Paedagogica Historica Vol. 44, No.

4, August 2008, 445–455

War and children in Finland during the Second World War
Aura Korppi-Tommola*
Department of History and Philosophy, University of Tampere, Finland (Received 21 May 2008)
Taylor and Francis CPDH_A_322007.sgm Paedagogica 10.1080/00309230802218405 0030-9230 Original Taylor 2008 0 4 44 AuriKorppi-Tommola 00000August &Article Francis (print)/1477-674X Historica 2008 (online)

This article focuses on Finnish children during the Second World War, looking at children from two different points of view. First, it provides information on around 70,000 children who were transferred to Sweden and Denmark; so-called “war children”. Second, it discusses the results of a survey of Finns born between 1927 and 1938 who stayed in Finland during the war years. The majority of “war children” lived in private homes and many of them forgot their Finnish roots; around 15,000 emigrated permanently. Many of these transferred children do not feel at home in either country. Their educational level is lower than the average Finn’s, but their health is better owing to good medical care and nutrition during the war. The Finns who spent their childhood in Finland during the war suffered from hunger. Those in the countryside had better lives than those in cities or evacuees from the war zone. The children’s nightmares faded away with time and only a minority still see tanks and bombings in their dreams. Compared with those from other European countries, Finnish children lived well and avoided seeing the horrors of war. However, they had to work and assist nongovernmental organisations more than did English children. Keywords: history of children; war and children; memory of war

Introduction During the Second World War, Finland took up arms against both the Soviet Union and Germany. Twice, it was in conflict with the Soviet Union, during the Winter War of 1939– 1940, and again during the so-called Continuation War, from June 1941 until September 1944. Then, the war continued against the enemy of the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, from October 1944 until the German defeat in April 1945. During the Winter War between November 1939 and March 1940, this war being the consequence of the refusal of the Finns to give up part of their country on Soviet demand, the Soviets conquered part of the eastern territories, the provinces known as Karelia. Although Finland regained Karelia in 1941, it lost this territory again in 1944, during the Continuation War. Stalin had already announced in 1943, during the top meeting in Teheran in 1943 between the Allies, that the Soviet Union’s condition for peace with Finland was the overall borders established at the end of the Winter War of 1940. This was confirmed in a truce between Finland and the Soviet

ISSN 0030-9230 print/ISSN 1477-674X online © 2008 Stichting Pedagogica Historica DOI: 10.1080/00309230802218405


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Union, concluded in Moscow in September 1944. Eventually, the agreement on the new borders was ratified in the Peace Treaty of Versailles in 1947.1 In both 1939 and 1944, the civilian population of Karelia was evacuated because of the wars against the Soviet Union. They were resettled after the war as displaced persons in the independent, yet smaller Finland. During the war, c. 88,000 men were killed in action, with the consequence that after the war there were 30,000 war widows and more than 50,000 war orphans. Infant mortality was high, especially in 1940 (88 per million) and again in 1944 and 1945 (69 and 63 per million, respectively). Although the bombings and enemy fire caused the direct deaths of 337 children, the main cause of death was diseases, especially diphtheria. Altogether, 44,181 children under 15 years of age died during the years 1940–1945.2 When, during these years of war, Finland’s neighbouring countries Sweden and Denmark gave humanitarian aid to the Finnish civilian population, perhaps the most striking part of this aid was the evacuation of no less than 70,000 children to these countries in order to provide them with better medical care and nutrition. This number was equal to the number of Finnish babies born yearly in the 1930s. Since the war, historians and psychologists have been extremely interested in these evacuated children. Nowadays, the war orphans are in their sixties and seventies. A few years ago, they organised meetings and founded associations, now demanding social benefits for the loss of their fathers. Organising themselves, and being present in the media, they are now known to the public at large.3 The phenomenon of child evacuation and of war orphans is, of course, not specific to Finland. In other countries too historians have been interested in such phenomena. Charles Perkins has collected childhood memories of the Second World War all over the world.4 For the United Kingdom, some research is available on children who were evacuated during the war to other parts of Britain, or to other parts of the British Empire.5 And of course, much literature is available on the life and upbringing of children in Nazi Germany.6 In this article, focusing on Finland, I will first give a brief picture of these small visitors in exile, based on research literature. Then, I will show the results of a research

