The White Death and the Winter War in movies, media and literature

Simo Häyhä was made an example of the spirit and miracle of the Winter War already during the war. The already 1940-published book, Kollaa Will Hold on, by Erkki Palolampi fortified Häyhä's reputation.

In Finland, naturally, he too is one of the most popular war heroes. When voting for the greatest Finnish war hero in 2007 Häyhä was first. The other internationally known soldier of three armies and knight of the Mannerheim Cross and a Green Beret, Lauri Törni was a close second. The Dread of Morocco and Commander of the Kollaa front was third. Commander-in-chief and Marshal of Finland, Carl Gustaf Mannerheim was excluded from voting.

There are of course plenty of other, less-known Finnish war heroes or in other words men defending their homes and families behind them. 

So let's a take look into the films and literature of the Winter War era. As there might be some names and characters known to only those who have known them through Finnish works of art.


Tapio Saarelainen who conducted many interviews in person with the already over 90 Häyhä, might be the most popular author on Häyhä in English. They met on a shooting range through a mutual friend where Häyhä impressed with his ability to determine a shot location over a distance of hundreds of meters.

Saarelainen might also be the leading Häyhä scholar in the world. Which ain't a difficult feat to accomplish when you have people selling Häyhä biographies with apparently no research into the Finnish sources. 

Exemplified by naming the book with an obvious spelling mistake to begin with so you can be sure that no Finnish readers were consulted in the making of the book. As Häyhä wasn't exactly from Rautajärvi, Iron Lake but Rautjärvi. I assume Wikipedia at least was consulted as their source so perhaps some translation tool was used to fail with the name of the village turning into more mythological sounding in their title.

Unless you prefer more of a fantasy-genre approach to Häyhä I could recommend to prefer the Finnish authors in Häyhä-literature in English. Who at least can instantly interpret any of the false claims made about Häyhä just by understanding the language or even really basic-level context to begin with. So you do not end up with some ridiculous retelling of whatever little truth there once might have been.

the white sniper

Major Tapio Saarelainen who interviewed Simo Häyhä dozens of times has written a book called the White Sniper about Simo Häyhä. Which is the most authentic long-form source available in English regarding Häyhä so I can recommend it if you want to learn more.

The White Sniper

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In Finnish, there actually aren't more than a couple of books written strictly about Häyhä. One is Saarelainen one, another from Petri Sarjanen. Both have been also translated into English so it ain't like you have been missing much else regarding Häyhä's story book-wise. With Lauri Törni it might be the other way around as there have been very public literate works discussed and published during the last decade of his story.

The aforementioned Kollaa Kestää remains the most influential book in Finnish regarding Häyhä. Although the former bestseller isn't a household name anymore along the lines of other war literature that might touch the most personal feelings of the Finnish public.

The fictional works of Väinö Linna sit alone when it comes to expressing war. The Koskela family story of Here, Beneath the Northern Star takes the reader into the feelings on both sides of the Finnish Civil War of 1918 and the following wars. The Continuation War era work the Unknown Soldier follows a Finnish machine gun company, similar to the one Linna himself served in.

Unknown soldier

The book from Finnish national author, Väinö Linna, follows a machine gun company in the Continuation War.

So these fictionalized, yet often based on real people and expressed in real vernacular language, accounts of war and the reality of it would be the most personal Finnish viewpoint into war.

It might not be Simo Häyhä but Unknown Soldier's unruly Antti Rokka who is Finn's most personal character of war. Viljam Pylkäs was the real soldier and farmer behind the characterization of Rokka.

Likewise, the Koskela family fighting on both the opposite side of the White Guard in the Red Guard of 1918 in the Finnish Civil War and on the same side, united, in the Winter War and Continuation War tell the story of the time and terrors of war. Vilho Koskela's characterization was also based on a fellow soldier of Linna's and another farmer, Einari Kokkonen.

Väinö linna in english

Finnish national author Väinö Linna is pretty much the key to Finnish war literature. By humanizing war and people in his work Linna became perhaps the most beloved author in Finland. His works have also stood the test of time as they continue to be cherished.

Unknown SoldiersUnder the North Star

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So these fictionalized, yet often based on real people and expressed in real vernacular language, accounts of war and the reality of it would be the most personal Finnish viewpoint into war.

It might not be Simo Häyhä but Unknown Soldier's unruly Antti Rokka who is Finn's most personal character of war. Viljam Pylkäs was the real soldier and farmer behind the characterization of Rokka.

