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Finnish Jews
Suomen juutalaiset
Finländska judar
יהודים פיניים
Finland (dark green) and its location in the European Union (light green)
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Helsinki (80% of the Finnish Jewish community), Turku (13%), Tampere (3%)[1]
Finnish, Swedish, Hebrew, Yiddish, German, Russian[2]
Related ethnic groups
Ashkenazi Jews: notably Russian Jews, Ukrainian Jews, and others

The history of the Jews in Finland goes back to the late 18th century. Many of the first Jews to arrive were nineteenth-century Russian soldiers (known as cantonists) who stayed in Finland after their military service ended.[1] The two synagogues in active use today in Finland were built by Jewish congregations in Helsinki and Turku in 1906 and 1912, respectively. The Vyborg Synagogue (built 1910–1911) was destroyed by Russian air bombings on 30 November 1939, the first day of the Winter War.[1] Today, Finland is home to around 1,800 Jews, of which 1,400 live in the Greater Helsinki area and 200 in Turku.[1] Finnish and Swedish are the most common mother tongues of Jews in Finland, and many also speak Yiddish, German, Russian or Hebrew.[2] Since data collection began in 2008, incidents of antisemitism have been on the rise in Finland.[3] The number of incidents are likely under-reported, as Finland does not have a systematic method for recording specific forms of hate speech that incite violence or hatred.[4]

Early history, 1700–1917

Graves of the Jewish soldiers who served in the army of the Russian Empire, located next to the Eastern Orthodox cemetery in Hamina.

The first Jew said to have settled on Finnish soil was Jacob Weikam (later Veikkanen), who in 1782 began living in the town of Hamina, then under Russian rule.[citation needed] During that time, most of Finland was controlled by the Kingdom of Sweden, which only allowed Jews to reside in three towns – all of which fell outside the boundaries of modern-day Finland. In 1809, Finland became part of the Russian Empire as an autonomous Grand Duchy, but the Swedish Judereglementet laws remained in effect, meaning Jews were still unable to settle in Finnish territory.[5]

An 1897 cartoon warning against a flood of Jewish immigration if discriminatory laws were repealed.

Despite these legal difficulties, during the period of Finnish autonomy from 1809 to 1917, Russian Jews established themselves in the country as tradesmen and craftsmen. The Jews who inhabited Finland were mostly former soldiers from the Imperial Russian army. These cantonists were forced into the Russian army in childhood and were required to serve at least 25 years. After their term expired, however, they gained the right to remain in Finland regardless of Finnish bans on Jewish settlement. It was only after Finland declared independence in 1917 that Jews were granted full rights as Finnish citizens.[citation needed]

Rabbi Naftali Zvi Amsterdam, one of the foremost disciples of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter and the Mussar Movement, served as chief rabbi of Helsinki under Rabbi Yisrael's instruction from 1867 to 1875.[6]

Jewish youths in Helsinki founded the sports association IK Stjärnan (later Makkabi Helsinki) in 1906, making it the oldest still-operating Jewish sports club in the world with an uninterrupted history.[7]

World War II

A Finnish field synagogue with soldiers at the Continuation War.

Finland's involvement in World War II began during the Winter War (30 November 1939 – 13 March 1940), the Soviet Union's invasion of Finland. Finnish Jews evacuated Finnish Karelia alongside other locals.[8] The Vyborg Synagogue was destroyed by air bombings within the war's first few days.[9]

Finland resumed fighting the Soviet Union in the Continuation War (1941 – 1944), whose onset was timed to coincide with Germany's launch of Operation Barbarossa. This resulted in Finland fighting alongside Nazi Germany. 327 Finnish Jews fought for Finland during the war, including 242 rank-and-file soldiers, 52 non-commissioned officers, 18 officers, and 15 medical officers. 21 Jews served in the women's auxiliary Lotta Svärd. In total, 15 Finnish Jews were killed in action in the Winter War, and eight were killed in the Continuation War.[10][11]

As Finland's wartime operations were supported by substantial numbers of German forces, the Finnish front had a field synagogue operating in the presence of Nazi troops. Jewish soldiers were granted leave on Saturdays and Jewish holidays.[12][13][14] Finnish Jewish soldiers later participated in the Lapland War against Germany.[citation needed]

In November 1942, eight Jewish Austrian refugees (along with 19 others) were deported to Nazi Germany after the head of the Finnish police agreed to turn them over. Seven of the Jews were murdered immediately.[15][16] According to author Martin Gilbert, these eight were: Georg Kollman; Frans Olof Kollman; Frans Kollman's mother; Hans Eduard Szubilski; Henrich Huppert; Kurt Huppert; Hans Robert Martin Korn, who had been a volunteer in the Winter War; and an unknown individual.[17] When Finnish media reported the news, it caused a national scandal, and ministers resigned in protest.[16] After protests by Lutheran ministers, an Archbishop, and the Social Democratic Party, no more foreign Jewish refugees were deported from Finland. In 2000, Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen issued an official apology for the extradition of the eight Jewish refugees.[18]

