Thinking about the unknown. An Interview Study of Finnish War Children

Barbara Mattsson, Sinikka Maliniemi-Piispanen


During the Second World War, 1939-45, around 80.000 Finnish children were evacuated to neighbour-countries, the vast majority of them to Sweden. Approximately one-third of them were between two and five years of age at the time of their departure. Ten of the approximately 5000 to 7000 children who did not return to Finland permanently after the war were interviewed in 2007. The present study focuses on how they as adults during the interview cope with their early experiences of evacuation and on the ways they are thinking about and remembering, or not remembering these matters. This material was processed in line with the principles of Grounded Theory and with a psychoanalytical perspective. The conclusion is that the war children had great difficulties when it came to thinking about the significance of the evacuation for their lives. Obstacles to reflection were manifested, among other things, as acute traumatic reactions during the interview. Most of the interviewees could not confront or handle their ignorance and anger. Bion’s concepts of K and –K give precision and depth to the picture of the evacuation’s traumatic after-effects. Lack of containing has an influence on the capacity to experience mourning and loss and therewith on the development of thinking as well.


Evacuation; Trauma; Containing; Development of thinking

Full Text:



Bell, D. (2011). Bion: the phenomenologist of loss: in Mawson (2011) ed. Bion today. The new library of psychoanalysis. London: Routledge. Pages 81 – 101.

Bion, W. R. (1962a). Learning from experience. London: William Heinemann Books.

Bion, W. R. (1962b). The psychoanalytic study of thinking. Int J Psychoanal, 43, 306-310

Bion, W. R. (1967). Second thoughts. Selected papers on psychoanalysis. London: Maresfield Library.

Bion, W. R. (1970). Attention an interpretation: A scientific approach to insight in psychoanalysis and groups. London: Karnac.

Bowlby, J., Miller, E. & Winnicott, D. W. (1939). Letter: Evacuation of small children. In C. Garland (ed.) (1998) Understanding trauma. London: Karnac.

Crittenden, P.M. & Landini, A. (2011). Assessing adult attachment. A dynamic-maturational approach to discource analysis. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Fisher, J. (2011). The emotional experience of K. In Maslow (Ed.) (2011), Bion today. The new library of psychoanalysis (pp. 43 – 63). London: Routledge.

Fonagy, P. (2001). Attachment theory and psychoanalysis. London: Karnac.

Garland, C. (ed.) (1998). Understanding trauma. A psychoanalytic approach. London: Karnac. The Tavistock Clinic Series.

Freud, A. & Burlingham, D. (1943). War and children. New York: Medical War Books.

Glaser, B. G. (1992). Basics of grounded theory analysis. Mill Valley: Sociology Press.

Glaser, B. G. (1994). More grounded theory: a reader. Mill Valley: Sociology Press.

Glaser, B. G. (2010). Att göra grundad teori – problem, frågor och diskussion. Mill Valley: Sociology Press.

Hämäläinen, O. (2009). The relationship of the inner and outer in psychoanalysis. Int J Psychoanal. 90, 1277-1297.

Kaplan, S. (2008). Children in genocide. Extreme traumatization and affect regulation. London: International Psychoanalysis Library.

Kaven, P. (2010). Humanitaarisuuden varjossa. Poliittiset tekijät lastensiirroissa Ruotsiin sotiemme aikana ja niiden jälkeen [In the shadow of humanitarianism. Political factors in child evacuation to Sweden during our wars and later]. Ph.D thesis in History. Helsinki University.

Mattsson, B. & Maliniemi-Piispanen, S. (2011). An interview study with a Finnish war child. The Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review. 34, 31-40.

Ogden, T. H. (1992). The primitive edge of experience. London: Maresfield Library.

Varvin, S. (2010). The stranger and the strange: psychoanalytic reflections on meeting otherness. Paper held at the XXII Nordic Psychoanalytic Congress. Helsinki, 5 -8 August, 2010.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

ISSN 2282-0043 - Registered at the Court of Rome on Nov. 8, 2012, no. 305/2012

All articles are © Europa Ricerca Onlus