1Tuomo Polvinen, Between East and West: Finland in International Politics, 1944–1947 (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1986). Henrik S. Nissen, ed., Scandinavia During the Second World War, Oslo – Bergen – Tromsoe: Universitetsforlaget, 1983. Juhana Aunesluoma, ed., From War to Cold War: Anglo–Finnish Relations in the 20th Century (Helsinki: SKS, 2005). 2Suomen tilastollinen vuosikirja 1943,1944/45 and 1946/47 (Statistical Yearbook of Finland), Helsinki: Tilastollinen päätoimisto, 1944, 1946 and 1948. 3On the transferred children see The National Union of War Children has 18 local branches. On war orphans see The National Union of Finnish War Orphans has 25 local branches. 4Charles Perkins, ed., Childhood Memories of World War II (New York: Motorbooks International, 1998). 5Phillippe Bean and Joy Melville, Lost Children of the Empire: The Untold Story of British Child Migrants (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989). Carlton Jackson, Who will Take our Children? The story of the Evacuation in Britain 1939–1945. (London: Methuen 1985). Edward Stokes, Innocents Abroad, the Story of Child Evacuees in Australia, 1940–1945 (London: Unwin Hyman, 1994). Ben Wicks, No Time to Wave Good-Bye: True Stories of Britain’s 3,500,000 Evacuees . (London: Bloomsbury, 1988). 6Guido Knopp, Hitler’s Children (Phoenix Mill, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 2002); Helmut Schmidt et al., Kindheit und Jugend unter Hitler [Childhood and Hitler Youth] (Berlin: Goldman, 1994).

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group that has studied the majority of Finnish war children, namely those who stayed in Finland during the war.7 Young guests in exile Seeking better care and nutrition When the Soviet Union attacked Finland on 30 November 1939, it caused a wave of sympathy and worry in Sweden. In Sweden, a humanitarian aid movement started with the slogan “Finlands sak är vår” (Finland’s cause is ours). In addition, the Swedes were worried about their own safety in case of the possible collapse of Finland. While the Swedish government wanted to remain neutral to avoid war for their own country, the emotions of the Swedish people turned to humanitarian aid programmes. In Sweden, some experience in that matter already existed. After the First World War, the Swedish people invited Polish and German children to Sweden for some time, and later on, during the Spanish Civil War, they extended an invitation to 500 Spanish children. In 1939, when the Second World War broke out, they did the same, but on a much larger scale, in offering to open their homes to the children of their Finnish neighbours. During the Winter War of 1939–1940, 12,000 Finns went into exile in Sweden, 9000 of them being children, often with their mothers. About a hundred children who were sent to Denmark and Norway returned home after the Treaty of Moscow in March 1940. In the summer of 1941, the Finnish authorities wanted to send 700 sick children to Sweden to get better medical treatment there. When war broke out again in June 1941, both these 700 sick and 1300 healthy children were sent to Sweden before the summer was over. In both countries, governmental committees with a strong representation of Non-Governmental Organisations, such as the Red Cross, Save the Children Federation, Women’s patriotic organisations (in Finland “Lotta Svärd”, in Sweden its sister organisation Lottakåren), housewives’ organisations and child welfare organisations, in particular the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare, were responsible for the transfer of the children. Most of the children were placed in private families. Only a small minority was sent to orphanages and to other institutions.8 However, from the very beginning, both in Finland and in Sweden there was also opposition to this transfer of Finnish children, and for various reasons. Some child welfare authorities were worried by the mental health of the children, while others emphasised the hazards of the transport of thousands of children in ferries or by train in war circumstances. The situation even developed whereby many people in Sweden were of the opinion that when the Finns did resist giving over their children to Swedish families for better care, this indicated that they probably did not need any help at all. In order to prevent a plunge in Swedish goodwill, the Finnish wartime censorship authorities even forbade the media to mention anything negative about the transfer of Finnish children.9
7The original material from this study is at the head office of the Mannerheim League of Child Welfare in Helsinki, Finland. The returned questionnaire forms are numbered. The citations indicate the sex and the number of the form/year of birth: (m182/1938 means a man, who was born in 1938) and p means that it is from the pilot study (pf34/1934 means a woman born in 1933, who answered the pilot questionnaire). 8Pertti Kavén, “Lastensiirrot Suomesta Ruotsiin ja Tanskaan viime sotien aikana ” [Transfer of Children from Finland to Sweden and Denmark During the Latest Wars] in Sotalapset (War Children), ed. Aura Korppi-Tommola (Helsinki: MLL, 1995), 8–12; Pertti Kavén, 70,000 pientä kohtaloa: Suomen sotalapset [70,000 Small Destinies: Finland’s War Children] (Keuruu: Otava, 1985). 9Erik Carlquist, Solidaritet på prov. Finlandshjälp under vinterkriget [Swedish Aid to Finland during Winter War; summary in English] (Stockholm: Allmän Förlaget, 1971), 16–19.