So Linna's works are where I would advise you to begin with if you want to learn how war is understood and felt in Finland.

Of the international editions originating in English on the Winter War William Trotter's a Frozen Hell is perhaps the most acclaimed. Or at the least best reviewed and the most popular.

a frozen hell

William Trotter's A Frozen Hell is the best-reviewed overview on the Winter War. The book highlights the different Finnish campaigns and battlefronts of the war.

A Frozen Hell

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The cover of it describes Finland as a small Baltic republic. Which I guess refers mainly to the Baltic sea. In Finnish Baltic sea is called Itämeri, the East sea, referring to the sea on the east side of the Swedish kingdom. As Finland was once Itämaa, East Land, and the eastern part of the Swedish kingdom. So a Finnish reader today would probably refer Nordic written on the cover since Baltic in our usage would refer more to the Baltic states than the sea.

Or at least I had to "hey, wait a minute" a bit too much with the cover. Although Baltic is perfectly correct too, to be clear. I believe in news forecasts for example they often refer to Finland as a nation on the Baltic sea. Baltic as in Baltic influence on Finland just would go beyond the recorded previous 1000 years of history, focusing mostly on the Finno-Ugric Estonia.

So I had some confusion with the cover which I guess shows that translations aren't that easy when one common word can already lead to different instant associations. Perhaps it partially explains why Trotter is about the only one who has managed to write a well-received overview of the Winter War in English too. Since ain't probably that easy to bring together all of what might be lost in translation.

Giving an identity to the different fronts defending the long Finnish-Russian border in the Winter War, from Karelia to Lapland, alone is a feat Trotter should be credited for. In comparison for example with this website my idea was to focus on the Kollaa front, with only small allusions to the other fronts, seen from the viewpoint of Kollaa.

Kollaa is after all only one of the many Finnish defensive victories of the World War Two era. Kollaa might actually be in third place when it comes to most often reminisced Finnish defensive victories. The second most remembered one I would say is the Road of Raate, Raatteentie, which international newspapers following the Finnish Winter War struggle already highlighted as a miraculous victory.

As soviet convoy's attempt to divide Finland in half in order to strike the Mannerheim line on the Karelian isthmus from behind ended on the Road of Raate in total destruction. With Finnish motti encirclement tactics, the small Finnish defensive forces in the area managed to break up, divide and encircle larger Soviet groups into either freezing to death or being forced to try and fight their way out of the various encirclements.

The fallen 17 000 Soviets and 900 Finns of the battles of Suomussalmi of the Raatteentie are remembered by the same number of stones of the Winter War memorial at Suomussalmi, Finland.

The winter war memorial

Halting the Soviet summer 1944 suurhyökkäys, a great offensive on the Karelian isthmus which included for example the largest battle in Nordic history, Tali-Ihantala, then might be most fondly remembered in Finland. That Continuation War defensive victory allowed Finland to retain its independence.

Simo Häyhä himself alluded in an interview that during the Winter War time Finland was in luck when Josif Stalin and his comrades decided to invade in winter instead of waiting for the next summer. The Finnish army of that time was materially not at all as strong as at the time of the Continuation War era when the summer 1944 torjuntavoitto, halting victory was achieved by Finnish defense forces at the Karelian isthmus. Which proved that a defensive victory in the summer too was possible.

Stalin himself after the war acknowledged that "a nation with a poor army is not respected by anyone while a nation with a great army is respected by all".


Unknown Soldier is also one of the most popular films in Finnish history. The 1955 film is traditionally shown on Finland's independence day on the sixth of December.

When Finland's independence turned 100 years in 2017 a modern remake was also filmed. It was actually the third remake already as there are versions from 1955 and 1980. The original from Edvin Laine is still probably the most personal one to people given the independence celebration tradition. Although some might prefer the modern approach over the more theatrical black-and-white movie.

unknown soldier

Given the significance of Linna's Tuntematon sotilas and the Edvin Laine 1955 film version I think both are impossible to review. Since who knows how the translations and adaptions work for non-Finnish speakers when much of Tuntematon sotilas is in the Finnish vernacular of different regions with characters having wildly varying dialects.

So I'll rather try to enlighten how much people in Finland love the works of Väinö Linna and his characters. Combine that adoration with how Finnish national identity is often celebrated by reminiscing the defensive victories of the Winter War and the Continuation War achieved by the sacrifices of regular people and you'll have super-effective works of art.

