Footprints of Lithuanians in America 1919–1945, Part II — Birth of a Self Reliant Ethnic Community and Watchful Guardians of their Ancestral Homeland

Image for post

Lithuanians in America by the end of WWI, while proud to be citizens of America, were in their hearts and souls dedicated and proud of their heritage and ancestral country. Through participation in the just ended war effort, they emerged from a ghetto mentality as a more mature and stronger self-conscious ethnic group. It also began to enter an integration process into America’s societal structures. Even though the first waves of immigrants arriving in the United States (U.S.)in the latter half the nineteenth century were mostly illiterate, it did not hinder them and their children to start seeking broader levels of education. It led to the formation of self-structured ethnic Lithuanian beneficial organizations including a gradually expanding own parochial school system. These helped them to survive in a rather hostile America’s public and social environment. As more knowledgeable generations began to emerge, enterprising individuals started entering at local levels first small grocery sales activities, then the fields of trade, money management, health services, sporting events, etc.

By the second decade of the twentieth century, Lithuanian Americans began to develop a deeper interest in local politics, and then for ways to influence U.S. political support to gain freedom for their by Russia subjugated homeland, Lithuania. Broad participation in U.S. WWI effort, the disintegration of Russia and disarray of political structures in Europe, provided Lithuanian Americans an opportunity to urge the United States to recognize the independence of their native country. They pushed and pulled at every possible political level to influence the victorious WWI powers to achieve a positive outcome. Helping Lithuania economically to get on its feet in the first years of independence, found a broad support by the majority of America’s Lithuanians regardless of ideological differences between them. They were also on continuous watch throughout the next twenty years over any perils to Lithuania’s existence as a free and independent country.

The Stalin-Hitler agreement to divide Europe between themselves, allowed Soviet Russia in 1940 to occupy Lithuania and the other two Baltic States by military invasion. Once again, America’s Lithuanians became sole spokesmen and unrelenting advocates for restoration of Lithuania’s freedom.

This narrative, as Part II of Footprints-of-Lithuanians-in-America, covers an overview of more significant events and accomplishments in the life, activities, and political initiatives of America’s Lithuanians for the time period between the end of WWI and 1945. Readers looking for specific questions or topics should turn to the Table of Contents and then to the appropriate text within the narrative. Additional information may be found also in the respectively named citations. A timeline has also been included in the narrative to provide an overall view of more significant events during this selected period of years.

Significant Milestones in the Life of America’s Lithuanians from End of WWI through 1945

1919.01.01 — Lithuanian Americans 20,000 strong demonstrate in downtown Chicago against Polish occupation of Vilnius

1919.03.18 — New York Lithuanian organizations jointly agree to fund a $60,000 publicity campaign to extend diplomatic recognition to Lithuania.

1919.04.23 — Ten thousand Lithuanians demonstrate at New York “Madison Square Garden” demanding U.S. recognition of Lithuania’s independence

1919.06.09 — Four thousand delegates of American Lithuanian organizations convene in Chicago calling for U.S. recognition of Lithuania’s independence.

1919.06.09 — Liberty Bell, an Am. Lith. gift to Lithuania, is displayed in a 20,000 public parade in downtown Chicago

1919 — Establishment of Alliances of America’s Lithuanian musicians and choirs

1919 — Thirty Lithuanian parish schools are in operation.

1919 -1921 — 20,000 Lithuanian Americans return to their homeland for residence

1919 -1920 — Lithuanian Americans purchase Lithuania issued freedom bonds for $1,800,000

1920 — U.S census for the first time reports residence of 135,068 persons born in Lithuania.

1920.10.09 Poland occupies Vilnius by military force

1921 — Lith. Am. boxer Joe Chipulonis (Chip) loses the fight for U.S. national championship

1921 — U.S. imposes strict immigration laws limiting entry of Lithuanians to 386 annually

1921.05.31 — America’s Lithuanians deliver to President Harding 138 books containing 1,000,000 signatures petitioning U.S. recognition of Lithuania’s independence
1922.02.16 — Lith. Am. Liberty Bell rings for the first time from the tower of War Museum in Kaunas

1922.06.31 — The conference of Ambassadors of the Allied Powers agree to extend to Lithuania “de jure” recognition

1922.07.28 — President Harding extends U.S. diplomatic recognition of Lithuania’s independence

1922 — The order of Franciscan sisters is established to provide teachers for Lithuanian parish schools in Pittsburgh.

1924 — The sisters of Holy Cross have 78 teacher-nuns in 9 Lithuanian parish schools

1926 — Marion Fathers establish a university type college for boys in Hinsdale Illinois (relocated in 1931 to Thompson, Ct. and known as Marianapolis college),

1924 — Reverend Mykolas Krušas (Kruszas) the first Lithuanian American priest to receive the title of monsignor.

1925–120 Lithuanian parishes are on record in the United States

1926 — Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis during the second visit to the United States participates in at the World’s Eucharistic Congress in Chicago and visits numerous Lithuanian parishes

1926 — Lithuanians conduct a massive Sesquicentennial Parade and Celebration in Philadelphia

1928 — Lith. Amer. Albina Osipavicius, first-ever Lithuanian, wins goal medal at the 1926 Olympics

1930 — American Lithuanian Worker Alliance (ALDS) is established in Chicago

1930 — “American Lithuanian Economic Center” (ALEC), made up of members of Lithuanian Chambers of Commerce, holds conferences in 1933, 1939 and in 1950. “The National Council of Lithuanian American Chambers of Commerce” operates as a separate organization

1932 — Jack Sharkey Zukauskas defeats Schmeling and becomes World boxing champion

1932 — Saint Casimir’s nun-sisters begin to teach their girl students Lithuanian folk dancing

1933 — Folk dancing groups are established in Chicago and Brooklyn, NY

1933.07.15 — Pilots Darius and Girenas depart from Floyd Bennet Field for a transatlantic flight to Lithuania and perish in a crash the next day near Soldau, Germany

1935 — America’s Lithuanians are members of some 2,000 different Lithuanian organizations

1935 — Lithuanian American Catholics operate 72 parish schools

1935 — Pilot Vaitkus solo flight from NY to Lithuania, crash lands in Ireland

1936 — Frank Lubinas, leads as captain of U.S. basketball team to gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

1938 — Poland forces Lithuania via ultimatum to establish diplomatic ties

1939 — Frank Lubinas and several America’s Lithuanians help Lithuania win the European basketball championship

1939 — Hitler via ultimatum to Lithuania occupies the Klaipeda region

1939 — Lithuania at the NY World’s Fair with strong Lith. Am. contribution

1940 — USSR occupies Lithuania. A sharp reaction by Lithuanian Americans

1940 — Lith. Americans organize in Pittsburgh “Rescue Council for Lithuania”

1940 — Lith. Am. delegation received by Pres. Roosevelt in ref. to Lithuania’s occupation

1940–45 About 100,000 Lithuanian serve during WWII in U.S armed services

1940.10.15 —Reestablishment of the Lithuanian American Council (ALT).

1941.03.10 — Lithuania’s President Antanas Smetona arrives as a refugee in the United States

1944.01.09 — Former President Antanas Smetona dies in house fire in Cleveland, Ohio

1944 — Lithuanian American delegation received in an audience by Vice President Truman

1944.04.01 — Establishment of the “United Lithuanian Relief Fund of America”

1945 — Lithuanian American Council and other organizations participate as observers at the inaugural session of the United Nations at San Francisco

WWI Changes the Profile of America’s Lithuanians

The end of World War I brought thousands of Lithuanian American soldiers from the battlefields of Flanders, France, back home to the United States. Over two thousands of them had lost their lives in battles and several more thousand were wounded. Those who returned alive had a new outlook on life and their fit in the United States. They were now proud citizens, perceiving themselves as equals among all other America’s citizens. Many of them had entered the service with limited abilities to speak, read and write in English. Most were now returning home with communication skills necessary to be more productive and contributing members of their or of their parents adopted country. They had also experienced a broader side of Europe that was much different than their previously confined ethnic environment. The time in the armed services afforded them opportunities to live and mingle with many different people more as equals rather than as members of a detested ethnic minority.

In parallel, many Lithuanian American civilians became employed during World War I in the U.S. armaments industry in sectors such as manufacturing, transportation, logistics, supply services, etc. Those unskilled were trained and exposed to work opportunities where reading, writing and English language proficiencies were required. Those, who excelled, often became job or task leaders.

As American Lithuanian communities began to mature and their younger, U.S. born and better educated generations emerged, Lithuanian-owned trade and professional businesses sprang up to serve their local community needs.[1] These included retail stores, pharmacies, medical doctor and dentist offices, radio programs, and a variety of craftsmen services. Other Lithuanians ventured into public service sectors by becoming policemen, lawyers, and employees of and/or elected village, town, city and county officials. Their presence strengthened the Lithuanian settlements.[2] New parishes were formed, old churches were upgraded, parish schools were expanded and modernized, and social organizations were fortified by new activities and improved facilities. In time, quite a few Lithuanian organizations acquired park lands for community outing purposes.

Image for post
Lithuanians watching folk dancing exhibit on a sunny Sunday picnic

These activities, however, did not deter Lithuanian Americans from paying attention to new threats to their now independent ancestral homeland. Germany at the end of WWI was planning to annex Lithuania even though it had lost the war. Powerful remnants of its “Ost” army were present in Lithuania to back up these intentions. At the same time, Russia’s Communist rebel army, with help of a few Lithuanian communist backers, made inroads into Lithuania’s eastern parts. They had gone as far as setting up a provisional Lithuanian communist government.

Poland presented a threat to Lithuania’s sovereignty as well. After restoring its own independence, it was egged-on by many misguided “polonized” Lithuanians to restore the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of the XVII-XVIII century. Poland broke a week-old peace agreement with Lithuania and launched a surprise military invasion on 0ctober 7, 1920. After occupying Vilnius on October 9, it attempted to overrun all of Lithuania. Fledgling Lithuanian volunteers beat back the intruders, but their forces were too weak to recover Vilnius and the eastern part of Lithuania.[3]

Image for post
Polish troops occupying Vilnius in 1921

Lithuanians in America saw their homeland in distress. Their leaders called for armed intervention. Volunteers were poised to go to Lithuania and help their brethren to fight for freedom. The Knights of Lithuania were the first to respond suggesting the formation of a Lithuanian American Brigade (LAB). Within a few weeks, five thousand Lithuanians, mostly WWI U.S. army veterans, volunteered to go to Lithuania. Although American Lithuanian War Veteran organizations anticipated full support from the U.S. government, the Wilson administration first hesitated and then refused to authorize their departure, supposedly in favor of establishing a joint allied military policy for Eastern Europe. [4]

As this dragged on, several hundred Lithuanian American veterans traveled through Canada to Lithuania. While there, they took active part in 1919–21 in fighting the invaders, including the liberation of the Klaipeda region from the French administration’s military garrison in 1923. [5]

After Klaipeda was freed, most LAB volunteers returned home. Several dozen remained in Lithuania as advisers in the formation of municipal governmental structures, assisted in setting up and staffing its diplomatic services and facilitated in developing commercial activities. Fluent in English and Lithuanian, they were well positioned to help Lithuania’s fledgling government to communicate at international levels.

Growing up on their own, drifting away, but still sensitive to the fate of their homeland

For the next two decades, the U.S imposed immigration quotas. Only 386 people were allowed from Lithuania. Deprived of new blood, America’s Lithuanians were essentially left to grow on their own. The second and third generations of American born Lithuanians began to set the tone and path of their communities. Most had not been to Lithuania, and their knowledge of it was based on stories of their parents and grandparents of an impoverished country dominated by Tsarist occupiers.

These new generations began to view their Lithuanianess from a more remote perspective than what they heard at home. At the same time, the American education system imprinted on them a home-here attitude. Now their native land was the United States. In turn, the Lithuanian government did little to overcome the distancing-estrangement phenomenon. It was driven to some extent by resentment of being criticized by their kinfolks in America the way the government was run, and also by some envy of richer kinfolks intruding into their austere life. [6]

Yet, in spite of these estranged relationships, America’s Lithuanians were always very watchful of events in the land of their fathers. They were very sensitive to any threats to Lithuania’s freedom. Poland’s ultimatum to Lithuania in 1938 to force the resumption of diplomatic relations or be invaded by military force and Hitler’s occupation of the Klaipeda region in 1939 brought thousands of Lithuanian protesters into the streets of Chicago, New York, Boston, etc.

Image for post
Protest demonstration in Chicago in 1939 against Poland’s aggressive intentions

Effects of changing technologies on education and economics [7]

Rapid incursion of new technologies and energy sources into everyone’s daily life, such as mass production, new means of communication, gas and electricity, began an era of rapid growth of new industries and a decline of numerous others. It began to have a devastating impact on thousands of Lithuanians working in the coal mining regions of Pennsylvania, West Virginia .and Southern Illinois. New enterprises need for higher level skill and better paying jobs at post WWI industries in Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and other parts of the Midwest motivated substantial numbers of Lithuanians to move away from their traditional centers in the anthracite regions. This accelerated even more, when younger and better educated generations, especially those attaining professional status, began settling in more prosperous distant locations.

Some immigrants with farm backgrounds, upon earning enough money for down payment, bought farms and engaged in agricultural production. In the eastern part of the United States, they were involved mostly in milk and tobacco production. Others found employment in numerous smaller manufacturing industries in New England and New York as well as providing menial labor services to the transportation hubs at the Boston, N.Y., Philadelphia, and Baltimore seaports.

Thousands of Lithuanian immigrants found employment as helpers and material handlers at local tailor and seamstress shops. They soon observed that sewing skills could be learned quickly. While wages were low, sewing jobs based on piecework, provided an opportunity for better earnings. In a short time, many learned the tailoring skills. Some became professional tailors and dressmakers working either at someone’s clothing manufacturing factory or venturing on their own by offering tailoring services to the public and/or as contract suppliers of finished or semi-finished clothing to some large distributors. Existing literature notes of around 50 Lithuanian owned sewing services suppliers in Brooklyn and NYC, 41 in Baltimore, 28 in Boston, 20 in Philadelphia, and over 30 in Chicago. Some of these employed up to several hundred people.

