Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

War Diaries, 1939-1945, Page 2

Astrid Lindgren

  A British battleship, the Royal Oak, has been sunk. There were 1,000 men on board; I don’t know how many they were able to save.


  Today, the four Nordic heads of state and their foreign ministers gathered here in Stockholm at the invitation of King Gustaf. This historic day was favoured with brilliant sunshine and it looked very festive with all the flags flying, down in the centre of town. Pelle Dieden and I had lunch at the Opera Grill. In the evening, hundreds of thousands gathered in the area round the palace. We were at home and heard it on the radio. Around 10, their three majesties and President Kallio came out onto a balcony above Lejonbacken [the slope up to the palace] to a jubilant reception from the crowd. ‘Kallio, Kallio,’ they roared, so the sweet little man was forced to come out a second time. The eyes of the world are on Stockholm at the moment. Roosevelt and all the presidents of the South American republics have sent telegrams of sympathy to King Gustaf.

  Paasikivi goes back to Moscow on Saturday evening and then we’ll see what happens.


  Paasikivi and the other Finns are still in Moscow, where they’ve been taking part in the festivities to commemorate the Revolution. Sillanpää has won the Nobel Prize and all the other Nordic countries are collecting money for Finland.

  Nobody knows yet how things will turn out, but in the past few days the eyes of the world have been turned elsewhere. There was a bomb in Munich the other day, an assassination attempt on Hitler, who was there for the anniversary of the attempted Putsch in 1923. He made a speech in the Bürgerbräukeller, and 20 minutes after he left the hall some kind of bomb or infernal machine went off, killing 8 people and injuring 60. Unfortunately the timer was running 20 minutes slow. Though perhaps one shouldn’t say unfortunately, because the attack is only generating more hate and the Germans are blaming the British for it, as they do everything else.

  There’s still nothing happening on the western front but the suspense is awful and everyone expects a German offensive to dwarf anything the world has ever seen.

  Wilhelmina of Holland and Leopold of Belgium launched a renewed drive for peace; they treasure their poor countries.

  Parts of Holland have already been deliberately flooded for defence purposes. They expect a German invasion any day.

  Just imagine if we could have peace! Peace on earth! It was Armistice Day yesterday, 21 years since the end of hostilities.


  Eli, Eli, lemi sabachtani! Who’d want to live in this world! Today the Russians bombarded Helsinki and several other places in Finland. Meanwhile they’re also trying to push forward on the Karelian Isthmus, but seem to have been beaten back there. We’ve been poised between hope and despair for a long time, but when the Finnish delegation came home from Moscow without having reached any agreement, everything was suddenly quiet and calm. Many of those evacuated from Helsinki came back again. Then the Russians suddenly turn round and say Finnish snipers have been active on the border, which the Finns deny. But the Russians want a fight – and now they’ve started one, even though they have world opinion against them.

  I can’t remember a day as black as this! I was at the National Association of Wholesalers today. In the morning the messenger boy came in and announced the dreadful news, which none of us ever thought would really come to pass. My knees felt shaky all day; and this evening I was at Anne-Marie and Stellan’s – in mourning. What lies ahead, what fate awaits us? And poor Finland!


  What terrible times we live in! Finland is keeping Russia blocked with incomparable gusto. But in their rancour, the Russians resorted to using gas yesterday. Bitter battles are raging on the Karelian Isthmus and round Petsamo. There’s been no aerial bombardment, though, because of the weather. The Russians are poorly equipped and find the snowstorms hard going. They’ve lost a lot of people and the whole world is full of admiration for the Finnish armed forces. But the civilian population up north, fleeing across the Swedish border, is in dire straits. Here in Sweden, people are mad keen to donate all they can to Finland. Tons of clothes and money are being collected and sent off. I went up to the attic myself the day before yesterday and grabbed up everything I could find, including Sture’s ‘coachman’s coat’ and Mother’s [her mother-in-law’s] gruesome cardigan. Though I think the Finns already have enough trials – without Mother’s cardigan.

  The whole world is intensely pro-Finland. Germany alone is holding its tongue. But Italy, its ‘axis brother’, is more furious with the Soviets than anyone else. The other day, 21 Italian planes landed at Bromma Airport and then flew on to Finland – though the newspapers aren’t allowed to say so. Britain and America will also supply arms, on credit. America proposes cancelling Finland’s war debt. But Finland expects more, of course: it wants the world to come together and do something more positive. And our newspapers are publishing appeals for us to be part of it, though they don’t say so directly. Lots of Swedes are keen to go as volunteers.

  Following a directive from Moscow, a Finnish Communist, a little scoundrel called Kuusinen, has set up something called the Finnish Democractic Republic in Terijoki. Finland has appealed to the League of Nations but Molotov refuses to take part in any sort of conference. Russia isn’t at war with Finland, the dear little man insists, they’re simply liberating the Finnish people, who are being pig-headed and refusing to let themselves be liberated.

  And besides that, there’s everything else to worry about; in the office today I heard rumours of general mobilization, though they probably aren’t true. But Norrland has mobilized, at any rate; loads of people have been sent up there in the past few days.