Approximately 500 Jewish refugees arrived in Finland during World War II, although about 350 moved on to other countries, including about 160 who were transferred to neutral Sweden for safety reasons on the direct orders of Finnish Army commander Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim.[16] About 40 of the remaining Jewish refugees were forced into compulsory labor service in Salla in Lapland in March 1942. The refugees were moved to Kemijärvi in June and eventually to Suursaari Island in the Gulf of Finland. Although Heinrich Himmler visited Finland twice to try to persuade the authorities to hand over the Jewish population, he was unsuccessful.[16]

In 1942, an exchange of Soviet prisoners of war (POWs) took place between Finland and Germany. Approximately 2,600–2,800 Soviet POWs of various nationalities then held by Finland were exchanged for 2,100 Soviet POWs of Baltic Finn nationalities (Finnish, Karelian, Ingrian, or Estonian) held by Germany, who might have volunteered in the Finnish army. About 2,000 of the POWs handed over by Finland joined the Wehrmacht. Among the rest, there were about 500 people (mainly Soviet political officers) who were considered politically dangerous in Finland. This latter group most likely perished in concentration camps or were executed following guidelines set by the Commissar Order. 47 Jews appear on the list of those extradited, although religion was not a determining factor in extradition.[19]

Jews with Finnish citizenship were protected during the war. Late in the conflict, Germany's ambassador to Helsinki Wipert von Blücher concluded in a report to Hitler that Finns would not endanger their citizens of Jewish origin in any situation.[20]

Memorial ceremony for Jewish soldiers who fell in World War II, Helsinki, Finland

Three Finnish Jews were offered the Iron Cross for their wartime service: Leo Skurnik, Salomon Klass, and Dina Poljakoff. Major Leo Skurnik, a district medical officer in the Finnish Army, organized an evacuation of a German field hospital when it came under Soviet shelling. More than 600 patients, including SS soldiers, were evacuated. Captain Salomon Klass, also of the Finnish Army, led a Finnish unit that rescued a German company from encirclement by the Soviets. Dina Poljakoff, a member of Lotta Svärd, the Finnish women's auxiliary service, was a nursing assistant who helped tend to German wounded and came to be greatly admired by her patients. All three refused the award.[21][16][14][dead link]

The then-President of Finland, Marshal Mannerheim, attended the memorial service for fallen Finnish Jews at the Helsinki Synagogue on 6 December 1944.[22]


The synagogue of Turku

During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, about 28 Finnish Jews, mostly Finnish Army veterans, fought for the State of Israel. After Israel's establishment, Finland had a high rate of immigration to Israel (known as "aliyah"), which led to a shrinking Jewish population. The community was partly revitalized when some Soviet Jews immigrated to Finland following the collapse of the Soviet Union.[8][23]

As of 2020, the number of Jews in Finland was approximately 1,800, of whom 1,400 lived in Helsinki, about 200 in Turku, and about 50 in Tampere.[1] Jews are well integrated into Finnish society and are represented in nearly all sectors. Most Finnish Jews are corporate employees or self-employed professionals.[1]

Most Finnish Jews speak Finnish or Swedish as their mother tongue. Yiddish, German, Russian, and Hebrew are also spoken in the community. The Jews, like Finland's other traditional minorities as well as immigrant groups, are represented on the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations.

There are two synagogues still standing in Finland: one in Helsinki and one in Turku. Helsinki also has a Jewish day school, which serves about 110 students (many of whom are the children of Israelis working in Finland); and a Chabad Lubavitch rabbi is based in the city.

Tampere previously had an organized Jewish community, but it stopped functioning in 1981.[24] The other two cities continue to run their community organizations.[24] There are also some Reform Jewish movements in Finland today.[25]


Antisemitic incident figures, 2008–2013[26]

Historically, antisemitic hate crimes have been rare, and the Jewish community has been relatively safe.[citation needed] However, there have been some antisemitic crimes reported in the last decade;[timeframe?] the most common types include defamation, verbal threats, and damage to property.[27]

In 2011, Ben Zyskowicz, the first Finnish Jewish parliamentarian, was assaulted by a man shouting antisemitic slurs.[28] Four years later, a few campaign advertisements containing Zyskowicz's picture were sprayed with swastikas in Helsinki.[29] In 2023, Zyskowicz was attacked by a man who shouted insults about NATO, Jews and immigrants.[30]

In 2015 the Fundamental Rights Agency published its annual overview of data on antisemitism available in the European Union, including information from a report by the Police College of Finland. The semi-frequent report covers religiously motivated hate crimes, including antisemitic crimes. The most recently-documented data is from 2013, when most of the incidents (six out of eleven) concerned verbal threats or harassments.[3]

