Daily: 11/02/2019

Report: Finnish SS Volunteers Likely Killed Jews in WWII

An Israeli Holocaust historian praised authorities in Finland on Sunday for publishing a report that concluded Finnish volunteers serving with Nazi Germany’s Waffen-SS “very likely” took part in World War II atrocities, including the mass murder of Jews.

Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center lauded the determination of the National Archives of Finland to release the findings even if doing so was “painful and uncomfortable” for Finland.

Zuroff called the decision an “example of unique and exemplary civic courage.”

Finland’s government commissioned the independent 248-page investigative report, which was made public Friday. It said 1,408 Finnish volunteers served with the SS Panzer Division Wiking during 1941-43, most of them 17 to 20-years-old.

“It is very likely that they (Finnish volunteers) participated in the killing of Jews, other civilians and prisoners of war as part of the German SS troops,” said Jussi Nuorteva, director general of the National Archives.

A significant part of the study was based on diaries kept by 76 of the Finnish SS volunteers. Eight of the Finnish SS volunteers are still alive, Nuorteva said.

Finland was invaded by Moscow in November 1939. The fighting in what became known as the Finnish-Soviet Winter War lasted until March 1940, when an overwhelmed and outnumbered Finland agreed to a bitter peace treaty. The small Nordic country lost several territories but maintained its independence.

Isolated from the rest of Europe and afraid of another Soviet attack, Finland entered into an alliance with Germany, receiving weapons and other material help from Berlin.

As part of the pact, Nazi SS chief Heinrich Himmler insisted that Finland dispatch soldiers to the SS Wiking division, similar to the volunteers it demanded from Nazi-occupied Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and elsewhere.

Reluctantly, Finland complied and covertly recruited the first group of 400 SS volunteers to be sent for training in the spring of 1941. The vast majority of them had no ideological sympathies with the Nazi regime, the report said.

When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 under Operation Barbarossa, Finnish regular army troops fought independently alongside Wehrmacht soldiers on the northeastern front. In 1941, the Finns advanced in the Karelia region outside Leningrad.

The Finnish soldiers were not under Nazi command, and the country’s leadership was mainly motivated by the desire to take back the territories lost to Moscow.

“At the beginning of the attack (on the Soviet Union), Finns were unaware of the Germans’ goal of eradicating the Jews,” Nuorteva said. “Finns were, above all, interested in fighting against the Soviet Union” due to their brutal experiences in the Winter War and the perceived threat from Moscow.

In this way, “the starting point for Finns’ involvement was different compared to most other countries joining SS foreign volunteers,” he said.

Finnish SS volunteers with the SS Wiking division operated on the eastern front until 1943, entering deep into Ukraine.

The leading Finnish military historians who undertook the study of the country’s wartime role wrote that the Finnish SS volunteers likely took part in killing Jews and other civilians, as well as witnessed atrocities committed by the Germans.

The volunteers returned to Finland after the Finnish government sensed the tide of the war had turned against the Germans. Many of them then served in the Finnish military until the end of World War II.

A copy of Friday’s report was given to Paula Lehtomaki, a state secretary with the Finnish government, who said it was a valuable contribution to existing research “on difficult and significant historical events” during Finland’s complex World War II history.

“We share the responsibility for ensuring that such atrocities will never be repeated,” said Lehtomaki.

The historical probe was launched following Zuroff’s request in January 2018 to Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.

Finland’s move contrasts with the attitude of some eastern European nations that have sought to diminish their culpability in the Holocaust.

 

Trump Retains Explosive Wildcard in Battle Over Border Security

President Donald Trump’s planned trip Monday to the border city of El Paso, Texas comes days before U.S. government funding is due to lapse once again and as suspense builds over Trump’s vague but persistent threat to declare a national emergency if Congress declines to pay for wall construction along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The president really does believe that there is a national security crisis and a humanitarian crisis at the border, and he will do something about it,” White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press program. “He’s going to do whatever he legally can to secure that border.”

“I do expect the president to take some kind of executive action, a national emergency is certainly part of that … if we [lawmakers] don’t reach a [border security] compromise,” North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows said on CBS’ Face the Nation program. “This president is going to build a wall one way or another.”

