Veikko Hämäläinen’s half hour as a POW
By Matti Huuskonen
Good will toward men - Veikko Hämäläinen knows that it is possible to show it even if there is a deficit of peace on earth. All that is needed is a current that goes opposite the main stream.
Hämäläinen was swept up by such an eddy in June 1944 on the Isthmus of Karelia shortly before Vyborg fell to the Russians. At that time, Hämäläinen, a young member of the Sotilaspojat, a military youth organisation, as well as his father and the family’s two cows, were held prisoner by the Russians for half an hour.
“Is this the last day of my life?” Hämäläinen recalls thinking when guns were suddenly pointing at him.
However, this was not to be.
Instead of death, he got freedom, later, a wife, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren: four generations of living proof of good will, which was shown, in violation of orders, by a lieutenant of the Red Army.
But let’s go back to the beginning - March 15th, 1932. The place is the Hämäläinen farm in the village of Pien-Pero, 18 kilometres east of Vyborg.
There was a sound at the door. It was made by the midwife’s pig, who had followed its owner through the snow to witness a birth.
“That is what my mother and father said”, Veikko Hämäläinen laughs.
At the end of the decade there was a rustling at all of Finland’s doors. A Georgian boar with a thick moustache, Soviet leader Josif Stalin, was trying to get in. It was the Winter War, and the first evacuation for the Hämäläinen family.
They returned to Pien-Pero in 1942. Their house, which had been burned, was replaced by a new one, and Veikko started school in the neighbouring village of Kämärä.
In the spring of 1944 he went into training for the Sotilaspojat. Measurements were taken for the official uniform, but the uniforms never came from Vyborg, which may have saved Hämäläinen’s life.
In June 1944, when a massive offensive of the Soviet Union had already begun, Hämäläinen, wearing his civilian clothes, would get the mail for the village from railway station of Kämärä, on the track to St. Petersburg.
There were both living and dead Rusisans along the route. The dead were lying with outstretched limbs in tanks burned already in the Winter War. The living ones - scouts and other parts of the vanguard, could be seen in the dugouts.
Hämäläinen carried the mail conspicuously on top of his chest, and the Russians did not shoot. The other side was not aware that the boy had reported on his observations to his trainer, who had been asking for reinforcements from Vyborg - to as little avail as when he asked for uniforms.
On June 19th, a day before Vyborg fell, the trainer of the Sotilaspojat got a call. There was an order to send two patrols to bring an order for retreat to the front line.
The trainer chose Hämäläinen to lead one of the patrols. The orders were to go the following morning, so the boy was allowed to go home for the night.
In Pien-Pero, soldiers were evacuating civilians. “I said goodbye to my mother, my siblings, and my grandfather”, Hämäläinen says.
Hämäläinen’s father had work duty, and stayed behind with Veikko to sleep. They were woken up by a knock on the door at four in the morning. It was neither a pig, nor Stalin this time, but rather a Finnish corporal, saying that the front had collapsed, and that the boy would not need to serve as a messenger.
The summer sun was already up, and it was quiet when father and son woke up.
They started digging a hole for a kettle where they would hide “valuables of that time”. They put a lid on, and covered it with soil, and put manure on top of the soil.
The two took the cows and went in the direction of the Kaukinen farm, where Veikko was to report to his trainer. At the destination there was an empty house. Even the guard was gone.
The two went on toward the village, arriving the southern end of the Kämäränjärvi lake, where the road from the station joined the Vyborg-St. Petersburg highway.
It was there, at the intersection of three roads, that they heard a Russian order to raise their hands.
A middle-aged lieutenant led the group.
“He saluted and I responded. Then he asked if we speak Finnish or Russian”, Hämäläinen says.
The Lieutenant ordered the prisoners into a hole in the sand, and joined them to ask questions. He specifically addressed Veikko, the mail boy, whose daily walks he had observed for several days from his dugout.
“My father was in something of a panic”, Hämäläinen recalls.
They had orders not to take any prisoners, and neither Hämäläinen nor his father were supposed to have come out of the sand pit.
The lieutenant, who had been on the side of the reds in the Finnish Civil War of 1918, and who fled to the Soviet Union after the war, had different ideas. He could never go back to Finland himself, but he wanted to give the mail boy and his father the possibility to do so.
So after a half hour of captivity, Veikko Hämäläinen and his father went the 100 metres to their own side, walking between the two cows.
“It was in case someone from our own side would have started shooting”, says Veikko Hämäläinen, a father of four, grandfather of five, and great grandfather of six.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 6.12.2010
MATTI HUUSKONEN / Helsingin Sanomat