Family tree of
Søren Nielsen & Lene Dræby Kottal

The Finnish Civil War

World War I was, at the time it took place, called "the war to end all wars", but in fact it lead to war like conditions in many countries in the years following WWI itself. In Finland it lead to a civil war, which cost about 37.000 lives, including that of my great grandmother's brother, Otto Anselm Söderlund, who died in a prison camp.

Before the civil war Finland was part of the Russion Empire, which worked fairly well until 1899, because Finland had reasonably well terms compared to other Russian states. However, in 1899 the Russian zhar Nicholas II began reinforcing Sct. Petersbourgh through measures such as russification of Finland. That lead to rising opposition amongst a large portion of the Finns, because they felt suppressed and feared that the class differences would become larger if the zhar gained more power. The initial reaction of the Finnish workers' movement was their founding of the Finnish Social Democratic Party in 1899.

After a change of the parliament in 1906, the Social Demotratic Party gained a majority in the Finnish paliament, however, the russian zhar continuously intervened in Finnish politics, which meant that the workers' party did not gain true power until 1917 after the Russian defeat in the February Revolution. The civil war broke out on January 27, 1918 because of disagreements regarding the division of power in "the new Finland". The parties were the Red, socialists supported by Lenin and the bolschecicks, and the White, conservatives supported by the German Government.

Otto was a glass worker and therefore naturally sided with the Red Army, which destroyed a lot of the railroads to put pressure on the conservative kapitalists, because the railroad was essential for them to be able to do their trade. The Red Army consisted primarily of volunteers, including a considerable amount of Swedes, whereas the White Army had to do drafts to build their forces.

The German Empire intervened in the Finnish civil was in March 1918, siding with the White Army. That forced the majority of the Red Army to flee from Helsinki on April 8 and from Viipuro to Petrograd on April 25. Otto Söderlund was imprisoned in Käkisalmi prison camp on April 26. Käkisalmi er now a Russian town called Priozersk and it lies within the Viipuri region. The circumstances of Otto's arrest are unknown, but maybe he failed to escape the Germans before they came to Viipuri, or maybe he did not want to flee, because he was married and lived with his wife and their child in Miehikkälä, Viipuri.

The White Army had more prison camps than the Red, which was less organized and therefore tended to employ instant execution rather than imprisonment. The Whites won the civil war, which ended on May 15, 1918, however, that did not mean that the Red prisoners were released. Otto died in captivity on July 14, 1918, i.e. about two months after the war ended. The Whites did win the civil war and Finland was then under German rule, however, when Germany lost WWI, Finland gained autonomy and became a democratic republic.

Otto left behind a family consisting of his daughter Lilly and his wife Dagmar, who was pregnant. Their son Åke was born on November 19, 1918, so father and son never met each other. The cause of Otto's death remains unknown, but Dagmar assumed he died of starvation.

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