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Author Series: John B. Simon

We welcome author John B. Simon to discuss his book  Strangers in a Stranger Land. 

How one country’s Jews fought an unwinnable war alongside Nazis troops… and survived

The first Jews arrived in Finland in the mid-19th century when the nation, then part of imperial Russia, was only
taking shape. They were young boys ripped from their homes, taken to military schools, and forced to serve in the imperial army. One hundred years later, during World War II, 260,000 German soldiers arrived in Finland. The Nazis murdered millions of Jews around Europe, but in Finland Jews fought alongside the Germans against the Soviet Union. Not a single one was harmed by their Nazi brothers-in-arms. A field synagogue functioned on the front line, and several openly Jewish soldiers were even awarded the German iron cross. This happened nowhere else. How was it possible in Finland?

The reader is guided through 100 years of history via narrative nonfictional passages and the personal accounts of three fictional protagonists: Pesach, who was forced to serve in the imperial army and sent to Finland in the 1850s; Pesach’s son Mendel, who started a flourishing business producing hats for the Russian army; and Mendel’s son Benjamin, who ended up waging war against the Soviet Union alongside the Germans in World War II. Just as it outgrows the strict limits of fiction and nonfiction, Strangers in a Stranger Land reconfigures the history of
European antisemitism and the participation of European Jews in the seminal war of the 20th century.

Friday, October 25th | 7pm | FREE with registration


ABOUT JOHN: John B. Simon, an American Jew residing in Finland, grew up in Pleasantville, New York. After
graduating from Hamilton College, Simon earned an M.A. from Cambridge University. He also studied at the Sorbonne and the University of York. In the early 1970s, he founded The DOME Project, a community-based program on Manhattan’s Upper West Side dedicated to providing opportunities for marginalized youth in New York City. His 1982 book To Become Somebody: Growing up against the grain of society (Houghton Mifflin) tells the story of some of the program’s early participants. Nearly fifty years later, The DOME Project is still running.

Simon moved to Finland in 1984 and began working for KONE Corporation as a communications officer. After publishing KONE’s Prince (Otava, 2009), a best-selling biography of one of the company’s legendary owner-directors, he was named Finland’s 2010 Communications Professional of the Year.

Strangers in a Stranger Land was first published in Finnish in 2017 as Mahdoton sota. It was among the four books short-listed for 2017 History Book of the Year.

Simon and his wife, Hannele, have two children, Mikko and Elina, and four grandchildren, Stella, Daniel, Kira and Oliver.