FINLAND (Finnish Suomi) republic in N. Europe. Until 1809 it was part of the kingdom of Sweden, where Jews had been prohibited from settling within its borders. When in 1809 Finland became a grand duchy in the Russian Empire, Czar Alexander I declared that he would not change any of the existing Swedish laws, and the prohibition on Jewish settlement in Finland therefore continued. The first Jews to settle in Finland were *Cantonists who served in the garrisons in Helsinki (in the Sveaborg fort) and in Vyborg for up to 25 years, and were permitted when discharged to remain in Finland. Every residence permit issued to them, however, was bitterly opposed by the local authorities. When the Finnish authorities failed to have the permits given by the Russians canceled, they instead endeavored to undermine the position of the Jews by a series of severe restrictions, limiting their places of residence, curtailing their freedom of movement in the province, and limiting the occupations open to them. Jews were subject to constant control by the Finnish police, who required them to renew their residence permits every three months. They were permitted to deal in second-hand clothes only and forbidden to leave their city of residence or attend the fairs. The slightest violation of any of these limitations served as a ground for expulsion from Finland. Children were allowed to live with their parents only until coming of age. Jews conscripted to the army and transferred to Russia were not allowed to return to
Finland after their discharge. For relief from these disabilities the Jews could only turn to the military governor in St. Petersburg who was responsible for the Jewish soldiers.
The struggle for equal rights for Jews continued for many decades and was taken up in the Finnish and Swedish press and in debates in the Finnish diet (parliament). Opposition came mainly from the clergy, while many landowners were sympathetic toward the Jewish problem. In 1872 two members of the sejm, Leo Mechelin and Antti Puhakka, called for the removal of some of these limitations on the Jews as the "people of the Book" but the sejm rejected the proposal. Toward the late 1870s Jews began to deal in new clothes which they produced or imported from factories in St. Petersburg. The debate on Jewish emancipation continued in the
At the beginning of the 20th century, mainly after the Russian revolution of 1905, signs of sympathy toward Jews were manifested by the nascent socialist movement in Finland. However in 1908 the restrictions still remained in force. The Danish-Jewish author Georg *Brandes, who went on a lecture tour in Finland that year, stated ironically in an interview with the Finnish press before he left: "I have committed three serious sins here. As a Jew, I was permitted to stay in your country for only three days, however I have stayed here for four consecutive days; as a Jew, I was permitted only to trade in rags, however here I lectured on world literature; and as a Jew, it is forbidden for me to marry here, but in spite of all this no one prohibited me from courting in your country.…" In 1906 the third convention of Russian Zionists met in Helsinki and adopted the Helsingfors *Program. In 1909 the liberal elements in the Finnish parliament overcame the opposition of the extreme conservatives and by a majority of 112 to 48 a law was accepted abolishing the restrictions. However, the Russian government delayed its ratification and the Jews did not receive full civil rights until 1917 when Finland became independent.
Between the two world wars the Jewish population increased to 2,000 as a result of emigration from Russia during the early period of the revolution. Many of the Jewish youth studied in universities, and Jews entered the liberal professions as physicians, lawyers, and engineers. Others turned to industry and forestry, but the majority continued in the textile and clothing business. With a few isolated exceptions the Jews did not take part in internal party politics or join any political movement. The author and Mizrachi leader Simon *Federbusch officiated as chief rabbi of Finland from 1930 to 1940.
During the Finnish-Russian War of 1939–40, Jews fought alongside the Finns. When Viipuri (Vyborg) was annexed to the Soviet Union, the Jews (about 300 persons) evacuated the city along with the Finns. During World War II (1941–44) Finland fought on the German side against the Soviet Union, but, despite strong German pressure, the Finnish authorities, headed by Field Marshal Mannerheim refused to enforce anti-Jewish legislation. 160 Jews who did not possess Finnish nationality found refuge in neutral Sweden. At one stage the Finns yielded and allowed the Gestapo to deport 50 Jews from Finland who had arrived as refugees from Austria and the Baltic countries before the Nazi invasion. However, after the dispatch of the first transport of eight of the refugees, only one of whom survived, Mannerheim and the Finnish authorities refused to continue the operation. The peace treaty between the Allies and Finland prohibited racial discrimination and thereafter Jews again enjoyed full civil rights.
The Jewish community in Finland has always been deeply conscious of its Jewish traditions, and Yiddish is still used to some extent by the older generation. In 1968 the Jewish population numbered 1,750 (approximately 1,330 in Helsinki, 350 in Turku, and 50 in Tampere), dropping to around 1,100 at the turn of the century. The community was represented by a community council of 32 members. In Helsinki, a Jewish kindergarten (founded in 1953) and a comprehensive Jewish school (1918) with nearly 100 students were in operation, along with a full range of religious, cultural, and social services and active Zionist organizations. The rate of intermarriage was high. Twenty-nine Jewish youths from Finland fought in the Israel War of Independence, and over 100 Finnish Jews settled in the State of Israel, mostly in the agricultural sector. In 1979, Ben Zyskowicz became the first Finnish Jew to be elected to Parliament.
Relations with Israel
In 1948 formal relations were established between Finland and Israel, first by reciprocal appointment of honorary consuls. In February 1951, Israel appointed Abraham Nissan, its minister in Sweden, as its nonresident minister in Helsinki. In 1953 a regular Israel legation was established in Helsinki, headed by a chargé d'affaires. In 1960 with the expansion of political and cultural ties between the two countries, a resident Israel minister was appointed in Finland and a Finnish minister in Israel. In 1962 both missions were elevated to the ambassadorial level. At that time Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion visited Finland on the invitation of its government, as part of his tour of Scandinavian countries, and was warmly received by the public and government officials. In May 1967 the prime minister of Finland, Raphael Paasio, reciprocated with an official visit to Israel. In 1968 Foreign Minister Abba Eban visited Helsinki on the invitation of the Finnish foreign minister.
The Six-Day War (1967) aroused great emotion in all sectors of the Finnish people. There were numerous expressions of support for and identification with Israel as a small nation fighting against great odds, reminiscent of the experience of the Finnish nation. Internationally its neutral status and proximity to the former U.S.S.R. dictated a cautious approach; its policy with regard to Israel has been neutral but sympathetic.
Cultural ties have developed between Finland and Israel. Many years ago a movement was established, mainly religiously based, called "Carmel," aimed at bringing to Israel annually a group of youngsters for a few months' training in the Hebrew language and acquaintance with Israeli life. Tourism from Finland to Israel increased, especially from 1968. In 1954a League for Finnish-Israel friendship was established, with past Prime Minister K.A. Fagerholm as president. Finland's trade with Israel has increased steadily over the decades. The first trade agreement was signed in 1950, involving $7,000,000 in both directions. The major Israeli export to Finland was
S. Federbusch, World Jewry Today (1959), 538–42; AJYB, 60 (1961), 223–7; A. Sarsowsky, Gli ebrei in Finlandia (1911 = Settimana Israelitica, 1910); P. Friedman, They Were Their Brothers' Keepers (1957), 143–8; J. Wolf, in: Algemeyne Entsiklopedye Yidn, 7 (1966), 292–9; N. Levin, The Holocaust (1968), 399–401. WEBSITE: www.jchelsinki.fi.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.