FARAVID 35/2011


Henry Oinas-Kukkonen, ”New Finland” in Alaska: imaginations about a safe haven for the Winter War refugees

Just before the beginning of the World War II in Europe, the development and settlement of Alaska was clearly in the agenda of relevant issues in the United States. Alaska was a huge territory of 586,400 square miles but had only 72,524 inhabitants in 1940.

The Soviet Union attacked Finland on 30 November 1939, and the Winter War broke out. There was a tide of sympathy in the USA towards the small, far northern democracy in trouble. As nearly half a million Finnish civilians fled the theatre of operations, many Americans proposed that an ideal refuge for the Finns would be Alaska, which they would make flourish. These propositions were made, among others, to humanitarian organizations and to the US government.

The organization aiding Finland the most was the Finnish Relief Fund. The ex-president Herbert Hoover was its chairman and a political opponent of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Finnish Relief Fund received proposals concerning settling Finns in Alaska. Finns for America’s Finland was one of these proposals. It was made by two young intellectuals, Robert C. Black, III and Leonard v. B. Sutton, from Colorado in February 1940. Their idea was that, if the Soviet Union occupied Finland, Finnish refugees could be transported via Norway to the United States and be resettled in the Tanana Valley, Alaska. They believed that the Finns would fit in the Alaskan climate and geography as well as in the American politics and way of life. They stated that the Finns would boost Alaskan agriculture, economy and even defense against the threat of the Imperial Japan and the Soviet Union. At the same time, the Alaskans rejected notions about settling their territory with foreigners, mainly persecuted Jews from the Central Europe. Furthermore, the leadership of the Finnish Relief Fund believed that the Finns would not leave their country, but rebuild it. In the end, as Finland was not occupied by the Soviet Union, the Moscow Peace treaty was signed in March 1940 and the Finnish refugees were resettled within their own country, Finns for America’s Finland plan was not topical.  

Faravid 35/2011