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Indeed, the Finns were grateful to receive aid, but were reluctant to send their children away. Finns travelling through Sweden in order to encourage the Swedes to help their fellow Finns spoke about all kinds of aid programmes, emphasising that they were grateful for all the Swedish help. However, they never asked the Swedes to open their homes to Finnish children, whereas they asked for other kinds of help, such as for example sponsoring a Finnish war orphan, giving money to their own sponsor communes thus establishing friendship towns, or inviting Finnish war invalids to come to Sweden for hospital care.10 A problem for both parties was there were restrictions on what one could send to Finland, due to the complex political situation. Because Finland and Germany were “brothers in arms” during the Continuation War of 1941–1944, although Finland claimed that it was fighting a separate war against Russia, Great Britain declared war on Finland. Therefore, in the harbours of the neutral Sweden, officers from the allied countries controlled all exports to Finland. Therefore, aid to Finland was restricted to giving money, voluntary labour, voluntary soldiers or inviting to Sweden at-risk persons, among them children, the sick and, in particular, war invalids in order to provide care, food and clothing. On the other hand, permission to send food supplies or even used clothing was not granted until the autumn of 1944.11 Eventually, about 65,000 Finnish children lived in Sweden and 4000 in Denmark. They came from the evacuated eastern part of the country, from poor frontier areas as well as from the industrial cities that were the main targets of Soviet bombing. About 5000 of these were sick children, who received better medical care in Swedish hospitals than in Finland. Little by little, it became a kind of a fashion to send children to Sweden and the former criteria were forgotten or became unclear.12 The whole programme got out of hand and the initial idea of getting better care for some special groups faded. Although many children returned home during 1942 and 1943, they were sent back in the spring of 1944 when heavy bombing started again. Most children were placed in private foster homes, which voluntarily opened their doors and hearts for Finnish children. Only a minority went to orphanages or other institutions. Continued visits during reconstruction The period of reconstruction after the war was difficult for Finland. There was a lack of food, clothing and housing all over the country. In addition, there were 400,000 displaced Karelians to be settled elsewhere. Moreover, major reconstruction of infrastructure and buildings was necessary both in the cities and in the northern provinces, where the Germans had burned 90% of all buildings. In the truce of Moscow in September 1944, Finland lost 10% of its territory, and it had to allow an Allied control commission to stay in its capital Helsinki, and to lease a military base on the coast not far from Helsinki. At the allied top
10Aura Korppi-Tommola, Ystävyyttä yli Pohjanlahden. Ruotsin ja Suomen välinen kummikuntaliike 1942–1980 [The Sponsor Commune Movement between Finland and Sweden 1942–1980; summary in English], dissertation, Vammala MLL, 1982, 34. A large and well-covering press follow-up of the Swedish press was conducted in the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare during the war, and there is wide archive material of speeches and press releases at the League’s archives and in the archives of the relief committee of the Finnish government. In this material there is no mention of encouragement of child transfers. See also Carlquist, 17. 11Greta Littonen, Keskitetty vapaa huoltotyö [Centralised Voluntary Relief in Finland; summary in English] (Helsinki: Suomen Huolto, 1949). 12Arvo Ylppö, Elämäni pienten suuren parissa [My Life Among the Small and the Big] (Porvoo: WSOY 1964), 331.

