* World War II -- Finland evacuations and refugees

World War II Finnish Refugees: Deportments, Evacuations, and Internees (1939-47)

Figure 1.--This Swedish press photo shows Finnish children wo had been evacuated to Sweden and takeb in by a Swedish family. We think this occurred in Secember 1944. This was after the the concluion of the Continuation War. There is some writing on the back of the photograph, but it is in Swedish. Click on the image to see the back.

The NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact was essentially the cyical partition of Eastern and Central Europe by Hitler and Stalin(August 1939). And it sent in motion a series of terrutorial changes, refgugees, and evacution begun with the Winter war, one of several naked aggressions ordered by Stalin (November 1939). After Hitler and Stalin launched World War II by invading Poland (September 1939). Finland like most of Eastern Europe attempted to remain neutral. Stalin had other ideas, including designs on neighboring Finland. This sent in motion a series of evictions and deportations affecting the Finnish people as well as as the Russians. Finland was different in that the country resisted the Red Army and fought back. And the country was never totally overwealmed and was able to protect and assist the refugees. Finland was a small country and totally outclased by the Soviet behoumouth and massive Army. As a result, Stalin forced theFinns into the hands of the Germans. Finland refused, however, to join the Axis, but to regain its lost terrutory became a co-bligerant after Hitler launched Operation Barbrossa (June 1941).


The border area between southern Finland and the Soviet Union is Karelia. It is the area between the White Sea and the Gulf of Finland. It is an extensive area which includes the two largest lakes in Europe, Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega. What is often referred to as the Karelian Isthmus is located between the Baltic Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga. To the south is Ingria, the land of the closely related Ingrian people. The traditional western boundary was the Neva river itself but was eventually shifted northward into the Karelian isthmus to follow the Sestra River which since Napoleonic times was the Russo-Finnish border.The River Svir on the other side of Lake Lagoda completed the souther border of Karlia. Lake Saimaa marked the Western border while Lake Onega and the White Sea mark the Eastern border. Thevland to the north was occupied by nomadic Samis (Lapps), but unlike the south there were no natural border onky trackless woods (taiga) and tundra. Karelia became the primary bone of comtention between Finland an the Soviet Union during World War II. This clash was not new. Russian Novograd and the Sweses fought over the area during the medieval era. It was the border area between Swedish controled Finland and the Tsarist Empire. The issue was settled for a time by the Great Northern War in which Russia seized Finland. With Finnland part of the Tsarist Empire, Karelia became a dead issue. This changed after the Russian Revolution when Finland managed to achieve its independence and Karelia again became an international border area. Finland had almost all of Karelia and it included because of its southern location, a substantial part of the best aricultural land in Finlnd.

Soviet Deportations: Ingrian Finns (1928-44)

The first Soviet deportations of Finns began two decades before World War II. The Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War began deportating the Ingrian Finns. Further deportations took place as oart of stalin's collectivization program (late-1920s) and continued through World War II. The Ingrian Finns were deported from Soviet-controlled territory during the Leningrad Blockade. Ingria is the area located along the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland - bordered by Lake Ladoga on the Karelian Isthmus in the north and by the River Narva on the border with Estonia in the west. Lutheran Finns had lived in Ingria since the Rformation. It was one of the few areas dominted by Orthodoxy that became Lutheran. This occurred when Sweden which controlled Finland including Ingria convertd to Protestantism (16th century). Than in the middle of Ingria, Peter the Great, who seized Ingria during the Great Northern War and decided to build his new capital--Petrograd/St. Petersburg which the Soviets renamed Leningrad. The Finns had moved into the area from Finland and the Karelian Isthmus and negan to call themselves the Ingrian Finns. At the time of the revolution, there were about 130,000 Finns in Ingria and 10,000 more in in Petrograd. Finland secured its independence as a result of a short war with the Blosheviks who attempted to retain control of the Tsarist Empire, including Finland. The Finnish-Soviet Peace Treaty, the Treaty of Tartu, included provisions granting the Ingrian Finns a degree of autonomy (1920). The Soviets set up a national district (1928). The Finn were permitted schools, radio stations, and a local administration which used the Finnish language .[Taagepera, p. 144.] This was at the same time that stalin was gaining control over the Soviet state and launched his collectivization program. The NKVD began the repression of ethnic Finns by deporting Finns living aling the Finnish border. The NKVD deported 18,000 people from border areas (1928-31). This amounted to over 15 percent of the Ingrian Finnic population. The remaining Finns in four border parishes were subsequently deported (1936). At the same time etnic Russians were settled in their place. The NKVD closed all Finnish-language schools, publications, radio stations, and Ingrian Lutheran churches (1937). [Taagepera, p. 144.] The NKVD shot 4,000 Ingrian Finns and deported over 10,000 Finn to prison camps. [Adler et. al., p. 62] Thus Stalin at the time of World War II and the Winter War had alreasy reduced the the Ingrian Finnish population by some 50,000 peole, more than 40 percent of the 1928 population when he launched the repression campaign. Stalin abolished the Ingrian Finn national district.

