Finland, with its silvery lakes and its forests robed in green, has one of the highest living standards in the world. However, thousands of her hearty inhabitants searched for a more satisfying standard and have found it, even at the threat of death by firing squad.
GLIDING eastward, the navy of the king of Sweden is nearing its destination. Passing through a breathtaking archipelago, the sailors sight a land of endless forests, dotted with crystal-clear lakes, its shores rimmed by thousands of islands—Finland. The land is still a pagan corner of Europe during this 12th century, but the crusaders on board the fleet intend to change that. The pope of Rome craves to expand the influence of his church and therefore has urged the king of Sweden to invade Finland and, by whatever means, convert to Roman Catholicism the inhabitants of this northern territory that reaches beyond the Arctic Circle. The power of the pope is threatened by the Eastern Orthodox Church (Greek Catholicism), which, by means of Russia, has been pushing its control into this land of the midnight sun.
According to tradition, crusaders did not give the local people much of a choice—either be baptized as a Catholic or be beheaded! Thus, with the exception of some eastern parts that remained under the Eastern Orthodox Church, after several crusades Finland became Roman Catholic. Catholicism ruled until the 16th century, when Gustav I Vasa, the king of Sweden, changed the religion of his realm to Lutheranism. In 1809 Finland became an autonomous grand duchy under the rule of the Russian czar. Almost a hundred years later, the bright light of Bible truth began to penetrate into this land of lovely lakes and thick forests.
Finland is one of the most northerly of populated countries. To the east and southeast, it is bordered by the Soviet Union, to the west by Sweden, and to the north by Norway.
Although Finland lies as far north as Alaska, the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream to the southwest makes the summers quite pleasant. However, the summer is short. Snow blankets the ground and ice tops the lakes for many months of the year. While it is 70 degrees Fahrenheit [20° C.] in the summer and daylight is almost 24 hours long, during the winter the temperature may drop to 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit [-40° C.], and for a few months, the sun can hardly be seen. Icebreakers with reinforced hulls must plow through frozen water to keep sea traffic moving year-round. Since forests of pine, spruce, and birch cover most of the land, the paper industry flourishes from the raw materials provided by these trees. The country is quite flat, and even the highest peaks of the mountains in Lapland reach only some 4,300 feet [1,300 m].
The majority of Finland’s five million inhabitants speak Finnish. Many of those along the coast also speak Swedish. In the north live a small group of Laplanders, who speak Lapp, which is a language related to Finnish. The literacy rate of the population is among the highest in the world.
The Good News Reaches Finland
The first recorded preaching of Bible truth in Finland took place in 1906, when the wife of August Lundborg, the director of the Bible Students’ work in Sweden, visited Finland. Brother Lundborg reported: “God willing, she will soon go to Finland again to pursue the work there.”
Ebba Lundborg and other colporteurs (full-time preachers) from Sweden placed Swedish literature in the coastal areas of southwest Finland, where the population was mostly Swedish-speaking in those days. Eventually some books written by the first president of the Watch Tower Society, Charles T. Russell, came into the hands of Emil Österman’s mother.
Businessman Finds Purpose in Life
Emil Österman, a bearded and energetic 41-year-old businessman from Turku, planned to take a trip around the world in search of a purpose in life. When he read the books his mother had given him, his quest began to change. In the last part of 1909, he made his first stop in Sweden. There he obtained more Bible literature from August Lundborg. However, it was not until he sailed to London that his world journey was cut short, when he finally read the literature he had received in Sweden. He at once knew that he had found what he had been searching for. With his dream of world travel suddenly gone, he returned home. Near the end of that same year, 1909, he went back to Sweden and was baptized. Later, he arranged for August Lundborg to come to Finland and preach.
The report from the branch office in Sweden spoke of Emil as a dear brother when it said: “About ten regular Colporteurs have been at work during the year . . . Six or seven new ones have come into the work—one of these is a dear brother in Finland who, no doubt, is a chosen instrument in the Lord’s hand to serve his people in that country. . . . Another brother also in that land seems now to intend to sell his farm and go out as a colporteur.”
Who Was the Other Brother?
The other brother, who wanted to sell his farm, was Kaarlo Harteva, born in 1882. His mother, the daughter of a Lutheran minister, gave him a strict religious upbringing. Kaarlo was intense, sincere, and well versed in languages. He studied engineering, but soon after graduation his religious interest drew him to the Young Men’s Christian Association, where he became secretary, as well as the manager for their Hospitz Hotel in Helsinki.
In the summer of 1909, when on business in Helsinki, Österman met Kaarlo Harteva and gave him a copy of The Divine Plan of the Ages in Swedish. Harteva read it eagerly. He reckoned that he too should preach “this good news of the kingdom.” (Matt. 24:14) So in April 1910, Harteva traveled with Österman to the convention in Örebro, Sweden, where he was baptized. Since there was a need for speakers, both of these new brothers gave talks at that convention. They wasted no time in making themselves useful to God’s organization!
‘Join Us. That Will Make Three’
About that time Harteva met one of his former schoolmates, Lauri Kristian Relander, on a train and witnessed to him zealously about the newfound truths. “And how many are there of you people?” his friend asked. “At the moment there are two of us, a certain Österman and I,” Harteva replied. “But if you join us, that will make three.” However, Relander did not come along. Instead, he pursued politics and became the president of Finland from 1925 to 1931.
What a vast field lay before Brothers Harteva and Österman: three million people spread out in a sparsely populated country. Their first goal was to get the Society’s literature translated into the Finnish language. Diligently, Harteva labored to translate The Divine Plan of the Ages and a variety of tracts from Swedish into Finnish, and Österman in turn financed their printing in the fall of 1910. How elated they were to have more effective instruments for the Kingdom work! Trusting in the help of Jehovah’s spirit, these men courageously started out in the work with their newly translated Finnish literature.
“A Ticket to Hell”
Besides keeping a supply of literature in the shoe shop he owned in Turku, Brother Österman displayed books in the store window as well. He also had his own bookstall in a marketplace. By shouting out slogans, he would immediately catch people’s attention.
He would offer the Hell booklet for two markkaa (the Finnish mark), crying out: “A ticket to hell—one markka in, and another one out!”
Public Talks Gather Crowds
Next, these two faithful friends decided to start a tour to give public talks. So they traveled to Finland’s industrial center, Tampere, and rented the best hall available. They then ordered handbills for the talk, which was entitled “The Great Reward,” and advertised it in the daily paper. Brother Harteva gave the talk, while Österman served as his assistant. In one of his letters, Brother Österman tells about the results:
“One Finnish sister consecrated herself fully and symbolized it in Lake Pyhäjärvi. Thereafter she went to Vyborg, where she now spreads the good news as a colporteur. A Bible class was organized in Tampere with five or six very interested persons, after which we left it in God’s care. Now we are in Turku, and here our first public meeting in Finnish was held in the auditorium of the Fire Department building, which can seat 1,800 persons. As in other places, here too, just as many had to remain outside.”
Encouraged by such good results, these two colporteurs traveled to Helsinki, the capital, and arranged for a public talk in the auditorium of the People’s House (now Workers’ House) for November 22, 1910. Brother Harteva was well-known in the religious circles of Helsinki, and many ministers and members of various religious organizations out of curiosity came to hear him speak. In his talk Harteva challenged his audience by saying that if anyone knew of a scripture stating that the soul is immortal, he should show it publicly. All eyes turned to the ministers in the front rows of the hall. Total silence prevailed. Then he read Ezekiel 18:4, banged his fist on the speaker’s stand, and exclaimed: “The soul thus dies!” Clearly, the battle lines were shaping up between Finland’s religious leaders and the champions of Bible truth. Thus, the truth was sown in the three largest cities of the country, including the capital.
Office Opens in Helsinki
When Brother Russell visited Stockholm, Sweden, at the end of March 1911, a group of Finns went there to meet him. They continued their trip to the convention held in Örebro, where Kaarlo Harteva rejoiced to see his mother and aunt get baptized. Also baptized was a young man by the name of Johannes Hollmerus, who later became a valuable theocratic asset.
Brother Harteva returned to Helsinki and opened an office for handling theocratic activities. He writes: ‘I managed to rent five rooms at Mikonkatu 27. I obtained a few boards and sawbucks to serve as seats. From the rural site of Mäntyharju, they sent me camp beds and bedding. In the main room, there was a typewriter, a desk, and some chairs and benches. There were three camp beds in one room and one in another room. Two rooms were empty.’ Thus the office started operations, June 1911.