Although the Frankfurter Neue Presse at least felt it the same way as the Finns as their review of the 1955 Unknown Soldier summed up that "no praise is high enough for this movie". In Finland people affectionately usually refer to Tuntematon sotilas only as Tuntematon.

unknown soldier

Unknown Soldier is both the most beloved Finnish book and movie. The various humanized characters of the machine gun company can also be found in the recent modern movie adaptation of the Väinö Linna classic novel. If you ever want to truly surprise a Finn, try quoting lines from Unknown Soldier out of the blue.

Unknown Soldier

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The following great Finnish war films have none of the similar cultural tradition tied to them which unfortunately means also that they are not similar phenomenons that would have international, translated versions easily available. Despite having success among Finnish audiences at least.

First we have a great movie depicting Winter War, in Pekka Parikka's Talvisota. It was made in 1989 and was based on Antti Tuuri's novel Talvisota. Talvisota means Winter War in Finnish if you didn't figure that one out already.


The story begins as the Ostrobothnian reservists it follows are called for the Winter War. It is a war movie that is told in a very down-to-earth manner and by bringing the home front also into the narration similar to the newest remake of Unknown Soldier.

Legend says that the work of the Talvisota director Pekka Parikka impressed Hollywood producers so much that he was set to film the Hollywood version of John Grisham's novel the Firm. While Parikka had already completed multiple scripts for the movie Tom Cruise was set to star in it. The first thing Cruise did was ask who is Pekka Parikka and next he demanded to get a director he knows of. Sydney Pollack directed that movie.

I would be a bit skeptical about that rumor's accuracy but Helsingin Sanomat reported it so at least someone at the biggest newspaper in Finland believes everything they are told. Although both Talvisota and Parikka's Pohjanmaa (Ostrobothnia) are great Finnish movies of the era. Unless the Firm producers really liked fellow Finnish director Renny Harlin's Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger from the same era it just sounds more like a fairy tale. Or a bar tale to be honest.

Another Finnish war film I like is Rukajärven tie, the road of Rukajärvi from 1999. Also based on a book by Antti Tuuri, a winner of the Finlandia literature prize. Known internationally by the name of Ambush. Which I do not think is the greatest name selected for international audiences since 'Ambush' to me at least sounds more like a B-movie rather than a serious film.

peter franzen

The film is starring Peter Franzen known since as Harald Finehair from the Vikings, who already then was Finland's number-one leading man. He was Finland's number one movie star also when working as a limousine driver in Hollywood before his international breakthrough 15 years later. I don't know if Tom Cruise was involved or why it took years for Franzen to get even like any roles when he was pretty much killing it in Finland when it comes to starring big Finnish movies.

rukajärven tie

Rukajärven tie takes place during the Continuation War in Soviet-held Karelia, bringing the Karelian setting to life in a particularly carefully crafted cinematography. It is the most-watched Finnish film of the 1990s.

I think I have watched Rukajärven tie twice and would probably like to watch it again after a third viewing too since I at least have a memory of really liking it on the first two views. It is fondly remembered by others too I believe. Even if people aren't that enamored with it as the Unknown Soldier in every form as pretty much every line and character of that one are obsessed over in Finland.

Which is fair play given that Väinö Linna's characters and multi-faced, intimate depictions of life and war from viewpoints helped probably everyone in Finland to understand the civil war better from all sides. If you wish to understand the spirit of the Winter War and the Finnish rural life of the era Simo Häyhä also lived I would say Here under the Northern Sky trilogy would be the most illuminating approach since it depicts the Finnish person most of all.

The success and reception of the Unknown Soldier allowed Linna to quit factory work and become a full-time author in order to write his Northern Star trilogy depicting the Finnish farmer and village life. Linna's work would help the Finnish understanding of the civil war by bringing forth the suffering of a tenant farmer family. Previously the discussion around the Finnish civil war had been dominated by White Finland-central interpretations.

Linna would be among the six persons selected to be celebrated on then viable Finnish currency, the Finnish mark, prior to the euro. Along with for example Olympian superstar gold runner Paavo Nurmi and composer Jean Sibelius, who is world-renowned for his symphonies and Finlandia, Karelia, Kullervo and Jaeger March to name a few works with connections to the theme and underpinnings of Finnish character and war.

Which reflects how central Linna is to the understanding of war and people in Finland. In Finland the Finnish Civil War, the Continuation War and the Lapland War are discussed alongside the Winter War pretty much on the same lines and in the same continuum so the context of the Winter War goes beyond the 105 days of honor.

