Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Unknown World War Two Tales - The Jews Awarded The Iron Cross

There was a country in World War 2 allied with Germany where:

Three of its Jews were awarded the Iron Cross, and all three declined the honor.
A Field Synagogue was setup near the front lines and actually visited by German officers.
The country's leader told the Nazis to go pound sand when they demanded he turn over the country's Jewish citizens to the Germans.

Yes, if you haven't guessed it by now, we're talking about Finland.

Finland in the Second World War was between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Invaded by the USSR in 1939, the Winter War, she fought the Soviets to a standstill. Then she fought alongside the Axis in the Continuation War 1941-1944 but with its own war aims, and finally fought the Lapland War in 1944-45 pushing the Germans out of Finland. Finnish Jews fought in all three wars.

It was during the Continuation War that three Jewish soldiers were awarded the Iron Cross.

Major Leo Skurnik served as a Doctor and organized the evacuation of a German field hospital under fire, thereby saving the lives of more than 600 German Officers and Soldiers. He refused to accept the award.

Captain Salomon Klass saved an entire German Company that had been surrounded by the Soviets. Two days later, German Officers came to offer him the “Iron Cross”. He refused to stand up at their presence and proclaimed the he was a Jew and did not want their Medal. Embarrassed, the Germans responded with a “Heil Hitler” salute and left.

Dina Poljakoff, who served in the women's voluntary organization, Lotta Svard was the third Jew to be awarded the Iron Cross. Poljakoff went to look at her Iron Cross at headquarters, but she did not accept it.

The field synagogue, complete with a Torah scroll, was setup by the 24th Regiment which had a large number of Jews in its ranks. The Finnish army issued an order that all Jews in the army could have leave to attend services there.

German officers and soldiers did visit the synagogue, as the nearest German unit was only a kilometer away, which must have led to some interesting and awkward exchanges in the rather unique situation of a field synagogue located alongside Nazi lines.

1 comment:

Old NFO said...

There are many 'strange' stories like that...