In a Haunting Video, Finnish Veterans Recall Fighting the Red Army
And share a few words for the next batch of conscripts
by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
“War is not glorious or a parade,” Sulo Leivo, a Finnish veteran of World War II, says with somber words. “It’s everyday work. Guard duty, water and mud. You live with rats, lice and bedbugs in the dug-out.”
Finland found itself in unusual circumstances during World War II. In exchange for allowing Nazi Germany to absorb much of Poland, Hitler offered to stand aside and allow Stalin to take Finland. The Soviets invaded in 1939, and facing heavy losses, seized a belt of Finnish territory before making peace.
When Hitler broke the pact with Moscow in 1941, democratic Finland wanted its territory back so it threw its lot in with the Nazis. The thinly-populated Nordic state ended the war unoccupied, but without the territory it lost in 1939.
For the soldiers fighting it, the war would prove an arduous and bloody affair. Around 95,000 Finnish soldiers —or 2.5 percent of the country’s population — died.
A video from the Finnish Ministry of Defense tells some of the surviving veterans’ stories, blending historical archive films with footage of reenactments. (Make sure to turn on the English subtitles.)
Esko Kiisseli trained with the Panzerfaust, a German anti-tank weapon. He ambushed a Soviet tank, which took a hit and caught fire. “In all the horror I thought, ‘I wonder whose sons are in there,’” he says. “You shouldn’t think like that in war.”
Of course, there’s a reason the ministry released the video. On Aug. 15, the country’s annual conscription call-up will begin. Finns born in 1998 are now required to serve. Finland has mandatory military or civilian service for its adult male population. The video is thus a means to impress on the new recruits the reason for conscription despite more than 71 years of peace.
“Looking at young people today — they’ll do fine, like we did,” Kiisseli says. “I can trust them to keep our independence. Without independence we have nothing.”