The transit camp of the German army was located in Hanko Tullinime in 1942-1944. It was intended for 3,000 soldiers, but 4,000, sometimes even 5,000 soldiers stayed there constantly. Hanko's advantage was a short sea journey to the German-occupied Baltic ports of Tallinn and Liepaja, and to Danzig in Poland. Hanko was also a good winter port, so troops could be transported all year round.
In January 1942, the ice situation was difficult. The first German soldiers who traveled through Hanko had to walk the rest of the way along the ice to the trains waiting in Hanko. Soon more ships came. The German labor organization Organization Todt settled in Villa Tellina in the center of Hanko in June 1942. Finland leased Tulliniemi to Germany, and construction work on the transit camp began. The summer was warm and sunny, work was done in a hurry. The Finnish members of the Lotta Svärd organization were responsible for the editing. More than a hundred crew barracks, stables, a large military home, a hospital, a cinema, four saunas and a lice removal facility went up in Tulliniemi. Dozens of wells were dug, but the Germans doubted the quality of the brown drinking water and laid a wooden water pipe in the area. Already at the end of August, the camp was ready to receive the first trains carrying vacationers.
Trains from the northern front to Hanko ran day and night. In their dozens of cattle wagons each traveled forty tired and dirty men, whose heads were swarming with lice. Once there, the men got off the wagons and lined up in front of the barbed wire fence. After a full sauna and a medical examination, everyone got a clean uniform. The holiday atmosphere was enhanced by relaxing in the camp's own cinema and in a large military home, where the sisters of the German Red Cross handled the catering. Especially the pilsner sold well. Sometimes the soldiers bought a basket and sat in a group around it. Many were very thirsty. The journey from the northern front to Hanko had taken several days. Then cargo ships converted into troop transports took them across the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn, and from there trains continued to Germany. Some of the soldiers spent their vacation here in the Tulliniemi transit camp.
The regular staff of the camp often went to the movies in the city. The march to the city center lasted half an hour and was sung to the National Socialists' signature tune, the Horst Wessel Lied and other marching classics of the time. The journey back was more informal, and soldiers with swings were often seen walking in the direction of the camp. Relationships were formed and children were born, but only a few, very few compared to the large number of German soldiers. The people of Hanko earned additional income by chartering soldiers' luggage between the camp and the port. The ship transports were so regular that after bringing one batch of luggage to the camp gate, it was soon the turn of the next ones to leave. When going on leave, the soldiers paid their transport allowance mostly in money; Those returning from Germany gave different delicacies. In times of famine, foodstuffs were more desirable than money.
On September 1, 1944, the last Germans left Hanko. They left peacefully, but along the road leading to the top of Tulliniemi, battle trenches have been found, which were apparently dug by the Germans. They may indicate that the troops were preparing to defend the transit camp and the harbor on the cape. In the summer of 1944, Hitler had given an order to form a regiment of those who had arrived on vacation, which would take over Hanko, if Finland concluded a separate peace with the Soviet Union. Peace with the Soviet Union was concluded only two and a half weeks after the Germans left on 19 September. The peace treaty obliged the Finns to declare war on Germany and evict German troops from Finland. A few girls from Hanko went with their fiancés to the other side of the Baltic Sea.
Text: Sampsa Laurinen.
Photos: Hanko museum.
Sources: Jan Fast: German transit camp at Tulliniemi, Hanko 1942-1944. In J. Kaila; & J. Knuutila, Inside and Beside the Camp (p. 34-41). The Academy of Fine Arts at the University of the Arts, Helsinki 2017.
This story has been produced with the support of the Svenska Kulturfonden.