World War II Finland: The Winter War--Refugees and Evacuations


Figure 1.--The Winter War began with relatively small numbers of evacutions near the front line. Hre are some of the early evacuees, The press caption read, "Finish children like these were evacuated hurridely from border towns and are in schools as this in Heinola. They were moved none too soon as Russian planes rained destruction shortly afterward. Many other sections of Finland are being evacuated. The photograph appeared in a U.S. newspaper on December 4, 1939, but would have been taken a few days earlier. The Karelia evacuations were not just children, but included women and the elderly and as the War began to go against Finlamd, whole families.

Finland carried out a series of evacuations during World War II beginning with the Soviet invsion launching the Winter War. The Finns evacuated the population away from the front lines early in the War. There was another aspect of the evacutions, especially as the Red air fice began bombing Finish cities. They also evacuated children from the cities to sympathetic Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway and Denmark). Here the fear was both air raids as well as the danger that the whole country would be overrun by the Soviet colosus. As the Soviet weight of numbers began to overwealm the Finnish defenders, more evacuations followed. The Soviets escalated their teritorial demands presenting the Finnish delegtion at Moscow with substantial new demands. Once the Moscow Peace Treaty was finally signed ending the war (March 1940), the Finns began evacuating the territory to be turned over to the Soviets. This meant whole families and villages. They were not mandatory evacuations. But few Finns wanted to remain in Soviet territory even though they had to leave land tended by families for centuries. The local population was well aware of what the Soviets had done to the Ingrian Finns before the War. The Finns had no illusions about life in the Soviet worker and peasanbt paradice. Many were surprised because the Soviets escalated their territorial demands during the neogitaions. The Finns in Karelia took what they could carry and their livestock and headed for what was to become the new Finnish border with only few days notice. They were allowed to keep their possesions under the terms of the Treaty, but the buildings and machinery had to be left intact. This was no small matter for the Finns. Some 410,000 Finns streamed out of Karelia, over 10 percent of the country's population and an even larger part of the country's most productive agricultural land. This did not end the vacutions. There would also be evcuations associated with the Continuation War. One surprising group of victims were the Soviet POWs returned by the Finns.

Family Refugess and Evacuations (1939-40)

The Soviet Union and NAZI Germany signed a Non-Aggreggion Pact (August 1939). It was in fact a war allince. By 'Non-Agression' it meant that the Sovieys and NAZIs would not attack each other. It was actually an alliance to make possible Sovietand NAZI aggression against their neighbors. The first victim was Poland. Hitler and Stalin only days after sisning the Non-Aggression Pact, launched their first agression. They invaded Poland, launching World War II (September 1939). The next victim was Finland. This time it was the Soviets alone that invaded Finland (November 1939). The result was refugees on a massive scale. The Poles surrounded by the NAZIs and Soviets had no place where they could flee. The Finns did. There were family evacuations from Karelia (the major Soviet target) nd other ages seized by the Soviet. The valiant resitance of the small, poorly equipped Finnish Army provided time for families to flee. Virtually no Finn chose to stay as a result of the savage NKVD treatment of ethic Finns in Ingria. Kareliawas the most heavily populated area and where mos of the evacuees and refugees came from. There were also areas in central and northern Finland seized by the Soviets, but with only smll populations.