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conference in Teheran, moreover, it was agreed that Finland henceforth should belong to the sphere of interest of the Soviet Union. In the final peace treaty of Versailles in 1947, the eastern border as settled in the 1944 Moscow truce was ratified, the military base was settled for 50 years from 1944 onwards, and Finland had to pay war reparations worth three hundred billion dollars at 1938 value. After the Treaty of Versailles was concluded, the control commission left Helsinki. Reconstruction and the payment of war reparations to the Soviet Union took almost a decade, and the rationing of food and consumer goods continued until the mid-1950s, the turning point being the summer of 1952, when the Olympic Games were held in Helsinki. In 1955, Finland joined the Nordic Council and became a member of the United Nations. In the difficult postwar context, in which so much had to be done to reconstruct the country, it was not simply a matter of bringing the children who had gone abroad back to their own country. On the one hand, the Swedish foster parents had become attached to their Finnish children, and many even wanted to adopt them. In addition, some children had forgotten their biological parents as well as the Finnish language, or, in other words, their roots. On the other hand, Finland continued to need foreign aid, so the government did not want to irritate the Swedes, who were major suppliers of aid. Therefore, the government did not formally demand the return of the Finnish children. That return, therefore, remained dependent on private initiative.13 The last time returning children were transferred by the organisational committee was in 1949. Eventually, about 15,000 of the children stayed permanently in Sweden, and about 400 children in Denmark. Although estimates vary from 6000 to 15,000, the latter is probably closer to reality, when also counting those who returned privately to Sweden shortly after arriving in Finland as the result of the official transfers. There were 1300 adoptions and 6000 foster agreements in Sweden, and 200 adoptions in Denmark. On the one hand, some parents let their children stay abroad for reasons such as poverty, divorce, death of the father, or difficult family conditions in evacuated families with many children. On the other hand, although many families did want their children back, they did not succeed. This was because sometimes their children themselves did not want to leave their new families, having forgotten their own parents and their native language. Moreover, the foster parents often wanted to adopt these children. In order to realise that, they took legal proceedings arguing that it would be mentally harmful to let these children leave the surroundings to which they were now accustomed. The whole procedure took place in Sweden. After consulting Swedish psychiatrists, the Swedish courts decided that the children could stay. Meanwhile, the poor Finnish parents, who did not speak Swedish and did not have legal advice, should have been supported legally.14 When looking back from today’s perspective, these Finnish parents were not fairly treated. Yet, it is also true that probably about 500 of those children, if not sent to Sweden, would have died in Finland during the war, mainly of diseases. For, as we know, infant mortality grew significantly during the war years, infant mortality already being high in Finland before the war, and not descending to the Nordic level until the 1960s.15 The various political movements considered this phenomenon differently. After the war, Finnish communists among others considered the children who had not returned from abroad as losses of war. During the war, when Finland fought beside the Germans, some
13Minutes of the meeting of Committee of Evacuation of Children to Sweden, March 18, 1946, National Archives of Finland Sg Ca 1. 14Kavén 1985, 136. 15Kavén 1985, 101.


