The first days of Finnish captivity. Suoyarvy camp. Camp in Svyat-Navolok .Liberalism and kindness of Finnes. A rouge and provocative agent from Odessa Yeremeev. A military doctor, son of Russian emigrants believes in the future of Russia. Doctor Karl Mary and his fiancée Erna.
From the first war with Finland, provoked by Hitler, Soviet newspapers were full of the savage treatment facts of Russian captives by Finns. For instance they wrote that Finns cut ears and took out eyes of captives. I did not believe the Soviet press for a long time, but still some suspicion remained me a nation called itself Suomy – as the nation of marshes. I knew very well that Finland had given shelter to many escaped from Russia revolutionaries. Lenin came back from emigration through Finland. During the time of struggle with Russian autocracy a strong social-democratic Working party was formed and acted in Finland.
As I wrote in the previous chapter, a group of captives walked along the road. A small escort led us to the North of Segozero. Knyazev and I decided to run, to hide in the wood then try to reach Maselsky or Medvezhyegorsk.
We began to gradually lag behind the column of people; the escort did not notice it. We lay on the earth and began to crawl quickly to the woods. We walked about two kilometers through the woods and suddenly met Finnish soldiers. They surrounded us and we thought that was the end of our lives. But two soldiers just led us to the road, overtook the column of captives and passed us to the escort. The escort only cried: pargele , satana, but they didn't hurt us, but placed us in the first row.
One of the escorts took out photos from his pocket and showing it explained in broken Russian with a smile: ”This is my mother, this is my bride.” This scene could be taken as illustration of soldiers fraternization between hostile armies.
We came to the village that was left by its inhabitants. We were quartered in houses by 5 persons in each one. The escorts ordered us strictly not to touch anything in the houses. Everything was in order in our house: pillows are on the beds, a wooden cupboard with plates, cups and saucepans is on the wall, an icon of Christ is in the corner with a still burning oil wick. There was warm and clean in the house, it seemed, the masters of the house went out somewhere. We lay on the floor on home-made carpets .
Though I was tired, I could not sleep, I thought about escaping. My thoughts were interrupted by a noise; a new party of captives came.
As soon as four Finnish officers entered all of us stood up. One of the them told us in Russian that we had to leave the house as the inhabitants came back to the village; they were saved by Finnish soldiers after the shooting.
We were accommodated in a big barn where there were a few people already. There was a young girl in the middle of the barn. She covered with bandages and was moaning. Also we met there this boy who was saved by us; he rushed to me and said with tears on his face that his mother and sister drowned in Segozero.
In the evening we received a tank of boiled water and two lumps of sugar for each of us. Knyazev and I did not sleep; my young friend asked me what the Finns can do to us. (He remembered what Soviet news-papers wrote about). They treated us quite decently yet. In the morning five Finnish officers entered into the barn. One of them addressed to us in broken Russian: Be prepared, now we cut your ears and noses and take out your eyes.” We prepared for something awful. Suddenly all them began to laugh soundly. The same officer continued: “Your papers slander us. We won’t do you any harm, you will be treated as captives, you just work and after the war will be over you get back to your country.”
Everybody breathed freely and began to smile. We got porridge, tea and two lumps of sugar for a breakfast.
Soon ambulance took the burned girl, two sick men and the boy. The boy ran up to me to say good-bye. I stroked his blond hair and turned away. It is always difficult to see suffering children.
I was confused in the captivity because I saw that the conditions in Finnish captivity cannot be compared with Soviet concentration camps where I had been. In Finland the captives were not flouted or humiliated, but in the native land a political prisoner was always treated as a slave with whom the authorities can do everything they want.
But one circumstance worried me: the Jewish problem. No other nation on the Earth suffered such persecution as Jews. Probably, because they gave to the Christians a God-man and did not want to knee down before him, when he was transformed into an idol? Never the Jewish question was as keen as after the fascists came to power in Germany. I was anxious: whether democratic Finland treats Jews in the same way as fascist Germany?
My thoughts were interrupted. All the captives from our barn were placed in lorries, two Finnish soldiers convoyed us. We started to drive down along the wide asphalted road.
A lot of lorries with soldiers moved in the opposite direction. The driver of one of them threw out two boxes with biscuits right on the road and shouted something in Finnish. Our driver stopped and told us to take the boxes to divide the biscuits between us.
In the evening we arrived at a big camp Suoyarvy for military and civil captives. In the administration of this camp was a small group of fascists. In the morning, the captives were formed two persons in a row in order to take breakfast. The group of fascists watched after the order: they shouted, demanded of us to keep the file.
One of the captives left the line for some reason. A fascist officer shot and killed him. We became strained. But suddenly something happened unexpectedly. Apparently, in Finland some citizens refused to take part in war because of moral or religious principles. So, they were called “non-participants” and punished in a curious way: If they were soldiers, their belts and shoulder-straps were taken off and they were sent to a separate tent in the territory of a concentration camp.
There was the same tent in Suoyarvy camp, ten strong men were there. Once they saw the fascist officer killed the captive, they ran to him and began to beat him, took his gun and threw it out behind the camp's fence. The camp commandant, an elderly sergeant major, came up to the beaten fascist, lifted him up, led him to the camp gate and pushed him strongly with his leg out of the camp, saying: Poish, pargele, satana” (get out, devil).The commandant came up to our line and said in a broken Russian: “Such people as this fascist disgrace our people, we won’t let anybody taunt you, you are not responsible for your government.”
