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American packages of great importance after the war

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When my mother died in 2000, I found an old American letter from my father’s sister Ellen Kamb Levin. She was living in San Francisco. Ellen was a hard-working newswriter for the Norden newspaper. She wrote "Där Jag Skriver" by Ellen Kamb.

A letter that was dated 1945 drew my interest. It was a letter that Ellen sent to her sister Gerda Mickelsson in Yttermark. It was an account of how great the need was in Finland after the war. Those who had siblings in the US and received American packages had it better than those who had no siblings or relatives in America.

In Finland there was a shortage of everything during the war, as well as after the war. Consequently hoarding was fanatic and widespread. The government in Finland was forced to remedy the hoarding problem and created a new ministry. This new ministry issued a directive about the ration card in order to have an equitable distribution of goods so that they reached everyone.

Through the ration card dilemma and the recurrent shortage of goods, illegal business transactions arose. Businessmen procured goods that were then sold on the black market for a considerably higher price than the fixed price. The controllers had difficulty catching them.

During the entire time I was in elementary school, I wore American clothing. There was a great shortage of clothing in Finland even after the war.

This is a letter Ellen Kamb Levin sent to her sister Gerda Mickelsson in Yttermark:


San Francisco, November 1945
Dear sister Gerda,
Have sent several packages to all of you. I don’t know what is suitable for you. I hope that together you can decide who gets the contents. If you think the clothes that I sent are in such a condition that it is not worth the trouble for me to continue sending, I’ll stop. It is only old clothing that must be altered to be useful for you. I think most of the children will understand if you can sew and alter something to be useful for them.
I have not yet been successful to find sewing thread which I now will look for. The soap was also missing from store shelves for a while, but now I have begun to find it in the stores. It is the black market that creates the shortage of goods here. They smuggle it to different parts of the world. I have thought a lot about your need for soap and have not forgotten it. I have also waited to have a letter from you which tells me what garters you want. Are they the round or the long garters?
There is something gnawing in my head. Teacher Mikko Stark has written and requested a used suit from Barney and me. Naturally I will not refuse him if we have one. I sent you three or four pieces of clothing, if you don’t remember, for your sisters and brothers. I have two or three here that I will send to you soon.
Gerda, will you be so good and discuss with the brothers and sisters in Finland - Ida Haga, Sigfrid and Joel Sänkas and let them try out these suits and choose which they want. I’ll arrange later to have a suit go to Mikko Stark. Of course, I could send him one of these suits that I have here in San Francisco, but I don’t know if it will fit him. I think they are small in size. Those that I sent to you are larger in size.
This is the reason that I will send all the clothing to you first and you can choose which to keep and what will fit Mr. Stark. Then will you call Mikko Stark in Nämpnäs and ask him to come and get his suit.
Regina and Mikko Stark were so friendly (in summer of 1938) when I visited my former homeland. If I visit Finland another time (1956) I hope they will be friendly to me. Thus I hope you will see to it that he has the suit before summer approaches.
I will send more clothing to you. I hope you will not talk to anyone about Mikko Stark’s suit. It could be embarrassing to him that he must beg for clothing from the US. I hope you will call him and say that Ellen has sent a suit to you. I wrote in a letter to him that I sent a suit for him to my sister Gerda.
Bernard (Ellen’s husband) is so short that his suits would not fit anyone except my brothers Joel and Sigfrid. Bernard was heavy once and continues to get heavier.
I have a letter from teacher Johannes Åbonde (later school inspector). Everyone who writes to me says that people at home look like ragamuffins. I sent nothing to Åbonde. One must forget the olden times while the world is like it is now after the world war. I didn’t know they were so hard up for clothing in Finland and that it could also happen to the upper class. But my family always comes first of all of the needy in my former homeland.
I have made a list of all the contents in each package I sent. It will be interesting if you will write and tell me what comes in each package so I can compare with my list. (At this time the entire package disappeared between the post office and customs because of the black market that was in the country after the war.) I hope nothing gets lost in the package, but you never know in these times.
Today I sent four pounds of sugar in Ida Haga’s name. It is for her to divide between the brothers and sisters. Sugar is still rationed here in San Francisco and the US. My husband doesn’t use sugar in his coffee so I saved some to send to you. It isn’t much but better than nothing at all.
We cannot send more than one package a week to the same person. This week I’ll send one in another name to Greta (Gerda’s daughter), Mildred, Astrid, etc. The packages will come to you even though I put their names on the packages.
I hope Betty and Signe as well as Ester (these were sisters to Ellen and lived in the US) will send something to you. If we all send a little of what we have here, I hope you will not freeze there this winter since the lack of clothing is so great for you.
Remember that I live in sunny California and we don’t need winter clothing here. My brothers and sisters in the eastern US will send you fur coats. I had no winter clothes with me when I visited Finland so I nearly froze there. I had forgotten how cold you have it there in the winter, and I forgot to get winter clothing in the eastern US before I traveled from America.
I wish you all a pleasant Christmas and a good new year.
Kindly,
Ellen

Put together by Elof Sänkas, Norden 21Apr 2005
Translated by June Pelo


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