Soon after the end of WWI, Lithuanian garment workers in NYC formed with their Jewish and Italian coworkers, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union. Within a couple of years, chapters of the union were established in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and several smaller cities. The Lithuanians, being a major force in the union, operated their own separate chapters and published from 1919 to 1929, for more than ten thousand of their members a Lithuanian language newspaper under the title “Darbas” (Labor).

However, on the whole, Lithuanians were rather slow in developing larger commercial and industrial enterprises.

Dan Kuraitis was one the first larger scale entrepreneurs to establish the Mlda Buick Automobile dealership. Peoples Furniture Company was a block wide Lithuanian owned business enterprise. Both started in the predominately Lithuanian district of Chicago in early 1920s.

Almost all larger Lithuanian settlements had one or a couple groups of individuals producing and selling soft drinks first to their kinfolk’s customers and then soon expanding as suppliers of soft drinks to the entire region. Leonas Seputis Bottling Company of Pittston. Pa. became a well-known producer of very popular birch beer throughout the State of Pennsylvania.

J&A Andriulis started in 1942, the Michigan Farm Cheese Dairy in Fountain, Mi. Within a few years, it was producing Lithuanian type farm cheese at the rate of 2.5 tons a day. Dozens of Lithuanian dairy farmers in the Custer, Mi. area were his milk suppliers.

John Rudis, an enterprising Chicago engineer, formed in 1942 the Rockwell Engineering Company. It supplied heavy steel constructions for the U.S. Navy during WWII and continued manufacturing large scale structures for the commercial sector after the war.

While most Lithuanian entrepreneurs stayed small and did not venture far outside their respective settlements, several individuals showed considerable ingenuity in initiating and operating financial institutions and even surviving the years of economic depression of the 1930-s. In early 1920, Lithuanians owned the Merchant Banking Trust Company in Mahanoy City t and the Pittsburgh Polithania Bank in Pa., and the Town of Lake Savings Bank and the Metropolitan State Bank. In Chicago.

Savings and Loan associations (SLA) were financial institutions in which the average Lithuanian felt more comfortable and trusted to deposit their hard earned money. The largest group of Lithuanian SLA-s were in Chicago. Keistutis Loan and Building Association was the first one established in 1897, in Chicago. Its name was changed in 1939, to the District Savings and Loan Association with assets well over 10 million dollars. The Kunigaikstis Vytautas Draugija was renamed as Vytauto Building and Loan Association in 1928. The Gediminas Building and Loan Association, registered in 1909, was reorganized in 1934, as Standard Federal Savings and Loan Association. It was the largest Lithuanian owned financial institution with nearly $20 mln. capital by 1945. Other Lithuanian founded financial institutions in the Chicago area during this time period were the Midland Savings and Loan Association, the Universal Savings and Loan Association, the Chicago Savings and Loan Association, the Crane Savings and Loan Association, and the St. Anthony Lithuanian Savings and Loan Association of Cicero, Illinois. The Illinois based associations formed in 1927 the League of Lithuanian Savings and Loan Associations. Similar Lithuanian Saving and Loan Associations were in operation during this time period in Cleveland, Ohio, Newark-Harrison-Kearney in New Jersey, Brooklyn, N.Y., Philadelphia, Pa., Baltimore, Md., Boston, Ma., and several smaller Lithuanian settlements.

A number of more enterprising Lithuanians, observing their homeland becoming independent, saw an opportunity to start businesses there and to share in future profits. Others began promoting developments of industrial activities and commercial enterprises. Travel agencies sprang up promoting trips to Lithuania, now that it has become a realizable dream. Some wanted to see their relatives. The younger people were encouraged to visit the land of their parents or grandparents, to experience it with their own eyes. A generation of sports enthusiasts was eager to transfer their experience to Lithuania. They wanted to teach the young people to learn sports skills and become organized in activities that were virtually unknown in Lithuania at the time.

Travel to and interest in returning to Lithuania for permanent residence increased to unprecedented volumes. Records of Lithuanian embassy in Washington indicate that by January 1, 1922, 6382 Lithuanian passports and 4161 visas were issued to individuals. During the 20 years of Lithuania’s independence around 15,000 America’s Lithuanians returned to Lithuania for permanent residence. Travel to Lithuania, however, decreased considerably after the 1926 coup by the Smetona led nationalists. The democratically elected government was replaced by a mild dictatorship. The overthrow, however, did not diminish interests by Lithuanian Americans to help Lithuania develop economic, cultural and a variety of sports activities.

Financial and economic interfaces with Lithuania [8,9]

Lithuanian Americans were still at the bottom end of the American economic ladder well after the end of WWI. However, in spite of their meager status, they were generously supporting their own organizations. Participation in such activities made them feel comfortable, somewhat like being at their own home. Equally important to them was Lithuania’s freedom and concern of their needy kinfolks ravaged by wars. Business minded individuals saw not only an opportunity to help but also to become successful entrepreneurs.

Many Lithuanian American business-oriented groups and individuals went to Lithuania in early years of independence with great enthusiasm but without sound business experience and/or understanding that they were entering an economic and business environment that was virtually at birth. Little that existed, was deeply embedded in Tsarist legacies and ethics. Most arriving entrepreneurs became entangled in corrupt bureaucracy, demands for bribery, and confused by many incomprehensible and subjectively interpreted newly baked laws and regulations. They had no knowledge that investing in Lithuania was controlled by a 1919 law prohibiting non-citizens to own land and real estate. Inasmuch as no formal Lithuania’s representation existed in the U.S. at the time to explain this limitation, most arriving Lithuanian Americans were surprised to be told that they are not eligible to own any property as they are not Lithuania’s citizens. Just being of Lithuanian nationality, did not provide them with citizenship rights, because at the time of their emigration, Lithuania did not exist as a sovereign country. They could invest as minor partners, but not as owners. Such arrangements led to deceptions and virtual robberies of less sophisticated and trusting Lithuanian American investors. Furthermore, their disappointment was amplified by deep-rooted corruption at lower levels of Lithuania’s government and a general unfriendly, distance keeping posture towards their richer “American” kinfolks.

Within a short time, a large number of them failed or were forced into bankruptcy. One of the more prominent examples was the bankruptcy of an American-Lithuanian food-oil company Ringuva, which had built and began operating several processing plants. Other more significant investments that either failed or were nationalized within a few years of operation included a Lithuanian Film company, a steamship company, Lithuania’s Reconstruction Company, a clothing manufacturing company and several smaller initiatives. However, those with experience and understanding international trade laws were successful. For example, an American Lithuanian Trade company, established in 1921, began importing into Lithuania automobiles, tractors, agricultural machinery, and helped organizing and setting-up repair shops for them. Later, the company expanded into assembling buses and the manufacture of bicycles. Another success story was an American-Lithuanian textile manufacturing company “Drobe”. Within a decade, after starting in 1920, it became one of the largest textile manufacturers in the Baltic region employing well over 1000 workers.

While data on the value of Lithuanian American business investments don’t exist, it is reasonable to assume, based on several companies entering Lithuania’s economy in the first five years of independence after 1920, that the total value of investments were between one half to one million dollars per year or the equivalent between 10 and 20 mln. in 2017 USD value. The above sums were about 10% contribution to Lithuania’s annual budget, which amounted between 5 to 6 mln. USD in 1922 value.

In December 1926, most Lithuanian Americans were shocked by the news of overthrow of the fledgling democratic government by the nationalist faction led by Antanas Smetona. Living in a democratic society, they could not imagine a dictatorship in their ancestral country. The fiercest critics in emigration alongside the communist wing were the socialists and members of the Sandara Alliance. The Smetona government, realizing a couple years later the importance of financial and political support of America’s Lithuanians, had some challenging tasks on how to re-establish fragile relations with their overseas kinfolks since after the coup their investments nearly dried up.

In order to neutralize the hostile attitude and to regain confidence, the Smetona Nationalist party adopted in 1928, political decisions favorable to their kinfolks in America. It allowed Lithuanian Americans the right to own real estate and business enterprises, promoted unhindered re-immigration, and guaranteed their rights to Lithuania’s citizenship. Furthermore, it allowed unimpeded distribution of Lithuanian American press and began paid advertisements in it to promote investments, re-immigration, and tourist visits. Threats to close the Lithuanian legation in Washington, as punishment for initial hostility, were abandoned. All this was initiated in the hope of appeasement, the inflow of investments, increased exports, and reduced criticism of the Smetona government.

The 1929–32, economic crisis in America began to soften the attitude of Lithuanian Americans toward the Smetona regime. With the great depression in America in full swing, more of them started to explore the possibility of returning to Lithuania for permanent residence where living expenses were almost four times lower, and opportunities in profitable investment were better. Kucas estimates that over the 20 year period America’s Lithuanians through personal money transfers to their relatives and through reimmigration into Lithuania of about 15000 people, brought into the country around additional 50 mln USD, or the equivalent of about 350 mln. at 2017 USD value.

However, criticism of the Smetona regime at Lithuanian American organizational levels, except for the Nationalists, continued. Nevertheless, the Smetona government was developing extensive commercial plans during 1938–39, to engage Lithuanian Americans on a much larger scale in export activities of Lithuanian products. Unfortunately, the plans were overtaken by the start of WWII in 1939, and Russia’s occupation of Lithuania in 1940. The Soviet regime immediately nationalized all private enterprises, resulting in total losses for all investors.

Advocating Lithuania’s diplomatic recognition [10]

The end of WWI was supposed to bring to realization President Wilson’s 14 points that promised freedom for all nations to choose their destiny. Now, that Lithuania had declared its independence and was free of foreign occupation, America’s Lithuanians expected the United States to recognize Lithuania’s independence. In spite of such promises and a number of visits with President Wilson by Lithuanian American leaders, the administration dragged its heels on making the decision. The Wilson administration was reluctant to do so, hoping that Tsarist Russia would win the fight against the revolutionary Bolsheviks and reestablish the Old Russian Empire within the pre-WWI boundaries. Unknown to Lithuanian Americans, Boris Bakhmetev, the Tsarist Russia’s ambassador to the United States, lobbied the Wilson administration to reject any notion of their Baltic provinces becoming independent States. In his mind, they were part of Russia’s empire and therefore, their thrust to independence was Russia’s internal affair. Bainbridge Colby, President Wilson’s Chief of Staff, supported the policy of noninterference. Accordingly, he also adamantly argued against recognizing the Bolshevik government in Russia, claiming that it did not represent the Russian people.

The Peace Conference in Paris started on Jan 18, 1919. It was attended by eight prominent American Lithuanians as observers. As President Wilson departed to the Conference in June 1919, he was presented with a memorandum entitled “Independence for the Lithuanian Nation”. It was subsequently published in 100,000 copies by the U.S. Congress Printing office.

Image for post
Part of American Lithuanian delegation to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference

Unfortunately, due to many cross-purpose interests, the question of independence of the Baltics was not even raised at the Conference. France wanted to see a powerful Poland as an eastern buffer state and the U.S. was still hoping that the Tsarist Russians would prevail over the Bolshevik revolutionaries. The Peace Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, with many nationality freedom issues in the newly formed countries in Europe left unresolved. The treaty was subsequently rejected by the U.S. Senate as infringing on U.S. sovereign rights. After the Senate’s second rejection of the Treaty, President Wilson appeared to lose interest in pursuing its ratification and any further entanglement in European problems.

Taking initiative into their own hands [11,12,13]

Frustrated by President Wilson’s inaction, the Executive Committee of Lithuanian American Organizations (ECLAO) started acting as if it was Lithuania’s diplomatic mission in Washington. A call went out to raise funds and organize help in setting up the new country’s diplomatic service and in the formation of infrastructures that would help Lithuania’s economy to begin to function.

An influential Lithuanian American attorney Balys Mastauskas,[14] who attended the 1919 Paris Peace conference as an observer of ECLAO and as chairman of the Lithuanian American Council (LAC), became convinced that Lithuania’s quest for independence was neither understood nor of interest to anyone. As a result, he recommended to ECLAO that an active propaganda campaign was needed to win the attention and support of U.S. politicians to Lithuania’s quest for diplomatic recognition. Upon receiving ECLAO’s endorsement, Mastauskas asked Mr. Carl Byoir, [15] the director of the U.S. Public Information Committee at the Paris Peace Conference, if he would be interested in leading a propaganda campaign for Lithuania’s freedom. Mr. Boyer indicated interest, providing, the Lithuanians were to ask him.

Image for post
Mastauskas, first on the right, with Lithuania’s delegation at the Paris Peace Conference

Mastauskas, subsequently introduced Boyer to Lithuania’s foreign minister Augustinas Voldemaras and to the Lithuanian American Information Bureau personnel. All were in joyful agreement. Upon receiving further assurances from a broad spectrum of Lithuanian organizations, Mr. Boyer agreed to lead the PR campaign.

While not asking compensation for himself, he noted that some $60,000 would be needed over a period of 6–8 weeks to cover expenses of the campaign. The Lithuanian Roman Catholic Federation agreed to provide $40,000 and the Lithuania National Council $20,000. Mr. Boyer noted in a letter to Mr. Matas Vinikas of the informal Lithuanian Diplomatic Mission in the U.S. that “he is accepting this task only in believing the righteousness of the Lithuanian cause”. He also said that the campaign will focus only on Lithuania’s right to freedom and independence, but not on territorial and border issues.

Gary Hartman in his book “The Immigrant as a Diplomat: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Shaping of Foreign Policy in the Lithuanian American Community, 1870–1922” [16], observed that the drive for Lithuania to succeed, brought together deeply divided Lithuanian Americans to work for a common cause.

The publicity campaign began in New York City on April 23, 1919. The largest newspapers started printing articles about Lithuania and its quest for freedom and diplomatic recognition. Street posters were displayed about Lithuania and the forth-coming Lithuania Day events in NYC. Ten thousand people attended a rally at the Madison Square Garden with fiery speakers demanding action by the U.S. administration. To keep the issue in focus, Mr. Boyer hired Edward L. Bernays [17] to write six articles each week for America’s news media by also enlisting for items of interest inputs from Lithuanian American attorneys and judges.