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right-wing politicians were against letting the children leave for Sweden. However, the ministry of social affairs, headed by a Social-Democratic minister, was in favour of sending them to Sweden and set up the committee that arranged the transfers. After the war, the strongest criticism came from Communist members of parliament, while right-wing politicians remained quiet, as they feared that Finland might face the same fate as many Eastern European countries, namely being forced behind the Communist Iron Curtain. In that case, the children in Sweden would have stayed in exile forever.16 After the war, some returned “war children” as they are called kept in contact with their Swedish foster families. Many of the war children found it difficult to feel at home in either of the two countries, and therefore have travelled back and forth. However, some have adapted to both cultures and now say that it is fine for their children to have an extra pair of “grandparents, aunts and cousins” in Sweden. It is remarkable that although, in comparison with the average Finns of the same age, the war children have less schooling, but their health is better.17 In the 1980s, a critical debate started over the decision to send children away during the war. Alongside research on the political decision-making, the study of the history of the war children started, and a multitude of memoirs of those have been published. The debate arose again in the media during the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. It is now generally believed that with present-day knowledge the Finns would not send their children abroad alone, let alone allow let them to forgot their home, their parents and their language. Childhood in Finland In contrast with the children sent to Sweden and to Denmark, we do not know much about the majority of Finnish children who stayed in Finland, mostly in their home cities and villages. Some of them were evacuated with their families to western parts of the country, or sent from the cities to the countryside. On the initiative of a non-governmental organisation, the national child welfare organisation called the Mannerheim League of Child Welfare, in 1996 I started a research project on those children who stayed in Finland during the war and directed a national survey among Finns who were children during the war years.18 Because the men born in 1926 were the last ones to be called to arms and so could not be considered as children during the war years, the target group for this project started with those Finns born from 1927 onwards. People born after 1938 were so young during the war that according to the task group their capacity to remember would have been more limited, so they were not included in the project. The main aim of this study was to collect material on the recollections of Finns who had experienced the war years as children, and then to write their history in such a way that they could compare their own destiny with the experiences of those children who were sent to Sweden. This could shed light on their own history behind the official history of the military forces and of the nation at war. Thus, the point of view in this project was the memory of these very people of the war years.
16Ylppö 1964, 131; Aura Korppi-Tommola, Terve lapsi – kansan huomen [Healthy Children – Future of the Nation] (Jyväskylä: MLL, 1990). 17Alvin L. Evans, Ero ja lapset [Separation and Children] (Helsinki: MLL 1984). 18This project was undertaken together with the students Pekka Haavisto and Taru Järvenpää. The construction of the questionnaire was supported by a task group, consisting of Kauko Kouvalainen, professor of Paediatrics at the University of Oulu, Finland, Riitta-Leena Punamäki, professor of psychology at the University of Tampere, Finland, and Jaakko Itälä, Secretary General of the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare.