Near the office in the center of Helsinki lay Kaisaniemi Park. Here, on a little hill, Brother Harteva gave a public talk every Sunday that summer. With a sparkle in his eyes, he would humorously call these talks “Sermons on the Mount.” At the end of the talks, he invited to the office nearby anyone who wanted to discuss Bible topics further. Some started to come every week. Thus, a small group of Bible Students developed in Helsinki.
First Tracts and Convention
Right from the start, Brother Harteva realized the value of the printed word. Saarnoja kansalle (People’s Pulpit) was the name of the first tract edited. The next year its name was changed to Puheita kansalle (Talks to the People). Those tracts contained articles from the English Watch Tower, as well as transcripts of talks by Brother Russell translated into Finnish. Advertisements for meetings and for the publications that were available were also included.
In January 1912 Puheita kansalle reported: “When The Divine Plan of the Ages was published in Finnish, it first reached a very great distribution through the colporteurs, through newspaper articles, and by booksellers. But soon after Christmas 1910, a great change took place, as the initial enthusiasm was followed by opposition so strong that it almost choked everything. Fortunately this situation did not last more than some six months. When the help by the press and booksellers seemed to cease completely, God started to invite more workers to the harvest.” The report continued, relating that in Helsinki about 30 Finnish-speaking and 10 Swedish-speaking brothers regularly met together two or three times a week to study the Word of God.
When the first convention was arranged to be held in an auditorium in Helsinki from March 29 to April 1, 1912, about 60 persons attended. Some of them came from Turku, Tampere, Pori, Vaasa, Iisalmi, Kuopio, and Parikkala, which shows that the truth had already reached widely scattered areas in southern Finland.
Brother Russell Visits Finland
When hearing about Brother Russell’s plan to make a trip around the world, Kaarlo Harteva wrote and asked him, please, to include a visit to Finland as well. Brother Russell accepted the invitation and informed Harteva that he would be coming at the end of August 1912.
Brother Russell’s visit was an exciting occasion for this small band of brothers. Tremendous preparation went into advertising the public talk, which was held in the finest hall in Helsinki, the auditorium of the Fire Department House. Elis Salminen, then a ten-year-old boy, who served Jehovah faithfully up to his death in 1981, related how the brothers displayed pictures of Brother Russell that were over one story high. “After that I heard my schoolmates saying that it was that American advertising religion,” reported Salminen.
Brother Russell himself recounted his visit in the October 1, 1912, issue of The Watch Tower: “Two Finnish brothers have been specially active for two years to serve the truth to all the truth-hungry. They have translated three volumes of the Scripture Studies and Everybody’s Paper for free circulation, at their own expense. Now about fifteen colporteurs are carrying the truth to every nook and corner of the land. The public meeting was crowded to the capacity of the hall—1000—many standing; some almost in tears because they could not gain admission. . . . The evidence is that God has some true children in Finland to whom his harvest message is now due.”
During his visit, Brother Russell authorized Brother Harteva to publish The Watch Tower in Finnish, starting with the November 1912 issue. The new magazine was recommended to be given as a Christmas gift to relatives and acquaintances.
The Testimony Spreads Out
Brothers Österman and Harteva had the problem of reaching the sparse population in that vast territory, over 600 miles [1,000 km] long and some 300 miles [500 km] wide. How were they to give an efficient witness? In hopes of a solution, at his own expense, Brother Österman published advertisements for the Society’s literature in various newspapers. Harteva, on the other hand, decided to concentrate his attention on giving public talks, which proved to be very successful. But how would he organize the public talks? Let him speak for himself:
“When I had chosen a town as my objective, I wrote to the editor of the best-known newspaper and asked what would be the best hall in the area for a public talk and whom I should contact if I wanted to rent it. When that was clear, I wrote an application, and having received a favorable answer, I made up an advertisement and sent it to the newspaper, asking them to print similar handbills and to put them between the pages of the newspaper so that people would get to know about the public talk. Then I went on my trip with some books. The meeting places were usually filled to capacity. . . . Once when I tried to get in, I was told that it was in vain. Only when I explained that I was the speaker could I make my way through. Another time, so many tried to get in that the hall was filled three times that same night, and the listeners waited patiently for their turn.”
This success tells about the hunger for truth in Finland at that time. After the Memorial celebration in 1913, the report showed 235 had been present throughout Finland.
Brother Rutherford’s Visit
A stir of activity filled the summer of 1913. Joseph F. Rutherford, who became the second president of the Society, and A. N. Pierson, both of the world headquarters staff, visited Finland. Brother Rutherford spoke on the subject “Where Are the Dead?—From a Lawyer’s Viewpoint.” Some thought the lawyer meant Rutherford himself, as he was a judge, but he actually meant the apostle Paul. The public talk was a success: The estimated attendance was over 2,500, and 33 new ones were baptized.
This was followed by another public talk in Kaisaniemi Park, which Brother Harteva had used earlier. Brother Rutherford said that it was his first talk given outdoors, and he thought it was an interesting experience.
Melody of Truth Found
The long-awaited year 1914 began. Excitement filled the air, since for five years attention had been focused on that year. The effectiveness of the testimony was significantly enhanced at that time, as six newspapers regularly published Brother Russell’s sermons.
During 1914 a convention was held. The brothers wondered, ‘Could this possibly be the last convention?’ Joyfully, 39 were baptized. Among them was Eero Nironen, a young student of music. This gifted young pianist, poet, and linguist came to the branch office two years later as a translator and served there faithfully until his death on May 7, 1982.
The Photo-Drama of Creation
In the first part of 1914, Kaarlo Harteva traveled to London to a convention where Brother Russell was the main speaker. He could hardly wait to request information about the Photo-Drama of Creation, which was prepared by the Society and included picture slides as well as moving pictures synchronized with phonograph records. A copy of it was ordered for Finland. Then he eagerly traveled to Berlin, Germany, to produce the Photo-Drama on phonograph records in the Finnish language.
The brothers waited in great suspense. Finally the Photo-Drama arrived with the very last merchant ship from Germany before all ship traffic was halted by the beginning of World War I. The hearts of this small group leaped for joy at the first showing, which took place on August 9, 1914, at the Apollo Theater in Helsinki. Before the end of the year, some 80,500 spectators had seen the Photo-Drama in Finland. What a tremendous boost that was for Bible truth!
The Ararat Magazine
After 1914 economic problems developed. The prospect of attaining immediate heavenly glory seemed to grow dimmer, and ignorance as to how to continue in the faith had a depressing effect on the enthusiastic spirit of the brothers. Thus, Brother Harteva wrote Brother Russell and asked what work the congregation was to accomplish after the harvest was over. He was advised to wait and to be alert to God’s direction.
At that time Harteva, together with other brothers, founded a cooperative association called Ararat and endeavored to apply the principles of the Thousand Year Reign in commercial business, thus freeing them from secular work in worldly firms. The readers of the Finnish edition of The Watch Tower were encouraged to join this association, as Harteva felt that The Watch Tower would soon no longer be published because of the prevailing economic problems and that then the Ararat magazine would take its place.
At that time Brother Harteva had contacts with Brother Lindkvist in Norway, where similar projects were under way. Although the brothers were sincere, it soon was clear that publishing Ararat was not at God’s direction.
However, since Brother Harteva was concentrating on the Ararat association, Martti Liesi became the Society’s representative in Finland. The Watch Tower continued to be published, thanks to the financial contributions of many brothers.
Reproof Given by Brother Russell
In the April issue of the Finnish edition of The Watch Tower, a two-page pastoral letter was published, stating:
“BROTHER RUSSELL’S LETTER TO THE BRETHREN IN SCANDINAVIA. Brothers Lindkvist and Harteva. I have just heard about the apostasy of these two dear brethren and their connections with a new movement called ‘Ararat’. . . . How sad I am when I see them, as I believe, turn their backs on the whole program of the Gospel! And yet I notice that they have not done this on purpose. It seems to me that once again that has happened which so often happened during the Gospel era, namely, that good men without knowing it have been deceived by the great Adversary and led away from the important work of the Gospel.”
