BERLIN — Newly discovered documents have revealed a bizarre footnote to World War II: the Nazis' dogged obsession with a Finnish mutt who gave not a howl, but a heil. And, just as absurdly, the totalitarian state that dominated most of Europe was unable to do much about the canine's paw-raising parody of Germany's Fuehrer.
In the months preceding Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union, Berlin's Foreign Office commanded its diplomats in the Nazi-friendly country to gather evidence on the dog and its owner – and even plotted to destroy the owner's pharmaceutical business.
Historians were unaware of the scheme until some 30 files containing correspondence and diplomatic cables were found by a researcher in the Foreign Office archives.
Klaus Hillenbrand, an expert on the Nazi period who examined the documents, called the episode "completely bizarre."
"Just months before the Nazis launched their attack on the Soviet Union, they had nothing better to do than to obsess about this dog," he told The Associated Press.
The Dalmatian mix named Jackie was owned by Tor Borg, a businessman from the Finnish city of Tampere. Borg's wife Josefine, a German citizen known for her anti-Nazi sentiments, dubbed the dog "Hitler" because of the way it raised a paw high in the air, much like Germans greeting the Fuehrer with a cry of "Heil Hitler!"
In one photo, Borg, a jovial businessman known for his sense of humor, appears with Jackie by his side wearing a pair of round sunglasses.
On Jan. 29, 1941, the German vice consul in Helsinki, Willy Erkelenz, wrote that "a witness, who does not want to be named, said ... he saw and heard how Borg's dog reacted to the command 'Hitler' by raising its paw."
Borg was ordered to the German Embassy in Helsinki and questioned about his dog's unusual greeting habits.
The businessman denied ever calling the dog by the German dictator's name, but acknowledged that his wife called the dog Hitler. He tried to play down the accusations, saying the paw-raising only happened a few times in 1933 – shortly after Hitler came to power.
Borg assured the Nazi diplomats that he never did anything "that could be seen as an insult against the German Reich," according to the documents.
The zealous diplomats in Helsinki did not believe him and wrote back to Berlin that "Borg, even though he claims otherwise, is not telling the truth."
The ministries involved – the Foreign Office, the Economy Ministry and even Hitler's Chancellory – meticulously reported all their findings about the hound.
The Economy Ministry announced that the German chemical conglomerate IG Farben, which supplied Borg's wholesale trade with pharmaceuticals, agreed to cut all ties, which would have destroyed his business.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Office was looking for ways to bring Borg to trial for insulting Hitler. But in the end, none of the witnesses were willing to repeat their accusations in front of a judge.
So, when on March 21, 1941, the Foreign Office asked the Chancellory whether to press charges against Borg, the reply came back: "Considering that the circumstances could not be solved completely, it is not necessary to press charges."
There's no evidence Hitler, who owned a German Shepherd named Blondi, was ever told of the case, even if it made it all the way to his Chancellory, Hillenbrand said.
Finland cooperated with Nazi Germany during WWII, and Helsinki was one of the few European capitals the Nazis never occupied.
As for Borg, he and his company survived the war unscathed. He died in 1959 at age 60; his wife Josefine passed away in 1971.
Borg's company Tampereen Rohduskuppa Oy went on to become Tamro Group, the leading wholesale company for pharmaceuticals in the Nordic countries.
And Jackie, the Hitler-saluting canine, also died a natural death, according to Tamro spokeswoman Margit Nieminen.
She said the company was not aware of the dog's place in history until the recent archive discovery.