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June Pelo
13-02-14, 03:51
I've written from time to time about Finns eating bark bread during times of famine. Here's a true story:

During the early 1930s, my father's cousin, Rene Herrala, came from Haapajärvi, Finland to find work in New York. Like millions of others, he found none. He heard the propaganda of the rich rewards awaiting young men from the U.S. and Canada who could travel to Karelia and build a good new future. Rene encouraged his younger brother Edvart to join him in this project. My father Walter Herrala tried to discourage him from the adventure but to no avail.

Rene and Edvart went to Petrovostok and found a great unpreparedness for the workers, especially basic food supplies. Edvart died of malnutrition. Rene told the director he wanted his passport back and his wages. The director called him a dissident and sent him to Eastern Siberia's slave labor work camp. He escaped, was caught, taken back and warned, "If you do it again, you'll be shot."

Rene did it again, traveling mostly by night, sleeping in the day, eating off the Siberian tundra. Of a matter of survival, he used the inner bark of trees to mix with water to make a "tree soup". Sometimes, in summer he found berries and we believe he fished with improvised snares.

Incredibly, after two years he walked home to southeastern Finland and reached his mother-in-law's home. His wife Martha saw him approaching the yard. She fainted, after thinking she saw the ghost of her husband, long assumed dead. He had lost about 100 pounds. Tree soup can help keep one alive, but barely.

Rene lived another 50 years and had a family, who are still living in southeastern Finland.

Lisa Herrala Koski,
Trumansburg, NY
FAR, February 2014