Then he appealed to the brothers: “Dear brothers, we believe that these thoughts are Biblical, and we present them to you, as they show that your present thoughts and present program are completely wrong—unbiblical. Your ‘Ararat’ association does not have anything to do with the little flock and the work of the Gospel era for choosing the little flock, but instead it claims to be a restoration work. You will come to see that that time has not yet come. . . . We encourage all of you, dear brothers in the faith, to return to the truth and the work that belongs to this era.”
After receiving Brother Russell’s letter, Kaarlo Harteva at first defended himself in his magazine and stated that he had just wanted to promote the work of the Gospel. But his following words reflect his humility: “Perhaps I have in my eagerness and imperfectness caused suffering to those dearly beloved by our Lord. If I may correct the matter, I want to do what I can. I think that all these difficulties have had a very good effect on me.” The Ararat association soon dissolved, and Harteva started to assist in the editing of The Watch Tower and giving public talks again.
Revolution and Civil War
Finland was still a part of Russia, subject to the czarist government, when a revolution in Russia overthrew the czar in 1917. Finland now jumped at the opportunity to declare its independence on December 6, 1917. In the winter of 1918, a bloody civil war broke out in Finland between the “Reds” and the “Whites,” the socialists and the nonsocialists.
Eero Nironen was doing translation work at the branch office at that time, and he tells us: ‘The situation in Finland became critical. The Finished Mystery had to be translated very quickly, and for that reason I was sent to a more peaceful place, my home in Mäntyharju. Soon after I arrived there, a nearby railway bridge was blown up. . . . The “Whites” arranged conscription for military service, from which I was exempted because of my nearsightedness. I gave public talks and continued my translation work. . . . When the connections southward were cut off, I wondered whether all my brothers had gone to the glory above and I was the only one left.’
Soon Brother Nironen was again faced with the military issue. He relates: “General conscription was carried out, and the qualifications were not as high. Therefore my weak eyes did not help me. I was sent to the Marines, to the barracks at Katajanokka Harbor in Helsinki, on September 25, 1918. I planned my strategy in harmony with what I had learned from the Bible and the sixth volume of Studies in the Scriptures. For a year I really was at ‘war’ because of my conviction. With permission from the battalion commander, I could speak publicly to the battalion on four Sundays.” In due time he was released and could again take up his translating work.
New Hope Arises
At the beginning of 1919, the spiritual outlook of the brothers was optimistic. Some desired to serve as colporteurs. One of them was Mikael Aura, a wealthy farmer, who had given considerable financial assistance to the branch office some time earlier. “If the Lord reckons me worthy of his work, I am willing to do whatever I can,” said Brother Aura. “With my strength I can carry many books.” He served loyally for many years at the branch office.
Thankfully, Kaarlo Harteva, who had regained his spiritual health, accepted greater responsibilities once again. When a convention was held in Tampere in August, he delivered the main talks. He was again appointed to take the lead in the work. So, early in the following year, he replaced Martti Liesi, who withdrew from God’s organization. Within one year’s time, the number of subscribers for The Watch Tower had risen to 2,763, and over 61,000 pieces of literature had been sent out. Needless to say, the joyful spirit among the congregations was high.
‘Millions Will Never Die’
When Alexander H. Macmillan from world headquarters visited in November 1920, he gave the talk “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” in eight localities. That unforgettable theme was the topic of many talks back then.
Eero Nironen related: “Sometimes I gave four talks on the same day about this theme. At first we felt the message was somewhat daring, but since Jehovah’s organization had assigned it, we published it with great confidence, and now we can see how it is being fulfilled with increasing speed.” The subject generated so much interest that when the booklet Millions Now Living Will Never Die was translated that same year, optimistically 50,000 copies were printed.
Meanwhile, a well-known businessman in Pori, Kaarlo Vesanto, became interested in the truth. Later, when he had a house built for himself, he hired painters to print in big letters the theme ‘Millions Will Never Die’ on one of the outside walls of his house. Antti Salonen, one of the painters who did the work, recalls: “It was the most peculiar painting job I had ever done. I wondered what the statement might mean.” After finding out, he was baptized and then served for years in the circuit work. Now he is a special pioneer in Pori, with as radiant a disposition as ever.
Schism Threatens From the Inside
Early in the 1920’s, a restless spirit developed. Questions about which channel for dispensing Bible truth Jehovah uses started to pop up. In the Helsinki Congregation, some brothers founded a “Brothers’ Circle,” where only men were allowed to be members. Its objective was to study the truth very deeply. But soon the noble purpose changed to that of suspiciously seeking errors in the Society’s teachings. Fault was found with the Society’s suggestions to engage in field service, since it was thought that the preaching work was completed. Some leading pilgrim brothers even gave talks endorsing the idea that the channel of Bible truth ended with Brother Russell’s death.
The problem was most critical in Helsinki, where a group cut themselves off from the Society, published their own magazine, and held their own meetings. But as time went on, this group withered away. Quite clearly they did not have Jehovah’s support.
The reports indicate that 164 left the truth in Helsinki alone. In the April 1922 issue of The Watch Tower, a gesture of reconciliation was made: “To those dear friends who have left us and because of that have become troubled, we hold out our hand of brotherhood. Please, join us again!” Many of those disassociated ones were confused, but when they finally understood the need of a progressive organization, the majority of them returned.
The Runner Changes Racecourses
In 1919 a youngster in Finland named Otto Mäkelä set a national record in the 3,000-meter race. Later that same year in his hometown, he heard a talk given by the pilgrim Viljo Taavitsainen. How the truth appealed to this small, but tough, runner! Otto decided to change his racecourse. After his baptism, he took up the pilgrim work, in March 1921. Later he served as circuit overseer for decades and was known as an excellent teacher right up to the time when he finished his earthly course in 1985.*
The experiences of Otto Mäkelä would fill many books. Let us go along with him on a trip of about 60 miles [100 km] from Iisalmi to Kärsämäki: “I started in the morning about seven in order to reach my destination in time for the public talk at 7:00 p.m. Although I was traveling all the time, I did not make it until 9:00 p.m. There were several inns along the way, and every coachman drove me only to the next inn. When I asked for an immediate lift to the next place, they took their time catching a horse in the woods. Then it had to be fed and watered, and also the coachman had to eat. They did not hurry, as I did not look like a very high-ranking or important traveler.”
Hell’s Fire Extinguished in Lapland
Jalmari Niemelä, another pilgrim, tells about his work north of the Arctic Circle: “When I left Rovaniemi, it was raining hard. I started my trip by bicycle and traveled that day only 40 miles [70 km]. I stayed in an inn overnight and biked the following day for about ten miles [20 km]. As there was a village, I decided to stop and preach the good news of the Kingdom. I worked the village that day and gave a public talk in the evening. . . . I took several Hell booklets with me and decided to explain at each meeting what hell is.”
On his way from Sodankylä to Ivalo, he was able to speak with Laplanders. “When I placed the Hell and Distress booklets, an old man asked: ‘Have the people in the south already become so wise that they have extinguished hellfire?’”
In those early days of increasing activity, the Golden Age magazine provided much refreshment for the brothers. However, since it was not available in the Finnish language, a kind brother donated funds to get the magazine printed. Starting in 1922, it was released. Its popularity was reflected by the fact that by the end of the year, the magazine had 6,233 subscribers. At the same time, The Watch Tower had 2,244 subscribers.
Witnessing in the Esperanto Language
Right from the beginning of the preaching work in Finland, Brother Harteva’s versatile knowledge of languages was a benefit. He learned Esperanto, which was a language developed toward the end of the 19th century to advance international communication and was spoken by over a million people in various parts of the earth. Brother Harteva got permission from Brother Rutherford to translate the Millions book into Esperanto. It was released in 1922 in Helsinki just before the conference held by Esperantists. At that conference he gave a talk in Esperanto with the “Millions” theme. Now the truth could be offered to people speaking this language, some of whom had come from the United States, China, Japan, Algeria, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, and other countries.
Harteva gave discourses in Esperanto in 12 cities throughout Europe. In Budapest he gave a Biblical discourse that, by permission of the police commander, was translated into Hungarian. Brother Rutherford then sent a brother from world headquarters along with Brother Harteva to Moscow to find out whether it was possible to preach the good news of the Kingdom there. The response from the residents of Moscow was poor. But after contacting the local Esperantists, Brother Harteva left a supply of theocratic literature with them.