Family Evacuations

The Finnish tragedy began before World War II when Stalin began targeting the Finns in Ingria. It continued during World war II with the Soviet invasion of Finland igniting the Winter War (November 1939). From that point Finland had a serious refugee problem involving family evacuations, internments, child evacuations, return to liberated territory, and more evacutions. The whole process is complicated and went on for 5 years and did not end even with the end of the War. The two major events were the Winter war and the Continuation War, but there were other actions that added to the refugee problem like the Lappland war. As a result of the Winter War, the Soviets annexed almost all of Finnish Karelia and other areas. Virtually the entire Fiinish population exited Karelia en masse. We know of no other instance in which such an overwealming portion of the population left their hoimes, farms, and shops when borders changed. This was not a forced evacuation. It was up to the individuals involved. The Finnish Goverment assisted the evacuees, but did not force them to evacuate. During the Continuation War, many Finnish families returnd to Karelia (1941-42), but then had to evacuate again (1944).


The POWs of course are not refugees, but they are men who got caught up in the war and suffered terrinle consequences and thus are worth considering here.


There are two groups of internees. In conversations with Russians, they seem to think that there was only group, the Soviet ethnic Russians that Stalin had moved into Karelia after the Winter War. Many of these people were interned when the Finns joined the Germans in the Continuation War. The Finns interned them in camps. As far as I can tell that they were not physically abused, but condition in the camps were inadequate, especially the food rations. The other group was was the ethnic Finns in Ingria. Here after Stalin targeted them, most were arested and either killed or funneled into the Gulag or deported under terrible circumstances.

Child Evacuations

The Finns along with the British, Germans, and Japanese conducted major child evacuations during World War II. The Finnish evacuations was the smallest of these, but were comparable in imprtance relative to the size of the population. The major causes of the larger evacuations was bombing. This was a factor in Finland, but by far the most important fasctor in Finland was food shortages. The Finns in addition to the family evacuations carried out from Karelia seized by the Soviets in the Winter War, conducted extensive child evacuations. The refugees from Karelia and other areas seized by the Red Army were resettled within Finland. The child evacuations were different. They were settled in sympthetic Scandinacian countries, mostly Sweden. The child evacuations began during the Winter War, first as a result of Soviet bombing raids on Finninsh cities and even fear of a Soviet take over increased. A major factor was the deteriorating conditions, especially food shortages became severe. Parting with one's children is a very difficult ecession. Being unable to properly feed hungary children was a major deciding factor. The initial idea was to place the evacuee children with families, nit to create institutional settings. As the War progressed, howevrer, the children arriving were not only hungary, but many were sick. There were even special medical transports. So they had to be placed in hospitals and sanatoria. Overly 70,000 children were evcuated, nostly to children. Not all returned to their families after the war. The younger ones in particularly forged bonds with their Swedish hist families and remained in Sweden.


Adler, Nanci Dale, Selma Leydesdorff, Mary Chamberlain, And Leyla Neyzi. Leyla. Memories of Mass Repression: Narrating Life Stories in the Aftermath of Atrocity (Transaction Publishers: 2011).

Committee for Children�s Evacuation (CCE).

Mannine, Hannes. Lapin sodan ja evakoitumisen muistojuhlassa (Pudasj�rvell�: 2004).

Taagepera, Rein. The Finno-Ugric Republics and the Russian State (Routledge: 2013).


Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main World War II Finland page ]
[Return to Main World War II evcacuation pages]
[Return to Main Soviet World War II aggressions page]
[About Us]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology] [Totalitarian powers]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]
[Return to CIH Home page]

Created: 4:13 AM 1/29/2016
Last updated: 2:12 PM 10/14/2016