Those articles would be promoted for publication through hired influencers of editorials and by guest articles in major U.S. newspapers. Many of those were directed at members of U.S. Senate noting the need for their support of Lithuania’s quest for diplomatic recognition. Informational articles provided descriptions of Lithuania, its culture, its rich language and century-long suppression by Russia’s Tsars of its fight for freedom, etc. All of these writings had one underlying theme: Lithuania is a small nation on the shores of the Baltic Sea, fighting for independence and at the same time is preventing advancement of Bolshevism into Western Europe. The promoters also knew that the newspapers always needed short stories to fill voids between major news items. Accordingly, the fillers about Lithuania and the Baltic countries, limited to 100 words, were issued to the newspapers on a daily basis.

As soon as an article would appear about Lithuania, the newspaper would be flooded with thank you notes and/or comments not only from promoters but also by prearranged public pressure groups. Some, of course, were also by Lithuanians interested in their native country’s freedom. If the promoters needed some clarifying information, they had a list of knowledgeable Lithuanian individuals who could fill in the needed gaps.

The campaign promoters also organized speeches at several universities and influential society clubs. Numerous Jewish communities with strong Litvak background were engaged through talks and lectures in synagogues to support the quest for freedom as a way of helping their numerous folks in Lithuania. All of the articles appearing in the press were published in 1920 in a booklet “The American Press on Lithuania’s Freedom”.

Success and Disappointment [18]

After the publicity campaign, America’s Lithuanians repeatedly urged their government to extend diplomatic recognition to Lithuania. A response from the State Department was received by LAC on December 5, 1919, to the effect that the U.S. was “… honor bound to refrain from adopting any premature action, because of its proclaimed loyalty to Russia”. But the Lithuanian Americans did not give up. They continued flooding the State Department with memorandums and visits to the U.S. Congress with reminders that the

Image for post
Mastauskas and Mary Kizys of the Lithuanian Information Bureau in Washington, D.C.

The Baltic States have already been extended “de jure” diplomatic recognition by most European countries. Finally, the U.S. government offered one concession in March 1920. It stopped the practice of stamping visas “Russia (Lithuania only)” and replaced it with just “Lithuania”. The State Department, however, issued a clarifying statement that this change in no way affects the status of U.S. recognition of Lithuania’s sovereignty. Finally, after the 1920 Republican victory, the newly elected President Harding allowed unofficial Baltic representatives to come to America and perform limited consular duties. Concurrently, the United States set-up consular services in each Baltic State.

To bolster the case for diplomatic recognition, Lithuanian Americans collected over a million petitioning signatures bound in 138 books. Those were presented to President Harding on May 30, 1921. Finally, at the advice of U.S. Commissioner Young in Riga, [19] rising pressure by private U.S. companies and urgings by scores of leading American politicians, and upon Russia’s ambassador Bakhmetev’s resignation, the State Department recommended diplomatic recognition of the Baltic States. Secretary of State Hughes expressed his belief in a private conversation with President Harding in July 1922, that time has come to separate the Baltic states from the Russian problem and to extend them full diplomatic recognition. He sent a letter to the President to this effect on July 22. Harding replied favorably the same day and the formal announcement of “de jure” recognition was made on July 28, 1922. In appreciation, the Chicago Lithuanians, 100.000 strong, gathered at the McKinley Park on August 22, 1922, to send thanks to the President.

Image for post
Chicago Lithuanians celebrating U.S. recognition of Lithuania’s Independence (in the middle minister Carneckis, to his left Miss Lithuania and dr Vinikas ant to the right Miss USA

Not understood by the Baltics at the time, was the type of “de jure” recognition that was extended. It was recognition only of the governments, but not as sovereign nations. The State Department was still sticking to the idea of an indivisible Russia. Some of the key players in the US foreign policy formulation held the view that recognition of the Baltic States was not quite “right”. (Medijainen 2010:153–190) [20] This impression emerges in the text of the “de jure” recognition document. The Secretary of State explanatory note of July 25, 1922, states that “while granting recognition to the Baltic States, the United States has consistently maintained that the disturbed conditions of Russian affairs may not be made the occasion for the alienation of Russian territory, and this principle is not deemed to be infringed by the recognition at this time of the Governments of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania which have been set up and maintained by an indigenous population. “

Political upheavals In Lithuania and Lithuanian American reaction [21]

Newly gained freedom and independence brought multiple challenges to the inexperienced Baltic governments. The existing social, economic, and political structures were in disarray and required significant reform to conform to their new status as nation-states. The adoption of liberal-democratic constitutions provided for weak executives and single-chamber parliaments with virtually no legislative experience. None of the countries had support structures capable of creating stable governments based on their radical parliamentary constitutions and electoral rules. After a few years in turmoil, all three ended up turning to some form of authoritarianism.

Politician Antanas Smetona, with help of the military, overthrew the democratically elected government of President Grinius in Lithuania in 1926. It brought sharp reaction by nearly all Lithuanian Americans, except for a minor Nationalist faction. This was particularly aggravating to Smetona’s new government. For the first couple years, the Smetona government chose to ignore critique by their kinfolks in America and tried to minimize contacts with them. However, by 1928, it began to realize the importance of Lithuanian American financial contribution to the country’s well-being. Accordingly, it started reaching out for closer contacts with the leadership of Lithuanian American organizations. It paid considerable effort to expand them until Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940.

U.S. position on the occupation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union in 1940 [22]

Even though diplomatic recognition of the Baltic States on July 23, 1922, was limited to government conditional”, the U.S. never challenged changes in Baltic governments in spite of their autocratic leanings. This “indifference” became an advantage when the Baltic States were occupied by the USSR in June 1940. U.S. did not accept their occupation noting that it violated the 1932 Stimson Doctrine [23] of non-recognition of international territorial changes executed by force. Furthermore, U.S. stated that the occupation was in direct breach of bilateral peace treaties concluded in 1920 between the USSR and each of the Baltic States.

Within a month of June 1940, the occupation of the Baltic States by the Soviet Union, Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles issued on behalf of the United States a formal statement on July 23, 1940, known as the Welles Declaration. [24] It reiterated the principles of the Stimson Doctrine of non-recognition of international territorial changes executed by force. The Welles Declaration specifically condemned the forceful annexation of the Baltic States by the Soviet Union. Accordingly, the United States refused to recognize the legitimacy of Soviet installed governments in those countries, particularly that it was a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 23, 1939, [25] by which Germany agreed to allow the Soviet Union to annex the three Baltic States. Subsequently, more than 50 countries followed the U.S. position.

Image for post
Copy of the August 23, 1939 Welles declaration
Image for post
Molotov signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in1939 (Stalin and Ribbentrop looking on)

After the USSR occupied and then formally annexed Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the U.S. Legation at Kaunas was closed on September 5, 1940. Until departure, the U.S. Ambassador J.C. Norem helped hundreds of Polish and Jewish refugees in Lithuania to escape to the West by issuing exit visas. Upon return to the U.S., Norem authored a popular book “Timeless Lithuania”. Although the Soviet actions ended “de facto” independence of Lithuania, the U.S. Government maintained accreditation of Baltic States diplomats as representatives of the last independent governments with full powers of carrying out their duties.

Image for post
U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania J.C. Norem 1937–1940

Throughout subsequent years, the Soviet diplomacy attempted to accentuate that the “de jure” recognition extended to the Baltic States by the USA in 1922, was conditional and clearly affirmed the principle of Russia’s territorial integrity. Accordingly, they argued that reintegration of the Baltic states into Russia was juridically justified.

The juridical continuity of the Baltic States from 1940 into later several years was hanging on a thread. [26] There were politicians and diplomats in Washington who favored official recognition of annexation of the Baltic States by the USSR, based on the principles established by the U.S. State Department prior to 1922. Moscow in its arguments, of course, conveniently ‘forgot’ that the note underscoring Russia’s integrity did not at all mean that the new Soviet Union has the right to claim as the inheritor of all former Russia’s occupied territories. Rather, the new governmental entity in Russia, known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was to become the main argument for continued recognition of the “de jure” independence of the Baltic States.

America’s Lithuanian react to threats to their homeland

Lithuanian Americans were never at peace about threats to their homeland throughout 1920 and 30-s. They became perturbed when Hitler threatened revenge over the first ever NAZI (Neumann-Sass) trials by Lithuania in 1934, dealing with subversive activities. [27] Subsequently, they became even more concerned by Hitler’s ultimatum and forced occupation of the Klaipeda region in March 1939. Poland’s ultimatum to Lithuania in 1938, to renew diplomatic relations or face war raised unprecedented alarm in many Lithuanian American communities and brought them out in street demonstrations.

Unsuspected by anyone at the time, in the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of August 1939, NAZI Germany colluded with Communists Russia to divide Eastern and Central Europe between themselves with the Baltic States apportioned to the Soviet Union. It led initially to the forced establishment of Soviet Army garrisons under the guise of protecting against Hitler’s invasion and by false assurances of respecting Lithuania’s sovereignty and independence. As a fake pacifier, the USSR returned the Vilnius region to Lithuania. Then in June 1940, the USSR broke the agreements and invaded all three Baltic States with a huge military force [28].

Attempts by President Smetona to offer armed resistance to the invasion were rejected by his cabinet of ministers. The military leadership, mainly with no prospects of external help and possibly large devastation of the country as a consequence of war, capitulated. The Soviet Union occupied Lithuania on June 15, 1940, and installed a “puppy” government.

With Russian occupiers in pursuit, President Antanas Smetona and his family fled from Lithuania on June 15, 1940, and then through Germany, Portugal, and South America, arrived in the United States on March 10, 1941

Image for post
President Antanas Smetona (first row second from left) and his cabinet in 1939

He was received at the White House by President F.D Roosevelt on April 18, 1941. Upon tour of several Lithuanian settlements during subsequent years, he settled in Cleveland, OH. Smetona died there in a suspicious house fire on January 13, 1944.

Image for post
Headlines of Lithuania’s occupation in Draugas Lithuanian American newspaper

Lithuania’s sudden occupation in June 1940, brought out Lithuanian American protesters into the streets of numerous America’s cities. Condemnations and resolutions were adopted requesting the U.S. Government to demand and enforce USSR’s withdrawal. Need for a unified action against the Soviet occupation of Lithuania was initially raised at the executive conference of Lithuanian Roman Catholic Federation of America (LRCFA) in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. on June 23–25, 1940. In a meeting on August 9–10, 1940, in Pittsburgh, Pa., the LRCFA Council agreed with invited leaders of Sandara and Nationalists factions to collaborate in establishing a united front organization under the name “Rescue Council for Lithuania”. It would work at the political level toward restoring Lithuania’s independence. The organization was temporarily renamed “Association for Democracy and Lithuania’s Independence”. Its delegation was received at the White House by President F.D. Roosevelt on October 15, 1940. The delegates were assured that Lithuania will be free again and that the loss of independence is only temporary.

Image for post
Lithuanian delegation with President F.D. Roosevelt at the White House on October 15, 1940

After the visit to the White House, the delegates met at the Lithuanian legation in Washington, D.C. and agreed to establish an integrated inter-ideological organization consisting of 34 delegate members.

In rescue of their ancestral country as WWII widens [29.30]

In order to embrace all major Lithuanian organizations, the Executive Committee at a meeting in Chicago on May 15, 1941, decided to change the name of the Rescue Council for Lithuania to Lithuanian American Council (LAC) or ALT in Lithuanian. It was nominally formalized on August 10, 1941, with Leonardas Simutis as president. The LAC was made up four major ideological groups: the Lithuanian Roman Catholic Federation of America, the Lithuanian Social-Democratic Federation of America, the National Lithuanian Society of America (Sandara), and the Lithuanian National Alliance of America (tautininkai). It also included two largest Lithuanian fraternal associations —the Lithuanian Alliance of America (LAA) and the Lithuanian Roman Catholic Alliance of America (LRCAA). This made LAC a very large organization, with hundreds of affiliates, branches, beneficial societies, political and cultural clubs, labor union locals, and other types of associations throughout the country. The most popular and influential American Lithuanian newspapers, dailies as well as weeklies, except for communists, openly supported this joint effort. It might be said with certainty that an overwhelming majority of American Lithuanian population were behind the LAC.

Due to ongoing WWII effort, LAC was slow into coming as a working organization. It was officially formalized during the first Congress of Lithuanians in America in Pittsburgh, Pa. on September 2–3, 1943. The Congress, attended by 500 delegates, set the foundation and guidelines for LAC as an organization and the principal goals for its future activities,

LAC’s headquarters was established in Chicago with PR offices in NYC and liaison in Washington, D.C. The principal aims of the LAC, as formulated in its by-laws, were to unite all democratic forces of Lithuanian Americans to 1) support and promote the principles of American democracy among Lithuanian organizations in the United States; 2) support the military effort of the United States at containing the totalitarian aggressors and eventually bringing democracy and a lasting peace founded on principles of justice, human rights and freedom to all people; 3) furnish the free world with true information concerning Lithuania and fight the Russian propaganda of lies and slander; 4) assure the implementation of the Atlantic Charter, and 5. ascertain restoration of Lithuania’s independence after the war.

Founders of LAC were greatly encouraged by consistent U.S. State Department reaffirmation of the Welles Declaration of July 23, 1940, as the cornerstone of the American policy with respect to freedom and independence of the Baltic States. Furthermore, LAC’s organizations had great faith in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s statement at the White House reception of a Lithuanian American delegation on October 15, 1940, of his “firm belief that Lithuania had not lost her independence, but it was only temporarily suspended. The time will come when Lithuania will be free again.”

During the first years of existence, the main objective of LAC was to prevent the United States from yielding to Soviet Union’s pressure to obtain recognition of its claim to Lithuania and the other Baltic States. The position of the U. S. Government on the question of independence of these countries was bitterly attacked by Moscow on numerous occasions. Moscow and their communist collaborators in the United States attempted to persuade the U.S. government that Lithuanians were Nazi sympathizers and betrayers of the common US-USSR cause. The Soviet Union was now a wartime ally, and the U.S. administration was under great pressure to change its position.

Image for post
Poster announcing commemoration of Lithuania’s Independence Day in 1943 in Newark, NJ

Lithuanian Americans were on high alert to these perils. To counteract Soviet Union’s propaganda, the LAC established in June 1944, a Lithuanian American Information Center (LAIC) in New York City for the purpose of issuing a continuous stream of bulletins containing news items about the Baltic States, their thrust for freedom, and highlighting falsehoods of USSR claims. Printed in 3000 copies, the bulletins were periodically distributed to the press, the U.S. Government Executive offices, members of U.S. Congress and the foreign diplomatic corps in Washington, D.C. The information helped to maintain pressure on the U.S. State Department not to yield to Soviet misinformation and to demands to end the recognition of the independence of the Baltic States.