Their Own Branch Office
For over ten years, the branch office had been located in cramped facilities. The May 1923 issue of The Watch Tower contained this good news: “The Lord has blessed the zeal of some brothers as they have placed their all on the altar of the Lord so that at this time when rooms are scarce, it has been possible to get a new apartment for the office. The former one was so crowded that almost all the office workers had to live scattered throughout the city.” The new address was Temppelikatu 14. On the ground floor, there was a bookshop, where meetings could be held, and upstairs were the living quarters. A fund was set up, and so they were able to purchase the premises.
When Brother Rutherford visited the Örebro convention in Sweden in May 1925, he announced that in Copenhagen, Denmark, an office would be opened for Northern Europe. It would oversee the work in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Finland, although the branch office in Finland would continue as before. The Watch Tower reported: “Brother Dey, of London, was requested to accept the post as the Society’s representative and general manager for the Northern European Office. . . . Brother Dey gives up an important government position in London to enter the service of the King of kings.” Brother Dey’s regular visits strengthened the activity in Finland in the same way that the visits of the zone overseers have in recent years.
The Northern European Office generated more communication internationally among the Witnesses. Thus, in June 1927, the convention in Helsinki proved to be a milestone—the first Nordic general convention! All directors from the seven countries looked after by the Northern European Office were present. The talks were given in English, Swedish, and Finnish.
Truth Broadcast in Estonia
At the 1927 Helsinki convention, Brother Dey spoke of the need for missionaries from Finland to go to Estonia. Since the Estonian language is closely related to Finnish, the Finns learned the language quickly and could in that way help interested people in Estonia. Young colporteur sisters Irja Mäkelä and Jenny Felt answered the call and traveled to Tallinn. Soon they were joined by several other Finns, Kerttu Ahokas for one. Baptized in 1919, she later worked faithfully in the branch until her death in 1989.
At that time, Brother Rutherford’s public talks were being transmitted worldwide by radio. Could the Society have its own radio station in Finland? Permission was denied. However, when a convention was held in Tallinn, Estonia, in 1929, Brother Dey’s public talk was broadcast via the radio station in Tallinn all the way to Finland.
That was the opening. The radio station in Tallinn thereafter agreed to broadcast discourses every Sunday in Finnish, and sometimes in English, Estonian, Russian, and Swedish. From the fall of 1930 onward, a telephone connection from the radio station in Tallinn to the Finnish branch office made it possible for talks to be given right from there. This continued until September 1934, when the following news was read: “Because of the intolerance of the clergymen and the violent, slanderous attack they made in the Tallinn newspapers, the Estonian government has now taken the Tallinn radio station away from the private firm that ran it and has prohibited further broadcasting of Judge Rutherford’s lectures.”
Despite some problems in obtaining permanent visas in Estonia in the early part of the ’30’s, some Witnesses were able to remain there until the second world war. One of these was Miina Holopainen, who went to Estonia in 1931 and served there for 13 years. When the battle lines between the Soviet Union and Germany were being drawn, she was put on a train for Siberia. However, a bomb hit the coach, and the explosion hurled her a great distance away from the tracks. Those still alive were put right back on the train. Miina, though, lay unnoticed behind a woodpile until after the train’s departure. She was then taken to the hospital in Tartu, Estonia, since her legs were badly hurt. There she prayed for Jehovah to help her to recover enough so that she could go in field service again. She did recover, returned to Finland, and continued as a pioneer for many years.
New Name, New Press, and New Branch
For years we had erroneously been dubbed “Hartevites” and “Russellites.” Yet, we were not just “Bible Students.” What should we be called? Mikael Ollus found out in a surprising way: “A thrilling event occurred in 1931 when I, together with Eero Nironen, sat studying The Messenger magazine with the latest news of the convention in Columbus, Ohio. We could not help but react with surprise when our eyes caught sight of an article listing the reasons for the new name ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses,’ adopted by our brothers. I will never forget that moment.” Finally we had a name that clearly identified us. In Finland the new name was accepted eagerly.
That same year, Finland also received their first printing press, which was installed in the basement of the branch office. Brother Harteva wrote the following about it: “The sound of the printing machines, which is in our ears as pleasant music, has terribly touched the ears of the adversary, and he would willingly have pushed out our machinery and us also from the house.” Buzzing with activity, that small printing plant produced 700,000 printed items in 1932, which was approximately 1,000 for every publisher.
Now a larger facility was needed. The brothers found a suitable piece of land next to a lovely park and started building a new branch office there in the spring of 1933. The first floor included the printery, composition room, Kingdom Hall, and storage space for literature stock. The offices, the kitchen, and the dining room were located on the second floor, with the living quarters on the third floor. The address of this new branch office, Väinämöisenkatu 27, became well-known to the brothers during the next three decades.
“The Stones Cry Out”
Toward the end of the ’30’s, Brother Harteva recorded Rutherford’s sermons in Finnish on phonograph records. Why records? Because of a spanking new invention, the portable phonograph. Phonographs were to be used in the return-visit and house-to-house activity. And at the branch office, their mechanical parts were installed in portable cases manufactured by the brothers. “The Stones Cry Out” was the slogan used when the Witnesses went out in field service toting their “talking” machines.
A supply of new loudspeakers was received that were so powerful that the brothers called them “audio unit artillery.” Leo Kallio relates: “I had planned to go with my wife and my little son to the beach. That day the postman delivered a card reminding me of the plans to use the large loudspeakers for playing recordings on the beach, where over 200 persons were expected to watch the midsummer bonfire, a heritage from heathendom. It was not easy to make this decision, as my flesh fought strongly against it. I presented the matter to Jehovah, praying that if the seemingly impossible endeavor to get the loudspeakers into the crammed bus succeeded, that would serve as evidence that my efforts would be blessed. The attempt succeeded, although some of the passengers complained.
“At the crossroads, there was a big pile of boards, and we hid the loudspeakers behind it as people started to arrive. There was a dance hall nearby, and when the bonfire was lit, everyone stopped dancing and came to the beach. At the moment when everybody was by the fire, I put on a music record. It took them all so much by surprise that the bonfire was forgotten, and they all turned to look at the pile of boards for the source of the sound. A policeman, who had arrived to supervise the dancing, came up to me. I explained to him what I was trying to do. He nodded, and I was able to play the recordings of the lecture. They contained very hard blows against false religion, and it caused quite a hubbub in the audience.
“When the name Jehovah rang out, a group of young men gathered around me and mumbled: ‘Let’s pitch those loudspeakers into the lake.’ But the policeman threw them a stern look. By now someone had called the rural police chief to the spot. Quickly I put a music record on. The police chief wondered who had disturbed him in the middle of the midsummer festivals, and after he saw the smiling policeman, he angrily left. With the assistance of the policeman, we managed to get the loudspeakers into the bus undamaged.”
The phonograph work peaked in 1938, when 309 machines were in use, and according to reports, 72,626 discourses were played for an audience of 151,879. ‘The stones did cry out!’
The Society Dissolved
On November 30, 1939, the “Winter War” ignited when Soviet Union troops marched into Finland. The battles lasted for more than three months. Then, in June 1941, Finland was drawn into the “War of Continuation” as an unofficial ally of Germany. The warfare ushered in problems with the producing and distributing of spiritual food. Contact with headquarters was cut off. However, it was possible to get some spiritual food, through neutral Sweden, during the five years of war. But what effect did the war have on the attitude of the authorities toward our peaceful work?
Under the cover of war hysteria and the increasing nationalistic spirit, clergy-inspired opposers of the Kingdom pressured the government to crush the activity of the Witnesses. On January 18, 1940, the Ministry of Justice declared that the booklets Government and Peace and Freedom for the Peoples were to be confiscated. Four months later, on May 28, 1940, and after a dragged-out legal battle, the court ruled to dissolve the local Watch Tower Society.
Publishers of the Theocracy
Anticipating that negative court decision, on April 13, 1940, the brothers wisely sold all the Society’s possessions to a newly established publishing company that was named Kustannusosakeyhtiö Vartiotorni (Watchtower Publishing Company). So when the authorities moved to confiscate the property of the Society, they found, to their dismay, that there was no property.
