Monday, December 20, 2010

Amanuensis Monday - Letters from Finland

Last year I was very fortunate to meet a cousin through who had many items of importance to my Finnish family history research. Among these items were 34 letters from my great grandfather Matti Wiita Reini's sister's family in Finland that were sent to the US. I was also very fortunate to receive a tremendous amount of help translating these letter from Finnish to English from my wonderful Finnish friends, members of the FinnGen community and, eventually, Finnish cousins that I was able to track down thanks to information from the first few translated letters. You may notice that the English is a bit awkward since we strove to preserve the original intent/wording of the letters as much as possible. I edited the translations provided to me just a bit to make them readily understandable. These letters were mostly written right after WWII and show the suffering that the Finnish people were enduring. I chose this one to post because it so clearly shows the state of affairs in which many Finns found themselves.

Lapua, Finland - 26 May 1946.
Dear relatives!
Aunt and cousins, a lot of thanks to you for the parcels that have arrived. I have to describe Mother’s joy- if only you would have seen how Mother enjoyed keeping a a package of coffee under her arm, and saying, "It is good that my dear sister still lives and remembers me and my children and also her children take so much care". This is because mother hasn't had a chance to drink real coffee in such a long time. Now there have been no breaks, as cousin Ernest has sent so many parcels and there has been coffee in all of them and so many other good things that we have not had in many years. A lot of thanks for all the clothes and shoes as we now in summer time get only paper shoes with wooden soles. Also the quite new fabric that we have not seen in many years. It is so odd here that you have to be a good friend with the dealer, then you are sold to under the counter. That's as things are so that sometimes there's new fabric in the shop, but you have to be at the shop right away. We can't as the shops are far away and there is nobody to save any for you, so you have to be without. Liisa’s husband is in the book store and they do not have that type of stuff. It is so wonderful to see fabric with a summer look.
Original in Finnish, Courtesy Sara Grostick
Original in Finnish, Courtesy Sara Grostick
Here the summer is soon at its most beautiful. The leaves on the trees are half grown and the cuckoo is calling and the birds build their nests - in everything you see the beauty of the Creator. It would be lovely if I could shake your hands and thank you, but it is not possible, so I thank you from my heart for everything that I have received from you. The shoes were too big for me, but Mother swapped her smaller size shoes with me so I got the right size anyway. So, we thank you for everything.
With many heartily greetings,
Sanna Liisa and Saima (Honkaharju)
*Translation by Ismo Nuuja*

Finland was decimated by the wars that raged there from 1939-1944. Then, to add insult to injury, the Soviet Union imposed heavy war reparations on Finland after WWII. Most Finns had almost nothing - not even the basic staples of life. In response, the US organized a program called "Finnish Relief" or "Help Finland, Inc", overseen by the former US President Herbert Hoover, to send over desperately needed packages of food, clothing and shoes. Judging from the letters, Matti's sister Josefina (Wiita) Kitinoja was sending these supplies to their sister Sanna Liisa (Wiita) Honkaharju and her children. Most of the 34 letters are from this time period and are full of appreciation for the, obviously, much needed supplies. Lucky for me, some even contained extremely valuable genealogical information.

It was a real eye-opener to be able to read my Finnish family's actual feelings and experiences, especially at such a trying time in their history. Although the letters were often sad, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the various writers' personalities through their individual styles and stories. I can't help but wish that I had letters like these from my own great grandfather, Matti. Unfortunately, that is probably an impossible wish since he did not keep in touch with his family back in Finland or his siblings in the US.

That, however, is a story for another day. One that I am sure to tell...


  1. Wonderful post! Life was so difficult in many parts of Europe following the war. Recovery took many years - often longer than the War.

    Heading over to vote one more time. You know I'm a fan.

  2. Thank you NR! I am a fan of yours too and have voted accordingly! ;-)

  3. I just recently ran onto a photograph that was taken in Aunt explained to me that my Grandmother sent boxes of clothing to Finland after the war because they had nothing..a few years later a photograph a thank you:)

  4. Thank for your comments, Ian and FSOF. Far Side - was your grandmother of Finnish ancestry?