Presentation of the official delegation of Finland at the Vilnius Forum
Rauno Viemerö, Ambassador to Lithuania
Finland sent an official delegation led by Rauno Viemerö to the Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Assets who gave the presentation set out below.
All countries present at the Forum agreed the Final Declaration.
We are convened here today in Vilnius to consider consequences of the all-European legacy of the Holocaust. Like so many other multi-ethnic cities in Central Europe, Vilnius was at the beginning of last century the site of a vibrant multicultural heritage, that had been gradually accrued along the rich and shifting all-European history of the city. We need not be reminded how the Second World War, through the hardships of foreign occupation, brought along years of torment for the population of Vilnius and indeed sudden and total destruction of the flourishing Jewish Community.
The Holocaust exceeded most national borders. It left no European nation indifferent and entered into our common European experience and consciousness. The period of the Cold War, maintaining defensive national self-images all over Europe, was regrettably not very conducive to a thorough enough process of collective soul searching and healing. Today, we know, that the burden of responsibility for the Holocaust in numerous cases extends beyond the authority of the Nazi occupation forces.
Even Finland, which together with the United Kingdom was the only European country to sustain its democratic order while taking part in hostilities of the Second World War, cannot declare itself completely free of responsibility for the Holocaust. At the same time, however, the rights of Finnish Jewish citizens were well protected and they participated in the national struggle for maintaining independence against the Soviet Union together with their non-Jewish compatriots.
The situation of foreign nationals - particularly the Jewish refugees, who sought asylum in Finland, was more vulnerable. Finland was a co-belligerent State with Nazi Germany. Even if no formal demand from the German side is known, this co-operation prompted the Finnish State Police to hand over refugees originating from Germany or from countries under German occupation. Early on the 6th of November 1942, security service officials acting covertly under orders from the Minister of Interior Affairs, rounded up 28 foreign refugees, eight of them Jewish, and delivered them to the Gestapo in German-occupied Tallinn.
After this event became public no further deportations of Jews were allowed during the war. Only one of these eight Jewish refugees, who were taken to the extermination camps, survived. The Prime Minister of Finland, Mr. Paavo Lipponen offered his apology for Finland's role in this tragic event to the Jewish Community on Finland's 80th Day of Independence 1997.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The question of looted Jewish property and its restitution is a Pan-European problem from which no country is absolutely isolated. As we know, neutral states and banks, which were dealing with Nazi Germany were offered, as means of payment and as collateral for credits, gold, which originated from persons exterminated in the Holocaust.
Finland had no such transactions with Germany and its own Jewish Community was not subject to persecution or deportation nor confiscation of property. However, we have reasons to believe that after the war a very limited amount of incidental private trade in looted artefacts into Finland has occurred. This fact was established in public at the Washington conference in 1998. In case of the appearance of such artefacts on our market, in addition to the few already known to the authorities, the National Board of Antiquities has issued guidelines for the retailers in artefacts.
The problem of restitution of looted cultural property was not dealt with on a systematic scale under the circumstances prevailing during the Cold War. Therefore Finland welcomed the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era assets, which produced an 11point recommendation. Now we hope that this forum will identify efficient ways and means to implement this recommendation and take the issue further, especially in countries with large unresolved issues. Finland, as a country not directly affected by these problems, pledges her support to these efforts.
Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Cultural Assets Website, accessed 27 November 2002. The website no longer exists (20 July 2007).