Previous to this expected attack against the Society, the brothers also established, on February 15, 1940, an unregistered association called Publishers of the Theocracy. After the court broke up the local Watch Tower Society, all activities were cared for by this association.
The brothers, though, were certainly not fainthearted. They forged ahead and rented Helsinki Olympic Stadium and scheduled Brother Harteva to give a talk there on August 23, 1940, on the subject “The Kingdom Which Cannot Be Moved.” Some 78,000 handbills inviting the public to the talk were distributed! However, this activity awakened the opposers, and the authorities forbade the lecture just before it was to begin. But the manuscript was delivered to the largest daily newspapers in the country, and thus more than a million people—slightly less than a third of the population of the country—were able to read it in print!
Although most of the authorities in Finland did not actively oppose us, it must be remembered that Finland was cooperating with Germany, and some of the officials had adopted a Nazi-inspired attitude. Extremist elements repeatedly flung false charges against the organization, so that, as a result, the association Publishers of the Theocracy was also dissolved by a court decision on April 17, 1941.
Literature Is Used Despite Ban
When it became clear that the police would confiscate the literature at the branch, most of it was dispatched to various brothers’ homes. Since the police did not try to seize the literature in the possession of the brothers, we had quite a cache that could be used in the field.
Otto Mäkelä tells about an incident involving Sister Hilma Sinkkonen in Kotka: “This elderly sister placed Rutherford’s books although they were under ban. While doing so, she happened to come to the door of the captain of the Home Guard, whose job was to make sure that the ban was complied with. The captain became aggressive, as he felt that this was the height of impudence. He grabbed a rifle and pointed it at the sister, to which this old sister calmly said: ‘Wait a moment while I move in front of the stove so that you won’t make a hole in the wall.’ The captain’s rifle dropped, and he said in amazement: ‘There is no man among my soldiers as brave as you are, Madam. Come and sit down and tell me about your beliefs.’ The witness he received about the truth made such a deep impression on him that the publishers were not disturbed there anymore.”
Since Kaarlo Harteva had an especially active part in the work, the authorities targeted their charges directly at him. Therefore he felt it wise to withdraw into the background. Thus, Toivo Nervo became the editor of Jumalan Valtakunta (God’s Kingdom), successor to The Watchtower then under ban. He was followed by Pentti Reikko in 1941, while Mikael Ollus became the editor of Consolation.
The authorities, however, still regarded Kaarlo Harteva as the Witnesses’ keyman. On June 12, 1942, just as he was getting ready to go and give the funeral talk for his aunt, Aunes Salmela, he was arrested and taken into custody for three weeks, to be followed by house arrest.
“Solid Food” Still Delivered
When the printing of the magazines had to be stopped at the end of 1942, the brothers started to mimeograph the main articles from The Watchtower. These copies were called “solid food,” and they could not be sent through the mail. Therefore several couriers transported them throughout the country to be delivered to the congregations. This arrangement functioned well during the remainder of the war.
Many sisters did a notable part of this work. Meri Weckström, who served as a pioneer until her death in 1981, related about her assignment: “During the war, I was living in the Swedish High School of Economics, and we hid a truckload of the Society’s literature there. When The Watchtower was also banned, the brothers suggested that I start mimeographing it. I did the work in my apartment during evenings and at night.”
Because of air raids, no light at all was allowed to be seen through the windows of buildings. Meri continued: “One night the floor of the living room was filled with piles of mimeographed paper. I was using the machine in the kitchen when the doorbell rang a little after 3:00 a.m. I carefully closed the door to the living room before I went to open the door. To my surprise, I was greeted by a policeman. At first I thought that my work had been found out, so I prayed to Jehovah for help and wisdom in this situation. But the policeman only said that there was a small crack in the blind through which light could be seen. With a sigh of relief, I promised to repair it immediately, and the policeman left.”
Meri next related about the value of the mimeographed material: “I have noticed that Jehovah always gives guidance to his people at the right time. The article on neutrality, which I mimeographed during the war, is a good example of this. This article helped the brothers to see more clearly Jehovah’s instructions and the right attitude for a Christian.”
A Lieutenant Becomes a Soldier for Christ
In 1942, as a young lieutenant, 23-year-old Kalle Salavaara was wounded by an exploding grenade and was sent to a hospital for an operation. “After the operation,” he reports, “I was lying in the military hospital set up in the same school where I had been a pupil. At my bedside was Brother Sakari Kanerva, who had talked to me about the truth many times before. Now my decision was made, and there were only some practical matters to agree upon. I said to myself: ‘Tomorrow at Möysänjärvi Lake will be the terminal point of my military career.’
“The following day Brother Kanerva baptized me. As I was still in my full-length cast, it, of course, got wet and softened during the ceremony. The following morning, the medical colonel Heinonen looked reproachfully at the cast and asked: ‘Where have you been messing around? The cast has completely lost its shape!’
“‘I got baptized, sir,’ was my answer. He stood stone-silent. I felt that he was holding a moment’s silence in commemoration of my death. ‘What did you say?’ the colonel finally asked. Then I was able to give my first public testimony.”
Once Kalle Salavaara recuperated, he used his freedom, as well as his military passport, to move about delivering “solid food” to the congregations. As he set out with mimeographed material for the congregations in southwest Finland, Väinö Pallari, who was working in Bethel, warned him about the police in Matku. Several times they had taken him to the police station for interrogation and seemed to know just when a courier was about to come. Kalle relates:
“When I arrived at Matku by train from Urjala, a sturdy policeman walked up to me immediately and in an official tone of voice asked for my identification certificate. I showed him my military passport. That surprised him. In quite a different voice, he then asked for my certificate of work. For just that reason, I had formally enrolled at Helsinki University. Therefore I could hand the policeman a certificate signed by the president of the university, specifying an assignment of work there, although not indicating what kind of work I was doing. The resistance of the policeman was broken. When I started to drag my suitcases to the waiting bus, he politely offered to carry them. I could not resist the temptation to give him the large, heavy case that contained the banned mimeographed material. Somehow it seemed so safe with the policeman carrying it.”
Many times, the brothers and sisters came by toboggan, by horse sleigh, or by foot to the railway stations late at night in order to get a few banned articles. At times, the winter temperature was -22° F. [-30° C.] “No one complained,” recalls Brother Salavaara. “I saw only happy, appreciative receivers, who brought to my mind the bright words from the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need.’ To them it was like manna from heaven.”
Neutrality Put to the Test
The state of war put the neutrality of the Witnesses fully to the test. As for Kosti Huhtakivi, Vieno Linte, and Yrjö Laine, their Bible-trained consciences would not allow them to serve in the army. Thus, they were confined to prison. But would the quality of their faith be strong enough for the ordeal that they were about to suffer as a consequence?
Brother Huhtakivi recalls: “We were ordered to assemble at Humppila School and were assigned sleeping quarters under the rifle rack. One day the corporal ordered us into the yard and over to the flagpole. He was polishing his bayonet, boasting over its sharpness, when he snorted the order: ‘Let’s go!’ We were taken through the side gate of the school, which had served as our barracks. We walked a short distance to the edge of a forest, to a ridge, where we were ordered to halt. Now we spotted a group of soldiers marching toward us with rifles in hand.”
The armed soldiers took their stand in front of the brothers, confirmed the brothers’ identity, and informed them that they had been sentenced to death by firing squad. The sentence was to be carried out immediately.
Brother Linte cannot hold back his tears as he continues relating about their experience: “The order was given: ‘Action!’ after which the stretcher-bearer blindfolded us. Then followed the command: ‘Load!’ and we could hear the click of the rifles. Next came the order: ‘Aim!’ ‘How good to have the resurrection hope’ was the thought that rushed through my mind. Suddenly, we heard a shout: ‘Sergeant! Telephone message.’ This was followed by the command: ‘Halt!’ after which the telephone message was read aloud: ‘Sentence suspended for the time being,’ signed by the colonel. Our blindfolds were removed, and we were escorted back to our quarters.”
The drama had been well staged. The same diabolic strategy was used on other brothers. Erkki Kankaanpää, who now serves as Branch Committee coordinator, experienced it also. He explains: “To begin with, we were told that we would get a death sentence. The treatment was so stern that we did not at all doubt that it would be carried out. It was later found that this was a means of intimidation. A mock trial and, a couple of hours later, we were once again brought before the judge and received three and a half years in a penitentiary.”
