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Mrs. Kirsti Relander: On the Day Commemorating Those Who Were Killed in the War. Joensuu, Finland 18.05.2008
My dear audience, all equally respected, none higher, none lower than the other, because here we are in front of Death today and in front of Death we are all equal.
I have here a small folder of gutta-percha containing some small, worn out documents. They belonged to a boy, whose picture is in the membership card of The Finnish Home guard and they are practically all the documents that are left of him.
In 1939, at the age of thirteen, he went calling up men in Viipuri. He had to take the letters to them in the night, as the men would then be at home and they could be reached. He was my big brother Jyrki.
After the armistice that had been forced upon us, he and my mother went to our country estate, which was five kilometres from Sortavala towards Viipuri. They went there to fetch some things from our summer home.
We had had to leave our winter home with all our things to the enemy, as we fled from the brutally bombed and fiercely burning hometown. We had only the necessary clothes, those that we were able carry with us.
On her journey to Sortavala my mother was given the chance to fasten our sledge after the sledge of a friend. She took some old books, as the family had been bibliophiles in several generations and in addition to those some badly needed bed clothing.
As they were leaving, Jyrki, my fourteen-year-old brother said to mother: “Wait!” He got the saw and cut down the flagpole. “The enemy flag will never sway in this pole!”
Jyrki was sometimes worried: “What if the war ends before I am old enough to join in. What if I cannot make it?” “Oh, you will, my dear”, my mother said in a sad and resigned tone.
And so he did. He got eighteen, entered the army, and took his matriculation examination with flying colours. Jyrki was an exceptionally gifted boy. It was only after his death that we learned that he had been chosen as one of the ten most talented and intelligent Finnish youngsters in the country and that the Union of Psychologist wanted to follow their lives.
Jyrki took all the highest grades in his exam and his school certificate, - at a time when high grades were not given as easily as now. As a former teacher I know the difference.
In Jyrki’s homeguard membership card he is still a young teenager, a child. As a boy he had a very severe scarlet fever, which slowed down his growth for a couple of years. One eardrum got a hole and the eardrum was infected the rest of his life. His father, the surgeon, had to treat it regularly.
At conscription he was defined to be a B-man, who would not have been permitted service in the front lines because of this. But after his application he was permitted to be an A-man.
His military training began on the Island of Koivisto, but they had to flee from there because the Russians took the island. Then Jyrki wrote us a letter. “Now we are heading in the right direction, we are eastward bound”.
They arrived at the shore of the Gulf of Viipuri; Teikarsaari-Island had just been conquered by the enemy. To get the island back was considered to be of major importance, because otherwise the Russians might have encircled the Finnish troops on the Karelian Isthmus and in Viipuri.
“Would there be volunteers to try to get the island back?” The older men refused to go: “Plain suicide to go there”, they said, but these youngsters, still under training to be soldiers, they were ready to go. They went there to get their first baptism of fire. They did conquer the island. The Russians fled into their boats.
Jyrki and his group found a cannon left by the Russians. They fixed it, fired and sank a Russian boat. They were young and they had not yet finished their training. Thus they did not understand that they should have stepped aside right after shooting, but they started to shoot anew. The Russians had, of course, noticed, from where the shot came and they sent a grenade into that very place. It killed Jyrki on the first of July 1944.
One of the finest things in connection to our wars was the agreement made by the men: “You never leave a brother". They did not leave Jyrki. His body was brought ashore and thus we were able to bury him at the Kankaa Cemetery for Karelian Soldiers near Luumäki. We had no knowing of where our home would be, so we thought the best solution for him was to rest with his brothers there.
The second time we had to leave Karelia I went away from there on a hay-covered shelf - made of planks - above the cattle in a railway wagon. It took three days and three nights to get the cattle and the harvest; we had reaped until then, to safety at Järvikylä Manor in Jorois. My sister Eeva went with the rest of the last harvest along the road in a long line of horses.
A little before the border that was to be, a patriarchal peasant at the head of the line raised his hand and told them to halt. He pointed at the little lake on the roadside and he said: “Let’s go and wash our hands and faces in the water of that lake, because the water of that lake is holy and dear to us and we have to leave it”.
And they all went down to the lake; they knelt down and washed their hands and faces in the water, holy and precious, and then they went on with their journey.
We had to leave our Karelia, the land that was my native country, the land of whose minerals and microelements these bones are made. Because of the enforced peace we had to leave it. It hurt and it hurts still.
Jyrki was killed in the war. He lost his life and the future he would have had. We lost his genes along with his future. When sometimes after the war we sighed and wondered what kind of leaders we had, my mother used to say. “The best leaders were killed in the war”. That was most certainly true.
Today we are commemorating those who were killed in the war. Jyrki and the others died for the freedom and independence of our native country and also to prevent the enemy from taking one inch of our land.
Today we have a bunch of selfish people, greedy for money, and they want to sell this soil to those who unjustly keep our Karelia and who on the top of that, after the war demanded and got enormous war indemnities for the damage we caused them, when defending our country against their attacks. They keep our Karelia, but they do not take care of it like we did. They do not love it like we did.
In an immeasurable degree the people, greedy for money, hurt us who lost our homes. The money they get is Judas’s money that will never bring their owners happiness. If now parts of the soil of this country are sold to those, who by violence and exploitation treated us, we betray our brothers; we betray those who sacrificed their lives for this country.
It is high time for the conscience of all people to awaken, the ethics and morale to rise. It is not a time for empty words. Today we must be able to look straight in the eye of those, who sacrificed their lives and future for this country and its people and even today we must remember: “You never leave your brother and you never betray your brother.”
My grandfather wrote us a letter on the day Jyrki would have been 21 years. According to the law in those days he would have been off-age three years after his death. Grandfather wrote: Let the life be short or long, it does not matter, as long as we light up our surroundings, shine in the darkness. – And he did shine, wherever he went, and he sacrificed his life for his country. It will carry fruit to him and his country, as well as his dear ones, one day we will see it.”
I dedicate my words to you, my brother Jyrki, and I want to let your light shine here and I want to give a meaning to your life and a task here and now. May your light stop those who betray our native country and sell it to an alien, the land for whose preservation you and all the others sacrificed your lives!
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