Monday, June 25, 2018

Memorial Hunter – Memorials of the Ancestors of Karelia

At the conclusion of the Continuation War in September 1944, the Finns ceded a large part of Finnish Karelia to the Soviet Union in return for an armistice. This area included 3 cities, 2 boroughs and 39 municipalities as well as splitting 21 other municipalities.

This memorial is in Haukipudas' new Parish Cemetery is, to date, the most beautiful of the ones I have seen. Being a lot more simple than many others, it still encapsulates the dogged determination of those who had to leave their homes and set anew in a different place. Source: Personal Collection

The Karelians and Finns of the area were given a choice, similar to the choice given at the end of the Winter War in March 1940, to either stay and become citizens of the Soviet Union or evacuate to Finland and be resettled. The vast majority chose to leave their homes and settle in Finland. Around 280,000 had to be rehoused throughout Finland (in 1939/40 around 400,000 left Karelia and when the Finnish Army retook their ceded areas in 1941 280,000 returned to reclaim their land). This meant leaving behind for good their roots, their ancestors, the graves and houses that had been in their families for generations.

The Karelian Association

In the wake of the first evacuation in 1939/40, the numerous displaced Karelians sent 340 representatives to found an organisation on the 20th April 1940 that would monitor the interests of the displaced citizens, make sure that they were resettled and compensated quickly and that they would still be represented within Finnish Society as a whole.

The Association has always pushed to keep the memory of the Karelia that was lost alive in Finnish culture and society, while still maintaining a sense of independent identity. When the hope of recovering Finnish Karelia was dashed in 1944, the group worked in the best interests of all displaced Karelians throughout Finland so that they were be treated equally and fairly, it also became a place to allow members to come together and maintain their links.

The memorial in Hietaniemi cemetary, Helsinki. Sculpted by Amas Tirronen, it was built in 1957. Source: Personal Collection 

The memorials

Each kunta or municipality throughout contained a church that served that community. This included the burial of the deceased. Finnish culture is one that takes great care of its ancestors, where graves are lovingly tended over by families for generations and candles are lite at special occasions. As the over 400,000 displaced inhabitants of Karelia were now spread throughout, with very little to no chance of visiting the graves of their ancestors, an initiative was taken up by the Karelian Association. In 1951 the association approached sculptor Kirsti Liimatainen to design some memorials for the larger Karelian communities. In 1952 the first of such memorials was erected in Humppila, these were soon followed by others in places like Kajaaani, Rovaniemi, Kauhajoki and Riihimäki.

The one in my home town of Oulu. Source: Personal Collection

To date there is around 200 of such memorials around Finland, allowing Karelians and their descendants to honour their ancestors even though they cannot physically visit the graves.

Tampere. source: Personal Collection

Tornio. Source: Personal Collection

I will look more in depth at specific memorials in their own articles in future, but this was to give a small background to this little known but intimate piece of Finnish history.


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