A Cooperative for Spiritual Health
In 1932 a cooperative firm named Al Sano had been established. It not only imported and sold health food but also published a magazine by the same name as well as other literature dealing with matters of health. Some of the brothers were in this business, and it became very closely associated with the Society.
Just before Brother Rutherford’s death in 1942, he granted permission for the cooperative to print the truth in the form of other literature if the Society’s literature was banned. Thus health books by Al Sano were published, and in their magazine Terveyttä Kaikille (Health for All), they published some Watchtower articles.
The field service was carried out in an unusual way while under ban. Kalle Salavaara explains: “Our objective was the same then as it is now: We wanted to show people that God’s Kingdom is the only real solution for all their problems. That required theocratic strategy and patience. People would ask: ‘Are you from the drugstore of that religious group?’ and then they would describe their ailments at great length. After making some recommendations and offering brochures on the subject of health, we would shift the conversation to the Kingdom message. ‘Of course, the health products cannot stop aging and death,’ we would say, ‘but would it not be wonderful to be able to live healthy and young forever?’ It sometimes turned out to be a very fruitful discussion.”
Conventions During the Ban
By exercising extreme caution and inventiveness, it was possible to continue having meetings and conventions during the war. For example, a “Hunting and Fishing Festival” was arranged on a farm in Haarajoki, and of course, the subject of the talks was, not hunting for animals, but fishing for men.
In the summer of 1943, a great meeting, called “Pentti Reikko’s Family Festival,” was held in the middle of Helsinki at a students’ club. Invitations were given only to those who were recommended by two trustworthy Witnesses. We had over 500 present.
Brother Reikko tells us what happened after an official letter was sent to the authorities from that same meeting:
“Some time afterward I received an order from the State Police to report for questioning. The interrogator had our letter in his hand, and he demanded information as to where meetings like this were held. ‘How is it possible that you can hold a meeting like that in the center of Helsinki without our knowing about it, when we even know almost everything two people say to each other in the street?’ he asked. The meeting had actually been held just a couple of blocks away from the police office!
“We arranged several big conventions in the same manner, and Jehovah’s protection was very clear, as our meetings were never disrupted. In December 1943 a convention was held at which the attendance reached 1,260.”
New President Gives Direction
As the end of the war was approaching, Nathan H. Knorr, who by then was the third president of the Watch Tower Society, eventually received information about the ban in Finland. In his letter to Brothers Harteva and Taavitsainen, he thanked them because, despite the ban, they had stayed active, and they had made it possible to hold on to the Society’s property for future use.
What, though, would happen with those health publications that also contained articles about the Kingdom? Since the Society’s literature was still under ban, Brother Knorr allowed the Finnish brothers to continue placing them with the public. But at the same time, he warned: “You ought not to mix the message of the Kingdom with anything else. Encourage the brothers to do the following: The apostles in their time went from community to community without Bibles or books. If the Lord sees fit that we should not have anything other than God’s Word in our mind and our mouth, let us use it to the glory and honor of Jehovah’s name. The truth does not need any attraction other than the truth itself.”
End of the War
The war with the Soviet Union came to its end in September 1944. Finland maintained her independence, but she lost large chunks of her territory. About 300,000 persons who were evacuated from the ceded areas had to be relocated in other parts of Finland. Brother Harteva was released from custody on September 27, and on the basis of a general amnesty, all the brothers were soon released from prison, thus laying a foundation for a period of growth never before experienced in Finland.
It seemed very difficult, almost impossible, to get the prohibition against the Society reversed. The next Minister of Justice, Urho Kekkonen, took a favorable stand toward the Witnesses. He suggested that we form a new religious association, as we would then have almost the same rights as the Lutheran Church. The brothers followed his advice, and on May 31, 1945, the Council of State approved the Religious Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
This solution made it possible to perform marriages, to exempt children from religious instruction at school, and to enjoy the legal protection granted to registered religious associations. The reregistration of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society finally succeeded much later, on February 2, 1949.
The year 1945 started with vigorous public activity. On January 6, Brother Harteva gave a talk on the theme “Toward the Light” in the Exhibition Hall in Helsinki. Nevertheless, larger premises were needed. And so the Olympic Stadium was rented for the public talk, which was widely advertised not only in the newspapers but also on the streets.
Under Brother Salavaara’s direction, a procession of Witnesses carrying placards was organized that was more than a quarter of a mile long [0.5 km]. Picture this: Through the streets of Helsinki march the Witnesses shouting slogans into hand-held cardboard megaphones, followed by a cavalcade of sound cars announcing the Kingdom message. And first in line is Elis Salminen riding a big brown horse, waving a banner with the words: “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” What a sight! What a witness!
The horse was afraid of the slogan signs and was about to bolt when, as Salminen remembers, “one of the many photographers came and took a picture of me and said: ‘It ought to be an ass. That’s what Jesus rode.’” The procession wended its way along the main thoroughfares of the capital city for a few miles and finally stopped at the railway station, where the Witnesses formed a united front and shouted in unison the invitation to the public talk. Altogether 12,000 arrived at the stadium to listen!
Witnessing Over the Airwaves
Those thousands who gathered at the stadium were not the only ones listening to the talk. Although the Finnish Broadcasting Company, supervised by the State, had strictly refused to broadcast our programs in the past, the brothers still courageously approached the company and requested that the talk, “The Meek Inherit the Earth,” be broadcast over the radio. Hella Wuolijoki, a famous author born in Estonia, was the director-general in the broadcasting company, and she granted us permission. She had been in prison herself during the war and thus felt sympathy for us. Therefore, a great witness was given to a vast audience as far as Sweden, where the branch office sent a telegram stating: “Broadcast heard excellently!”
The Watchtower Is Published Again
Both Jumalan Valtakunta and Consolation magazines started to be published again at the beginning of 1945. And from the July 1 issue onward, the name of the magazine Jumalan Valtakunta was again The Watchtower. Did people want the magazines? There were not many periodicals offered on a subscription basis right after the war, so the publishers received a record number of new subscriptions: 40,038! That was almost 30 subscriptions per publisher. It was the best campaign they ever had. The printing-press bearings did not cool down that year!
The Watch Tower Society’s president had deep concern for the welfare of the brothers in war-ravaged Europe. He desired to visit them and arrange for needed assistance as soon as traveling was possible. Thus, on December 18, 1945, during the darkest and coldest time of the year, Brother Knorr together with his secretary, Milton G. Henschel, and a Northern European Office representative, William Dey, arrived by boat from Sweden. This is how their diary of travel reads: “About seventeen hours from the time it left Stockholm the Bore V entered the waters of the Finnish bay near Turku and seemed almost glad it had weathered the trip and could be in its home waters, there to push about the six-inch [15 cm] slabs of ice that filled the harbor.” A group of smiling brothers from the Helsinki Bethel family welcomed them.
Brother Knorr looked into the problems resulting from the war. The Society had sent Finland donated clothing from Sweden, which was distributed to pioneers and others in need. Although Finland was a notable producer of paper at that time, the government wanted to export all the paper in order to get foreign currency into Finland. Would the printing of our magazines grind to a halt because of the difficulty in obtaining paper? To economize, Brother Knorr decided to discontinue the printing of the Consolation magazine for the time being. The paper for The Watchtower would be bought by headquarters with U.S. dollars, which Finland readily accepted. Thus, the printing of the main channel for spiritual food, The Watchtower, continued.
During his visit, Brother Knorr related the exciting news about the recent opening of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead for missionary training. His diary shows the reaction of the Finnish brothers: “No greater enthusiasm for the Watchtower College had been displayed anywhere else on the journey. . . . Twenty-two full-time workers filed their names.”
The First Ones to Gilead
It was just a few months later, in 1946, that the first invitations to Gilead received by brothers in Finland arrived. Four brothers, Eero Nironen, Kalle Salavaara, Elai Taavitsainen, and Veikko Torvinen, attended the eighth class. “When the four of us returned to Finland at the beginning of 1947,” recalled Brother Nironen, “we were like new people. It was first in Gilead that I began to realize the true meaning of theocracy. We learned to improve our field service, and what was most important, we were taught how the everyday life of a Christian has to be filled with God’s spirit so that he does not perform just a robot’s work.”