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During the period 1927–1938, about 800,000 Finns were born, c. 600,000 of them being alive in 1996, when the inquiry was undertaken.19 From the population census centre, we obtained 800 names and addresses of the cohort of 1927–1938, which is a 1:1000 sample. The target group had been between one and 12 years old when the war started and between 7 and 18 years of age at the end of the war. Our questionnaire was tested in two provinces in a pilot study for which we could contact people by means of the Mannerheim League of Child Welfare. Following this pilot study of 58 answers, in 1997 the main questionnaire was sent to 800 Finns. A total of 273 were answered and returned, this being a return percentage of 34%. In the pilot study, 36% of the informants were men, this figure being 45% in the final survey. The questionnaire consisted of several questions on 11 themes and was timeconsuming and difficult to answer. Some questionnaires were returned with the message that the person was too old and sick to reply. Some wrote to say that they did not want at all to bring back to memory those unhappy times.20 Yet, the result was positive, as our main aim was to collect any possible memories on this specific phenomenon. In addition, the task group for this project is of the opinion that for people who find it easy to talk about their lives can also write about the atmosphere surrounding them. The material is valuable in its own right, as Natalie Zemon Davis claims in her article “Who Owns History?”, in which she widens the scope of history by expanding it to those groups that have been silenced by oppression, such as for example minorities or religious groups.21 To this category belongs also the forgotten group of those Finnish war children that stayed in Finland. Their life stories have been subordinated to adults’ memories and to the experiences of the children that were evacuated to Sweden or Denmark. The war orphans are another forgotten group. This group too is starting to found associations and raising questions about their lives, emotions and the research concerning them. The focus of this study is on the experiences of Finnish children, not on the administration or aid programmes. The questionnaire used has questions on 11 themes, namely daycare, education, family, housing, food, clothing, health, work and voluntary work, leisure time and play, the war itself, finally their fears and dreams. The questionnaire also provides space for comments and a request to consider whether the war changed the course of the respondent’s life. Most questions were open ones, for we wanted to get as authentic as possible a picture of what children really felt and remembered. Consequently, answers were sometimes very limited. Perhaps, more precise questions would have helped many respondents in remembering more about that part of their life. One of the results of this project was that Finnish children were more active in the labour market and took a more active part in voluntary work than children in Great Britain. The key factor in explaining the differences in children’s lives in both countries was the child’s social background.22
19Table 1.7 Population by sex and age, The Economic History of Finland 3: Historical Statistics . (Keuruu: Tammi, 1985), 31. Table 44. Statistical Yearbook of Finland 1998, p.79. 20The returned questionnaire forms are at the head office of Mannerheim League for Child Welfare in Helsinki, Finland. 21N. Zemon Davies, “Who Owns History?,” in Historical Perspectives on Memory, ed. A. Ollila (Helsinki: SKS, 1999). 22In this project, Pekka Haavisto studied the responses to the war theme, while Taru Järvenpää looked at education and labour, also making a comparison with children in Great Britain. See Pekka Haavisto, Sota lapsen silmin. Lapset ja sodan kuva vuosien 1939–1944 Suomessa (Children and the Image of War in Finland 1939–1944), MA thesis, University of Tampere, Finland, 1999, and Taru Järvenpää, Koululaisena suursodan varjossa. Koulunkäynti, koti- ja talkootyö sekä vapaa-ajanvietto Suomessa ja Isossa-Britanniassa toisen maailmansodan aikana [School Children in the Shadow of War: Education, Voluntary Work And Leisure Time in Finland and in Great Britain during the Second World War], MA thesis, University of Tampere, Finland 1998, 116.


