Aura Ahlbäck

(née Eskelinen)

Aura Ahlbäck (1909–2001) was a prominent cultural person in the Deaf community. She founded e.g. a youth club to the Helsinki Deaf Club and was one of the persons behind the National Culture Days of the Deaf. Aura was also a successful athlete in skiing, swimming, 100m sprint, high jump, shot put and long jump. The Nordic Congress in Copenhagen in 1934 was her first trip abroad which she carefully described in her little journal. Later she toured in several countries in different events and also independently.


Aura Eskelinen was born to a Carelian civil servant family. She became deaf at the age of four due to an ear infection and a chickenpox. At nine years of age, she entered the Kuopio Deaf School, after which she went to Nikkarila Homemaking School. Aura’s generation was marked with war years; the Winter War took also Aura’s brother. Aura herself worked in a voluntary paramilitary organisation for women, the Lotta Svärd organisation. She got married with her husband, Ole Ahlbäck, in 1940.

Trip to Copenhagen in 1934

In her journal, Aura tells how on September 18th, 1934, a group of Finnish Deaf got on board the ship Arcturus in the Helsinki South Harbour, heading to Copenhagen. In the first night no-one slept well as everyone were a bit nervous about the first trip abroad. The sea voyage lasted three days.

When the ship finally arrived in Copenhagen the Finns were happy to see a few Danish Deaf waiting for them in the harbour. During the first day, Aura got to visit a Nordic vocational and handicraft exhibition, where the visitors were introduced with hand weaving, Deaf artists and, through cinema, the Danish Deaf schools.

In the evening, Aura and the other Finns got a chance to visit the local Deaf club that was filled with signing Deaf that night. Aura was a bit resented by the restaurant full of men and women smoking cigarettes ad cigars. That was not the way back home in Finland. There was a pool table as well and, according to Aura, also playing cards was popular amongst the Danish. In the Copenhagen Deaf Club there was also a stage and upstairs there were apartments for elderly Deaf. The club was closed at 12 o’clock at night and then everyone had to go home.

In the next, rainy, morning, it was a time for the athletic games. Four Finnish athletes got ready for their part:

”The flags of the four nations flied high announcing the Nordic Athletic games of the Deaf to begin. Excited, we dressed ourselves into sporting clothes. The women’s dressing room was full of hand-shaking and introductions. In no time us, the athletes of the four countries, got to know each other.”

The Nordic championships were a success for Aura. In long jump she got the second prize and in 80m sprint the third prize.