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“Sweden was somewhere you could make money”

“Sweden was somewhere you could make money”

| Text: Gunhild Wallin, Foto: Anette Andersson

Early autumn 1954, and Gösta Helsing is 17, one of nine siblings living at home in a small village in Vörå in Swedish-speaking Ostrobothnia. Post-war Finland is poor from paying reparations to Russia and there are few jobs. The small farm cannot sustain all nine siblings. Many neighbours, friends and relatives are moving to Sweden.

Swedish companies have recruited labour from Swedish-speaking Ostrobothnia, but the more who leave the more travel on the rumour that it is easy to get a job in Sweden. 

“Sweden, which didn’t take part in the war, was a bit like a fantasy world and somewhere you could make money,” says Gösta. 

The journey begins on a bus to Åbo, then on a boat to Stockholm. He can’t even consider getting a cabin. He will need the 150 kronor he has saved and borrowed while he waits for his first pay check from the job he is quite certain he will get. He travels with an uncle and the plan is for both of them to go to Västerås, where another uncle lives. 

In the morning the boat docks at the heaving Skeppsbron quay in Stockholm’s Old City. A cousin meets them and they are going to take a tram to Centralen station to travel on to Västerås. The cousin and uncle get on board. When Gösta wants to pay, the conductor refuses to give change for his paper money. Gösta is left alone on the Skeppsbron quay with no bag and no relatives. It is his first meeting with Sweden.

“I felt a bit lost, I had never been to such a big city. But then I remembered that my cousin Signe worked at Hotel Carlton. I found it and I found her. The next day I caught the train to Västerås.”

Occupation: farmer’s son

Once there, he goes to Asea’s employment office. “What is your occupation?” asks the man behind the desk. “I am a farmer’s son,” answers Gösta. He gets the job and a few days later he is twining electric motors at a conveyor belt and lived in a boys’ home, run by Aesa. 

“It was very big, but I had put myself in this situation so I just had to put up with it. Life as a youth was completely different in Sweden compared to Finland.”

After a few years and further job experiences he returns to Finland and military service. He also trains as a plumber at the Vaasa vocational school and returns to Sweden to work for shorter periods of time. 

Around the same time as Gösta’s return to Finland, 19 year old Dagny Kullman from Maxmo ends her job in geriatric care in Vaasa and can’t find another job. “I’ll go to Sweden and find work,” thinks Dagny. She picks raspberries to get money for a ticket and in the autumn of 1957 she takes the boat from Vaasa straight to Stockholm. The first workplace she visits is the Stockholm South General Hospital. The next day she starts work at the department of surgery, ward number 35. She gets a place to live in central Södermalm – in a home for young girls with a trustworthy caretaker on the door. Many of the girls come from Finland and Dagny makes new contracts, not least through the Ostrobothnia Association.

“They were fun times. I met many in the same situation and we explored Stockholm together. It was a safe city then, you could walk home at night without feeling scared.”

 Foto: Anette Andersson

Woke up homesick

She stays in the same job for three years, but one beautiful spring morning she wakes up homesick and thinks “should I stay at the hospital all my life?” That same day she quits and returns to Finland. Once home she trains to be a nanny and she meets Gösta. After six months training she returns to Sweden and finds work at Crown Princess Lovisa’s hospital for children. Gösta stays in Finland for the time being and letters fly back and forth. In 1962 he returns to Sweden for good, and they start a family.

“We have always been well received in Sweden,” they both say half a century later in their livingroom in Hemmesta på Värmdö. 

All siblings moved to Sweden

Gösta took evening classes and became a heating, ventilation and sanitation manager with insurers Trygg-Hansa. Dagny became a nursery teacher and has worked for 30 years for her home municipality.  Their son and daughter and six grandchildren live nearby. 

The links to Sweden are strong, but so are the links to Finland. They are now Swedish citizens, but have bought Dagny’s childhood home and spend a lot of time there. She was one of four siblings and all of them moved to Sweden. Few people they know have moved back for good.


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