  On the western front there’s still a ceasefire. Among the many rumours circulating there’s one that says Hitler’s confined to a padded cell, Göring’s a broken man and power is in the hands of Goebbels, Himmler and Ribbentrop.

  Today’s story runs as follows:

  Two earnest gentlemen on a tram.

  ‘What is it actually about, this world war? What are they trying to achieve?’

  ‘My dear fellow, they made that very plain before they started. It’s all a matter of who is to control Danzig.’

  Yes, really – that was what all this madness sprang from. But Petsamo is a long way from Danzig! And Germany will have to bear the blame in perpetuity for letting the Russian barbarians loose on Europe.


  We got a new government today. Sandler, Engberg, Strindlund and a few others have gone – though they’re all as dodgy as each other if you ask me, and all just toeing the party line. But it was good to get rid of Sandler.

  Word has it that a unit of 5,000 men set off from Sweden today to help Finland. I do hope it’s true. Yesterday I was so down that I sought refuge in the word of God, and the Bible gave me the following answer: ‘O Lord, there is none like thee to help, between the mighty and the weak’ [II Chronicles 14:11].

  If only that were true! Finland is getting by pretty well so far, but how long will that last? The League of Nations has met, but the results are meagre.


  The Finns have pulled off their greatest victory to date, we heard on the 7 o’clock news. They’ve wiped out around 1,000 Russians and captured weapons of all kinds.

  But as the New Year dawns, we’re left contemplating the future with dread. Will Sweden stay out or go in? There are loads of volunteers setting off for Finland. And if we do go in, presumably we’ll have a theatre of war in Skåne, Germany against Britain. So people say.

  At any rate, we’ve collected over 5 million kronor for Finland and sent loads of weapons and anti-aircraft equipment and all sorts of things.


  Astrid with her children Lars and Karin outside their block of flats in Vulcanusgatan, around 1940.


  As the New Year bells rang in 1940, some of our northern poets read their work on the radio. All the Nordic countries were represented, but I decided to
paste in Jarl Hemmer’s and Silfverstolpe’s, which moved me most. Because moving was the word for it. It wasn’t easy to experience the beginning of a new year. The future looks so hopeless, so menacing. Nobody can feel glad.

  [Cuttings from Svenska Dagbladet, 1940: poems by Hemmer and Silfverstolpe]

  ‘May You, O turner of the world, when next a new year dawns, let us stand tall as now, in staunch resistance of lies and hate.’

  [Jarl Hemmer]


  Terrible bombing raids have been unleashed on poor Finland. And yet – after a month and a half of war, the Russians have won nothing, and sacrificed so many troops and materials. The other day, Dagens Nyheter claimed the Russians had lost 100,000 men since the start of field warfare. The intense cold has contributed to the Russians’ huge losses, of course. What’s more, the Finns have won a couple of major victories at Suomussalmi since the start of the New Year.

  There are Swedish volunteers going off to Finland every day. And doctors. And two ambulances, thanks to Red Cross collections. The national appeal will soon have raised 9 million kronor. The saying goes that the Swedish state has chipped in with about 70 million, too. We’re sending bottled blood, horse blankets, clothes and all kinds of things. We’re sending neck guards and knee guards and God knows what. But still – are we doing as much as we should? Posterity will no doubt be the judge of that.


  Yesterday evening I saw Gunnar, just back from Finland, where he’s been with a Farmers’ Union delegation.

  He was impressed by the Finnish civilians, who are carrying on as normal despite the bombs the Russians are hailing down on them. Gunnar says the planes are firing at men, women and children with machine guns. He told me about one case in which some planes went for a nursemaid and two young children. They shot and killed the nursemaid, but the children were all right, amazingly enough. There’s just no sense in waging war that way, and it must be incredibly uneconomic for the Russians, too.

  I’ve finally got a figure for the Swedish volunteers – 8,000. I hoped and believed it would be more than that. The Finns are terribly grateful to Sweden, even so. They need more people, though. Not vast numbers, but a couple of divisions would do it, they say. Because the Russians simply can’t make use of all their people – and neither the men nor the materials are made of the right stuff.

  Gunnar described the course of events when the Finns wiped out 12,000 Russians on the ice of Lake Kiantajärvi. The Russians came in along a road that ended in the middle of nowhere, and had to go out onto the frozen lake. Then the Finns surrounded them. Three times the Finns urged the Russians to surrender, but they have orders not to let themselves be taken alive. After the third request, the Finnish artillery and planes opened fire on the frantic troops on the ice. When 900 out of the 12,000 were left alive on the ice they surrendered, poor devils. But there are still more than 11,000 Russians lying on the Kiantajärvi ice. What will happen in the spring, when it gets warmer?


  What a world, what an existence! Reading the papers is a depressing pastime. Bombs and machine guns hounding women and children in Finland, the oceans full of mines and submarines, neutral sailors dying, or at best being rescued in the nick of time after days and nights of privation on some wretched raft, the behind-the-scenes tragedy of the Polish population (nobody’s supposed to know what’s happening, but some things get into the papers anyway), special sections on the trams for ‘the German master race’, the Poles not allowed out after 8 in the evening, and so on. The Germans talk about their ‘harsh but just treatment’ of the Poles – so then we know. What hatred it will generate! In the end the world will be so full of hate that it chokes us.