In 1945, LAIC set-up an information office in San Francisco during the launching ceremonies of the United Nations organization and its first Conference proceedings. The Lithuanian American organizations were allowed two observers at the S.F. conference. Judge William J. Laukaitis of Baltimore, Md. and William Kvetkas of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. were delegated by the Lithuanian American Congress to attend the proceedings and to lobby for Lithuania’s freedom. The Conference was a high profile event but produced no benefit to Lithuania. There was total silence about the Baltic countries. Nevertheless, for many years thereafter, the LAIC continued the flow of news releases and publications of books about Soviet atrocities, deportations, and genocide in the Baltic countries as well as reminding the Western democracies of the illegitimacy of their occupation.

The cessation of WWII hostilities in 1945, found tens of thousands of Lithuanian refugees from Soviet terror in Western Europe. They were without protection and short of food provisions. The Lithuanian American Council immediately took steps with the federal authorities in Washington to assure their minimal safety from starvation and forced repatriation to the Soviet Union. To help ease their physical needs, the LAC proposed to create a special organization, called the United Lithuanian Relief Fund of America. [31] When the question of permanent settlement for the refugees arose, LAC devoted efforts to support legislation at the U.S. Congress that would permit hundreds of thousands of WWII refugees, including those from the Baltic States to enter the U.S.

Fragmented Lithuanian Life in America

From the very beginning of immigration, the Lithuanians were divided into two major groups one with religious convictions and the other with agnostic attitudes. The religious group consisted mostly of Roman Catholics and a minority of Protestants and splinter groups of Catholics. Litvaks, people of Jewish faith, were most likely as numerous as Roman Catholics but did not identify themselves as Lithuanian by nationality. The agnostic and independent factions initially were unorganized until they began to be drawn into Marxist and socialist ideologies. In time, while a good part of them became enchanted with communism, the rest splintered off to support either socialism or organized Lithuanian nationalism. Of course, there was also a segment of people who remained sincere followers and supporters of Lithuanianess without any ideological adherence.

The following chapters are aimed to highlight activities of the various factions during the 1919–1945 time span.

The Lithuanian American Roman Catholic Federation [32]

The Lithuanian American Catholic Federation (LARCF) was by far the largest and the most active organization in moving and shaping the life of Lithuanians in America in the most important ways. Its affiliation with America’s Lithuanian Catholic church, that was running extensive educational and social activities, provided a powerful force in framing the type of relationships the diaspora would have with Lithuania. Appropriate directions were set at LARCF 9th Congress in 1919, in Worchester, Ma, at the 10th in 1920, in Waterbury, Ct., and at the 11th in 1921, in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The LARCF, being very interested in Lithuania gaining freedom and independence after WWI, sent to the Paris Peace conference its representative attorney Balys Mastauskas and two stenographers to assist the fledgling delegation from Lithuania. It funded their activity and those of Lithuania’s delegation headed by prof. Voldemaras with a stipend of $90,000. At the advice of Voldemaras, the LARCF set up a Publications Office in New York City at a cost $40,000, and an Information Office in Washington, D.C. with funding of $33,000 for the duration of their operations. Further funding in the amount of $120,000 was sent to provide food for starving Lithuanian prisoners of war in Germany, and $41,000 to support Lithuania in its fight against the Polish military invasion and occupation of Vilnius and the Eastern part of Lithuania first in 1919 and again in 1920.

To support the newly created Lithuania’s monetary unit “litas”, the LARCF and the National Fund collected from Lithuanian Americans gold and jewelry donations. They were sent to the Treasury Dept. of Lithuania. Furthermore, the LARCF, in cooperation with all its affiliates and associations, conducted a sales drive of Lithuania freedom bonds in 1919. The drive yielded about two million dollars. LARCF also participated with other organizations in collecting second-hand clothing for Lithuania’s Red Cross. As a result of this effort, several railroad cars loaded with a variety of clothing and footwear were sent to Lithuania for distribution to the needy. LARCF paid more than $7.000 for transportation expenses.

The LARCF was a significant financial contributor to Lithuania’s academic and cultural needs. It set-up a fund to provide returnable loans for gifted Lithuanian young people seeking financial assistance for studies at U.S. and European universities. During the fund’s existence from 1919 through 1920, 18 of the supported students were from the U.S. and 64 from Lithuania, for an outlay of just over $20,000. This was of particular significance because no institutions of higher learning existed in Lithuania in the first years of independence.

The LARCF also collected in 1921–1922 fundraisers some $60,100 to support the establishment of a Catholic University of Lithuania. After the government denied a permit for such an institution, the funds were transferred to the Catholic Academy of Lithuania for the development of Catholic-oriented professors and academicians.

Ateitininkai, a Catholic youth organization, was one of the major beneficiaries of LARCF intent to establish a strong Catholic student leadership base in Lithuania. LARCF funded the construction of Ateitinkai headquarters building in Kaunas, and formation of several youth organization chapters in the provinces. Furthermore, it financed several Catholic secondary schools, including the publication of Catholic-oriented literature. Its crown achievement was the construction of an impressive, unique in style, tall and large church on top of the eastern hillside overlooking the city of Kaunas. The towering structure, known as the “Church of Resurrection”, completed in 1939, became the pride of the city, well visible from any of its points. Upon USSR’s occupation, the magnificent structure was expropriated by the communist regime and converted to a radio manufacturing facility.

In all, the LARCF collected and spent more than $ 700,000 in the first years of Lithuania’s independence for the country’s Catholic related causes. It was an aid amounting to the purchasing power of about $28 mln. in 2017 dollar value, or more than $12.00 for each inhabitant of Lithuania at the time.

Image for post
Church of Resurrection, a gift from America’s Lithuanians to Lithuania

America’s Lithuanian Catholic Church and its education system [33,34]

America’s Lithuanian clergy played an extremely important role in establishing a large network of Lithuanian language parishes, construction of new churches, establishing schools and advancing the Catholic faith of their flock. However, none of the movers gained prominent stature in the American Catholic Church hierarchy. In general, the hierarchy did not desire ascendency of clergy from Eastern and Middle European ranks. As an example, Cardinal James Gibbons in addressing the issue to the Vatican in 1920, argued against appointing a bishop of Polish ancestry, because that would increase the diversity of the Catholic diaspora in America. The church hierarchy was actively stifling integration of foreign languages claiming that Catholicism in the United States would be harmed.

Negative views of the church hierarchy did not diminish the growth and vitality of the Lithuanian Catholic church in America. By early 1920, it grew to 97 Lithuanian parishes. Forty parochial schools were in operation. Rev. Simonaitis observed that due to the 1928–1932 depression the number of Lithuanian parishes in 1933 decreased to 88, but the number of grade schools remained almost the same, at 39. Lithuanian encyclopedia (Vol. XV) notes of some 47 grade schools and seven high schools operating in 1943.

While most Lithuanian settlements had only one parish, a few more populous ones had several. Chicago, for example, had as many as eleven in early 1930-s. The average student body of the entire parish school system was around 10,000 between the years 1925 and 1935, with a peak of about 12,000 in 1926. After 1935, the school enrollment began a gradual decline as those schools started to resemble more and more local public Anglo-Saxon schools. Furthermore, the curriculum requirements imposed by individual states in latter part of 1930-s had a very large effect on what the schools had to teach and use of the English language for the instruction of certain subjects was mandatory. Many parents found little advantage, if any, for their children to attend at rather great expense the Lithuanian parish schools.

Image for post
A redecorated Lithuanian American church in Chicago

F. Kemesis notes in his research, that American Bishop’s Conference directed all Lithuanian parishes to provide catechization instructions in both English and Lithuanian languages. After WWI most Lithuanian nun-teachers were now American born and more at ease in providing instructions in English than in Lithuanian. To assure that Lithuanian language was not neglected, many Lithuanian parish schools required the use of Lithuanian language for 90 minutes at every mid-day and one day of each week in its entirety. But, as Kemesis notes [35], that was not enough either to maintain students’ proficiency in their Lithuanian language skills or provide an appreciation of the ethnic values and culture.

In the development of the Lithuanian parish school system, of great importance was the establishment of six academies for the development of nun-teachers. As a result, the overall nun-teacher population in Lithuanian parochial schools reached by mid-thirties about one thousand. Some of the academies became within a few years high schools, mostly for girls. Kucas notes of Lithuanian Catholic nuns operating 7 high schools, several nursing homes, and two hospitals. Unfortunately, as the school system expanded, their focus on Lithuanianess began to diminish due to rising percentage of non-Lithuanian students, inadequate preparation of teachers in Lithuanian subjects and their weak knowledge of Lithuanian language. Even children from Lithuanian families, due to mixed language use at home and their English street environment, were reluctant to converse in Lithuanian.

Of great significance to the education of future Lithuanian-American leaders was the creation of the Lithuanian Marion Hills College in Hinsdale, Illinois, in 1926. In as much as a larger part of the student body was from the east coast, the school was relocated in 1931, to Thompson, Connecticut. It was chartered at the State of Connecticut as a preparatory school and a four-year college, under the name the Marianapolis College.[36] The school became known as the premier education center for gifted youth from more prosperous Lithuanian families.

Image for post
Marianapolis college at Thompson, Ct,

The college tried to find a balance between the English language based on American university curriculum and instructions on subjects such as Lithuanian language skills, history, culture, customs, etc. In time, Lithuanian language proficiency, cultural and historical aspects lost more and more significance in the school’s curriculum. As WWII broke out, the college was closed due to a shortage of students, most of whom were drafted into military service. The preparatory school continued to operate maintaining a high scholastic standard. The Marion Fathers converted in 1934 the original Marion College in Hinsdale, IL. to a seminary for future Marion priests.

Image for post
Marion Hills College in Hinsdale, IL

Apart from some adult evening education classes at several settlements, there were no independent non-sectarian Lithuanian grade schools anywhere in the United States within this period.

In 1930-s Lithuanians in America could boast of some 2000 religious and non-sectarian societies, associations, sporting clubs, and fraternal organizations. Of these, more than 50% were either directly or remotely related to the Lithuanian Catholic church. Organizations with membership in thousands, were the Knights of Lithuania, the Alliance of Lithuanian Roman Catholics in America, and the American Lithuanian Roman Catholic Federation. The Lithuanian Roman Catholic Priests League in America and the Lithuanian Women Association are two smaller religious organizations continuing operations into present time.

Even though the majority of Lithuanians were baptized as Roman Catholics, about one half of them either did not belong to any organization or were members of some non-sectarian societies The majority of these leaned towards socialistic ideas, a greater part of whom became communist sympathizers in the 1930-s. The remaining unaffiliates turned either toward supporting Smetona type nationalism or were favoring Lithuanianism without ideological fervor. [37]

Lithuanian Lutherans-Protestants in America

Of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Lithuania, there were only fewer than ten thousand of Protestant faith who professed to be of Lithuanian nationality. Martynas Keturakaitis was the founder of several Lithuanian Lutheran congregations in America. After leaving his Philadelphia congregation in 1900, he started a new one in Collinsville, IL. The congregation’s life was continued in Philadelphia by Pastor Petras Drignaitis, who upon arrival in the United States in 1890, studied theology in Springfield, IL. [38]

Keturakaitis was serving several non-Lithuanian Lutheran parishes in the Chicago area. Also, on a once a month basis, he conducted Lithuanian services in Collinsville, IL. as pastor of the Jerusalem Lutheran Church. The parish became formally organized on December 4, 1910, as Zion Lithuanian Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession. [39] Rev. John J.D. Razokas was installed on June 11, 1911, as its first pastor. Under his care, the parish adopted its first Constitution and began publication for his parishioners of a Lithuanian language bulletin “Pasiuntinys” (The Messenger).

Upon Rev.Razokas’s death in early 1921, Rev. John Rozak, a cousin of the former pastor, was installed as pastor of the church. During the years of his ministry, the Congregation prospered in spiritual welfare, membership, and property. The congregation purchased and moved to a new (present) building in Oak Lawn in 1922. [40] A 1927 Lithuanian Hymnal Book and the church paper “Pastas” (the Mail) were published by his initiative. Also, the parish uniquely boasted of two choirs, one — Lithuanian with twenty-four members, the other — English, with sixteen members.

The Rev. Ewald Kories assumed leadership of the Congregation from October 1934 to 1946. During that time, the parish’s Dorcas Society rendered helpful services for the church. Debts were paid off with the assistance of the Zion Daughters Society which was organized on November 10, 1919, and the Lithuanian Evangelical Lutheran Benefit Society, founded on March 18, 1923. Both organizations were dissolved in the latter half of the 1900-s.

Lithuanian National Catholic Church in America

The Lithuanian National Catholic Church (LNCCA) started as part of the movement in the Polish Catholic Church to split away from dependency on Rome’s Catholic hierarchy dictate. In 1914, it caught on at several Roman Catholic Lithuanian parishes in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Massachusetts [31]. At its peak, the dissidents operated 6 parishes. By 1920 it dwindled to three: the Providence of God in Scranton, Pa., the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and the St. Mary’s Mission Church in Chicago. The Right Reverend John Gritenas was consecrated on August 17, 1924, in Scranton, Pa. as the LNCCA only bishop. The church was later affiliated for coordination purposes with the Polish National Catholic Church.

Image for post
Lithuanian National Catholic Church in Lawrence, Ma,

Newberry notes that during the depression years, the St. Mary’s Mission Church had the distinction of providing significant relief to the needy. By staging concerts, stage plays, and dances, it was capable of raising funds to support families and people in need.

An audit of the St. Mary’s Mission church [32] shows that from April 5, 1930, to April 6, 1935, 2,235 families or 9,527 persons were assisted with donations of food, clothing, fuel and other necessities, irrespective of race or creed. It notes the distribution of 355,785 loaves of bread, 200,325 rolls and pieces of cakes, 15,576 gallons of milk, 11,502 bushels of fruit, vegetables, candy and nuts, 1,478 pounds of meat, 2,650 pounds of coffee, cocoa, sugar, etc. It also claims to have distributed 1,225 pairs of coats and trousers; 1,110 women coats and dresses, 12,455 clothing articles for boys and girls, 1,551 pairs of shoes, 65 complete beds, and a number of other items.

