National Archive to investigate postwar repatriations of Ingrians
Anna and her family sent to collective farm instead of home village
"You don’t have to leave. You have a large family. You can live here", is what Anna Ruotsi, now 77, remembers a social worker telling her parents in Oulu in the autumn of 1944.
Ruotsi was 14 years old at the time. Her parents were homesick for their village in Venjoki in the Ingrian region.
The Ingrians are descendants of Finns who moved to the area near modern St. Petersburg in the 17th century when the territory was part of the Swedish empire. During the Second World War, when the area came under German occupation, many Ingrians emigrated to Finland.
Now the Finnish National Archive has started to investigate what actually happened to the tens of thousands of Ingrians who were in a similar situation.
A three-year project has been launched to investigate the repatriation of the Ingrians who had come to Finland during the war back to the Soviet Union. The aim is to ascertain what happened to them both in Finland and the Soviet Union.
The study is being financed by the Academy of Finland to the tune of EUR 230,000.
The study continues the work of a project begun in 2004 investigating mortality among prisoners of war and repatriations.
"It is a fairly traditional historical study, based mainly on archive material", explains Lars Westerlund, the head of the project.
The investigators also plan to interview some of the Ingrians who have later settled in Finland. They would also like to examine documents, such as diaries, memoirs, letters, and photographs.
Most of the Ingrians who came to Finland during the war returned to the Soviet Union voluntarily - at least formally. "However, there has been discussion that representatives of the Allied Control Commission may have exercised pressure", Westerlund says.
The study aims at finding out what options the Ingrians thought that they had, and what had been told them about the conditions involved in either going back to the Soviet Union or remaining in Finland. The researchers also want to know more about the cooperation between Finnish officials and the Alllied Control Commission.
Westerlund says that the big question is what happened to those who were sent back to the Soviet Union. "We certainly know that the Ingrian migrants were not allowed to return to their old homes."
The family of Anna Ruotsi boarded a train in Oulu. Once over the border, the doors were shut, and nobody was allowed to leave. "People started crying. Where are they taking us?" Ruotsi remembers.
They did not go to their home village. The family got off the freight train in the district of Yaroslav and ended up on a collective farm.
"We worked, but we were not paid anything. There was great hunger there.
To make ends meet, the family sold their watches, bicycles, and other belongings.
After two years on the collective farm, the family moved to Estonia. While waiting for a train in Leningrad, the father went to see the home village 35 kilometres away.
"Everything had been burned." All that was left of the old house was the well.
In Estonia, Anna Ruotsi’s life went on. She even found an Ingrian husband, who had been in the Finnish army during the war. His return to the Soviet Union had meant imprisonment for ten years.
Ruotsi and her wife followed their adult children to Finland in 1990.