As a reader who enjoys learning about underexplored areas of history, I appreciated Andrew Eddy's guest post about a little-known and tragic episode of World War II and the plight of the resilient Sami people. His historical novel Revontuli, a wartime story of forbidden love inspired by real circumstances, was published by Booktrope in October 2013.
The Burning of the Finnmark, an unsung tale from WWII
Author Andrew Eddy shares with readers an introduction to real events that serve as the backdrop to the novel Revontuli.
This year will be the 70th anniversary of the Burning of the Finnmark. If you are like most people outside of Norway, you may not know where the Finnmark is, and may wonder what it offers of interest to a reader. I am myself a passionate reader of WWII historical fiction and non-fiction. I thought I had read stories from almost every theatre of that war, and had heard of the most heart-wrenching tales in sometimes troubling detail.
For most of WWII, northern Norway played a discreet role. Its airfields served as rear guard bases for the Eastern Front, and the largest field hospital in history, in Skoganvarre, near Karasjok and Lakselv, received wounded German soldiers from the battles that raged on the road to Moscow and Leningrad. As the war dragged on, German fortunes turned, and the Finnmark would suffer a much harsher fate than occupation by the Germans.
In the fall of 1944, after having fought alongside the Germans for most of the war, Finland signed a separate peace agreement with Russia and agreed as part of that agreement to expulse the German Army from Finland. That expulsion would mean that some 200,000 German soldiers and 60,000 Russian prisoners would walk across the northern part of Finland, into the Norwegian region of the Finnmark, and across this to the sea, at Tromso, where they could be evacuated to Germany. People that watched this evacuation claim that the stream of people walking by lasted for a week. Conditions were hard. It was already fall, and while it was unusually warm, the temperatures were still around freezing in the evening. The troops were ill-equipped and tired. Many died.
|The Old Church in Karasjok, copyright Andrew Eddy, author of Revontuli, 2014|
To keep the Red Army from following them into Norway, the Germans decided to adopt a scorched earth policy. The roads behind them were mined. The houses, schools and churches were burned down. Every person in the Finnmark was ordered to choose between mandatory evacuation and summary shooting. Of the population of 100,000 mostly Sami people, about one third chose to resist evacuation, and fled to the woods to avoid being shot. They spent the winter in the woods, waiting for the end of the war. Many died of cold or malnutrition.
For the Sami people, the burning of the Finnmark meant the destruction of their sedentary presence of several hundred years in the Finnmark. Their culture was severely affected, and many of the dispersed Sami did not return after the war.
My novel, Revontuli, is the story of a young Sami woman who falls in love with a German soldier during the war, and must live a difficult separation as the war comes to the Finnmark. The novel provides a very accurate and rare English-language account of this unsung story of World War II, the burning of the Finnmark, and the courage and determination of the people that survived it and rebuilt their towns and villages after the war.