In May 2024, the European Jewish Congress prepared a report titled “Experiences and Views of Antisemitism in Finland – A Report on Discrimination and Hate Crime Targeting Jews" to investigate the rising levels of antisemitism in Finland. The survey respondents consisted of persons over the age of 16 who live in Finland and identify as Jewish. The report was prepared by researchers at the Polin Institute in collaboration with Åbo Akademi University and the Finnish Ministry of Justice.[31] According to the report, the majority of respondents (over 80%) believed that antisemitism has increased in the past 5 years. 70% of respondents stated that Finnish people blame Jewish people for the actions of the Israeli government.[32]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Short History of Finnish Jewry". Jewish Community of Helsinki. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  2. ^ a b Arnö, Kaj (2 November 2020). "About language and the Jews of Finland". Projekt Fredrika r.f. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  3. ^ a b "Antisemitism: Overview of antisemitic incidents recorded in the European Union 2011–2021". European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. 3 November 2022. Retrieved 1 October 2023.
  4. ^ "Fundamental Rights Report 2022, p. 87-88". European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. 8 June 2022. Retrieved 1 October 2023.
  5. ^ "Jewish Heritage Europe – Finland". Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 10 September 2007.
  6. ^ Muir, Simo; Tuori, Riikka (May 2019). "'The Golden Chain of Pious Rabbis': the origin and development of Finnish Jewish Orthodoxy". Nordisk Judaistik/Scandinavian Jewish Studies.
  7. ^ Makkabi. Helsingin juutalaisen urheiluseuran historia. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura. 2016. ISBN 978-952-222-705-8. Retrieved 6 November 2020.
  8. ^ a b Hannu Reime (8 October 2010). "Un-Finnish business". Haaretz.
  9. ^ "The Jews of Finland". The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot. Archived from the original on 24 June 2018. Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  10. ^ Simon, John (2017). Mahdoton sota: Kun suomenjuutalaiset taistelivat natsi-Saksan rinnalla [The Impossible War: When Finnish Jews Fought Alongside with the Nazi Germany] (in Finnish). Translated by Antero Helasvuo. Helsinki: Siltala. ISBN 978-952-234-473-1.
  11. ^ Simon, John B. (2019). Strangers in a Stranger Land: How One Country's Jews Fought an Unwinnable War alongside Nazi Troops... and Survived. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 183. ISBN 978-951-44-7702-7.
  12. ^ Kendall, Paul (9 March 2014). "The Jews who fought for Hitler: 'We did not help the Germans. We had a common enemy'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  13. ^ Suomen juutalaiset sotaveteraanit saivat muistopaaden MTV3. 28 April 2002. Retrieved 26 February 2010.(in Finnish)
  14. ^ a b Paul Kendall, The Telegraph (11 March 2014). "For the Jews who fought for Hitler, discomfort still – despite rejecting Nazi Iron Cross for saving German lives". National Post. Retrieved 4 February 2016. [dead link]
  15. ^ Cohen, William B. and Jörgen Svensson (1995). Finland and the Holocaust. Holocaust and Genocide Studies 9(1):70–93.
  16. ^ a b c d e "The Jewish Quarterly". Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  17. ^ Gilbert, Martin (1985). The Holocaust. Holt. p. 534. ISBN 0-03-062416-9.
  18. ^ Vuonokari, Tuulikki (2003). "Jews in Finland During the Second World War". University of Tampere (Finnish Institutions Research Papers). Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  19. ^ Jukka Lindstedt: Juutalaisten sotavankien luovutukset. Historiallinen aikakauskirja 2/2004: 144–165
  20. ^ Meinander, Henrik (2009). Suomi 1944. Siltala. p. 17. ISBN 978-952-234-003-0.
  21. ^ STT-IA. "Juutalaiset sotilaat taistelivat saksalaisten rinnalla Suomen itsenäisyyden puolesta". 1997 12 5. Verkkouutiset. Archived from the original on 19 January 2005. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
  22. ^ Lumi, Llena. "Mannerheim Synagoogassa". Leena Lumi Blog. Retrieved 6 November 2020.
  23. ^ Siegel, Matt. "A Short but Convoluted History for Finland's Jewish Community". Archived from the original on 4 April 2013. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
  24. ^ a b "About Our Community". Jewish Community of Helsinki. Archived from the original on 1 November 2015. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  25. ^ "Progressive Judaism in Finland". Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  26. ^ "Antisemitism Overview of data available in the European Union 2004–2014" (PDF). European Union agency for fundamental rights. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
  27. ^ European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights: Antisemitism – Summary overview of the situation in the European Union 2001–2011, p. 26.
  28. ^ "Man tries to punch Jewish Finnish parliament speaker". The Jerusalem Post - Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  29. ^ "Swastikas appeared on Zyskowicz election posters". CFCA. Retrieved 25 April 2015.
  30. ^ "Finland's longest-serving MP, Ben Zyskowicz, attacked while campaigning". Yle. 25 March 2023. Retrieved 27 March 2023.
  31. ^ "Finnish government presents report about the rise of antisemitism in the country". The European Jewish Congress. Retrieved 12 June 2024.
  32. ^ Czimbalmos, Mercédesz; Pataricza, Dóra (7 March 2024). "Venäjänkielisten Juutalaisten kertomuksia antisemitismistä ja syrjinnästä Neuvostoliitossa Ja Suomessa" (PDF). Teologinen Aikakauskirja. 129 (1): 36–55. doi:10.62442/ta.143533. Retrieved 14 June 2024.

Further reading