Former detainee laments lost childhood
"We got one glass of rye flour a week for food"
By Jussi Konttinen
Valentina Andreyeva, who lives in Petrozavodsk, spent three years of her early youth in a Finnish concentration camp. This is the story of her imprisonment.
"I was 11 years old when the war began. In December 1941 we were taken by truck from our home on the island of Klimetsk across the ice of Lake Äänninen to Petrozavodsk. We were not told where we were going. They only said that we would live well. Our house and our cattle were left behind in our home village
We were sent to the fifth camp of Petrozavodsk. Nine of us lived in a small room: my grandparents, my mother, and six children.
For food we were given a glass of rye flour each week, and we ate the thin gruel that we made out of it. Everyone thought about food all the time, where to get a piece of bread. Sometimes the soldiers would slip us a biscuit. They weren’t all bad - but Veikko was a tormentor.
We would sneak out of the camp under the barbed wire to look for food. I would wash pots for the military cook, and he gave me porridge.
Once I was with another girl crawling under the barbed wire when Veikko saw us. He called two soldiers for help and started shooting at us. A bullet flew past me. We ran as hard as we could, and a prisoner by the name of Kuzmich hid us in the woodpile of his barrack. We stayed there until the next day.
Many in the camp were ill. My grandmother, my grandfather, and my brother died in 1942 and 1943. Those who fell ill did not speak. They just lay still and died. At one point 12 people died in a single day.
I didn’t have to go to work right away. Then me and the girls my age were ordered to unload a barge filled with wood. As I raised a large log, I fell into the vessel and broke my arm and my leg. Later I wove slippers.
We worked from eight in the morning until eight in the evening, six days a week. During the day we had to finish four pairs of the slippers. If we didn’t get them done, we had to continue at home, or else we were punished. My brothers got 20 lashes each.
My older brother had made a toy pistol out of a window frame. The younger one had helped me get away from Veikko.
A school was set up in the camp toward the end. They didn’t take me there because I was too old. We were never told what would happen to us. They just took us and kept us prisoner.
None of us thought about the future. The only thought was, where to get something to eat that moment.
We were not able to play. We had no childhood. That hurts us."
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 23.1.2005
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BACKGROUND: Many prisoners at Finnish camps starved to death
JUSSI KONTTINEN / Helsingin Sanomat