The effects of war and persecution on well-being and world view transmit across generations

A research project carried out by the University of Oulu concluded that forced migration, family separation and other experiences of persecution transmit across generations to a great extent. The attitudes of the society receiving war refugees and understanding family history play a significant role in the well-being of subsequent generations of war survivors.
Mustavalkokuvassa inkeriläisiä pakolaisia vuonna 1944.
The deportation of the last group of Ingrians to Finland, in Paltiski 18 June 1944. Image: SA-Kuva (Finnish Wartime Photograph Archive).

The study demonstrated that Stalin’s Great Purge and especially the forced migrations both in and outside the Soviet Union during and after the Second World War were reflected on the well-being of the descendants of Ingrians. The Ingrian descendants felt that several states and authorities targeted their families with coercion and unjust treatment.

Postdoctoral researchers Elina Turjanmaa and Outi Kähäri studied the well-being of the children and grandchildren of Ingrians who had experienced forced migration and persecution in Finland, Estonia, and Sweden in the early 20th century. The research focuses on intergenerational transfer of family memories.

According to the researchers, the treatment of refugees in their new country of residence is highly important. Experiences of discrimination were common in families of Ingrian background, which is why many of them felt as if they were second-class citizens. Discrimination experienced by Ingrian parents in post-war Finland was connected to second-generation mental health problems as well.

“Hardships were not talked about in Ingrian families. Because of this, many of the descendants of Ingrian background had hardly any information about their family history and felt disconnected to their Ingrian background. However, many of them felt the need to make sense of their families’ past and some of them succeeded by researching their family history”, Outi Kähäri says.

Many participants were proud of their Ingrian background. Many of the families also gladly reminisced about their families’ pasts.

Many participants felt that their families’ history of forced migration gave them resources to tackle setbacks in their lives and support other minorities and people in vulnerable situations. For instance, several participants opposed unfair exercise of power in society.

According to Johanna Leinonen, the leader of the Postmemory research project, the study shows how important it is for minorities to have access to their family histories. “Many people of Ingrian background hope that the history of Ingrians were better known and discussed publicly.”

The research project is topical also due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its large-scale effects in both Ukraine and Russia. In both countries, the war has separated families not only out of physical necessity but for political reasons as well. The research shows that the trauma of war is usually recalled and discussed in the families even after several decades.

The research project “Postmemory of Family Separation: An Intergenerational Perspective” is funded by the Research Council of Finland (2019–2023). The results of the project have been published in a book called Vaalimista, vaikenemista ja vastustusta. Inkeriläisten perhehistoriat jälkeläisten muistelemana (in Finnish), which depicts the experiences and memories of the families of Ingrian background living in different countries.

Last updated: 14.6.2023