In the autumn of 1944, Pentti Lehtola and his classmates received a threatening note from Soviet Soldiers who guarded the hotel which then acted as the headquarters of the feared Allied Control Commission.
The headmaster assumed his position in front of the boys and cleared his throat. It was time for the morning assembly and prayers, but this time the head had a serious matter to communicate.
The school had received a letter from the Allied Control Commission.
A wave of fear and dismay swept through the boys.
Pensioner Pentti Lehtola, 83, sits in a restaurant in HelsinkiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Hotel Torni, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary, and reminisces on the events that took place in the 1940s.
Lehtola attended the Ressu (slang for Helsingin Reaalilyseo) BoysÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ School in 1939-1947. During those eventful years a lot transpired in the hotel across the street.
During the so-called Continuation War from 1941-44, Hotel Torni was used to billet German soldiers.
The Wehrmacht soldiers dressed in green marched on the streets of Helsinki with the metal heels of their boots click-clacking against the cobblestones.
The war ended, but the uncertain times continued.
In the autumn of 1944 the Allied Control Commission – monitoring Finnish compliance with the obligations of the Moscow Armistice – assumed control of the entire hotel.
Soldiers of the Soviet Red Army guarded the building and those Helsinki residents who had to walk past did so with much prudence and considerable anxiety.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was a big blow for us boysÃ¢â‚¬Â , Lehtola recalls. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The former comrades-in-arms were no more. They had been replaced by the former enemies.Ã¢â‚¬Â
During a recess
, the Ressu secondary school students rushed to a stationery shop on the corner of Kalevankatu and YrjÃƒÂ¶nkatu to buy some pencils.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was cold, and we ran to the shop and back bent double and without our jacketsÃ¢â‚¬Â, Lehtola describes.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“This ticked off a sentry outside the hotel that now served as the Allied Control Commission HQ. Apparently we had imitated and insulted the people of the Soviet Union.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The headmaster was given the task of passing the issued “diplomatic note” to the boys.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Stipulations by the Control Commission had to be adhered to to the letter, and therefore the headmaster rebuked us harshly. Unknowingly we had caused a minor foreign policy crisis.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The boys were afraid of what kind of repercussions might follow the note.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“All sorts of alternatives crept into mind. In the end the letter did not result in any very serious repercussions. Ã¢â‚¬Å“
There was one other incident that caused LehtolaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s class to receive a talking-to from the headmaster.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was around the time of the war tribunals [the Allied Control Commission, basically in Soviet hands although there were a handful of British officers, provided Finland with a list of war criminals against whom judicial proceedings were to be instigated]. Word started spreading among HelsinkiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s school kids that a protest demonstration should be organised.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The headmaster found out about the plan. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He forbade us in advance from taking part in the demonstration.Ã¢â‚¬Â
It was not easy being the headmaster. Sometime later the Ressu boys came up with the idea of painting the schoolyardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pigeons red. But in this episode Pentti Lehtola was not involved.
When the Control Commission left the hotel in the autumn of 1947, the building was in an awful state: the furniture was broken, the sinks had cracks in them, the sheets were stained with blood.
In later years Pentti Lehtola has on occasion had dinner in the hotelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s restaurant. Each visit has brought back memories from his school days.
Once when Lehtola walked past the hotel he noticed that a plaque had appeared next to the door.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It read that the Allied Control Commission had operated in the building in 1944-1947.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“When I came home I wrote a letter to the director of the hotel. I said that if such a plaque is posted on the wall, then applying the same logic another plaque should be added, stating that the Wehrmacht was here from 1941 to 1944.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Lehtola never received a reply from the hotel.
Ã¢â‚¬ÂBut a little bit later I did notice that the plaque had disappeared from the wall.Ã¢â‚¬Â