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Memories of the Winter War

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Helvi Waisanen Silverman and Paula Waisanen Szabo related their experiences in Kuhmo, Finland during the 1939-40 war with Russia. They were asked to speak at a meeting of the Finnish Heritage House in South Thomaston, Maine. They first told of the remoteness of their chilldhood home, located miles in the woods from the town of Kuhmo, which is located near the Russian border in northern Finland. Their family was large, with ten children born before their mother died in 1936. When Russia attacked Finland in November of 1939, Helvi was ten years old and Paula had not yet turned four.


Their childhood memories of the first battlles are still vivid as heavy fighting approached their area and they could see the flames and hear the distant explosions. They recalled hiding in a hastily dug trench when Russian aircraft flew over, and their father burying a small harvest of potatoes, in the case of future evacuations. (He could not fight in the army, due to losing his trigger finger in a logging accident.)

Evacuation orders soon came, and the older children had to carry the youngest on their backs, as the entire family had to flee for their lives. They were asked if they had eventually returned to their family home. They replied that they had and their beloved log home was still standing, although most houses within the area had been burned. They also located their buried supply of potatoes, but the roadsides were littered with the rotting carcasses of starved farm animals. They had returned home, but they would always remember being cold and hungry throughout those long war years.


The people of Finland had to endure the 105 day “Winter War”, the 1941-44 “Continuation War”, and a brief “Lapland War” in 1944-45. The extended family of Waisanens (Väisänen) have been immigrating to the USA since 1913, so Helvi and Paula did the same thing in 1958.

Their mood changed with the retelling of this happier life. They related humorous tales of their experiences as domestic help in wealthy households in New York, without the benefit of knowing the English language. Both of them married and eventually moved to coastal Maine with their families.

Art Jura, Norden, 17 April 2008

June Pelo


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