Further information on the Lithuanian National Catholic Church is not available, except that as of 1945, the membership of the three churches was around 400, and the church activities have continued into later years.


AsWWI ended, the Litvaks (Jews in America with origins from Lithuania) numbered in several hundred thousand. The restructuring of the European political and nationality map after WWI created for the Litvaks a documentary identity predicament. While being deeply convinced as Jews, they had difficulty of reconciling the birth of their country known as Russia, with cities and towns that had new names and were not anymore part of Russia. For the first three years, it did not matter much as the U.S. did not recognize Lithuania’s sovereignty. But it did create confusion and difficulties, particularly in the preparation of travel document and citizenship applications, after diplomatic recognition of Lithuania’s independence in 1922.

America’s Jews were deeply concerned after WWI ended about the fate and welfare of their brethren in Central and Eastern Europe. Chicago’s Daily Jewish Courier of March 31, 1920, cited in an article rabbi Ephraim Epstein’s observation about Jewish life during his three and a half month journey through Europe, on behalf of the Mizrachi movement.[43]

At a Chicago meeting of the Congregation Anshe Kneseth Israel, Rabbi Epstein spoke about miserable living conditions of Jews in Lithuania and Poland, and the relief work being done there. He observed that Jews in Lithuania are in somewhat better circumstances. There is more food. “I visited Kovno and its vicinity, and the poverty there is terrific, but the Jews of Kovno are fortunate in that they are not surrounded by such poisonous enemies as the Poles. The Jews in Russia and Ukraine are also subjected to unbearable suffering. The Lithuanians are better people and like to maintain good relationships with the Jews, whom they consider superior to themselves. American help for their Jewish brethren is gradually reaching Lithuania”. As a result, the Alliance of Lithuanian Jews pledged all of its treasury’s $550.00 to help their suffering kinfolks.

Newberry, in a news item of November 28, 1928, noted of an establishment of a Federation of American Jews of Lithuanian Descent in New York. [44] The launching conference of the Federation took place on November 17–18. It was attended by 800 participants on. 250 delegates were elected from New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and organize and steer economic, political and cultural help to the Jews in Lithuania. It adopted a constitution and elected officers with Henry Hurwitz, editor of the Menorah Journal, as its president.

Mr. Hurwitz was criticized for inviting Hon. B.K. Balutis, Lithuanian Minister to the United States, to attend the Saturday evening of the conference. It was noted that the treatment of the Jewish minority in Lithuania should be expressed frankly and that inviting the Lithuanian ambassador at the launching of the Federation was in poor taste.

The Hon. B.K. Balutis, one the principal speakers at the opening of the conference, remarked:

“I have communicated with my government informing them of this meeting. In reply I received a cable from Prime Minister Voldemaras requesting me to congratulate you. I am directed also to thank you for the assistance rendered by the Jews in regaining the independence and re-establishment of Lithuania, and to wish you success in this new praiseworthy effort of yours. I hope that this Federation will become a good connecting link between the Jews of Lithuanian descent in America and the American Jews in general on one hand and your kinsmen and the Lithuanian people in general on the other hand.” He also conveyed the greetings of the Lithuanian American National Committee.

Other speakers at the Saturday night session were Saul Tchernichowski, noted poet, and Dr. Zemach Feldstein, representative of the Tarbuth, both now in this country on a visit from Lithuania. He noted “The present situation of Lithuanian Jewry is a continuation of the tragedy of 1915 from which they have never recovered. All Lithuanian Jewry is desolate, and in rags. Their economic resources have long ago been eaten up and were it not for their friends and relatives abroad, especially in America, whole towns would starve to death,”

Mr. Tschernichowski in a brief address in Hebrew remarked “Despite the poverty, the Lithuanian Jewry maintains a high culture. Ninety-five percent of our children are taught in Hebrew and Yiddish schools, despite lack of buildings, funds, and textbooks.”

The high profile meeting of Lithuania Jews elected as their Honorary President, Judge William M. Lewis. It was followed by a benefit dinner at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel with prominent speakers such as Justice Joseph M. Proskauer, Dr. Bernard Sachs, a neurologist at Mount Sinai, Montefiore and Manhattan State Hospitals; Dr. Foster Kennedy, a neurologist at Bellevue, and Dr. Israel Strauss, President of Hastings Hillside Hospital.

Lithuanian Jewish Federation in America was founded in NYC in 1937, for the purpose of providing material support for their kinfolks in Lithuania. The initiator was Frank Epstein, who upon return from a visit to Lithuania spoke of the need for help. The call for establishing the Federation and for assistance to the Jewish diaspora was well received by several hundred attendees. They elected a board of 12 directors. The Federation expanded rapidly thereafter with chapters in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, Brooklyn, and several other Jewish communities. The aid consisted of shipments of clothing, medication and pharmaceutical items, as well as financial support for Jewish ambulatory services, schools, old folk homes, etc. The Federation named Judge William Lewis of Philadelphiaas its honorary chairman.

Upon start of WWII and the Nazi annihilation of Jews in Europe, the Litvaks created in 1942, [45] American Federation for Lithuanian Jewish Appeal to come to the aid of Lithuanian Jewish refugees who escaped from German Nazis into Soviet territory. The Federation also spoke of “thousands of Jews massacred by the Nazis in Kovno and the Vilna district,” and of the ghettos in which the Nazis have isolated some Jews in Lithuania only to use them for slave labor. Sydney Hillman, a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant and the leader of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union for over 30 years, was elected chairman of the new Federation. He moved into the national political arena in 1941, by being appointed as director of the U.S. Office of Production Management.

Among many prominent Lithuanian Jewish personalities in America’s life during this time period, Morris B. Sachs and Lena Himmelstein provide an interesting view of the vitality of Litvaks in America.

Morris B Sachs arrived in the U.S. as an orphan in 1910. Starting as a peddler boy, he became a leading clothing merchant by 1920. He created in 1930-s the very popular Morris B. Sachs Amateur Radio Hour. In his later years, he became a generous philanthropist and Chicago`s city treasurer. [46]

Lena Himmelstein, a 16-year-old Jewish orphan girl, arrived from Lithuania in New York City in 1897. She found work in a sweatshop for $1 a week. After her first husband David Bryant died, Lena supported herself and her son by making and selling tea gowns. A bank misspelled her name as “Lane”. The name caught on and the clothing line “Lane Bryant” was born. [47]

Image for post
Lane Briant advertisement of her clothing line

Socialists and Independents

Federation of America’s Lithuanian Socialists and Communists [48,49]

The Lithuanian American Socialist Federation grew by 1919, to unprecedented membership of about 9,000. At that time, however, it encountered serious internal disagreements on whether to support Lithuania’s independence or be associated with the newly formed communist Russia. The Federation after a vigorous fight split into two factions. The majority decision in 1919, to form the Lithuanian Communist Federation and become a member of the U.S. Communist party. It took into possession over $80,000 in cash, about $27,000 worth of assets and the publisher of the newspaper “Laisve” (Freedom). Many of its members were hardened in labor strikes and rowdy protests, demonstrating as underpaid workers laboring in demeaning and dangerous jobs. They were against capitalism and inspired by the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.[50] In late 1921, the Lithuanian Communist Federation had seven chapters with nearly 1200 members paying monthly dues. It was the 2nd largest non-English language group in the U.S. Communist Party.

Because of language, social and culture divide between Americans and Lithuanian workers, appeal to unionize uncultured immigrants in Pensylvania’s coal mining and steelmaking industries were nearly non-existent during the first years of 1900. Only after the Great Steel Strike in Pittsburgh in 1919, in which the Lithuanian strikers’ clashes with the Allegheny County’s Sheriff’s deputies became widely known, the union became interested in their integration. [51]

Unionization brought them also into leftist politics, socialism at first and then leaning towards communism. They were mostly egged on by such notorious agitators as Joseph Stilson, John Gasiunas, John Orman, dr. Johanna Baltrusaitis, Mykolas Mockus, Rojus Mizara, Anthony Bimba, Antanas Petrika and others, claiming in their speeches that Russia was the freest country in the world, and Lithuania should remain under Russia’s control.

The Communist Party advocated revolution of the workers and encouraged acts of violent turmoil and in some instances bombing in 1920–21. The U.S. government named such actions as anarchist inspired “Red Scare”, a threat of Communist take-over. While there was little direct Lithuanian involvement, the Red Scare deeply affected the Lithuanian Communist Federation. Several of its leaders were periodically arrested, tried and sentenced to either imprisonment for several years or expulsion from the country. [52]

Russia’s invasion of Lithuania in 1940 devastated the Lithuanian Communist Federation. It became a shadow of its former self. It not only lost around 80% of its membership, but it also rearranged the social structure of Lithuanians in America. A part of them reverted to follow the socialist line, while the remaining became interested in participating and having a voice in local American politics

In spite of the difficulties, the Lithuanian Communist faction continued operating quite successful in disguise as American Lithuanian Workers Literature Society. It was indeed one of the best organized and active organizations in the foreign language literary field. The Society claimed to have in 1923, more than 200 chapters and a membership of about 7000. The faction published throughout the years two highly successful and large volume newspapers: Vilnis (the Surge) in Chicago and Laisve (Liberty) in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Society began to lose credibility and started to disintegrate as a result of the Stalin-Hitler Pact in 1939, followed by the Soviet Union occupying Lithuania in 1940, and subsequent mass atrocities and deportations of Lithuanians to Siberia. Nevertheless, a good number of the hardliners remained stoically loyal to the Soviet Union throughout WWII and kept supporting Lithuania’s incorporation as one of the Soviet Republics. One of the leaders in this group was Antanas Petrika who described its activities in his book “Lithuanian Literary Society and Progressive America’s Lithuanians”.[53]

The Socialist Alliance [48,54,55,56,57]

After the split with the communists, the decimated ranks of diehard Marxist socialists began rebuilding their organizational structure. New officers were elected at a meeting on November 28, 1919, in Chicago. However, its management was confused on which way to go and cautious about ideology. Its activity was largely minor. In contrast, their members were still interested in socialist ideas and supported by three newspapers: NaujienosKeleivis and Naujoji Gadynė. All three retained large readerships. In 1936, the socialists formed again a common front with the communists to oppose the Smetona nationalist regime in Lithuania. But the cooperation disintegrated when the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania on June 15, 1940. Some Communist Federation dissidents, who disagreed with the Soviet Union’s aggression, rejoined the Socialist Alliance. The departing members now realized that the Soviet Union and its promoted communism was nothing more than an extension of Imperialist Russia, and they wanted none of it. Finally, the Socialist faction, while still adhering to the Marxist ideology, joined hands with the Catholics and Nationalists to fight for Lithuania’s freedom and independence. Pijus Grigaitis, one of the prime movers of the Socialist Alliance, led to reconciliation with the other Lithuanian organizations. He was invited in 1941, to become the secretary of the Lithuanian American Council and filled that post until 1962. The Socialist Alliance has also been an active board member in the United Lithuanian Relieve Fund of America since its founding in 1944.

The Nationalist Sandara Association

The Sandara Association, after the communist faction split off from the Socialist Federation, was also remote from dealing with those favoring any relationship with Russia. The group was made up of moderate socialist and nationalist-oriented individuals. Their primary aim was to provide assistance to Lithuanian victims of WWI and to help Lithuania to get on its feet. It created for this purpose the Lithuania Independence Fund, initially known as the Autonomy fund. At its peak in 1919–20, the Association had about 100 chapters with over 2,000 members.[58] Besides its own organizational bulletin Sandara, the Association was supported by four newspapers Dirva, Lietuva, Vienybe Lietuvininku and Ateitis. [59] Upon Lithuania gaining independence in 1918, the Association’s political stance after 1919, was of diminishing interest to America’s Lithuanians, and Sandara’s activity began to lose its focus. It sustained a severe further blow when the Smetona led the Nationalists faction in a coup de etat took over by force the reigns of the government in 1926. As a result, the Association split into two irreconcilable factions: the Nationalist approving the coup and the democratic wing opposing it [60]

The Nationalist Faction was disliked by most Lithuanian Americans, because of its close affiliation with the Smetona Government. Accordingly, it played an insignificant role in an overall picture in America’s Lithuanian life until the exiled President Smetona arrived in the U.S. in 1941. Lithuania’s occupation and the exiled President’s arrival and his visits to various communities provided rallying opportunities for the revitalization of the Nationalists movement.

The democratic wing of the socialist movement continued on its own by reforming into a social-democratic party after WWII ended. It attracted a number of independent-minded individuals who could not reconcile with ideological lines promoted by Catholics and Nationalists, but felt a deep affiliation with Lithuanianess.

Major Benefit Alliances

Image for post
Plaque at the Lithuanian Alliance of America building in Manhattan, NYC

Insurance Alliances in America [61,62,63]

The Lithuanian Alliance of America (LAA) and the Lithuanian Roman Catholic Association of America (LRCAA), were the two largest Lithuanian insurance associations. Since their inception at the dawn of the 20th century, both continued to expand their membership. The LRCAA membership was about 12,000 in 1920, 15,000 in 1925, 16,000 in 1930, 12,000 in 1935, 11,000 in 1940 and just over 10,000 in 1945. There are no published numbers of LAA membership, but a comparison of LAA assets with those of LRCAA leads to an assumption that by 1919 LAA was somewhat larger until the communist faction of LAA began in 1920, a drive to take over control of its management.

The struggle for control lasted up to the 36th convention of the LAA in June 1930, in Chicago. At the convention, the communists demanded the right to appoint their delegate to the mandate committee. The demand was rejected. The riotous communist delegates during the first three sessions did not permit the convention to hold organized meetings. At that point, the police were called in to restore order. The communist delegates were removed and the convention proceeded without further interruption.

The departing communist delegates then held a separate convention and decided through court action to take over the LAA. The court rejected their demand and recognized the 36th convention’s legitimacy. The communist faction’s caused disarray was hard on LAA. It resulted in a loss of some 3,000 members. After the turmoil, the LAA membership continued to grow again. LAA retained its headquarter building in NYC, and by 1940, it became comparable in membership to LRCAA.