By giving a voice also to the Red side of the Finnish civil war Linna's lively and life-like characters allowed the civil war to be interpreted and discussed more openly than before. Humanly.

Simo Häyhä movie

There have been some reports in the media that a Hollywood movie about the White Death would have been in the works. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to have ever been a very credible project. Given also that nothing has happened in years after the first news of it I wouldn't classify it even anything that should be paid any attention.

When someone decided to use the White Death as name of the villain in the movie Bullet Train that was probably the closest real Hollywood productions will to come portraying the story Simo Häyhä in movie form.

Finnish production then I guess would be the most likely origin for a Simo Häyhä movie. The two big war movie productions in Finland of the past decades, the Mannerheim movie, of the Finnish general and another with Unknown Soldier showed that it is possible to get funding for a relatively big Finnish movie.

Although the Mannerheim movie with Renny Harlin of Cliffhanger fame kinda failed with that when they managed to burn six million euros without ever really getting into the filming part of it. As the cast was notified that by the way the money ran out the day the shooting was supposed to begin. But Unknown Soldier was a success so getting the funding for a modern Finnish war movie is possible at least.

Jalmari Helander, director of the well-received Christmas movie Rare Exports also took a shot at making one in with his Sisu. In that one a Finnish soldier is fighting the Nazis in the Lapland war. I wouldn't classify it as an exact retelling of the events as I understood it takes some liberties with the subject of the Lapland War to begin with. So it is even a Finnish war movie in the end if it pretty much a fictionalized version of the real deal.

I wouldn't say that a movie about Simo Häyhä coming from Finnish producers and film-makers is likely. Series on some streaming service then perhaps as pretty much everyone has been given a chance to do their own Nordic noir during the Streaming Service Wars. So why not try creating a series on a person that is already quite interesting and well-known and even relatable to the people in how he was defending everything he held dear.

But there has not been any talk of filming the Simo Häyhä story in way or form recently in Finnish. 

There was a project in place in 2015 for a White Death film which is now believed to be forfeited as its website closed. It was supposed to be directed by Rukajärven tie director Olli Saarela. Another Häyhä film with a script coming from Antti Tuuri, whose books were the base for Talvisota and Rukajärven tie, was also in the works.

Neither did get any funding from the Finnish film society at least. So that was the end of the story for those Häyhä film projects.

The past decade World War Two or the Winter War era-related films have been mostly done around smaller, personal stories with huge ramifications. How for example the terror and purges of Stalin affected the Finns moving to the worker's paradise. Antti Tuuri's Ikitie, the Eternal Road, was filmed in remembrance of also the Ingrian Finns genocided in the Soviet labor camps. As between 1929 and 1938 half of the population of the Ingrian Finns was prisoned and deported.


Some of my favorite stories regarding Häyhä are only available in Finnish.  Even if many of them have been utilized in the creation of this website as sources. Although I had to correct some of the info when it was not reported as it was spoken by Häyhä or someone else on a recording but fictionalized to whatever end.

The only exception I made was with the story of him leaving his family at the beginning of the Winter War. Saying "This is our land and we have to defend it". As the same phrase was said to be said also on a different context by a direct video source. In that memory Häyhä was speaking to his men ahead of an attack which I guess would make more sense in terms of delivering a speech. But I like the imagery of Häyhä leaving a Finnish farmhouse's tupa which is the central room with oven, living room and kitchen. Bringing a very familiar feeling to anyone ever been to one.

It was also a case of having two directly quoted sources and persons regarding the same phrase. So I don't know if anyone even misremembered anything. Or did Häyhä have our land always in his mind when close to exiting a door into the cold winter and potentially facing death.

see comrade, her hands are up but she does not surrender

No one has apparently thought that there would be demand for stories of for example Häyhä and Törni in greater detail in English as well. And I mean like well-told stories with accurate details rather than some YouTube video or Reddit post making a quick work out of any truth that might have remained in whatever source in English they turned to.

Of course the Finnish stories are also often reusing the same sources but they at least understand Finnish or even the topics they are covering to begin with. So I can recommend for example using Google Translate for the articles linked below. Or you can just look at the pictures if you want.


Learn how the diary was found and made into a website. Discover resources and media related to Simo Häyhä, Kollaa and the Winter War.

Häyhä and The Winter War in Literature, Movies and MediaWinter War ResourcesHistory of the Diary

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