I was deeply impressed with the “non-participants’” and commandant’s behavior. I understood that Finland is a country where keeping the law is obligatory for everybody. There was no roots for wide spread of fascist or anti-Semitic ideology. I also understood that in Soviet news-papers published an impudent lie of Finland.
Two days after the captives were led to a nearby village for a bath. After that we did not return to the same barrack, but we were accommodated in a big another one. It had doubled number of plank-beds but it wasn't so dense as the previous one was. I received an upper plank-bed placed between beds of Gennady Knyazev and Vasily Ivanovich Polyakov. Polyakov was taken as a prisoner near Sortavala. He told us that Finnish Army took Petrozavodsk but did not go ahead, though the Germans demanded to move its units up to Leningrad, surrounded with German troops.
Later I learned that deputies of the Social-democratic party of Finnish Seim demanded from Government to be ruled by considerations of strategic interests of Finland and not German interests. It appeared that the Commander–in-chief of the Finnish Army Mannerheim and President of Finland Rutty were members of the ”Progressists” party, founded when Finland was a part of Russian Empire.
What surprised and rejoiced me very much was the position of the Finnish Government on the Jewish question. In spite of great pressure of fascist Germany, Finland did not admit to persecution or discrimination of Jews on its territory. More than that, Jews served in the Finnish Army. This position of Finland , being an ally of Germany in war, demanded great courage from its Government.
There was a lack of food in Suoyarvy camp. We were given 3-4 crackers a day, two portions of soup from rotten potatoes and a small portion of porridge. Sometimes we were given horse-flesh. All those who did not take part in battles were transferred into Svyat-Navolok camp.
Knyazev and I were transferred as well. Svyat-Navolok was a big village located in the forest at the lake bank. There was no fence, but a commandant’s office headed by a sergeant-major was there.
Once he told us in a broken Russian: “Mannerheim is more yours than ours, he was loyal to the Russian tzar, he is not Finn, and he is Swede.” It should be noticed that Finnish soldiers and officers very critically treated supreme military command. The captives were quartered in peasants’ houses; we were warned not to take peasants’ things. The majority of Karel peasants did not want to be evacuated, but hid in the forest. There was a big Russian stove in the house we lived in. There were a big wooden table in the middle of the one room and two beds in another room. There was no dining-room or kitchen in the camp, we got a ration for a month, we cooked soup and porridge by ourselves.
There was a lot of fish in the nearby lake, then captives fished under the control of Finnish soldiers. There were some rogues between the captives, one of them, Eremeyev from Odessa. He pretended to be a hereditary noble man, son of prince Volkonsky. He invented a story that his parents went abroad from Odessa by a ship after the revolution. While people boarded to the ship, Eremeyev, being a boy of ten, ran away. The police caught him and sent to an orphanage, where he had lived several years as Eremeyev. He told Finns that his parents live in Paris and asked to send him there. All the captives understood that it was a feeble legend but simple-hearted Finns believed him. Eremeyev was trusted to give us the ration.
Besides that in case there was no flour in the camp he was given a horse and a cart to go free to villages to fetch flour. One of the girls in the camp fell in love with Eremeyev, this romance was last for a long. Eremeyev stood at anti-Soviet position and wrote articles to the newspaper for captives depicting the suffering of Soviet people under the Bolsheviks oppression.
Once he came to my place and said: “I know you are professor of philosophy, imprisoned in Soviet jails and concentration camps as an opposition member.” I was surprised, I had never told anybody about my past. Finally I discovered where he got this information from. Being in Suoyarvy I searched the Finns who took my wallet with the certificate given to me when I had been leaving Vorkuto-Pechersk concentration camp. There was written there about my work and arrests. Obviously, Finns believed Eremeyev to the extent that they showed him the certificate and so he decided to speak to me. He asked me to describe my life in the USSR in a news-paper for captives. I refused him flatly, but Eremeyev did not let me alone. He asked: “Do you consider Finland a democratic country?” I answered: “Yes, Finland is a democratic country because there are several political parties in it, including a working and a peasants’ parties. They have their newspapers in which they can reflect their position.”
Later, when I was questioned about my Finnish captivity by a Soviet interrogator, Eremeyev was a “witness” and he reminded this conversation.
The captives were taken out to work, we sawed logs, prepared firewood, cleaned roads. The Finns tried to keep roads very diligently, demanding us to take away even small pebbles.
My young friend Gennady preferred to work in the Commandant’s Office. I did not advice him to do that. But it turned out to have an unexpected effect. A young beautiful Finnish woman worked in the Commandant’s Office. She paid attention on the handsome Knyasev and fell in love with him. This girl was a member of a youth fascist organization. A small part of Finnish youth was influenced of fascist professors and writers. They dreamed to conquest all the North up to the Urals. They put forward primitive motives: Russian North is inhabited with Finnish tribes: Karels, Komi and others. The Finnish girl influenced unsteady Knyazev with this idea. She also spoke with him of sexology, saying that a true Finn as a true Aryan denied monogamy, and the decisive factor is physical love directed to the sanitation of the race. Knyazev told me about that sincerely. I explained to him that racism is a philosophy of brutal fuhrers who oriented on the mean instincts of masses. I was speaking of fascist Germany when Eremeyev came into the house. He asked me: “Don’t you think, Grigoruy Isayevich, that Germany is now so strong that it is able not only to make to kneel down the Soviet Union, but England as well?” I understood that he wanted to provoke me into a dangerous conversation.