In 1950 Eero Muurainen attended Gilead. He served for years as a district overseer up to his death in 1966. Throughout the years, the missionary spirit has inspired at least 59 Finns, so far, to attend Gilead School.
Circuit Work After the War
The outbreak of the war in 1939 saw 865 publishers in Finland. At the end of the second world war, in 1945, the number of publishers had almost doubled, with a total of 1,632 publishers reporting in over 200 congregations.
The number of congregations in 1945 was about the same as it is now, more than 40 years later. Why did the number of congregations not grow? Most of the congregations in the 1940’s were small in size and widely scattered. On the average, there were only 5 publishers per congregation then; now the average number is over 60.
Four decades ago, after the end of the war, the brothers’ only vehicles were bicycles, although in the rural areas, the wealthy had horse-drawn wagons or sleighs. For the most part, though, the brothers’ livelihood was meager, and the working hours long and hard. Therefore, traveling long distances to attend meetings was difficult. So in many localities just one family made up the congregation, and they witnessed only in territories close to their home.
The work of the circuit overseer under those circumstances was not easy. “The journeys between the congregations, which could be ten miles [20 km] or more, were often made on foot carrying heavy luggage,” Erkki Kankaanpää says. “I remember how once during the bitter cold of February, my wife and I slept in a room with no heating. We went to bed with all our clothes on. Sometimes we had to sleep in the same room with a big family.” As the living conditions improved, the work of the circuit overseers became more effective.
The year 1947 found Brothers Knorr and Henschel back in Finland. Although only a year and a half had passed since their previous visit, they noticed the remarkable progress that had been made in the meantime. Within two years the peak of publishers had climbed from 1,632 to 2,696. Finland was certainly experiencing a time of good growth. A convention was held in the Exhibition Hall in Helsinki on June 13-15, 1947, with 5,300 in attendance and 184 baptized.
True, the number of congregations did not increase, but the growth in publishers after the war was astonishing. By 1950 the number of publishers exceeded 4,000. The Theocratic Ministry School gave a boost to the brothers’ public speaking abilities and to their effectiveness in evangelizing. Hence, instead of phonographs doing the preaching, the brothers gave sermons by word of mouth.
In February 1950 two Gilead graduates, Wallace Endres and John Bruton from the United States, arrived in the country. Brother Endres replaced aging Brother Harteva as branch overseer. Brother Harteva continued faithfully in the full-time service up to his death in 1957.
Printing Activity Increases
After the war, paper eventually became available once more. From the start of 1951, Finland again published another magazine in addition to The Watchtower; now its name was Awake! By 1955 the number of magazines printed had increased to more than 1,000,000 per year.
During the postwar period, Finland began to print all the Society’s books on their own presses. It was troublesome to get cover material and to prepare hard covers for the books, though, so in the early 1950’s, they used plain cardboard covers, which proved to be too weak. As a result, when Brother Knorr visited in 1951 and in 1955, he advised them as to how they could improve the quality of their books. During the years from 1945 to 1955, Finland, in a very cramped branch facility, printed an average of 54,000 books a year.
In 1955 Erkki Kankaanpää was invited to the branch office, where he had served earlier as a printer, to oversee the factory. He and his wife had attended Gilead School in 1952 and afterward served in the circuit and district work. And when Brother Endres returned to his home country in 1957 because of family obligations, Brother Kankaanpää was appointed as branch overseer.
Kingdom Halls Built as More Help Arrives
The branch office building that was acquired in 1923 had a small meeting place connected to it that was named Helsinki Tabernacle. The branch office in Väinämöisenkatu also had a meeting hall of its own. But it was not until 1956 that the first Kingdom Hall was built. Where? In Käpylä, then a suburb of Helsinki. The next hall was built two years later in Lahti. During the last 30 years, more than 180 Kingdom Halls have been constructed in Finland, and now there are very few congregations that do not meet in their own Kingdom Halls.
Vivian and Ann Mouritz arrived in Finland from Gilead School in November 1959 and were greeted by a cold winter and were ushered into an intense study of the language. A short time later, they served in the circuit and district work, until they were called to the branch office, where they served until 1981. Then they were transferred to their native country, Australia, where Brother Mouritz now serves as Branch Committee coordinator.
Arne and Gudrun Nielsen were assigned to Finland in 1959, and they worked in the branch until 1965, when they were transferred back to Denmark, where they still serve in that branch.
Branch Office Moves
By the middle of the 1950’s, the branch premises in Helsinki had become very cramped. Since it was not possible to enlarge the facilities, a suitable location was sought elsewhere. A site was found about ten miles [20 km] from the center of Helsinki at Vantaa. It had potential for future expansion, too, and was bought in 1957.
Toward the end of 1960, construction began on the new branch office that would have floor space of 29,000 square feet [2,700 sq m]. At the beginning of 1962, the Bethel family moved into its new premises, where the four-week courses of the Kingdom Ministry School for special pioneers and congregation overseers were held starting that same year. There seemed to be so much space in the branch that it was thought it would be sufficient till the end of this system of things. But that was not so.
Off to Copenhagen!
When the largest convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in history was held in New York, U.S., in 1958, only 263 Witnesses from Finland could attend. The stories told by those returning delegates and the showing of the Society’s movie about that convention aroused the Finnish brothers’ enthusiasm to meet foreign brothers. So their spirits were high when it was announced that an assembly would be held in the summer of 1961 in nearby Copenhagen, Denmark, for all publishers in Scandinavia. Until then, only a few brothers had ever crossed the borders of Finland. The branch office organized a travel department to take care of all the arrangements for the 4,000 travelers.
At the Copenhagen Sports Grounds, the program rang out in English, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish. The convention was an unforgettable experience and helped the Finns to see and feel what it really means to be part of an international association of brothers.
The Special Work Camp at Karvia
Like the first-century Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses obey their Bible-trained consciences. After World War II, this neutral stand by male Witnesses caused quite a problem for the authorities. Starting in 1947, brothers were incarcerated for 240 days on an island in the Finnish Gulf close to Hanko, which served as a bastion for the army. In addition they were sentenced to a jail term of from three to six months.
In 1959 a law was passed that considerably lengthened the “period of service” for those objectors. The former temporary jail at Karvia was transformed into an infamous “special work camp.”
One objector, Jukka Ropponen, describes Karvia: “When I approached that place in the middle of the swamps in a police car, I could see behind a high barbed-wire fence wooden barracks that were built during the war. They had barred windows. It was a prison camp designed Nazi-style and was not an uplifting sight, particularly when you knew you would spend at least the next two years there. But inside we had cheerful brothers, eight to ten persons in a room. The toilet was a tub in a closet in one corner of the room.
“The daily program included spending one hour outdoors under the watchful eye of a guard. The rest of the time we spent behind bars. We had plenty of time on our hands, but a fine spiritual program that we had made up filled our days. We studied the Bible carefully verse by verse. Gradually, a good library was built up to help us in our study. We gave discourses on many Bible subjects. And under those conditions, the association with our brothers rounded off the sharp personality edges of each one of us.
“Field service was no big problem. We could not talk to anyone outside, but we wrote letters to people living in unassigned territory after we found their addresses in the telephone directory. Often we served as vacation [auxiliary] pioneers. Some in our group had not yet dedicated themselves to Jehovah, but when they progressed spiritually, they wanted to be baptized. But where could we find enough water to baptize them? That was a difficult problem.
“We asked the warden for permission to perform the baptism in a swamp pool nearby, but the answer was a stern no! Perhaps it was a good decision, since during winter the pool is frozen solid; hence the baptism would have been impossible anyway. One day a cupboard in the corner of the room caught my eye: There it was, a baptismal pool! Within a few days, a large plastic sheet was smuggled into our barracks. And without the guards noticing, our new baptismal pool lined with plastic was tugged to the washroom, where the baptism took place. During those prison years, quite a number of new ones were baptized in that pool.”
The Country’s President Visits the Work Camp
Although the first public reaction to the Witnesses’ refusal of military service was negative, feelings began to change by the middle of the 1960’s. People began to believe that long sentences under concentration camp conditions were inhuman. So in August 1968, Urho Kekkonen, then president of Finland, decided to pay a personal visit to the penal institution.
“It was a complete surprise,” recalls Reima Laine, who now serves as district overseer. “President Kekkonen spent many hours at the camp and wanted to interview us without anyone else present. He promised to do everything he could to get the law changed for the better.” This soon happened, and in 1969 the institution was done away with.