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Hungry but not starving In Finland, in the majority of the country there was enough food during the war because of the agricultural character of the country. In the countryside, people ate their own harvest, and picked berries and mushrooms. Among the respondents, only three of them did not remember ever feeling hungry, while 18 were hungry all the time. For children, two factors were decisive, first, the place where they lived, the food situation being more difficult in the cities than in the countryside, and second, the social status of the parents. The biggest problems with food supply occurred during the last winter of the war, in 1944–1945. However, in the memory of the children, there is no specific year associated with extra hunger. They more generally speak of being hungry “often at night” or “always” instead of referring to any specific day, month or year. Children in the countryside do remember relatives and friends in the cities having a parcel of land to grow their own potatoes and vegetables, or else coming to the countryside to ask for food. Town children, on the other hand, do remember that they obtained help from the countryside and made trips with their parents, or even alone from 10 years onwards, to buy food on the black market.23 The exchange of goods practised in the years of war, for example boots for butter, and a dress for cigarettes, was projected into the children’s play, and they exchanged scraps and pieces of fabric.24 Sweets were so unfamiliar during the war that when German soldiers gave chocolate to them the children did not even know what it was.25 For special occasions, people saved their rationed sugar or the guests brought their own sugar with them. The same kind of food was called on one day “green pea soup” and on the next it was served as “funeral soup” for funeral guests. Funerals were those special occasions that were locked up in the memory of children, because they were confused by not having seen adults crying before. The lack of clothing, finally, became fairly normal for most Finns, especially when the war continued. It was common to inherit clothing from elder siblings, cousins and other relatives and neighbours. One example is the painter’s daughter who received her first new winter coat when she was 14 years old.26 Stereotypes of other nationalities The process of growing up in a country at war develops attitudes towards other nations. Russia was the traditional enemy for centuries. The image of Germany was much more complicated. Although Germany helped in the war against the traditional enemy, Russia, in 1941–1944, the image of Germany changed when, in 1944–1945, the burning of Finnish Lapland took place. Of course, Sweden did support Finland, but many Finns hoped for more support. However, Sweden did not declare war on the Soviet Union when the Winter War of 1939–1949 broke out, and due to her neutrality was limited in her aid activities. The children grow up amidst these attitudes. As to the Russians, they developed mixed feelings about them. On the one hand, they did learn to fear them, from the adults and from war propaganda. They were told that there were overwhelmingly more Russians compared
23More detailed information on food, rationing and the black market in my article “Hungry, but not Starving: The Experiences of Finnish Children in Town and Country during the Second World War,” in The Landscape of Food. The Food Relationship of Town and Country in Modern Times , ed. Marjatta Hietala and Tanja Vahtikari (Helsinki: SKS, 2003), 145–53. 24Questionnaire form number f72/1937. 25Questionnaire form numbers m122/1934 and m63/1932. 26Questionnaire form number f67/1937.

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with only 3.5 million Finns, and that the Russians would come and conquer the whole country. On the other hand, this idea of the Russians did not fit with their personal experiences of them. The only Russians they met were prisoners of war who worked on the farms. These “enemies” were fine people. They helped them and many were good singers. Some parents explained to their children that the Russians fought for their own country or that the Russian soldiers were forced to arms. A car-driver’s son told of how his parents remained positive towards the Soviet Union even during the war, telling him “there are positive things in their system, an eight-hour working day and the workers have power”. However, after the war, when the heavy war reparations and conditions for peace with the Soviet Union became public, those parents changed their minds.27 As to the Germans, the Finns started by being neutral but became negative after the burning of Lapland and after information published on the Holocaust. The children did have good memories of the Germans as being “the brothers in arms”. The German troops did possess food and sweets, medicine, and among them were physicians and veterinarians. However, one thing worried some children, namely that German soldiers could be perilous for women.28 This was the childlike interpretation of the common fear that German soldiers would take advantage of the fact that the Finnish men were fighting at the front and that Finnish women were left alone at the home front where there were many German troops. The children knew very little of other nationalities than the Russians and the Germans. For some it was clear that Sweden did help Finland, and some believed that also the United States gave aid, although that aid came only after the war. Fears and nightmares Almost all children remember being afraid of something during the war, first of all of the bombings and parachutists. Sometimes, parachutists were caught in Southern Finland or in the frontier areas. People were warned against them, and their fear seems to have grown out of proportion in the minds of the children. Sometimes the fear was mixed with excitement, especially in the minds of the boys. As to the older children, they were afraid for the life of their fathers and other members of the family belonging to the armed forces. Many children were afraid of the enemy and of death in general. The Karelian children feared evacuation during the Continuation War, because they had already experienced it some years earlier. Some respondents wrote down the name of a specific person to be afraid of, mostly the name of Stalin. One girl was afraid of getting hurt because she thought that all medical help was needed for wounded soldiers.29 Children in the cities were also afraid of running out of bread. When the war was over, the respondents and their families were afraid of a communist revolution and of the incorporation of Finland into the Soviet Union. Many parents tried to hide bad things from these children. However, the older children in particular did understand those things even without being told. “My father did not say anything – I could sense my mother’s fear without a word”, as one former war child said. Almost half of the respondents did have nightmares about these fears. These nightmares became more specific for some respondents as the war went on. Arms and tanks appeared as they became more familiar in the course of the war. The respondent who was afraid of Stalin also met him in his dreams. He often woke up, because “Stalin was sitting on a drawer in my bedroom”. Funerals were also present in children’s nightmares: “white coffins, adults
27Questionnaire 28Questionnaire 29Questionnaire

form number m63/1932. form numbers m121/1928 and f129/1930. form number f137/1934.


