Friday, October 30, 2009

Reality catches up to fiction

On page 111 of my 2003 novel Season's Revenge appears this paragraph from the Porcupine County Tribune of October 24, 1932:


Mr. and Mrs. Simon Talikka, Mr. Arthur Weser and sons Arthur Jr. and Elmer, and Heinrikki Heikkila, who have lived at Greenfield for several years, left Thursday for Kontupohja, United Soviet Social Russia.

A farewell party was given for them at the Farmers' Hall at Greenfield Monday evening.
The paragraph was reproduced nearly verbatim from the October 24, 1932, issue of the Ontonagon Herald, the actual weekly paper of the Upper Michigan county that is the model for Porcupine County in my mystery fiction. All I altered was the real name of the paper and the real name of the town, Green. I added a fictional character, Heikkila, to support a subplot of the novel.

That subplot involved the historical reverse migration of more than 10,000 struggling Finnish farmers from Upper Michigan, Minnesota and Ontario to Karelia, a Finnish-speaking Soviet province next door to Finland, during the Great Depression. Most of the farmers were never heard from again, presumably having perished during the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s. Many of their American properties were abandoned for taxes and sold to greedy land speculators -- giving rise to a possible motive for murder.

This morning I sat down at the computer to the following e-mail:

Dear Mr. Kisor,

I was shocked when reading your book Season’s Revenge when I came across the section that talked about Karelia and Simon Talikka, Mr. Arthur Weser and sons Arthur Jr. and Elmer, and Henrikki Heikkila, who have live at Greenfield for several years, left Thrusday for Kontupohja, United Social Soviet Russia.

The reason why I was shocked is because your fiction story as it relates to Karelia was more non-fiction to me. You see, I have been searching for decades trying to find out what happen to my missing relatives that went to Karelia from Green, Michigan. They are: Simon Talikka, Mr. Arthur Wesa (your book says Weser), and sons Arthur Jr. and Elmer, and Eero. I find your story of them more than coincidence. Simon Talikka and his wife took in (unofficially adopted) Arthur’s boys shortly after Olga died (Arthur’s wife). Arthur also lost a very young son named Onni.

I pray that you might have some information (letters, news paper articles, etc) of my missing relatives. My family was from Green, Michigan, not from the fictitious Greenfield noted in the story. After Simon Talikka and Arthur Wesa and the boy’s went to Karelia sometime around October 29, 1932, we lost contact with them in 1936. According to Mayme Sevander's book titled "Of Soviet Bondage" has a listing of "Vesa, Arthur; from Green, Mich. US 1931." in Appendix 5, titled Wartime Labor Camp Victims. This suggests that they may have become victims of Stalin's purges.

The last time anyone heard from Arthur and the boys was in a letter written by Simon Talikka in 1936. Simon writes; "At this time he was no longer living in Karelia, but rather in a different area of Russia working in a gold mine. Wesa [Arthur] stayed with his boys in Karelia. They are working there in the woods. Young Paavo [Walter Kytöneva - Wesa] is a teacher in Tunkua.” [Tunkua is a town in the northern part of Karelia]. This was the last piece of solid evidence that Arthur and the 3 boys were still alive.

Thank you for your time and would appreciate any help you can provide.

Kevin Levonius
Gilroy, California
Cell (408) 710-6606

Accompanying the e-mail was a reproduction of a listing of the members of the Wesa family (also with their mother's maiden name, Kytöneva) who had emigrated to Karelia -- and three photographs:

Left to right: Onni, Eero, Lauri, Paavo and Viljo.

Arthur Kytöneva-Wesa

Olga Kytöneva-Wesa

I had to tell Mr. Levonius that I had no further information on his family, but that I would post his letter on this blog in the long-shot hope that someone researching the Karelia period who might know what happened to the Talikkas and the Wesas would discover it during a Google search.