Exempt From Military Service
During the years following 1969, the young brothers were sentenced to jail for nine months, and while serving out their sentence, they built up a reputation for good conduct. Many citizens noticed and thought that to sentence peaceable young men, who were harmless to the community, to prison was a black spot on the reputation of their neutral and peace-loving Finland. Therefore, some notable and influential humanists presented ideas about the exemption of the Witnesses from military service.
In 1985 the government deemed it wise to adopt a new law. Hence, since 1987 all baptized and active Jehovah’s Witnesses are granted deferment—three years at a time—until they reach the age of 28 years. Thus, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been exempt from military service in Finland during times of peace.
Freedom to Preach Put to the Test
Although the constitution of Finland assures freedom of religion, there have been efforts now and then to promulgate laws to hinder the door-to-door ministry. The courts, so far, have decided all cases in favor of the right to preach.
One city, Oulu, changed its ordinance to read: “Prohibition concerning the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been removed.” The reasons given were mentioned: “The work of ideological and religious organizations from house to house does not disturb domestic peace. On the contrary, from the standpoint of the population, it is a matter of beneficial and necessary communication that cannot be accomplished in any other way.”
National Borders Do Not Block Unity
Swedish brothers have helped to spread the truth in Finland. In recent years, Finns have, in turn, helped the evangelizing work in Sweden, where many Finns have moved. So Finnish-speaking congregations began to be formed in Sweden from 1972 onward. The growth among the Finnish population in Sweden has been vigorous, and today there are some 1,800 Finnish-speaking publishers in Sweden.
Since Scandinavian travelers are allowed to cross the borders between these countries without a passport, such freedom has proved beneficial when arranging for conventions. Because of the great distances that separate Finland from the other Scandinavian countries, large international conventions were not arranged in Finland until 1965, when a convention for Sweden and Finland together was held at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki. This was repeated in 1973. And in the years 1978 and 1983, the Exhibition Center of Helsinki was used for two international conventions. Those conventions widened the outlook of the Finnish brothers in a fine way and proved that national borders form no obstacle to Christian unity.
As for circuit assemblies, they used to be held in various school auditoriums. Contracting for school facilities became more difficult in the 1970’s. So in 1975 a decision was made to build an Assembly Hall of our own in the town of Hämeenlinna in southern Finland. A half-completed industrial building was bought and made into a convenient Assembly Hall with 1,200 seats. Assemblies started there in March 1978. Ten years later, in 1988, another hall was acquired, this one in northern Finland, and its first assembly was scheduled for November 1989.
The New World Translation and the Divine Name
The Finnish language first became a written language in the 16th century, and the “New Testament” was among the first books to be printed in Finnish, in 1542. Since then it has become a tradition among Finnish people to have the Bible in the home. In 1975, after great effort, the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures was published in Finnish.
However, the New World Translation was not the first Finnish edition of the Bible to use Jehovah’s name. The very first Bible in Finnish had it in the marginal notes. Also, the index of the Old Church Bible of 1776 contained the divine name. Nonetheless, some priests had shown a strong prejudice against it by falsely asserting that the form “Jehovah” has been invented by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Therefore, imagine the shock to parishioners and priests alike when the word Jehova was discovered above the altar in a church at Kuhmoinen after paint was removed during renovations in 1985. Seeing the divine name was too much for the parish council. They decided to cover over the name again.
The name Jehovah was minted on Finnish coins in the first part of the 17th century. Some famous Finnish authors have also used Jehovah’s name in their writings. Quite interesting is the fact that God’s name in Hebrew letters is displayed in many of Finland’s most prominent churches. The most remarkable defenders of Jehovah’s name have, however, been his Witnesses.
Expansion of the Branch Facilities
The steady increase in the number of Kingdom proclaimers has made it necessary to expand the facilities of the branch office many times. For example, when ten years had passed after building the branch in 1962, additional space was sorely needed. The printing of magazines rose from 2.3 million annually to 3.7 million. The publishing of books increased from 40,000 yearly to over 200,000. Altogether, Finland has printed 562,000 copies of the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life alone—about one book for every third Finnish home. So in 1973 more space was added, 24,000 square feet [2,200 sq m], for the Shipping Department and for storage.
The Bethel family has grown from year to year, too, and so in 1977, 20 rooms were added to the living quarters. And then in the years 1984 through 1986, large extensions were again made to the factory and to the living quarters. A separate Kingdom Hall with 300 seats was also built.
New Technology Put to Use
In addition to the expansion of the branch facilities, a transformation has occurred in printing technology as well. “We took quite a step forward when we changed over from two-color letterpress printing to four-color offset printing,” recalls factory overseer Heikki Kankaanpää. “Friends in Finland are thankful to the Governing Body for granting us permission to buy the five-unit offset sheetfed press. Since the beginning of 1981, we have been able to print the magazines in four colors—one of the first branches to do so. It has greatly increased the distribution of the magazines.”
“In the spring of 1985, we received the Watchtower-designed MEPS computer and phototypesetting system. The second five-unit sheetfed offset press, a German-made Miller-Johannisberg, was installed in 1988. It doubled our printing capacity.”
Expectations in This Land of Thousands of Lakes
Throughout the years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been busy preaching the good news of the Kingdom in Finland. Thus, the light of Bible truth has been shining brilliantly in this land of thousands of lakes. The ratio of publishers to population is one of the most favorable in all Europe. During recent years, the increase has not been the greatest, yet the number of publishers has grown steadily.
The standard of living in Finland has changed considerably for the better. Spiritually, however, the situation among the population has become worse in many ways. Interest in materialistic pursuits has crowded out many people’s love for neighbor and their interest in spiritual matters. Moral standards have dropped. Busy city life and the easy availability of worldly entertainment have generally undermined people’s reading habits.
Although the great majority of the people in Finland still belong to the Lutheran Church, it has been shaken recently by many crises. After a long battle within the church, women were accepted as priests in 1986. Many priests have publicly shown that they do not have genuine faith in the Bible, its doctrines, and its moral principles. Sincere people are shocked at these developments. On the other hand, Jehovah’s people have firmly upheld Christian principles, which causes them to stand out from other religions. Many people can see the difference. By studying the Word of God with Jehovah’s Witnesses, they will be helped to see the real light of truth.
Eight centuries ago, when the crusaders of old were sweeping through Finland, they certainly did not bring the good news of God’s Kingdom and the light of the Bible truth with them. In this 20th century, however, Jehovah has triumphed in having his prophecies fulfilled and his good news declared by his busy and energetic Witnesses. By more than 17,000 peaceful Kingdom publishers, the truth now radiates all over this land rimmed by thousands of islands and dotted with crystal-clear lakes and lush green forests.
For Otto Mäkelä’s life story, see The Watchtower, October 15, 1967, pages 630-4.
[Chart on page 191]
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1950 1960 1970 1980 1989
1950 1960 1970 1980 1989
[Box/Map on page 139]
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Gulf of Bothnia
Official Languages: Finnish and Swedish
Major Religion: Evangelical Lutheran
Branch Office: Vantaa
[Picture on page 141]
Emil Österman was the first Witness in Finland
[Picture on page 143]
Kaarlo Harteva, who gave the work a vigorous start
[Pictures on page 147]
The first branch office, Helsinki. “Saarnoja kansalle,” one of the first publications in Finnish
[Picture on page 150]
Joseph F. Rutherford in Kaisaniemi Park, where he gave his first outdoor public talk, in 1913
[Picture on page 154]
Eero Nironen, who served as a translator for some 60 years
[Picture on page 157]
Otto Mäkelä, who served in traveling work and in the branch office for many decades
[Picture on page 161]
William Dey, overseer of the Northern European Office
[Picture on page 164]
Brothers in field service with gramophones and megaphones
[Picture on page 170]
Kalle Salavaara learned the truth in a military hospital
[Picture on page 176]
An information march in Helsinki advertising a public talk, April 1945
[Picture on page 181]
N. H. Knorr and M. G. Henschel in 1955, one of many visits to encourage the brothers
[Pictures on page 185]
Finland branch office and view of Bethel lobby
[Picture on page 186]
Present Branch Committee, clockwise, H. Kankaanpää, V. Leinonen, E. Kankaanpää, K. Kangas, J. Ropponen