snow and dried it by the fire. She folded two sweaters and a pair of woolen tights and placed a small prayer book on top of the small red suitcase. Inside the prayer book, she placed a letter.
Be a good girl and appreciate all that your new family does for you. Please never believe that your father and I have abandoned you. We love you andonly want you to be safe. You have three brothers who will miss you too. Someday soon, when the war ends, you will be returned to us. We love you and you will always be in our thoughts and prayers
God will watch over you
Your mother, Sirka
She wrapped the book in a small blanket and tucked it into the valise, along with the only photograph she had of herself. Her wedding portrait. A black-and-white photo of her and Toivo, with her in her mother’s white dress and a crown of flowers in her hair.
Lastly, she removed her mother’s wooden crucifix. She held it one last time in her palms, traced its straightness with her finger, and pressed the smooth center close to her lips. If only her daughter could retrieve her kiss, she thought to herself, as she placed it in the bag.
Toivo stood in the threshold of the bedroom watching his young wife. He came over to her and rested his large palm on her shoulder as she knelt to shut her daughter’s little red bag. Through his palm, he could feel her shudder as his wife began to weep softly. And she begged her husband once more not to make her send Kaija away. He buried his face in her shoulder and pleaded for her not to ask him again. For all of this seemed far worse than death. Sending your child to a home, a country, you did not know. Where you knew they could never love her as you had loved her. For she was your own.
Overhead, the sirens blared and the red lights stretched over the snow with scarlet beams, as Toivo went to fetch young Kaija, who slept quietly in the kitchen. The young
stood in the doorway,her navy coat and hat appearing incongruous with the rustic surroundings.
Sirka buried her head in her pillow, unable to endure the pain of watching this stranger take her daughter away. But from her bedroom, she heard her little girl calling, “
Minun nalle karhun, minun nalle karhun
,” “My bear, my bear.”
As Sirka rushed to the doorway to hand Kaija her little stuffed animal, she met the eyes of her daughter one last time. The little girl, sensing her mother’s despair, began to wail.
And through her flannel gown, Sirka’s milk began to run.
K ARELIA , F INLAND
J ANUARY 1942
They had rounded the children up. Confiscated their suitcases and burned the clothes their mothers had packed for them for fear of lice. Kaija’s dress and socks were thrown on the fire, but the photograph, letter, and crucifix were all repacked into the little red suitcase with far less care than Sirka had originally placed them.
Kaija’s tiny body was stripped and examined by a medical doctor, who wrote notes on her physical condition and inserted them into her file. She was reclothed in a new outfit that was donated to the war-effort program and given a new woolen coat with a matching navy hat.
As with the hundreds of children who would be joining her on the SS
from Abo to Stockholm, an identification tag was placed around her neck detailing her name, hometown, and date of birth. She stood there completely bewildered, her green eyes stricken with fear and confusion, her blond curls damp underneath her woolen cap.
The children were encircled with a long white rope to ensure that they didn’t separate from the group. Their small hands were encased in mittens, their feet in shiny new boots.
“Come now,” one of the
spoke softly to tiny Kaija as they boarded the boat. “You’ll be going to a wonderful new home.”
In the dark cavern of the boat’s belly, she understood nothing of what was going on. Her tiny bear pressed to her tearstained face. The other children crying as the boat rocked