Liisa Ahokas, Karelians on Their First Evacuation Journey
This article portrays the experiences of Karelian evacuees during the first evacuation caused by the Winter War. Until now, the viewpoint in research has nearly completely disregarded the subjective experiences of evacuees amidst war as well as how those experiences are remembered and how they are related to others. In the present article, I examine the evacuation as a broad entity, from the anticipation of the departure, through the journey, to the return home during the Continuation War.
During World War Two, approximately 11 percent of the population in Finland was forced to leave their home, the area surrendered to the Soviet Union. The Karelians represented the largest evacuee group; approximately 407,000 Karelians were evacuated as a result of the Winter War. The journey for the first Karelians who were being evacuated began before the war, in October 1939, and the last of them were forced to leave their homes in March 1940, once the war had ended. The lost areas of Karelian were won back at the beginning of the Continuation War, and about 70 % of the people who had left in 1939 returned to their native region.
I have examined the evacuees’ experiences of the evacuation using the writings gathered in the Evakkotaipaleilla elettyä. Ensimmäinen evakkomatka, which was organized by the Karjalaisten heimoseura ry organization in the years 1951–1952. There are 29 texts in my study, the writers of which are of different ages and came from different regions in the surrendered region of Karelia. The texts contained both men and women writers.
The evacuation caused by the Winter War was the first chapter in the story of the Karelian evacuees. It was a multi-phase process, the memory and history of which are founded on the experiences of individual people. Despite the different backgrounds and phases in the lives of the people involved, common features and themes are evident in their experiences and memories. The portrayals of the evacuation are surprisingly similar, especially as regards emotions, memories and experiences.
I have examined the evacuation through its various stages: departure, journey and return home. The strongest experiences associated with the departure involve uncertainty, powerlessness, changes in one’s life, and the shock of having to leave one’s home. Experiences associated with the journey are best described by the word change. Being evacuated did not only mean temporarily leaving one’s home, it also meant parting with a familiar life: work, neighbors, community and status. The Karelians constantly encountered new situations and people on their journey as they were forced to give up the familiar and that which was their own. The return home appears to be the highlight of the stories, a much awaited, joyful moment, although the experiences portrayed were marked by conflict between the familiar and the strange and between expectations and reality. All in all, the experiences of the evacuation were significant and far reaching due to the extraordinary, extreme nature of them to the Karelians.