Image for post
Headquarters of Lithuanian Alliance of America building In New York City

Both Alliances, besides offering low-cost life and health insurance coverage and material aid to their members, supported numerous Lithuanian national and cultural activities. Each also helped fund some important events and causes in their homeland, including donations to relief, educational and cultural institutions. Thousands of dollars were spent to provide vital information on social and health issues for their own members including educational scholarships for worthy students.

Lithuanian Catholic Workers Association of America [64]

During the Congress of the Lithuanian Catholic Federation in 1914, Reverend Fabijonas Kemesis, a young priest of the Boston Lithuanian parish and several delegates proposed forming a Lithuanian Catholic Worker Association of America (LCWA). It would be part of the World Christian Democratic movement and operate as a branch of the American Workers Political Party. The Association was founded in 1915, and soon thereafter, began to publish a bi-weekly newspaper Darbininkas (the Worker). The Association grew to more than 40 chapters by 1920, with about 6,000 subscribers of its newspaper. Countering Lithuanian working class leanings toward socialism and communism, the 1922 Congress decided to support constructive concepts of free enterprise based on individual freedom, equality of justice and brotherhood. It also stressed that nationality was one of the great spiritual values, and therefore, Lithuanianess needs to be cherished and fostered.

To protect its members, LCWA established a strike fund with membership fees from 50 cents to a dollar per year to receive four to eight dollars weekly benefits in the event of a strike. In addition, the Association began operating counseling and information offices in several cities to help their unemployed members find jobs.

In 1923, Reverend Kemesis proposed the establishment of consumer cooperatives at major Lithuanian settlements. After a wide initial interest, the idea floundered and within the year it was all but forgotten. The Association, however, continued publishing books and brochures, many of which were also sent to Lithuania. While the Association’s membership never exceeded 5,000, the Darbininkas for a few years became one of the largest publishers of Lithuanian language newspapers with over 20,000 subscribers. With the passage of time and focus on WWII, the energy of older generation members began to diminish, while the younger generations showed little interest in worker organizations and related topics. As a result, membership in the Association dropped considerably during the war years. In view of drastically changed economic and cultural conditions after WWII ended, the Association decided to liquidate. In contrast, the newspaper Darbininkas continued publication for several decades thereafter.

Lithuanian Workers Alliance [65]

The Lithuanian Workers Alliance (LWA) was established during the 36th convention of the Lithuanian Alliance of America in Chicago on June 19, 1930. After two days of rowdy turmoil (the main reason for turmoil at the convention was that the nationalists faction refused to admit a delegate of the Communist Federation to the mandate committee), the Communist delegates and their sympathizers, 208 strong, left the Convention and met at the Meldazis Hall, to form the nucleus of a new organization: The Lithuanian Workers Alliance.

The LWA was incorporated in the state of New York on October 14, 1930, as a benefit fraternal organization paying sickness and death benefits to its members. Its more attractive feature was that member contributions would be returned in full after twenty years of membership.

Besides serving as an insurer, the LWA claimed to be a promoter of cultural and enlightenment activities and supporter of progressive labor movements for freedom and better livelihood [66]. However, the LWA within several years left the communist party embrace and became a totally socialist-oriented Lithuanian workers organization.

The LWA published a bimonthly newspaper Tiesa (The Truth), that sent to its members free of charge. The annual report of March 1, 1937, notes that the Alliance had 170 chapters with over six thousand adult and about five hundred adolescent members, and an operating capital of over $160,000. In six years of existence, it has paid to its members over $60,000 in death and $120,000 in sickness benefits.

In spite of opposing the Smetona regime, LWA sent delegates to the “Lithuanian World Convention” in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1935, and to the American Lithuanian Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1936. At the conventions, the LWA urged: (1) freeing anti-fascists political prisoners; (2) restoring a democratic form of government in Lithuania and upholding democracy in the United States; (3) supporting the Spanish people’s struggle against fascism; (4) protecting from persecution foreign-born workers in the United States.

The LWA claimed to be the first to have started organizing and enlightening American-born Lithuanian youth through self-supporting branches and allowing them to manage their affairs in the English language (if desired). The organization’s newspaper Tiesa (later Naujoji Gadyne) provided in each addition a half page space for its youth members to cover their own cultural, arts, entertainment, travel, sports, and other activities.

Throughout the years of existence, the LWA had organized at a number of its branches Lithuanian language courses, sport and leisure time activities for children of its members to assure their interaction in Lithuanian as well as maintenance of good health habits. During the LWA convention in 1936, in Rochester, N.Y., the Lithuanian youth section held its first sports Olympiad with about 100 participants from various Lithuanian settlements. Before the fourth convention in 1938 in Pittsburgh, Pa., the LWA became a member of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) of the United States. During the convention, it held the second Olympiad for its youth with 150 participating in the games.

LWA membership peaked in 1939. However, as a consequence of breakout of WWII, the LWA membership began a severe decline due to the draft of numerous LWA members into the Armed Services. Nevertheless, the organization survived and revived somewhat after WWII.

Lithuanian Catholic Women Alliance [67}

The need to form an organization for Lithuanian Catholic Women was proposed at the 1914 Congress of the Lithuanian Catholic Federation in Chicago. Its purpose was to provide cultural activities, material support for members in need, cherishing Lithuanian heritage and language, promotion of education, religious orientation, facilitating in search of employment, guidance in family life, etc. The Lithuanian Catholic Women Alliance (LCWA) intended initially to operate through chapters, but then some individual chapters reorganized to operate as districts, such as New England, New York-New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, etc. By 1920 the organization had nearly 2,500 members. From there on, its membership fluctuated up and down due to some members emigrating to Lithuania and new immigrants enrolling. The membership stabilized at about 2000 for several decades. The organization published from its very beginning the newspaper-bulletin Moteru Dirva (Women’s Acres)

Image for post
Insignia at one of the Lithuanian Catholic Women clubs

Immediately after WWI and prior to the outbreak of WWII, the Alliance provided support for poverty-stricken members of their local parishes and by sending financial aid to several religious organizations in Lithuania. Its largest contribution was financing the rebuilding the burned down the agricultural school for girls in Karmelava. During WWII, the Alliance concentrated in aiding returning wounded veterans and orphaned families that lost their fathers in war activities, providing assistance to arriving Lithuanian war refugees, promoting respect to religious matters within its membership, etc.

Knights of Lithuania [68,69]

Knights of Lithuania (KoL) started as a youth organization in 1912. It grew soon after WWI into one of the largest Catholic youth movements in America’s Lithuanian diaspora. By encompassing a broad set of interests, it attracted mostly U.S. born young adults by sharing their commonality in Lithuanian heritage, religious belief, knowledge of Lithuanian language, history, etc. The organization engaged in a variety of activities such as group socializing without alcoholic beverages; learning about useful skills and trades; discussion, writing and literature seminars; group travel, teaching acting and singing; outings and planning entertainment programs. Much of the energy was also spent in the 1919–1920 period in raising funds and goods to help alleviate the plight of Lithuanian war victims, and promoting public support for the establishment of U.S. diplomatic relations with Lithuania. Lithuania’s delegate in Washington, Valdemaras Charneckis, gave due recognition of this contribution in his address at the 1922 KoL convention. Such attention made the organization even more popular. At the time of its 1923 convention in Springfield, IL, KoL consisted of more than 100 chapters with a membership well over 5000.

In as much as 70% of the membership was American born and had little or no Lithuanian schooling, KoL chapters began offering Lithuanian language courses, and staging Lithuanian plays and song festivals to ease their members into Lithuanian language. In 1930, the organization’s membership, due to depression, dropped to 1800. Some chapters could not even afford the fee of $10.00 to pay for the subscription of KoL journal. Yet, other groups managed to raise funds by staging basketball tournaments, theatrical plays, and concerts. In spite of the difficulties, KoL maintained close relations with youth organizations in Lithuania. It helped students in Lithuania by providing scholarships for the neediest and gifted students. It organized in 1927, 1928, 1930, and 1938, group excursions to Lithuania, as well as hosted a visit in 1936, of a delegation of a sister organization from Lithuania.

KoL went through another difficult period during WWII when 800 of its members were drafted into the armed services. Nevertheless, the organization survived through the support of its numerous friends and began to grow again after the WWII ended.

Lithuanian Americans in Defense of their Native and Adopted Countries

WWI veterans [70]

The majority of Lithuanian American soldiers upon returning from WWI chose not to join the newly established American Legion. They favored forming their own veteran groups with the objective of not only caring for their fellow veteran comrades but also helping Lithuania in its struggle for independence against numerous neighboring adversaries who were trying to invade and occupy the country. It started with small groups naming themselves Freedom Guards, American Lithuanian Legionnaires, Lithuanian Legion in America, etc. Some of these veteran groups wanted to form a formal American Lithuanian Military Brigade and go to Lithuania. But the Wilson administration denied all of their efforts.

In spite of the denial, several dozen veterans left the United States for Lithuania. To avoid U.S, prohibition, they traveled through Canada in November 1919, masquerading as laborers. They arrived in Kaunas on December 31.

One of the arriving volunteers was Samuel J. Harris (non-Lithuanian) born in Shippensburg, Pa., on December 24, 1896.[71] He served as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army in World War I, and then as First Lieutenant of the American Brigade in Lithuania. Harris was the only casualty on February 23, 1920, while defending the bridge across the river Nemunas to prevent access to the Kaunas-Aleksotas airport by communist insurgents

Grateful Lithuania’s government, honoring Harris’s sacrifice, sponsored erection of a monument in his memory at the Arlington National Cemetery and presented his mother a posthumous medal of the “Cross of Honor” and awarded her a pension for life. In addition, the Lithuanian American WWI veterans of Chicago named their post as the Samuel Harris Lithuanian Legion Post 271.

Image for post
A monument for Samuel Harris at the Arlington Cemetery

Only by 1930, several loose groups of WWI veterans decided to unite in the Lithuanian Legion of America (LLA). The Legion was made up of eight posts: Brooklyn, NY; New Britain and Hartford, Ct; Baltimore, Md; Boston and Worcester, Ma; Chicago and Springfield, IL. LLA held annual conventions in Pennsylvania’s Little Lithuania. Focusing its activities under the slogan “For God and Country”, it provided care for their fellow veterans in need and reacted to threats to Lithuania. In 1935, The Chicago Samuel Harris Post was renamed The Darius and Girenas Lithuanian Legion Post 271. [72]

Image for post
Honor guard of The American Legion Lithuanian Post 154

The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, quickly changed LAA’s independent operations. Their focus was now America. As a result, they decided to dissolve the LLA and apply for membership in the American Legion. While not all, but for example, the Baltimore Lithuanian American veterans received in 1943 a temporary charter admitting it into the American Legion as The American Legion Lithuanian Post 154.[73]

Unfortunately, aging and deaths of most WWI members resulted in closing several posts, with only the Baltimore and the Darius and Girenas Posts (now renamed as the Don Varnas Post) in Chicago, still active.

In U.S. Military service during WWII [74,75]

Lithuanian nation lost about a third of its population through warfare on its soil, mass deportations and escaping from Russian occupiers during the last two centuries. Russia’s Soviet terror in the years 1940–80 was the worst part of it. While America’s Lithuanian civilian population was at a distance from WWII battlefields, its men of draft age and a smaller number of female volunteers served either in direct combat and/or in support services of the U.S armed forces.

Inasmuch as the U.S. military records did not distinguish any of its members by nationality, it is virtually impossible to establish the number of Lithuanians in military service. Several Lithuanian-American sources estimate the number to have been as high as 100,000. The estimates appear to be in the right ballpark. Of the 133mln. U.S. population during WWII, about 13 mln. served in the armed forces, or approx. 1 in 10. Of these, about 3.1% were killed and 5.2% were wounded in combat and other military duties. Assuming that the often quoted one million people of Lithuanian ancestry in the U.S. at the outbreak of WWII is correct, the 100,000 serving in the U.S military would appear to be in line with previously noted 1 to 10 ratio. The above would also indicate the possibility of about 3,100 killed and over 5,200 Lithuanian American soldiers, sailors and flying men wounded during WWII. The fatality rates of Springfield, IL. Lithuanians in Army combat show nearly 5% casualties, indicating a higher rate of death than that for the overall U.S army combat fatalities.[76][

No comparable wounded rates are provided in the Springfield listing. The higher fatality rates seem to be reasonable, as the majority of Lithuanian Americans at that time were still near the bottom of the educational and economic ladder in America’s societal structure and therefore, they would be assigned more often to combat duties in the infantry than to other type services. Also of interest in this Springfield listing is one young woman as a member of the U.S Marine corps, and 6 members of the Shimkus family concurrently serving in the military.

Further insight, however it may be skewed, is provided in a listing of Lithuanians having served during WWII in the U.S. Army-Airforce compiled by Kazimieras and Izabele Baltrusaitis. Inasmuch as this service branch took in only exceptionally physically and psychologically fit individuals as pilots and flying personnel, their numbers are small, and certainly, do not reflect the profile or proportions of Lithuanian men serving in other branches of the military. While the extent of completeness of the database is unknown, the list provides an interesting glimpse of the profile of flyers in the armed services.

The first part of the data lists 75 Lithuanian American pilots and/or flying officers in combat operations by home state, rank, name and outcome either surviving or killed in action. The second part contains a list of 69 names in the same flying service without further details. The first list shows their origins from states. Pennsylvania (17), Illinois (16), Massachusetts (14), Connecticut (11), New Jersey (4), New York and Michigan three each, and one each from Oregon, Wisconsin and West Virginia. Of the 75 fliers, 24 were killed either in combat missions, crash landings while returning from combat operations, or in flight training.

Image for post
Second pilot lieutenant James Verinis (Connecticut) fourth from the left with the B-17 flight crew

Furthermore, the data indicate about 30% fatality rate for Lithuanian American flying personnel which is significantly different from the 3–5% fatality rate for those engaged in combat duties of other military branches. The fatality rate for Lithuanian American pilots appears to be almost in line with 29% fatality rate of in-flight personnel for the rest of the US Army-Air Force during WWII operations. The second list shows only pilots and/or flying officers without any indication of outcome to them.

