Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Finnish–German wartime relations were not talked about much. Even after the collapse, research into many aspects of the German presence in Finland as brothers-in-arms has only recently begun. There are many sides to the story of the Germans in Lapland, such as the perspectives of local Sámi and Finnish civilians, women and children, prisoners and forced labourers, and common German soldiers, many of which have barely been touched upon.
For example, the romantic relations between German soldiers and Finnish women were taboo for a long time, as were the illegitimate children conceived from these relationships. Due to this difficult association with the Nazi regime, the mapping and studying of the material heritage left by the German troops has only recently begun.
A great deal remains to be studied, and, for example, all traces of war in the Kilpisjärvi landscape are important and vital first-hand material sources for these studies. They act as important reminders of the past in the landscape. Northern environments rejuvenate very slowly, and the effects of the war can still clearly be seen, along with the many scars it left on the local landscape. This is visible, for instance, in the vegetation, with enriched soils and lush undergrowth in places where German stables and latrines once stood and in degenerated vegetation wherever something was burned or where the topsoil was stripped away, such as tent places dug into the ground.
The remains of a plane crash from the Second World War can still be distinguished along the Saana nature trail.
During the Second World War, in October 1942, nine German Junkers Ju-88 A4 bombers left the Banak airfield in Norway, headed eastwards. One plane experienced engine failure at Kilpisjärvi and attempted an emergency landing on the northside of Saana Fell but ended up crash landing.
Four out of five crew members died in the crash. The lone survivor was helped to the roadside by 12-year-old Urho Viik, to await transportation to a hospital in Norway. Urho had been trapping rabbits in the fells and witnessed the crash. He was the son of Valde Viik, the first ranger at Malla Strict Nature Reserve, who lived at Siilastupa Inn with his family. Later, Urho also became a Malla ranger until the 1990s.
The Junkers Ju-88 A4 crash site is still clearly visible in the frail and slowly rejuvenating tundra vegetation. Signs of the crash and subsequent fire, and some rusted remains of the plane can be seen along the Saana nature trail, where an information sign describes the plane crash. Do not touch any of these important material reminders of this wartime tragedy.
Ghostly footprint of the Junkers Ju-88 plane burnt in the fragile tundra vegetation, as seen from the air. Photo: Oula Seitsonen, 2021.