World War II Evacuations: Country Trends--Finland (1939-45)

Finish children World War II evacuees
Figure 1.--This young Swedish woman has picked up a precious cargo from the relocation center, two little Finnish child evacuees. The image is not dated, but we believe that the photograph was taken in 1942 during the Continuation War, although the markings on the back are confusing. Notice the evacuation tags the children have. This smiling Swedish lady might have had a small child of her own, but the tags tell us that they are both Finnish evacuees.

The Finns conducted a series of evacuations during World War II. First during the Winter War when the Soviets unvaded the evacuated border reas and tgem the area ceded to the Soviet Union. Virtually non Finns wanted to live in the Soviet Union. There was another aspect of the Winter War evacutions, especially as the Red Air Force began bombing Heldinki 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 were unwilling to risk war with the Soviet 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 first wave of Finnish war chilren came during the winter War. The largest number were evacuated during the Continuation War. Many were the children of the Finns that returned to their homes and farms in Karelia after Hitler launched Barbarossa (June 1941). 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 recoverling 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 without 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 Swedish 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. Than as the resurgent Red Army drove the Germans and Finns back, the Finns evcuate Karelia and other areas ceeded to the Soviets. Finally there were evacuations associated with the Lapland war (1944).

Soviet Deportations: Ingria (1928-39)

The Finns as part of their independence War with the Bolsheviks (1918-19), managed to secure most of Karelia. The Finns after the Independence War (1918-19) in Finish Karelia were thus safe and able to continue their lives in peace. Many ethnic Finns, however, lived in Ingria and Lenningrad. The Karlian/Ingrian Finns on the other side of the border thus were under Soviet control. Before Stalin seized power they were left alone and lived in relative peace. and dyring the 1930s they were targeted by Stalin. Once in control, Stalin ordered the NKVD to begin the supression and removal of ethnic Finns a who he considered a security threat (1928). Many were arrested and their possessiins seized. The NKVD shot some 4,000 men and sent another 10,000 to slower deaths in the Gulag. About 50,000 including women and children were deported or interned in concentration camps. The deportees were transported in dreadful conditions to remote Central Asia or Siberia. No preparations were made for them or facilities prepared. As the Winter War ended, Stalin turned on the Finns still in his grasp with renewed ferocity. The noted historian of the Soviet Gulag tells us 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.]

Evacuating Finnish Families from Karelia (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) and other areas seized by the Soviets. 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 brutal NKVD treatment of ethic Finns orderedby Stalin in Ingria during the 1930s. Karelia was 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 small populations.

Evacuating Finnish Children (1939-44)

The Finns conducted a series of evacuations during World War II, some specifically gor the children. The Finns sent an estimated 70,000-80,000 children to safety, mostly to neighboring children. Denmark took about 4,000 of the children children and Norwy a smaller anount. The number is not exact because many parents made private arrngements. Most of the children were sent as part of an officially effort adminidstered by the Centre of Nordic Help. An estimated 15,000 children were sent privately. Most were younger children under 10 years of age. We are not sure why thus was or if Centre discouraged arrangements for older children. It may be that the oldr children resisted evacution or that the younger children were seen as importnt to move to safety. One report estimates that some 60 percent of the children came from blue collar homes. We are not sire how to interpret this. One would think that this would be the rough proprtion of the population. Some children were evacuated more than once as there were periods of relative peace during which some of the children returned to their parents in Finland. The first evacuations were organized during the Winter War, but the largest numbers occured during the Continuation War. Quite a nunber if the childten never retuned.

The Lapland War (1944-45)

Finally there were evacuations associated with the Lapland War (1944). We know less about the evacuations, but believe that the Finns evacuated whole families. The Finns hoped that the Germans would just retreat to occupied Norway. Hitler would no hear of it. The German forces commanded by General Lothar Rendulic following orders from Berlin adopted scorched earth tactics throughout northern Finland where German forces were present. The goal was destroy the physical infrastructure including homes and other dwellings--any thing the Finns could use to live in the region. An estimated 40–50 percent of the dwellings in northern Fiunland were destroyed. The Germans burned the provincial capital of Rovaniemi to the ground. The same occurred with the villages of Savukoski and Enontekiö. Two-thirds of the buildings in the major villages of Sodankylä, Muonio, Kolari, Salla and Pello were demolished. Some 675 bridges were blown up. The few main roads were mined. And 3,700 km of telephone lines were destroyed. Property losses are estimated at some US $300 million (1945 dollars) nearly (US$ 4 billion in 2016 dollas). About 100,000 of the local inhabitants, much of the population became refugees. This added to the already manouth task of post-War reconstruction. The land mines laid by the Germans resulted in civilian casualties for decades after the War. Some 100 fatalities resulted just in the demining operations. Hundreds of Finnish women attached to the German soldiers or working for the German military departed with the German troops. They experienced a range of diverse fates, largely because of the difficult conditions in occupied Germany.


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: 7:56 PM 2/6/2016
Last updated: 3:09 PM 9/11/2016