Image for post
“Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaves’ recipient lieutenant Anthony Yenalavage (Pa) — B-24 bombardier, upon the pilot being seriously wounded, Yanalavage brought the damaged plane from France safely to its base in England

Little is known about Lithuanian Americans having achieved high ranks in U.S. military service before and during WWII. The Baltrusaitis narrative notes of generals Al. Norvay (Norvilas) and Alfonsas Peciulis. The publication “Lithuanians in Brockton, Ma.” [77] lists Captains Walter Bakutis and Peter Smenton (Smetonis) at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Admirals Alex Couble (Kubilius?), Fred Bakutis, and Peter Moncy (Moncevich) in the U.S Navy, and Colonel Ralph Chesnauskas as a member of the U.S. armed services. Kucas in “Lithuanians in America” notes of Captain John Bachulus (Baciulis) from New Britain, Ct. in the U.S Navy, Captain John Sinkakas (Sinkauskas) of Paterson, N.J. as naval aviator, Dr. George Wiltrakis chief surgeon of all U.S. military hospitals during WWII in Australia and New Guinea. Obviously, there were many more Lithuanian Americans of higher military rank in service, some even in little known secret service branches.[78] One such individual is Colonel Victor Sheronas of Stratford, Ct., noted in confidential ledgers of General William Donovan, head of Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operations. He served on Donovan’s staff during WWII, first in Switzerland and then as military attaché in Moscow, and Stockholm, Sweden.

Professional, Cultural and Social Organizations

American Lithuanian Medical Doctors Fraternity [79,80,81]

One of the most important events in Lithuanian American life in 1919, was the concern for the survival of Lithuania’s independence. Hostile foreign forces were threatening to snuff out its existence. Among the most conscious, educated and agile defenders was the American Lithuanian Doctors fraternity (ALDF). ALDF members Dr. S. Biežis and Dr. A. Graičiūnas initiated in 1919, the formation of the Lithuania Rescue Committee. One of its main goals was to raise funds for medical needs of devastated people in Lithuania. At the end of the drive in 1922, ALDF reported raising cash of over $60,000 (equivalent to $1,500,000 in 2017 value). The funds and a large collection of clothing and footwear were transferred to Lithuania’s Red Cross.

Although ALDF was organized in 1912, it was incorporated only in 1919, as the State of Illinois Corporation with Dr. A. Montvidas as its first president. In order to provide medical news and information to their fellow Lithuanian Americans, ALDF began publication in 1921, of a Lithuanian language journal “The Physician”. In spite of broad support by Lithuanian American physicians, the journal found limited public interest. It ceased publication in 1925.

ALDF celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1932. On that occasion, 32 ALDF physicians organized a public Health Week program for the Lithuanian community of Chicago. ALDF physicians presented talks on health and odontology topics. In conjunction with the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, 200 Lithuanian community’s children, between ages 12 and 16, were provided free health check-ups by four ALDF physicians as a way surveying the health status of Lithuanian children in America.

Besides ALDF activities, a group of Loyola University alumni physicians established in 1929, the Lambda Mu Delta fraternity. Its goal was to promote education among Lithuanian children and to raise the interest of young Lithuanian physicians into becoming active members in Lithuanian community life.

Dr. Milda Budrys compiled a list of ALDF members. It shows some 123 physicians and 21 dentists active in their profession in the mid-1920s. Of course, these numbers reflected only a partial number of Lithuanian physicians and dentists. Quite a few of them were at distant locations from Lithuanian American communities. Some others did not participate in ALDF because of deep immersion either in research and/or professional activities or for personal reasons. Of interest is the finding that nearly a third of the listed medical professionals were affiliated with university-based activities being either on staffs of their hospitals or as professors at medical schools.

A separate N.Y. based Lithuanian medical association (Lambda Mu Delta) included 8 physicians and 3 dentists. The association promoted education, publication of medical articles in the press, public lectures and radio talks. Their most visible accomplishment was the establishment of Lithuanian language studies at Columbia University within the Department of Eastern European studies. The association ceased its activities in 1942 because many of its members were drafted into military service during WWII. Quite a few not in military service became deeper involved in organizing and leading efforts to assure restoration of Lithuania’s independence upon the countries occupation by the Soviet Union.

Lithuanian American Attorneys and Justices

J. S. Roucek in his article in the January 1936, issue of Am. Journal of Sociology observed that “American Lithuanians considered themselves superior to most other ethnic groups in this country, by not becoming submerged by the more powerful nationalities of Europe”. [82] This behavior has translated into very slow development of individuals entering into occupations of higher social stature, particularly the legal profession. Only about a dozen Lithuanians are on record as attorneys prior to 1914. After WWI ended, a few began to surface in organizations promoting social advancement, more directed community life, and advancement of independence for Lithuania. One of the more prominent names was attorney Balys Mastauskas with good connections within the U.S. government.[83]

He arranged a meeting for Lithuanian American delegation with President Wilson in 1918, to urge diplomatic recognition of Lithuania’s independence. Subsequently, he participated as one of the Lithuanian American observers at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. As president of the Lithuanian National Council, he gained backing by all Lithuanian American organizations to promote the drive for diplomatic recognition of Lithuania’s independence. Besides practicing law in private, he was appointed in 1926, as a professor in Roman law at the Loyola University in Chicago. In 1928, he became assistant prosecutor of the State of Illinois. In this capacity, he participated in the prosecution of Al Capone in 1932.

Image for post
Al Capone, Frank Mast and Joe Weinberg in the courtroom in Chicago in 1931

Although after the end of WWI a number of Lithuanians emerged as graduates from law schools, some of them, in view of a very poor image of Lithuanians, shied to be identified by their national origin. Except for a few individuals, their majority limited themselves to partaking only at occasional caritative events. Accordingly, only a handful Lithuanian attorneys have been seen in the forefront of Lithuanian organizations in the 1920-s and 1930-s. However, a caring nucleus of them based in Chicago and at the East Coast, became main movers to restore Lithuania’s independence, after the Soviets occupied Lithuania in 1940, and in subsequent years [84,85]. Attorneys and judges that are known to have significantly participated in Lithuanian affairs in the 1919 -1945 time frame were: attorneys, Anthony Olis, John I. Bagdziunas, B.M. Butkus, Balys Mastauskas John Kucinskas, A. Slakis, Rudy Vassalle all of Chicago, Ill.; J.S. Lopatto, F. P. Bradchulis of Wilkes Barre, Pa.; Kazys J. Kalinauskas in N.Y., F.J. Bagocius — So. Boston, Juozas B.Laucka and K. Cesnulis of N.Y.C., Simanas Paukstys of Philadelphia. Attorneys John Zuris, and Alfons Wells of Chicago, John Dolamakes and J.S. Lopatto of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Wm. Laukaitis of Baltimore in later years became judges in the U.S. legal court system.

The Treasure Trove

American Lithuanian Cultural Archives (ALKA) [86,87]

After Lithuania gained independence in 1918, most America’s Lithuanians gained confidence in their ethnic identity and were very proud of their Lithuanian national culture, the country’s history and heritage. They wanted also to share this news with their fellow Americans of other nationalities that their Lithuanian heritage was in no way inferior even to the most advanced other cultures.

It was a tall task. Some physical evidence was needed to demonstrate it. One of the rare thinkers on how to do it was a young Lithuanian Catholic priest Pranciškus Mykolas Juras. Upon his ordination in 1922, he began collecting Lithuanian Catholic books, magazines, and newspapers published in America. Soon thereafter, he began to include publications printed in Lithuania. Upon showing the collection to some of his friends and visitors, he was encouraged to exhibit it in public to wider audiences.

As he gained experience and public interest in the display, he was encouraged to include items of folk art unique to Lithuania, such as weavings and knittings; national folk costumes and dolls dressed in them, amber jewelry and decorations; wood carvings, etc. As Father Juras discovered, the collections’ broader scope attracted wider attention of people from far away locations who were driven by nostalgia and memories of Lithuania.

Image for post
Monsignor Pranciskus Juras

The collection grew even larger with the addition of printed publications from a variety of secular sources including articles related to Lithuanian topics in other languages. Within a decade, the Juras collection expanded to include also works of art, such as paintings, sculptures and carvings created by Lithuanian artists. While many of these works were gifts, others were paid by Rev. Juras from personal funds and cash donations.

Rev. Juras initially named his collection: the American Lithuanian Catholic Archives. However, in later years, at the advice of many of his friends, the name was changed to the American Lithuanian Cultural Archives under the Lithuanian acronym ALKA.

As his collection expanded, the storage space at his parish’s living quarters, became overcrowded. It required use of cumbersome temporary facilities at other locations. Finally, after Rev. Juras became pastor of the Lithuanian parish in Lawrence, he was able to use his rectory as the museum site. This enabled Rev. Juras to significantly expand the scope of the collection. By 1935 the rectory as a museum ran out of space. It was moved to the newspaper Darbininkas facility in Boston. The museum began to run short of space again as the need arose to store a large number of exhibit items from the Lithuanian pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. These items, originally the property of the government of then independent Lithuania, were sent to ALKA’s custody upon Lithuania’s occupation by the Soviet Union in 1940.

It was time to look for a more spacious and time permanent location. Juras found a site Putnam, Ct. adjoining the convent of Lithuanian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception

Image for post
Rev. Juras scoping out the works of ALKA

Dedicated to the preservation of Lithuanian culture in the United States. ALKA is made up of a museum, a library, and archives. The ALKA museum houses works of American Lithuanian artists, photographs of significant events in American Lithuanian history; medals of societies dating from the second half of the 19th century; textiles with Lithuanian designs, paintings, artistic wood carvings; etc. Of particular significance are a number of exhibits from the Lithuanian pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair. Including sculptures by Antinis and Kašuba and paintings of Dobužinskis, Kalpokas, Smetona, Galdikas, and a number of others.

The ALKA library contains over 30,000 books covering a large variety of topics and about one thousand Lithuanian periodicals published from the mid-1800s. The archives contain over 200 collections of manuscripts, letters, pictures and other documents. Collections include, among others, works of composers Kačinskas, Gaidelis and Marijošius; records of organizations of VLIKas, BALFas, Lithuanian Foundation, Knights of Lithuania, documents of Lithuanian Consulate in New York and various Lithuanian societies from their inception in 19th century; and manuscripts of a variety poets, writers, politicians and noted public figures. Others include a variety of Lithuanian American prayerbooks, bulletins, pictures of events, calendars, and one of the rarest books in German “Tabellen Zur Übersicht der Geschichte Aller Europaeischen Laender und Staaten” by C. Kruse, published in 1802.

Rev. Juras longest years of spiritual work were spent in Lawrence, Ma. as pastor of St. Francis Lithuanian parish from 1929. During his tenure, he oversaw the building of his church in Lawrence and establishment of a parish grammar school. From his earliest days, Reverend Juras was actively leading and participating in most Lithuanian Catholic organizations such as President of KoL, four times President and General Secretary of the League of Lithuanian Catholic Priests, Religious Director of the Lithuanian Catholic Alliance, member of the Board of Directors of the Lithuanian Catholic Federation of America for 20 years., etc. In 1936, Rev. Juras sponsored the New England Lithuanian Song Festival in Lawrence, Ma. More than 500 voices thrilled a crowd of over 10,000 people. Then, a year later in 1937, he organized the Congress of the Lithuanian Catholic Federation of America, commemorating the 550th anniversary of the establishment of Christianity in Lithuania.

Image for post
Monsignor Juras (right) at the Alka library with a visitor

Music [88]

WWI interrupted the development of music life of Lithuanians in America. But the end of war hostilities and Lithuania’s newly gained independence brought it to vigorous resurrection. One factor was the popularity of parish choirs, the other was the internal growth of musical talent and the people’s love for music.

The Consul of Lithuania, Petras Dauzvardis highlighted the importance of choirs in №6, 1938 issue of Muzikos Zinios by remarking that “Our youth cannot become Lithuanians by themselves. We have to raise them that way. A choir with a thorough plan and management should take the young people over from schools and lead them into social life, because a song impresses a child, plants permanent roots and establishes strong ties to the nation. Songs played a vital role in Lithuania under Russian oppression, they can play a similar role among Lithuanians living in free America.” Indeed parish choirs became cultural as well as family hearths, because young people met there, sang in harmony, got acquainted, and later often married.

Image for post
The Birutes choir in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Upon Lithuania becoming independent, Lithuanian Americans showed great interest to hear music from Lithuania. They also wanted to share their own musical accomplishments with Lithuania. Of particular contribution was the arrival of new recording and music playing technologies such as phonograph and the radio.

The Lithuanian music world in America was blessed with scores of remarkable composers — organists such as J. Naujalis, A. Pocius, J. Cizauskas, A. Aleksis, V, Dauksa, A. Mondeika, M. Petrauskas, S. Simkus, A. Sodeika, K. Steponavicius, K.Strumskis, A. Vanagaitis, J.Zilevicus, etc. The musical life was further enhanced by a number of already in America born composers such as K. Steponavicius-Stephens, Sister M. Bernarda (Venckute), L. Simutis, S. Ceriene (Mulks), etc.

While most Lithuanian parishes boasted about their church choirs and their musical performances, a number of settlements had also well-organized lay chorus groups. Chicago was known to have four: “Birute”, “Pirmyn”, “Knights of Lithuania”, and “Alice Stephen” choruses. Brooklyn, NY was renown for its Brooklyn Operetta choir, Philadelphia for “Daina” choir, the Pa. anthracite for the Wyoming Valley choir, and Boston for the Gabija chorus.

Mikas Petrauskas was a very active organizer of musical events in Boston. In 1924, Petrauskas with the Gabija choir presented the opera “Egle Zalciu Karaliene” (Egle-Queen of the Serpents). He also organized a 100 strong children choir and their orchestra. Many Lithuanian communities in the Boston region were the beneficiaries of Petrauskas staged theatrical events and musical concerts.

