I’m intrigued. Since I started looking into my grandmother’s history – a Finnish Swede who left Finland in her youth to serve in Swedish households as a maid – I have been eager to learn more about both the Finnish and the Swedish societies at the time.
Have you noticed, that when your mind is busy with something, you keep bumping into small bits and pieces that lead you on, pieces to lay your puzzle with? If you hadn’t been busy with these thoughts, you would probably not have noticed them, but all of a sudden they pop up, everywhere.
I went to an artshow, about a month back. It’s called ”Supermarket” and consists of a lot of independent artists, coming together to display their work, make installations and engage with the public. At one of the tables, a guy was sitting, gluing book pages together with a device he created with a 3D-printer. I don’t know if it really mattered to him what the small booklets contained. As I understood it, his art was about the combination of new and old techniques.
I picked up a small booklet and read the front page. It said ”Welcome, Finnish children!”, in Swedish. And there it was. A small piece of the puzzle I’ve started to lay in my head.
I bought the booklet and started reading through it. The first page tells a story about a Finnish girl, sent away from her own family because of the war. She tries to speak with her new family, but fails in making herself understood. At bedtime, she keeps repeating a word, which is interpreted by the family as ”egg”. Thus, they feed her lots of eggs, but she is never happy.
Finally, the family understand that she is saying ”turn off the lights”.
The need for a booklet with the most important words when taking care of a Finnish war child is thus apparent.
It is an interesting read. The words that are important to know, say a lot about how people lived, what their everyday life looked like. There is for instance only a translation of travelling third class – ”kolmas luokka”.
The families were large – ”Meitä on kuusi, neljä veljeä ja kaksi sisarta” is translated into ”we are six, four brothers and two sisters”.
My grandmother had 9 siblings. When she came over to Sweden, some of them had already died. Of course, she was not a child of the war when she came. This little booklet was issued in 1942. That’s about the same time, my grandmother and grandfather started building their house together, south of Stockholm.
Through the booklet, I get an idea of what people ate during the second world war. My grandmother told me that they bought food with coupons. There was no coffee. The booklet tells about dried bread – ”korppuja”, sour milk – ”piimä” and low alcohol beer – ”olut”. Very good to know is how to ask for another bowl of soup – ”saisinko lautasellisen keittoa lissä?”
Another part is how they taught people to help the children, while playing. Dividing the toys can be tricky, as all parents know. Here, little Maria gets to ride the rocking horse, Anders and Lars get to play with the train and the car, while Elin has the doll and the ball. The children also got help writing home. ”Kerro hänelle, että sinä voit hyvin ja olet totte-leveinen ja kiltti” was a good sentence: “tell her that you are well, obedient and nice”.
I’m happy my grandmother got to spend her childhood with her family. It must have been very hard to come to another country as a small child, not knowing the langugage, being so worried about your parents – with the father fighting the war and the mother struggling to help your siblings survive. The parallels with todays’ refugees are more than obvious. And, as there have been many studies on the psycological effects of having come to Sweden as a Finnish war child, there will most certainly be studies on todays’ refugees. The Finnish children have suffered from depression, a feeling of not belonging anywhere and separation anxiety.
There were more than 70 000 Finnish children, who were sent to Sweden and Denmark between 1939 and 1945. They all suffered a trauma, which is something we can be sure that the children arriving from Syria today are doing as well. Thus, there’s one thing we know – the war is not over even if you survive. It continues inside.
And I, two generations down from my grandmothers’ journey over the water, keep searching for her history and my roots. I’m laying a puzzle that I already suspect, cannot be completed.
This, as well, continues inside.