that up to 15 survivors of the Holocaust ultimately settled in Finland, and two remain present today. The Government of Finland did not offer specific support for the welfare of survivors, although they have enjoyed the same access to universal social welfare available to all Finnish citizens. Private charitable efforts in Finland provided for initial assistance to survivors when they arrived in Finland and aided in the fostering of Jewish children emigrating from Poland to other countries abroad, including the United States and Israel.