  I think it’s God’s punishment being visited on the world. And to crown it all, we are having a winter more bitter than any we can remember. Ice has made communications by sea even more difficult and there’s a serious coal shortage. It’s awfully cold in our flat, but we’re getting used to it. We’ve almost abandoned the idea of fresh air and airing the place out, though we used to sleep with the window open all year round. The fuel situation in Denmark is even worse than here, and their houses aren’t as well built, either. Meanwhile, I’ve bought a fur coat – even though doomsday is likely to arrive before I’ve had time to wear it out.


  ‘I want to stay neutral until I die,’ said Frida [the eponymous protagonist of a 1922 collection of song lyrics by the poet Birger Sjöberg] and Per Albin Hansson says the same. Some sort of indiscretion led to it leaking out to the press (Folkets Dagblad) that the Finnish government has asked for direct military assistance from Sweden and been refused. Per Albin was forced to provide an explanation – and it was worse than lousy. Basically he just referred back to his statement in the budget debate a month or so ago, in other words the fact that Sweden ‘wants to remain neutral until its death’. God, it’s terrible having to agonize like this and still not know which is the right line to take. The Finns, and many Swedes, think that from Sweden’s point of view the wisest move would be to take up arms at once, because it’s idiotic to believe that Russia, once it has crushed Finland, will simply stop at the Torne River. But the Swedish government, which ought to be in possession of all the information, doesn’t want to declare open war on Russia and risk Germany turning on Sweden and making Sweden the battlefield of the two great powers. Blast Germany, if only we could be left in peace to help the Finns against the Russians. These past few days, things have been looking critical on the Mannerheim Line. The intensity of the offensive there must surely be unparalleled in world history. The Finns have retreated a bit – and Mannerheim insists the Mannerheim Line cannot be broken through – God grant that it’s true!

  Today, the German supply ship Altmark was captured by British destroyers in Norwegian territorial waters. Five hundred British prisoners were set free. And poor Norway protested in vain. Everything Germany says is couched in language full of hate, which makes one fear the worst, and Britain isn’t even going to apologize to Norway for the violation of its neutrality. The impact of the sea war is still being felt mainly by the merchant navies of the neutral countries – no, I certainly want to stay neutral until I die.

  They’ve imposed a blackout in the city for the time being and it’s a thousand times more horrible than last time, because then nobody thought it could ever possibly be put to a serious test.

  12 MARCH

  Perhaps this is the very day when they’re deciding in Moscow whether there will be peace. Through Swedish mediation, a peace conference has taken place, even though the war is raging on. Ryti, Paasikivi and two others are there. Nobody knows anything yet about the terms on which Russia will make peace, and after all, Finland isn’t in a position that obliges her to agree to unreasonable demands. In actual fact, any terms are ‘unreasonable’, because why should Russia get a single scrap of Finland’s soil?

  The Western powers don’t want peace between Russia and Finland at all. They like the idea of Russia being kept busy, so it can’t deliver anything to Germany. They are offering Finland all the help the country wants – but first they have to receive a request for help, and there hasn’t been one. This direct request has to come first, otherwise they can’t just march straight through Norway and Sweden. And that’s what they’d most like to do! So Sweden has been roundly scolded, particularly in the French press, which claims we have put pressure on Finland to persuade it to make peace. The Swedish government vehemently denies this; we only conveyed the peace offer from Russia. The Western powers think Germany has made us try to broker peace. But in fact Germany has probably been on at Russia to persuade them to make peace. Because a peace agreement seems to suit Germany too darned well and the Western powers too darned badly.

  A little Finnish boy was supposed to come to us by plane from Åbo [Turku] today, but we’ve heard nothing. Maybe he’ll come tonight.

  We’ve been entirely without hot water for over a week now.

  Oh, if only there could be peace. If only Finland could have peace, at least, and we could help them rebuild their ravaged land.

  I heard the news just now. No confirmed reports are available yet on the outcome of the negotiations. We’ll hear at 11 o’clock this evening, if any new reports have come in. God, let there be peace. A good peace, one that Finland can accept and at least keep its right of self-determination. Let there be peace!


  13 MARCH

  Yes, they made peace last night! When I woke up, Sture came in with the paper, with its big headline FINLAND–SOVIET UNION PEACE. But nobody’s exactly happy today. I was, a little bit, to start with, but it soon faded. This is a bitter peace. The Russians are to get Hangö [Hanko] for 30 years and set up a naval base there. The Karelian Isthmus, with Vyborg [Viipuri] and the western bank of Lake Ladoga plus Sortavala, are to be ceded to Russia. Hostilities ceased at noon today. It’s a relief to know that no more women and children will be murdered, of course, but it’s still a bitter pill to swallow. Bitterest of all is the fact that the Finnish government asked Sweden to let British and French troops through, but was refused. I expect there’ll be great animosity towards us, out there in the world. And yet – if we’d agreed, it would have been tantamount to unleashing war between the great powers on our territory. But right now, Germany is triumphant.