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New homes in Sweden

The evacuation of Finnish war children during WWII:  notions of child-parent separations and the public's willingness to help in light of Swedish politics of neutrality (Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research 2013-2015)


Approximately 70,000 children were transported from Finland to Sweden during WWII. This was one of the largest evacuations of war children undertaken during the twentieth century. Even so, this event in Swedish wartime history has only been explored to a limited extent. The evacuations involved and affected a large number of children, parents, and families in both Finland and Sweden. The majority of the children were placed in foster homes, some in institutions. That the transportation was a huge endeavor is demonstrated by the fact that the number of children in out-of-home care in Sweden was more than doubled when the Finnish war children are included. In the present proposed research project, we aim to analyze this enterprise on different levels. We will explore the individual efforts and sociopolitical and cultural circumstances that enabled this scheme to be realized. We will also examine what ideological notions of childhood made this solution thinkable. Furthermore, we will examine how it was possible to so rapidly gain such great support for this venture from the Swedish general public, and what motivated so many families to take war children into their homes. The child transports were most intense toward the end of WWII, but Finnish children were to be transported back and forth between the two countries for a long period, from 1939 to 1959, which is also the period under study in the proposed project.

This large-scale evacuation of children from one country to another raises questions about the role of children in wartime politics and prevailing notions of childhood. Whether or not the evacuation was a necessary action and what can be learned from it has been discussed particularly by the Finnish war children themselves. They have produced a plethora of non-academic investigations of their own experiences as well as accounts of how the transports were undertaken. Some also discuss the political aspects of the transports and how the placement of children was performed (see, e.g., Rossi 2008, Ortmark Almgren 2003, Kavén 1994, Edvardsen 1977). However, historical studies problematizing notions of children and childhood in relation to the evacuation of Finnish war children are lacking.

Scholars from other disciplines have been interested in mapping out the long-term consequences of the Finnish children’s separation from their parents, language and culture in adult life.  A range of contemporary studies have been undertaken, examining these separations from both a life-world subjective perspective (Langnebro 1995, Båsk-Ekholm 1976), from a psychiatric perspective (Räsänen 1990) and from a health economics perspective (Santavirta, forthcoming). Our research project looks at child-parent issues from a different angle. We are interested in whether child-parent separations were a concern at the time of the evacuation, and if not, how this can be explained.

Aims and questions

The aim of the proposed project is to study how the evacuation of Finnish war children to Sweden was made possible from a Swedish perspective. This will be examined by exploring how the evacuation of war children was influenced by the Swedish politics of neutrality, prevailing views on child-parent separations and notions of children’s best interest among Swedish experts and authorities – and the Swedish public´s willingness to contribute. The project will address two question areas:

What were the main arguments in favor of evacuating Finnish war children made by Swedish authorities, representatives of non-governmental organizations and child experts? How was the transportation rhetorically discussed and justified? How were the Finnish war children used in wartime politics? In what way were the arguments underpinned by prevailing notions of what was in the best interest of children? What psychological knowledge and research concerning child-parent relations and separation were brought to the fore during the period and if they were highlighted, what expertise was referred to and acknowledged?

Moreover, why was there such willingness among so many people from the Swedish public to open their homes to Finnish children? How was the Swedish public motivated and mobilized to invite Finnish children into their homes? What role did the media and official political rhetoric play and what consequences did this have for the Swedish understanding of the needs of the Finnish people?

Research group:

Ann Nehlin, Historiska Institutionen, Stockholms universitet (ann.nehlin@historia.su.se)

Ingrid Söderlind, ISV, Campus Norrköping, Linköpings universitet (ingrid.soderlind@liu.se)

Johanna Sköld, Tema Barn, Linköpings universitet (johanna.skold@liu.se)

Karin Zetterqvist Nelson, Tema Barn, Linköpings universitet  (karin.zetterqvist.nelson@liu.se)


Project duration: 2011-2014

Funder: Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research

Contact person:

Karin Zetterqvist Nelson
+46 13 28 58 93

Participant in project:

Johanna Sköld
+46 13 28 29 10


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Last updated: Fri Apr 10 08:52:53 CEST 2015