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in black and church bells ringing”.30 Nightmares about the war themes faded little by little, and after 10 years they were gone for the majority of respondents. A very small minority, however, say that they still have nightmares about the war. The younger the respondent, the more likely she or he is to have nightmares still, such as an aeroplane falling from the sky and burning, or bombings and running away.31 Gratitude of being noticed Most respondents, namely 70%, did not make use of the opportunity to make comments or offer information other than that asked for by the questions. Yet, some of them had written up to 17 extra pages about their own lives. Many of the informants added at the end of the questionnaire a message of gratitude about the interest we had shown in their lives and their experiences. These children had, in wartime, always lived in the shadow of war heroes, for their children’s suffering had seemed quite unimportant compared with that of the soldiers at the front. An engineer wrote: “It could be good to know that there have been worse times and we survived them. One could be more confident of one’s own capabilities and not ask for help too easily”.32 Conclusion: the impact of the war on one’s own life The majority of children seem not to have had major problems during the war years. Indeed, everyday life continued as always. Many respondents even remember weekends with plenty of leisure time. For example, on Saturday, everybody enjoyed a sauna as it is customary in Finland. At weekends, also food was better than on the other days of the week. One respondent tells that, as a girl, she used to visit family members and friends and that in the summer she cycled to fish.33 The most common answer to the question concerning what impact the war had on the respondents’ lives was that he or she learned to survive and to be content with modest resources, and also that war made family ties stronger. For example, one learned how to enjoy the simple reunion with one’s family. The differences in childhood experiences were dependent on several factors. For example, children living in the countryside far from the frontier and industrial cities experienced fewer changes than those living in the frontier areas or in the industrial cities. The war had much more impact on the evacuated children who had to move, some of them three times. When starting a temporary new life elsewhere, they were mocked at their new schools and in the playgrounds where they played because of their habits and their dialect. On the other hand, they also acquired new friends. As to the children who lived in those safe areas where the evacuated population was placed, in meeting these newcomers they also gained new perspectives, friends and Karelian food. Two respondents who were evacuated during the war said that they met their future wife thanks to the evacuation. It is true that Finnish children did have minor difficulties compared with the majority of the children of Central Europe. They never saw the kind of horrors of war like, for example, German children of the eastern provinces, not to speak of Jewish children. Although Finnish children lost family members and other loved ones, they did not see the evil that during these war years became normal in Central Europe. When comparing Finnish children with
30About 40 of the respondents in the survey; the citations from questionnaire forms numbers m63/ 1932, m134/1930 and f139/1927. 31About 10% of the respondents in the survey, e.g. questionnaire form number f149/1938. 32Questionnaire form numbers m 90/1938 and m242/1927. 33Questionnaire form number f67/1837.

Paedagogica Historica


their British counterparts, there are similarities and differences. In both countries, the most significant factor in making the difference was the child’s social background. The Finnish children took more part in working life and voluntary work organised by non-governmental organisations than the English children did. Notes on contributor
Ms. Aura Korppi-Tommola has been executive director of the Federation of Finnish Learned Societies since 2001 and an adjunct professor at the University of Tampere, Finland since 1993. She has previously worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department of the University of Helsinki and as head researcher at the Academy of Finland. Her doctor’s thesis was on humanitarian aid from Sweden to Finland in 1942–1955, and she has published several books and articles on contemporary history of non-governmental organisations working for women and for child welfare, as well as history of women’s suffrage in Finland.