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Finland in the Second World War

Finland was the only country to lose to both sides in the Second World War.  The Finns started out with a bang, resisting the Soviet invasion of November 1939 with extraordinary courage.  It helped that it was one of the coldest winters of the century, and most of the Russians were not hardened Siberians in the first wave.  They froze to death or shot off their guns to keep themselves warm.  Often they hacked up their bunks for firewood.  The White Death, Finnish snipers, haunted the tops and tails of the Russian columns.  The Russians were basically all in until March, when Mannerheim, the Finnish leader, inexplicably gave up and signed an armistice.  In March 1940, a Peace Treaty allowed Russia to take all the Baltic Sea up to Leningrad, which was the bit they were nervous about.  For some reason, they let the Finns keep the mining area up North, despite the fact that Gallivare, the Swedish iron ore equivalent, was already proving to be crucial to the Reich's war effort.

Then the Germans moved in to help the Finns fight the Russians after they declared war against Stalin.  That was the Continuation War, which was a euphemism for the kind of collaboration with the German occupying forces that Sweden, Denmark, and particularly Norway were good at.  The Germans thrived in Finland, as they did in Norway, and the Finnish government recently looked into claims of Finnish atrocities committed in Ukraine on behalf of the SS.  England actually declared war on Finland, blocking off the Arctic Ocean Highway at Liinahamari.  The US never did, hoping they could put pressure on the Soviet Union through the Finnish war effort.


Then of course the Germans lost.  This was awkward, because the Finns had also lost to the Russians.  The Soviet Union gave the Finnish government an ultimatum:  either you are with us or you are against us.  The Finns decided they were with them, and so the Germans quite reasonably felt betrayed, and burned most of Lapland in retreat.  This was an ugly end to an ugly period in Finnish history.  The Petsamo Monastery was burned, as was Rovaniemi.

You would think that the Russians would appreciate that.  But no.  In 1947 in Paris, a treaty was designed to cause the Finns maximum pain.  For the crime of losing the Winter War, and for supporting the losing cause of the Germans in the Continuation War, the Finns had to pay the Soviet Union $228M in pre-war prices, and give them Petsamo, the region the Bolsheviks had given the Finns as a sweetener to entice them to leave Europe and become Red.  No such luck this time.  And do you know what:  the Finns were the only country after World War II to pay their reparations in full.   They did so in 1952, just in time for the Helsinki Olympics that put Finland on the world stage.  (Don't forget that it was a very new country, born only in 1917 by Russian and Swedish parents.)   The fact that Finland were going to hold the Olympics in 1940, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Helsinki University, only to see it canceled by a war that they then lost twice, made the 1952 Olympics that much sweeter.

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