“We were with the Nazis”

Past few weeks have been quite busy, and I’m now enjoying what I consider a well-earned holiday. Time to write down some thoughts.

August 14­­­­­­­­­­­ –16 I participated the wonderful Aboagora Symposium with a theme “The Power of the Sacred and the Secular”. Our volunteer workgroup, including both scholars and history re-enactors, prepared a dramatization of late medieval inquisition of heresy. The performance was a success, and I still hope to write something more about it, maybe when we get some video footage.

Last week I spent three inspiring days in Tampere where the fifth Passages from Antiquity to the Middle Ages conference was organized. The program with papers spanning from the classical Greek period to the late sixteenth-century Finland was edifying, especially because history of medicine, disease and disability has this far been a foreign country to me.

By now some may begin to wonder the title of this post. It relates to a discussion I had with a conference delegate from the United States during a social event of the Passages. Somehow – probably due to a guided city-walk preceding the wine and snacks – we ended up discussing the World War II. When the American delegate asked “I suppose Finland fought with the Allies during the War?” I blurted out “No, we were with the Nazis”, at first without any further explanation.

The reaction of my fellow discussant was surprisingly positive: “Great, that you are so ready to admit that”, which sparked a lively discussion about the construction of heroic narratives and hiding shameful acts and alliances of the past World War in formation of national identity.

All this was very refreshing to me who like so many other Finns have grown up in a history culture where there has been a tendency to explain away certain aspects of our twentieth-century history, with the special need to tell the world that we actually really weren’t fighting alongside the Third Reich. It also brought a revelation – which when articulated is self-evident – that respect comes from recognizing your history with all its ugliness, not from attempts to embellish it.

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