Democrats insist there is still time for a politically divided Congress to forge and pass a spending bill that strengthens America’s southern border.

“Nobody wants a shutdown, nobody wants the president to use some kind of emergency powers,” Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said on Fox News Sunday. “We just need to do our job, and we can do it.”

‘I’ll get it built’

Trump was resolute at last week’s State of the Union address to Congress.

“Where walls go up, illegal crossings go way down,” the president said. “I’ll get it built.”

So far, no deal has been reached by a bipartisan bicameral conference committee tasked with finding a compromise on border security before U.S. government funding expires on Friday. But Trump holds a wildcard – his authority as commander-in-chief to declare a national emergency and bypass Congress altogether.

“I don’t think anybody questions his legal authority to declare a national emergency,” Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said late last week.

“That would be a gross abuse of power, in my view,” Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen told VOA. “It’s pretty clear you can’t declare an emergency just because you can’t get your way 100 percent in the Congress. So let’s try and work this out through the normal process.”

In the abstract, the president’s authority to declare a national emergency is not in question.

“It turns out that the federal statute books are actually littered with hundreds of places where a president can declare national emergencies in various contexts,” George Washington University law professor Paul Schiff Berman said, who added that some statutes do allow a president “to move around money within the federal budget to address the emergency.”

The catch

But there is a catch: the very concept of an emergency as a sudden and dire situation.

“All of these statutes were written it appears with the idea that every once in a long while, there would be a true crisis—could be a natural disaster, could be a foreign invasion, something like that—where the need to act quickly was so important that the president would need these national emergency powers because there just wouldn’t be enough time for Congress to convene,” Berman said. “None of those [envisioned situations] would apply in a case like building a wall which is going to take many, many years, if it ever happens at all.”

A national emergency declaration from Trump would almost certainly trigger swift lawsuits as well as congressional action to overturn it.

“There is, within the law, the ability of Congress to stop a national emergency,” political analyst John Hudak of the Washington-based Brookings Institution said. “It requires both houses of Congress to vote to say that the national emergency is over. Now Democrats can certainly do that alone in the House. They cannot, however, do it alone in the Senate; it would require several Republican votes.”

‘Serious constitutional question’

Already, some Republicans have expressed unease about Trump suggesting he might act on his own.

“The whole idea that presidents — whether it’s President Trump, [hypothetically] President [Elizabeth] Warren or [hypothetically] President [Bernie] Sanders – can declare an emergency and somehow usurp the separation of powers and get into the business of appropriating money for specific projects without Congress being involved, is a serious constitutional question,” Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn told reporters last week.

By contrast, Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott warmed to the prospect.

“[House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi said there is not going to be funding for a wall. I think the president ought to use his emergency power to try to secure the border and, if he’s going to do that, I think he ought to look at trying to get a permanent fix to DACA [protections for undocumented immigrants brought to America as children] and TPS [protected status for refugees and others fleeing hardship].”

Democrats, meanwhile, are united in opposition.

“Declaring a national emergency, particularly when there is no national emergency, would be a significant mistake. It is clear that a growing number of Republicans share that view, and I hope the president doesn’t go that route,” Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden told VOA.

Trump appeared undeterred, tweeting on Saturday, “The Wall will get built one way or the other!”

Urgency questioned

The president has argued that America’s safety is imperiled as a result of illegal narcotics and migrants entering the United States. Some observers note that America’s border security deficiencies are hardly new or sudden.

“I think a lot of Americans look at this skeptically and say, ‘What has changed between the beginning of the president’s term and now that makes this such a dire emergency?’” Hudak said.

Some see grave potential risks if Trump goes forward with an emergency declaration.

“[I]f it is misused, it essentially becomes like a president declaring martial law and taking over the powers of Congress. It’s the sort of thing that we would look at another country doing and say that’s a big problem,” Berman said.

Nevertheless, the president faces intense pressure to deliver on his border wall promise, according to Brookings Institution political analyst William Galston, who says, politically, Trump is “in a box.”

“The president has used the issue of the wall to cement the bond between himself and his core supporters and he would probably incur significant political damage if he were seen by them to be standing down, surrendering, or accepting a compromise that they don’t think he should,” Galston said.