Mar 7, 2016

By Jaana Rehnstrom

“To the Bomb and Back”

The title of the book, which was recently published by Berghahn Books, refers to a game children played during WWII in Finland – after a bomb caused a crater, the children would run to it and back and see who was the fastest. Because of the threat of being killed or because of extreme poverty, some 80 000 children were sent to foster families in Sweden, where they stayed for many years. In the end, some 15 000 were adopted by Swedish families but the rest returned home. It was not until decades later that these war children began to tell their stories and to form associations to share them.

Sue Saffle stumbled across this topic while living in Finland in 2001. Since then, while teaching English at Virginia Tech, she has retold many of these stories in English for the first time. At Scandinavia House on March 7, an audience invited by both Finland Center and Scandinavia House, we heard many touching quotes (as Ms. Saffle was sidelined by laryngitis, they were relayed by her husband Michael). The audience also had many questions afterwards, and perhaps the truth is, as one audience member put it: in that situation, there were no good solutions. Everyone did their best: the parents wanted to save their children from the dangers of war or death from illness and starvation, but suffered from the separation just as their children did. The vast majority of families in Sweden welcomed the children and treated them as their own; although some children faced abuse. The return was also traumatic for many reasons.

One audience member asked who she wanted to read her book, in order to learn some lessons – and Ms. Saffle’s answer was brief and to the point: those who make war. We should not let children ever be subjected to such heart-wrenching situations. Tell that to those who send children and families fleeing war today.

Thank you to Scandinavia House for hosting, and Suomi-seura (Finland Society, Finland) for financial support!