The war in Ukraine is with us constantly here in Europe now, in March 2022. We fear for the people of Ukraine, their children, their suffering, their future and their fate. They have endured so much in previous conflicts, 3-4 million people died of hunger between 1932 and 1934 because of man-made horror. With a population of 44 million people, probably more than two million have left their home country and many are refugees in their own country as well. But we worry a lot about the children and what effect the war has on them. In the following sections, I would like to give a few glimpses of what it was like in the Nordic countries during WWII. Sweden was neutral during the war, whilst Iceland was officially neutral, though was occupied by Allied forces.
When we talk about the war in Norway, we talk about World War II. My parents’ generation either fought in the war or were too young to participate and experienced the war as children or teenagers. Since Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany, most of the population had direct experience of the enemy. Some children were evacuated in the first days of war, either alone or with their parents. Some kids would do things to annoy the Germans for which they would be punished. Others had horrendous experiences that hurt them for life, like having their houses burned or bombed, losing their homes and villages/towns and being evacuated to other parts of Norway. Below this article you can find some links if you would like to read more. A previous blogpost about war in Norway.
Many children in Finland had quite different experiences. Finland was attacked by the Soviet Union in November 1939, called the Winter War. The Soviet Union was excluded by the League of Nations because of this. As a consequence of this war, (and later wars involving Finland from 1941 to 1944 called the Continuation War and from 1944 to 1945 called the Lapland war), 70,000 children were evacuated to Sweden. Sweden wished to support Finland with some form of practical aid, because they felt that Finland was fighting their war and for freedom.
They wanted to help children from being bombed, children with poor health were helped and those who were poverty-stricken. The journey was dangerous and strenuous across the Gulf of Bothnia, and it was probably scary for children leaving parents and siblings behind. The languages of Finland and Sweden are quite different and only 5 % of the Finnish population speak Swedish. The mortality rate was lower for Finnish children in Sweden than in Finland. Despite this, some reports have in hindsight concluded that the children would have been better off if they had stayed in their home country.
Den Franske Skolen (the French School) in Copenhagen, a French-language Roman Catholic school, was bombed in March 1945 in mistake for the real target, the Gestapo headquarters, where Danish resistance fighters were tortured daily. There were 500 people altogether at the school and 86 girls, 18 nuns and other employees were killed. Many were injured. The war in Europe and Denmark ended 49 days later.
In 2019, a book was written by Jacob Weinreich called Pigen fra den franske skolen (The Girl from the French School), describing this event. On Netflix there is a film from 2021 called the Bombardment (Skyggen i mit øje). The film is very realistic and tells the story in its full horror.
On the Frederiksberg library’s website, one can read about the tragic event and get an understanding of how the bombing, and the resulting deaths of the girls, could not be talked about openly due to the ongoing war. The piece is written by Martin Andersen.
Would you like to learn more about these events and children’s situation in war? Go to the links below.
The Norwegian king, Haakon, left Oslo with the members of parliament (the Storting) on April 9th 1940. They did not want to cooperate with Nazi Germany. Read more and see a short film. (Remember that you can translate the text in most browsers).
Bombing of Laksevåg, Bergen Norway, during the war:
Bombing of Vemork, Rjukan 1943
Scorched earth tactics, and the resettlement of whole counties of Northern Norway.
About evacuated Finnish children and their destiny in the Swedish genealogy magazine Släkthistoria
Denmark and the French school:
The film, The Bombardment:
The book: Pigen fra den Franske skolen.