In 1918 a Civil War was raging in Finland, dividing the people in two.

The occupation of Helsinki 1918. The Turku Barracks, Läntinen Heikinkatu 28 at the place of today’s Lasipalatsi (Glass Palace), after the fire caused by the bombing carried out by the German forces. City inhabitants looking for canned food among the ruins.
Vanha kirkkopuisto. Helsingin valtauksessa 1918 kaatuneiden saksalaisten sotilaiden muistomerkin paljastustilaisuus. Alexander Frey pitää puhetta. Kuulijoilla kukkaseppeleitä käsissään.
The Reverend of the Santahamina prison camp, Johannes Kunila, blessed and annotated all the dead buried at Santahamina. Oulu Lyceum Archives, H/I:548. The National Archives.
Women sewing garments for the White Guard before the occupation of Helsinki, Finnish National Board of Antiquities, Musketti.
White guardsmen who have participated in the occupation of Helsinki. Finnish National Board of Antiquities, Musketti.
Red Guardsmen in a studio portrait, Helsinki 1918. The People’s Archives.

The two sides in the Civil War were the White Guard that represented the Finnish Senate, that is Government, and the Red Guard led by the Finnish People’s Delegation. At the end of January 1918, the Revolution of the Reds started. Helsinki was the capital of Red Finland until April, when the Germans who had arrived in order to help the Whites occupied the city between April 11–13. There was a transfer of power in the city and the Whites came out of their hiding-places at the same time that the Reds gave up their arms.

During the acts of war, in Helsinki over 400 people died, but the most destructive phases came only after the actual fights had ended, in the prison camps. Several thousands of Reds were taken prisoners by the Whites. At first they were placed in the schools and barracks of the city, but only a couple of days after the occupation of Helsinki prisoners were starting to be concentrated on the fortress islands outside Helsinki. The biggest prison camp was established on Suomenlinna, but others worked on the islands of Isosaari and Santahamina, as well as in the mainland city district of Katajanokka. All the camps were under the superintendence of Suomenlinna.

In the prison camps of Helsinki, during the summer and autumn of 1918 there were about 20 000 Red prisoners altogether. Apart from their being in camps, prisoners were also used until the autumn of 1918 as labour on the islands and in the city. In the prison camps, about 1550 people lost their lives, and the majority of them were buried on the island of Santahamina. Most of the prisoners died waiting for their trials, of starvation and diseases.

During the decades that have passed, the ways of remembering the Civil War have varied. Immediately after the war, the interpretation of the events of the wartime was that of the winners, that is the Whites. At the memorial places of the Whites, monuments to the winners of the war were raised. The Red side was left outside official history writing and memory at state level. After the Second World War, there was a political turn, along with which also the experience of the losing side became more valuable. At the same time, a new wave of monuments to the Civil War started, during which monuments were also beginning to be placed on the Reds’ graves. The politics of remembering has had an impact on what kinds of monuments have been raised in places important to the respective sides.

The names of the Red prisoners buried at Santahamina have been presented on this page and in an experience of virtual reality (VR), which can be seen in the Helsinki Central Library Oodi.

The background of the project

This page 1918 Places of Memory in Helsinki has been realized as part of the project of the Helsinki City Museum and the Helsinki Historical Committee for bringing forth the names of the deceased who were buried in connection with the Santahamina prison camp. Another aim of the project has been to map the other places of memory of the Civil War in Helsinki. The background of the page and the VR experience which brings forth the names of the Red prisoners buried on Santahamina is the resolution of the Helsinki City Council.

The information on those who lost their lives in the 1918 Helsinki camps for Red prisoners and those who were buried in the mass grave of Santahamina has been investigated in the study Helsingin sotasurmat (Helsinki War Victims): http://www.helsinginsotasurmat.fi/.

The cooperation partners of the project have been Kansan Arkisto (The People’s Archives), Työväen Arkisto (The Labour Archives), Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden seura (SKS, The Finnish Literature Society), Svenska litteratursällskapet (SLS, Society of Swedish Literature in Finland). For the realization of the project, the Armed Forces of Santahamina and the leader of the project Helsingin sotasurmat, Jarmo Nieminen, have been of valuable help.

During the decades, the ways of remembering the Civil War have varied, and the politics of remembering has had an impact on what kinds of monuments have been raised.

The Graveyard for Red Prisoners and the Monument of Santahamina

In 1918, on Santahamina a graveyard for the Helsinki prison camps was established. A monument was raised in the closed military area in 1949 through the effort of former Red Guardsmen. As the years went by, the location and the significance of the graveyard were forgotten. In a study published in 2015, the personal data of those buried have been confirmed, and the names of the deceased have been brought forth here.

See all the memorials on the map