Finnish Heritage Museum 301 High Street
Fairport Harbor, Oh, 44077
Map Here
Museum Hours:
Saturday 10am-3pm
"Some of Us Were There"
by Jovette Hiltunen
Photos by Heather Korb

Hely Perttu stood, tall and proud, among her peers in the basement of the Zion Lutheran Church as she spoke about her childhood memories of the Winter War. You could hear a pin drop as she began to speak. That was 83 years ago when Russia invaded Finland on November 30, 1939. Finland had been independent for only 22 years.

Just as we presently watch the Ukrainian War play out with Russia, there are so many similarities to the Winter War. Both are a dramatic David versus Goliath encounter. But the two women who spoke of their encounters did not remember much of the violence but rather recalled the time with childhood innocence.

I was one years old when the war started and we had to evacuate. We were living in a brand new apartment building which was built for soldiers families. We were in Jaakkima Karelia and it was hard for my mother to leave our comfortable home. We traveled to Kurikka which was my father's hometown. The Continuation War started in 1941. And my father's battalion was sent to Petsamo in North East to fight Russians. I don't know why, but my mother wanted to move North so we ended up in Ivalo. As she spoke, the audience was moved to that time and as we listened, she continued, Hitler was helping us against the Russians and we lived in the upstairs of a house. The German Headquarters was downstairs. She remembered the Germans as friendly towards them and even gave chocolates for the kids. At the young age of 5, she recalled going to the basement, but she was never scared!! She remembered one time when she and her sister Laila, who was 8 years old, started skiing to go to their friend's house. We heard the planes coming. We were told to lay down in the snow, but we kept going and got to our friends' house in time. She remembered that they were taken into the house where they hid in the safest place they could find.

When bombing stopped the children went outside and found a piece of splinter on the door outside. What was it like for the kids at this time? They would chase little black and brown furballs called Lemming Sopuli in the trenches. In 1944 they left Ivalo and went back to Kurikka. After Russia forced Finns to get rid of the Germans, Hitlers' men burnt many houses in Lapland before they left. They did save the church. Anniki Thompkins echoed the same sentiments as she recalled her childhood in the war. What was so obvious was that the children (now elderly) did not recall terror and sadness, but were instead resilient and could recall being children. As a result of the war, Finland did not lose its independence, but it did lose 11% of its land to Russia.

Bill Newbury joined the program with a not so brief history of the winter war. The audience listened as they tried to put together the horrors of this war with the stories from the children's memories. His chronology began in 1809 when the Grand Principality of Finland was created within the Russian Empire and ended with the beginning of the Continuation War.

Travel with us now to the December 11, 2022:

PikkuJoulu/Independence Day meeting for the museum.
What an amazing celebration of our Finnish Independence. President Lasse Hiltunen welcomed the large group and Chip Knox Kotimani Ompi Suomi (Homeland is Finland). Lasse then read the well wishes from the Finnish President to all expatriates. Guest speaker then regaled all of us with a powerpoint of Finnish Christmas Tradition as he and his wife recalled from their visits to Finland during the holiday times. As he shared his pictures, many in the audience were heard to sigh as they remembered their own visits or lifetime memories of Christmas in Finland. The outdoor sauna/hot tub brought several laughs and the beautiful table settings brought a tear or two of memory for those who are no longer with us.

After the powerpoint presentation, all present sang Silent Night.

This was the last meeting for Lasse Hiltunen, President, after 12 years serving in that role. There were some sharing tributes to Lasse from members Ken Quiggle, Anne Pohto, a beautiful hand-quilted lap blanket from member Amy Moyer, and a surprise from Lasse's daughter-in-law, Jennifer. We all wish him well with his next adventures. The gavel was presented to new president, Dave Leifer, as well as a welcome to new treasurer, Robert Hilston.

The meeting was adjourned for refreshments and good fellowship.