A week ago I went for a walk with Nadia, a lovely neighbour of mine. She and I met in a singing class this fall and like to take walks in the nearby park. Nadia is Russian and was born and grew up in St. Petersburg. Not far from my place of birth, Helsinki, Finland.
There was a peculiar historic context to Nadia’s and my first walk. We talked about our fathers – mine who was conscripted at 18 to fight hers, as most Russian soldiers were roughly the same age back in 1941. We both knew that our fathers – the armies they were in – fought each other, in the Continuation War 1941-44, also known in our respective countries as the bloody battle following the Winter War. When Stalin declared a war against the Finnish government that had allowed the German army into Finland earlier in the war. The then Soviet Union declared a war against all countries it considered allies of the Nazis.
Here Nadia and I were 73 years later on a walk in the park on a beautiful late fall day on another continent far away from our homelands. Our fathers had survived the war. Perhaps it was only now that Nadia and I could share a talk about any of the memories that have clearly haunted both her and my families for decades. The losses of dear sons, uncles, brothers, husbands, and boyfriends of so many people. It was the first time I had met a Russian who could share with me the painful memories from her family that I knew were similar to what had happened to mine.
I didn’t feel comfortable – not yet – in the new friendship with Nadia to share with her the less than positive post WW II memories from my childhood of the hatred I recall expressed by the Finns toward Russians. It was only as I grew up and read more about the WW II history that I understood this to be the inevitable fallout from a brutal confrontation that killed hundreds of thousands of young men. On both sides of the conflict.
Perhaps in here somewhere lie the lessons that we as humanity fail to learn repeatedly. All wars do kill and destroy so much and leave so many open wounds that take decades to heal. When will we ever learn? Will we ever stop this madness?