The Finnish Literature Society has collected memories of the Stalinist repression

Kuva: Jukka Timonen
23.10.2020 - 15:15

The collection of oral history concerning memories of the Stalinist repression ended in May 2020. A total of 134 people took part in the collection. In addition to Finland, responses were received from the United States, Russia and Sweden, and material was collected in Finnish, English, Estonian and Russian. The number of memories and different kind of supplementary material, such as documents, newspaper clippings and letters, amounted to more than 1,100 pages and 144 images.

The material focuses on the life stories of the victims of the Stalinist repression – people who died, disappeared or survived it. The responses shed light on the destinies of Ingrians and other Finns living in the Murmansk and St. Petersburg regions in the Soviet Union, as well as of Finnish people who moved to the Soviet Union from Finland, Canada and the United States. The respondents describe the reasons for moving to the Soviet Union, life there before the beginning of the repression, as well as events during the repression and after it.

Based on the responses, people who experienced the Stalinist terror themselves in the Soviet Union should not be considered the only victims; people close to them also suffered. The themes of shame, fear, silence and uncertainty are repeatedly mentioned in the responses, which means that the events caused considerable suffering to families whose members disappeared or died during the repression. The repression also affected families with a member surviving the terror in various ways. Many people who had survived the repression kept the traumatic events to themselves and did not tell about them even to their closest family members, instead keeping them a secret for decades. For example, one respondent wrote about their father as follows (translated from Finnish):

He didn’t dare to tell anyone about what he had gone through. Only a few reliable family members received some pieces of information. Later in his life, he never told his wife and family that he had been to Russia. At the age of 70, he wrote the letters to Aino [the respondent’s relative], and he told me about these things at the age of 80.

Most respondents do not consider the subject taboo anymore, and the responses may indicate that there is a need to break the silence that has prevailed in the families for a long time. Instead of staying silent, the respondents want to have more information about the lives of their relatives and they wish that the subject would continue to be discussed in society. By taking part in the collection, many people have wanted to make sure that the memories of Stalinist repression and the victims of terror will not be forgotten and the details concerning their family tragedies will be stored in the archive and made available to researchers. One writer summarises as follows (translated from Finnish):

Personally, I’m glad that this subject, which has been little discussed in society, has now received publicity through this valuable project by the Finnish Literature Society, as well as through the film The Eternal Road (“Ikitie” in Finnish) and a number of books. When I read about this collection, I immediately thought that Lauri deserves to have these details of his life stored and made available to researchers.

The Finnish Literature Society organised the collection of oral history concerning memories of the Stalinist repression between 27 January and 31 May 2020.

The responses have been archived in the SKS archive. SKS is planning to launch a follow-up project in 2021–2022, and it will contact the respondents who have promised to provide more information about the subject or donate original material to the archive.

We would like to warmly thank everyone taking part in the collection!  Book prizes have been posted to the winners of our prize draw.

Further information: SKS archive, +358 201 131 240,