They Took My Father: Finnish Americans in Stalin's Russia

They Took My Father: Finnish Americans in Stalin's Russia

They Took My Father: Finnish Americans in Stalin's Russia

They Took My Father: Finnish Americans in Stalin's Russia


"Mayme Sevander and Laurie Hertzel tell a poignant tale of a hidden corner of U.S. and Soviet history. Tracing the hopes and hardships of one family over two continents, They Took My Father explores the boundaries of loyalty, identity, and ideals." -Amy Goldstein, Washington Post

"What makes Mayme's story so uniquely-almost unbelievably-tragic is that her family chose to move from the United States to the Soviet Union in 1934, thinking they were going to help build a 'worker's paradise.' They found, instead, a deadly nightmare." -St. Paul Pioneer Press

"This gripping and timely book traces the beginnings of communism not as dry history but as a fascinating personal drama that spreads across Russia, Finland, and the mining towns of Upper Michigan and the Iron Range of Minnesota.... An important and largely ignored part of history comes alive in one woman's story of her tragic family, caught up in the all-consuming struggle of the twentieth century." -Frank Lynn, political reporter, New York Times

Mayme Sevander (1924-2003) was born in Brule, Wisconsin, and emigrated with her family to the Soviet Union in 1934.

Laurie Hertzel is a journalist at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.


On a damp, chilly morning in 1986, a train carrying thirty-three Duluthians pulled into Petrozavodsk station in what was then the Soviet Union. Our group had been planning this trip for months, and we were amazed and excited finally to be here. Mikhail Gorbachev had been in power only a short time, and the Cold War was not yet over. It was still unusual for Americans to travel to the Soviet Union, especially to cities like this one that were small and off the beaten track.

We had made this long trip in order to forge sister city ties between our hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, and this strange city in the north of Russia, but we had no idea if our venture would be successful. No one in Petrozavodsk had responded to our repeated letters and telexes, so we finally just bought plane tickets and came over. Now, as we waited for the train to shudder to a stop, we wondered if there would be anyone there to meet us.

Little did we know that the most amazing part of our journey was waiting for us there on the platform.

As we stepped off the train, a group of Petrozavodsk citizens . . .

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