  1. Hi Henry,

    Your posting today reminds me how your novels about Porcupine County are doubly interesting for those of us who hail from there. There's not only the story line but also the lightly veiled incorporation of people and places that we all recognize - or think we do. The Talikkas and "Wesers" were, as you mention, just a few of those who partook of an exodus of sorts from "Greenfield" to Karelia during the Great Depression. I dare say most of the original Finnish Greenfield families will have a relative or two in their genealogical closets that were caught up in the "Karelia Fever". Sadly, almost none of the adult men of those that went there survived Stalin's purges during the late 1930's or the Winter and Continuation Wars with Finland that followed. Except for a small number who managed to escape from the Soviet Union, almost all were shot or imprisoned. Most of the wives and children were, howver, spared the fate of their menfolk. Many of these (or their descendants now) still live in Russia having survived a very difficult life in "Utopia".

    Following Gorbashev, records concerning the fate of these men (who up to then could scarcely even mentioned by their families for fear of some sort of retribution) have been opened and made available to the public. I've actually been able to get an official document from the Karelian Prosecutor General indicating that my great uncle, who also went there in the early 1930s, was rounded up in 1938 by the NKVD and sentenced to 10 years in prison for some unspecified acts against the State. They even provided papers indicating that because the charges against him had been trumped up, the Russian state had also officially, and certainly belatedly, exonerated (or "rehabilitated" in typically Russian language) him sometime in the 1996. His final demise (I suspect he was shot or starved in prison) I can obtain by sending Moscow some proof of relationship. Your blog reminds me that this is some thing I still need to do!

    До свидания,

    the "greenfield" hermit

  2. This is fascinating. Not only because of it's historical value, but also it shows how powerful the internet is, and how widely it reaches around the world.

    (Any kiwi's in Porcupine Country?)

  3. If his age in 1936 was around 50, Simon Talikka could be Simo Matinpoika Talikka, born 19 Sept 1885 in the Tervajärvi village of the Jaakkima municipality in Karelia. My own family was evacuated from the same region in 1944.

    You can find the following details from the site which lists the names of the victims of the Soviet terror in the 1930s:

    This person is likely to be Simo Talikka, based on the year of his birth and his father's first name:

    Semen Matveevich Talikka, born in 1885, locomotive engineer "Ormedzoloto." Lived: Kuvandyksky rn, p. Rakityanka.
    Sentenced: three in the NKVD to Orenb. region. October 14, 1938
    Verdict: HMB rehabilitated in October 1989
    Source: The Book of Memory of the Orenburg region

    Simo Talikka may not have survived the labour camp in Orenburg.

    Those times were extremely tragic for immigrants and people with ethnic background in Russia. According to the archives, around 8000 people of Finnish origin were executed, and out of 143,000 Poles 111,000 were shot.

    Best Regards,
    Toivo Talikka

  4. Terve Toivo,

    Yes, these are one and the same Simo Matinpoika Talikka. Their birthdates and places match. Simo left Green, Michigan to go to Karelia in October 1931 along with his wife Caroliina. They had no children of their own, but were accompanied by three neighbor children whom they had helped to raise after their mother died. These children were Viljo, Paavo, and Eero Wesa (aka Arthur, Walter, and Elmer Wesa). Also leaving to Karelia at the same time was the Wesa boys' father Arthur Wesa. Simo had an older brother John Talikka, who also lived in Green. John and his wife Mary had several children, and descendants of theirs still live in the area. I am assuming, Toivo, that you may be related to these Talikka brothers. If you are interested I can probably put you in contact with some of the family members still living in the USA.

    Doug Karttunen

  5. UPDATE - The Talikka Saga Continues:
    A couple of weeks ago I received an email out the blue from a lady in Finland who apparently had come across this blog post while searching for long lost relatives. She saw the comment above about the Talikka brothers and decided to get in touch with me. Turns out she is the granddaughter of Simo and John Talikka's sister who, unlike her brothers, did not immigrate to the US. The families on opposite side of the Atlantic had kept in touch originally, but lost contact with other some 60+ years ago. So, a phone call and a couple of emails later, her cousins over here were located, and a family is now reunited.

    Doug K