During the Winter War vulnerable Finnish citizens were evacuated to the other Nordic countries. Sweden was the main receiver of such refugees, who were mostly young children. Also some mothers and elderly people were evacuated, again mainly to Sweden. The total number of evacuees during the Winter War was around 10,000, of which the majority came from the Karelian Isthmus. This led to many tearful parting scenes between parents and children, as described here by one of those who experienced it as a young boy:
"We started by leaving Helsinki by train. And when the train started moving, many mothers stood outside and wept terribly. It was all very painful because the small children inside the train became terribly wound up. They started screaming and crying." (Jessen: Finnebørn (Danish Radio Montage 1996))
The number of evacuated Finnish children escalated substantially during the Interim Peace and the Continuation War ...
(Claes Johansen: Hitler's nordic Ally? p. 78)
The pressure that was placed on Finnish women had a substantial effect on the everyday life of their children, as could be seen in the health conditions among the many Finnish refugees that the Scandinavian countries received. These children were often undernourished, weak and infested with lice and flies. One such evacuee, who was later adopted by his Danish foster family, said in an interview in 1996 with the Danish state radio:
"My mother had various jobs. For a while she worked in the kitchen at a restaurant and helped washing up and so on, and that was one of the places where my brother Kalle and I could go once in a while and have a little extra food in the war years of 1941-42. But I think I must have gone to bed hungry many times. My Danish parents told me that when I came to Den-mark I was very thin and skinny. As an eight year old I was probably the size of a normal four or five year old child." (Jessen: Finnebørn (Danish Radio Montage 1996))
The same interviewee also described the differences between the lives that children had in Denmark and in Finland at the time:
"Up in Finland we played war with wooden sticks and so on, pretending we sneaked up on the Russians and shot at them. But down here in Denmark we didn’t play such games at all. We played rounders and football. I had brought a card game with me, Black Man or Musta Pekka as it is called in Finnish. There were four different family members from each country, and you had to collect those. There was a Finnish and a Swedish and a Danish family, and a German family with swastikas next to them, and also an English family. At one point I had cut out the English flags and glued them on to my school book and my pencil case. I did that to show I was on the side of the English, too, not on the German side, as you might think a Finnish child would be." (Jessen: Finnebørn (Danish Radio Montage 1996))
In total some 80,000 children were evacuated from Finland during the Winter War, the Interim Peace and the Continuation War – the biggest evacuation ever of its kind. Most of them went to Sweden, others to Norway, and 4,000 arrived in Denmark where 10% of them remained after the war. The children were mostly between three and eight years old when they arrived. The majority came from poor families in industrial areas or border districts.
Much has been said and written about the lives of the Finnish children in Sweden, where they experienced major cultural shocks and were often exposed to discrimination and bullying. However, all indications suggest that the ones who ended up in Denmark thrived and had a good life. The problems were mainly associated with the journey home. One of the Danish nurses who helped with both the arrival and the departure of the children, told Danish Radio:
"The Finnish Lottas came and collected them. There were many foster mothers to whom I simply had to say: ‘Now you have to leave. The little one has to understand it is time to go home now.’"
(Claes Johansen: Hitler's nordic Ally? pp. 223-224)
Below: The logo of the society "Finnebørn i Danmark" and a photograph from their 2010 meeting. (Source: http://finnebarn.dk/)