Evacuating Children

There was another aspect of the evacutions, especially as the Red Air Force began bombing Helsinki and other Finish cities. The Finns began evacuating children from the cities to sympathetic Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway and Denmark). Here the fear was both air raids as well as the danger that the whole country would be overrun by the Soviet colosus. For a time it looked like the Soviets might occupy all of Finland. And given Soviet brutality toward the Karlian/Ingrian Finns left in the Soviet Union after world war I and toward the Poles in occupied Poland (1939), the Finns had real reason to fear. Finland bordered on Sweden and the Sweedes took in many Finnish children. The Sweeds wre unwilling to risk war with the Siviet Union, but were moved by the plight of the Finns. Beginning with the Winter War (1939-40) and than again during the Continuation War (1941-44).The forst wave of Finnish war chilren came during the winter War. The largest number were evacuated during the Continuation War. Many were the children of tge Finns that returned to their homes and farms in Karelia after Hitler laubched Barbarossa (June 941). Finland never joined the Axis, but became a co-belgerant. Finland became the only democracy to fight with the Axis. And it resticted its war goals to revoverling the land seized by the Soviets in the winter War. It was an enormos task rebuilding homes and starting up farms again. Thus it was thought that they could do all of this beter withour=t the task of varing for younger children. The Finns evacuated a total of some 70,000 children to Sweden. These included children from both Finnish homes and Finnish-Swedish (Swedish-speaking) homes. Given the long border and the fact that Finland was once part of Sweden, there were still a number of Sedish speaking homes. Approximately 15,000 of the children never returned to Finland, especially the younger childre who came to see their adopted parents as their real parents. They were adopted by her Swedish foster family. Smaller numbers of chilren were sent to Denmark and Norway.

Ceding Karelia

As the Soviet weight of numbers began to overwealm the Finnish defenders, more evacuations followed. The Soviets escalated their teritorial demands presenting the Finnish delegtion at Moscow with substantial new demands. Once the Moscow Peace Treaty was finally signed ending the war (March 1940), the Finns began evacuating the territory to be turned over to the Soviets. This meant whole families and villages. They were not mandatory evacuations. But few Finns wanted to remain in Soviet territory even though they had to leave land tended by their families for centuries. The local population was well aware of what the Soviets had done to the Ingrian Finns before the War. The Finns had no illusions about life in the Soviet worker and peasant paradice. Many were surprised because the Soviets escalated their territorial demands during the neogitaions. The Finns in Karelia took what they could carry and their livestock and headed for what was to become the new Finnish border with only few days notice. They were allowed to keep their possesions under the terms of the Treaty, but the buildings and machinery had to be left intact. This was no small matter for the Finns. Some 410,000 Finns streamed out of Karelia, over 10 percent of the country's population and an even larger part of the country's most productive agricultural land. This did not end the evacutions. There would also be another evacuations associated with the Continuation War.

Finns in Soviet Territory

The Finns in Finish Karelia were able to flee and become refugees. They lost their homes nd lnd, but they survived. The Karlian/Ingrian Finns on the other side of the border did not have that option. Stalin had ordered the NKVD to begin the supression and removal of ethnic Finns a decade earlier (1928). The NKVD shot some 4,000 Finns and sent another 10,000 to slower deaths in the Gulag. About 50,000 were deported or interned in concentration camps. After the war was ended, Stalin turned on the Finns still in his grasp with renewed ferocity. Wevnow know that "Finland ceded its isthmus to us with zero population. Nevertheless, the removal and resettlement of all persons with Finnish blood took place throughout south Karelia and in Leningrad in 1940. We didn't notice that wavelet [small influx into the Gulag]: we have no Finnish blood." [Solzhenitsyn, p. 77.]

POWs

We have no information on Finnish POWs taked by the Soviets. One surprising group of victims were the Soviet POWs returned by the Finns. Stalin decided that they should be punished as traitors. The famed chronicler of the Gulag tells us, "In the Finnish War we undertook our first experimentin convicting our war prisoners as traitors to the Motherland. The first such experiment in human history; and would you believe it? -- we didn't notice!" [Solzhenitsyn, p. 77.] This would continue to be Soviet policy in World War II. Not only did the Soviet Government punish their surviving POWs, but also Soviet civilins who had been deported to the Reich and used as slave labor by the Germans.

Sources

Edwards, Robert. White Death: Russia's War on Finland 193940. (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 2006).

Solzhenitsyn, Alexsanddr I. Trans, Thomas P. Wjitney. The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-56: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (Harper & Row: New York, 1973), 660p.







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Created: 5:12 AM 3/19/2015
Last updated: 3:00 PM 3/26/2017