Photographic evidence shows that Abraham Tokazier, a Jewish runner from Helsinki's Makkabi club, won the 100 metres race at Helsinki Olympic Stadium’s opening meet. He was announced as the winner in the stadium after the race, but the judges declared Aarre Savolainen the winner and demoted Tokazier to fourth position.
The Makkabi club immediately demanded an apology and amendment to the records, but their letter to the sports federation went unanswered until the SUL published an apology on Wednesday, 75 years late. The issue had been reignited earlier this year when Finnish author Kjell Westö mentioned the incident in his new book, Kangastus 38 (Mirage 38).
”Any manipulation or distortion of results is shocking and against basic sporting values,” said SUL chair Vesa Harmaakorpi in a statement. “The judges clearly made a mistake in the 1938 meet. I would like to offer a humble apology to the athlete and his relatives on behalf of the Finnish Sports Federation.”
Matter 'not yet resolved'
Leo-Dan Bensky, honorary chair of Makkabi Helsinki, was not satisfied with the apology. The SUL says that retrospectively changing the result is impossible.
"It's a step in the right direction, but until the result has been corrected, we don't see the matter as resolved," Bensky, who is also a vice-president of the World Union of Maccabi sports clubs, told Yle News.
"They are saying that they are sorry for the mistake of the judges. The fact is that everyone knows it was manipulation for political reasons—it was decided not to award him the win. They could not let a Jewish boy win at that time. There is a very important moral point here, to get the records corrected and to change the results."
Historians Simo Muir and Malthe Gasche suggest in the book Finland’s Holocaust that the Sports Federation chair at the time—Urho Kekkonen, who later served as president of Finland between 1956 and 1981—may have influenced the matter.
Finland was due to host the Olympics in 1940 and Muir and Gasche cite contemporary newspaper articles asking if there may have been a drive to ensure Jewish athletes did not represent the country at those games. The newspaper Helsingin Sanomat also suggests that there may have also been high-level visitors from Nazi Germany attending the event.
They point out that Kekkonen was also Interior Minister, and in that capacity eventually rejected any new Jewish refugees from Austria. The historians say he had also displayed anti-Semitic attitudes in private correspondence during the 1930s, although he remained publicly critical of National Socialism.
The 1940 Olympics were cancelled due to the Second World War. Helsinki's Olympic Stadium was not used for its intended purpose until 1952.