Image for post
about Cover page of the opera program “Egle Zalciu Karaliene”

Several Lithuanian entrepreneurs formed in 1920, the “Lithuanian Record Corporation” in Brooklyn, N. Y. to produce phonograph records of Lithuanian music and songs. Initial production of 10 records included songs by soloists J. Butėnas, J. Krasnickas, O. Ličinskaite and humorous monologues by P. Bukšnaitis (Lušnakojis). Lack of information on further progress by the company does not allow comments on success or failure of the venture. It is only clear that RCA Victor predominated mass marketing of Lithuanian music records in the mid-1920s. Victor records featured numerous performances by Lithuanian soloists, choirs, orchestras, and instrumental music of individuals, etc. Of great popularity and sales in tens of thousands were the recordings featuring humorous melodrama type presentation by A. Vanagaitis and J. Olšauskas.[89] There were also large quantities of recordings made of far lesser musical value, yet their Lithuanian content was very popular and enjoyed by still not very sophisticated music consumers.

Vanagaitis and Olsauskas, upon arriving in the United States in 1924, created with V. Dineika and J. Dikinis a vaudeville-type show, called “Dzimdzi Drimdzi”, and embarked on nationwide tours of Lithuanian settlements. The show incorporated a lively stage presentation of songs, skits, dramatic bits, and humorous cuts in lives of ordinary people. Their performances drew large audiences everywhere. By altering the cast somewhat, the show lasted in repeated tours for several years.

Image for post
Dzimzi Drimzi performers from left to right: Olsauskas, Dineika, Dikinis and Vanagaitis

Vanagaitis was one of the principal popularizer’s of Lithuanian music in America. Between 1925 and 1927, he led in Chicago the very popular Birute choir. In 1926, he organized and staged C.W. Gluck’s opera “the May Queen”. In May 1928, Vanagaitis started the publication of a very popular humor journal “Margutis” (the Easter Egg). In 1932, he launched the Margutis radio program that soon became the axis of Lithuanian cultural and informational life in the entire Chicago region. In the same year, he organized and conducted symphony orchestra concerts at the Chicago World’s Fair.

Image for post
Dzimdzi Drimzi show on Columbia platter

Lithuanian musical life was enhanced by numerous guest concerts from the homeland by more known soloists such as Juozas Bebravicius, Antanas Sodeika, Jonas Byra, Petras Oleka, violinist Mykolas Leskevicius, pianists Vytautas Bacevicius, Vladas Jakubenas, etc.

One of the best known American born Lithuanian musicians and composers was the violinist Peter Sarpalius. In a continuous stream of compositions, he enriched the Lithuanian music library with about a hundred new songs and collected and transcribed some 10,000 folk melodies for permanent record. Stasys Šimkus and Ksaveras Strumskis formed a Lithuanian Music Publication Co. in 1920 in Brooklyn, N.Y. By 1935, the company stored a volume of music notes valued at $40,000. Antanas Bačiulis began in 1924, a monthly publication of Lithuanian music and song notes. Rev. Petras. Ambromaitis published in 1925, a five-volume 816 pages collection of Lithuanian church songs, many of which were in unique and hard to recognize dialects. Scores of less known publishers have also greatly contributed to the mosaic of America’s Lithuanian music.

An outstanding cantata, in commemoration of the 500 year anniversary of Lithuania’s Grand Duke Vytautas the Great, was composed by Juozas Zilevicius. The cantata was presented for the first time, by the composer conducting a chorus of 500 singers at the Carnegie Hall on June 3, 1930. The cantata was repeated at a number of festive occasions in more populous Lithuanian settlements in the United States and also in Lithuania. Zilevicius organized and conducted a Lithuanian song festival at the 1939 New York World’s Fair with the participation of 3000 singers made up of 40 choirs.

Image for post
Lithuanian song festival at the 1939 New York World’s Fair

The parish choirs often were like music preparatory schools for young upcoming talented singers. Some with outstanding voices were recognized and encouraged to proceed in further musical training. They were often provided opportunities to sing as soloists in community concerts. Some of them proceeded to well known America’s music schools and singing voice developers for careers in the world of music. Some succeeded to unprecedented heights such as American born Lithuanian soloists at the Metropolitan opera company: Ana Kaskas (Katkauskaite), Polyna Stoska (Stockute), A. Brazis and others.

Image for post
Polyna Stoska — ai Metropolitan opera star
Image for post
Anna Kaskas (Katkauskaite) in one of the opera scenes

Drama amateur groups [90]

Drama and comedy stage plays helped Lithuanian-Americans to retain proficiency in the Lithuanian language and strengthen their heritage consciousness. The first Lithuanian drama play was produced in Plymouth Pa. in 1889, followed by another amateur group staging drama plays in Mahanoy City, Pa. in 1890. Throughout the following decades, amateur drama plays became very popular at many settlements. However, the beginning of the radio era in early 1920, emersion of U.S. born generations that were less fluent in Lithuanian language, the onset of economic depression in 1930, and the eruption of WWII slowed down the drama clubs activities but did not stop them. Also, love to attend stage plays depended to a great extent on the creativity of individual(s) promoting them, and their renown to the public.

There are virtually no publications in the internet that assess the effects of generation changes and the influx of the English language on amateur theatrical activities. A possible indicator of reduced interest might be glimpsed in Newberry records [91] by examining the difference in the number of plays performed by the Lithuanian Drama Lovers’ Circle of Roseland, IL in the first 9 years of its existence vs. the next 9-year interval. From inception in 1911 through 1919, the Drama circle produced 39 plays, while in the second interval from 1920 through 1929 it was 34. Unfortunately, further analysis was not possible as economic recession setting-in in 1930, ended the existence of the Drama Circle performances, even though several individual groups continued staging plays on their own well into 1940-s.

Newberry records indicate several Lithuanian drama clubs operating in the Chicago area alone. While a comprehensive listing is not available, it is quite evident from several citations in Lithuanian Encyclopedia of drama clubs existing in Boston, Worchester, Montello and Lawrence Ma.; Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Plymouth, Pa.; Newark and Elizabeth, N.J.; Brooklyn, N.Y., Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Waterbury, Ct. and several smaller Lithuanian settlements. [92]

The theatrical life was greatly energized in 1923, by the arrival from Lithuania of a professional actor Juozas Vaickus. [93] He set-up a drama studio in Brooklyn N.Y. and toured with his players some 75 Lithuanian settlements over a 5 year period. Unfortunately, his plays, due to the more modern version of the Lithuanian language, were difficult to understand by less sophisticated Lithuanian American audiences and thus lacked popular appeal, compared to the Vanagaitis vaudeville shows. Vaickus returned to Lithuania in 1928.

Vanagaitis with his Dzimdzi-Drimdzi co-actors, by using language spoken by the semi-Americanized audiences, were extremely popular. His touring show extended from 1924 well into 1931. [94] In 1932 Vanagaitis settled in Chicago to run an elaborate and successful radio program and entertainment business even during the years of economic depression. In contrast, the Lithuanian amateur drama life came to a creeping crawl.

Image for post
Juozas Vaickus record of a comedy play

Folk Dancing [95]

While Folk dancing was one of the most valuable elements of the Lithuanian cultural heritage, it has not surfaced on the international scene until the mid-1930s. Credit for its worldwide exposure belongs to two American Lithuanian women. Magdalena Avietenaite and Aldona Rugys. Avietenaite of Worcester, Ma. was serving in 1935, at Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry. She invited Rugys (a native of Chicago) to organize in Lithuania a student folk dance group to represent Lithuania at the International Folk Dance Festival in London, England, in 1935. Of twenty different nationalities participating at the festival, the Lithuanians were selected as one of the five bests.

Image for post
Folk dancers at the London Festival in 1935

The first known Lithuanian American folk dance was seen in 1925, as part of the opera “Birute” performance. The first permanent folk dance group was organized in Chicago by Vytautas Belajus in 1933. By 1937, folk dance groups have been known to exist in New York, Cleveland, and Boston. To keep interest in cultural events and particularly in folk dancing, V. Belajus published until 1940 the journal “Hope” in the English language.

Three hundred Lithuanian folk dancers from N.Y. and Boston provided the largest public exhibition of Lithuanian folk dancing before an American audience at the 1939 World’s Fair. The presentation received a wide N.Y. area press acclaim.

A KoL youth folk dancing group, organized in 1941, in Chicago, staged numerous performances for U.S. military troops during WWII.

Arts [96,97]

In mid-1920s, Lithuanian painters Antanas Smuidzinavicius, Petras Rimsa, and Stasys. Usinskas visited Boston, Chicago, New York, and Washington with exhibitions of their works. Sculptors Petras Rimsa together with Chicago educated Mikas Sileikis, exhibited their creations in years 1936 through 1938, at eight major Lithuanian settlements culminating their tour at the New York Metropolitan Art Museum. Not to be left behind, U.S born painters William Vitkus, A. Skupas (Cooper), A. Vaiksnora and A. Vitkauskaite-Merker held over the years public exhibitions of their works in a number of cities with sizeable Lithuanian communities.

Image for post
“Girl at the Beach” by A. Smuidzinavicius

While most Lithuanian churches were attractively styled, little if any Lithuanian art characteristics were reflected in their architectural details and interior styling until the late 1930s. First significant Lithuanian motives were incorporated in the redecorated Shenandoah St. George’s church in 1938, by a Brooklyn born artist Jonas Subacius. He set the trend for redecorating numerous Lithuanian churches with folk art motives, appropriately matching color, design and religious intent in several Lithuanian churches in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York regions.

Image for post
Redecorated St George’s Lithuanian church in Shenandoah in 1938

The Lithuanian section at the 1939 World’s Fair exhibited works of several prominent Lithuanian painters such Adomas Galdikas, Petras Kalpokas, Adomas Smetona, Stasys Usinskas, Adomas Varnas, and several others. The work of Lithuanian scenographers (most notably of Mstislav Dobuzinskis) graced the sceneries of the New York Metropolitan Opera, The American Ballet, the City Opera, the Theatre Guild, the Lincoln Center Library, the Museum of Art, etc.

Several Lithuanian born Jewish painters in the U.S., such as Jacques Lipschitz, William Zurach, Max Band, and Arbit Blat have achieved worldwide fame. However, while always professing as being Litwaks, they have shown little interest in art exhibits to be associated with America’s Lithuanians.

Sports [98]

Upon dawn of the 20th century, American born Lithuanian youth were beginning to flex their muscles in basketball, baseball, boxing and other popular sports. They were progressing in quality and quantity at local and regional levels, but none ascended onto the national scene in the early part of 1900. The firsts stepping into America’s world of boxing around 1912, were two Pennsylvania born Lithuanian brothers: Jurgis and Juozas Chepulonis. [99] Jurgis, known as George Chip, became the World middleweight boxing champion in 1913 and 1914. Upon losing his title in 1914, he continued as a professional boxer to the end of 1921. His brother Juozas (Joe) Chip, also a professional boxer, fought for the U.S. national boxing championship in 1921, and lost. (Wikipedia, George Chip)

Steponas Darius, upon being discharged from the U.S army in 1919, was the first sports in-depth knowledgeable Lithuanian American to make a return visit to Lithuania in 1920. He promoted and taught some interested groups of Lithuanians to play basketball, baseball and ice hockey. He encouraged them to form nation-wide organized sports activities and introduced the art of boxing and athletics. He played for Lithuania’s national soccer team in its first competitive game against Estonia on June 23, 1923. Darius guided the drafting of booklets in Lithuanian language about basketball and baseball in 1925/6 and is being credited as the initiator of those sports in Lithuania as organized sports including the founding of Sporto Žurnalas (Sports journal).. He was elected the first chairman of the Lithuania Physical Education Union.

Juozas Vinča, a Lithuanian born weightlifter and champion boxer, competed for Lithuania at the 1928 Summer Olympics. Thereafter, Vinča moved to the United States, where he was coached as a professional boxer by the same trainers as boxer Jack Sharkey. Upon injury of his wrist in 1931, he returned to Lithuania. After World War II, he returned to the U.S. and competed until 1954 as a professional wrestler.

Karolis Pozela (Karl Pojello), a Lithuanian born European heavyweight wrestling champion in 1913 and 1914, arrived as an immigrant in the United States in 1923. [100] Gradually, by winning local wrestling matches, his fame carried him to winning against Canada’s wrestling champion in Wisconsin in 1927, and then winning the world championship in Chicago in 1928. Thereafter, he became one of the most popular professionals in the world of wrestling being named as an extremely well-natured gentleman, very smart, and of inexhaustible endurance. His fame stretches into training a handicapped young Frenchman, Maurice Tillet, who became a three times world heavyweight wrestling champion.

Image for post
Karl Pojello membership card in France’s Wrestling Federation

Jack Sharkey, the world heavyweight boxing champion, was born in 1902, as Joseph Paul Zukauskas to Lithuanian immigrants of Binghamton, N.Y.[101] During service in the U.S. Navy, he quickly gained notoriety as the best boxer aboard any vessel on which he served. During one brief return home, in his first fight for pay in 1924, he knocked out a well-established professional boxer Billy Muldoon. This bout was followed by numerous other wins against world class boxers. On June 21, 1932, Sharkey became the world boxing champion by defeating Joe Schmeling at the Madison Square Garden in Long Island, N.Y.

Image for post
Jack Sharkey — the World Boxing Champion

Albina Osipavičiūtė (Albina Osipowich), a Brown university student, born in 1911, in Worcester, Ma. was the first ever Lithuanian to win gold medals at the Olympics. She won at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, the 100 m. freestyle singles swimming competition, and subsequently, another gold medal as a member of the 4×100 relay event. Both events broke the world record time. During her lifetime as a swimmer, she won 63 medals and 12 trophies [102].

Image for post
Albina Osipowich,(third from left) at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics

During the All Lithuanian World Congress in 1935, an American Lithuanian girl swimmer E. Semaityte, competing against men swimmers, won a gold medal in freestyle 100-meter event at that time to an unheard 1 min. and 14.4 seconds. Konstantinas Savickas, a sports-oriented attendee at the Congress, provided Lithuania’s national swimming and basketball teams guidance on techniques and practices to attain the needed skills in the two sports. Subsequently, he remained nearly a year in Lithuania to help establish organized sports.

Image for post
Berlin 1936 Olympics plaque

John Joseph Macionis, born in 1916, in Philadelphia, Pa. was an American competition swimmer. He set a world record in the 200-yard freestyle in 1933. In 1935 he won the U.S. national swimming championship in freestyle and NCAA championships in 1937 and 1938. In 1936, Macionis became the first Yale university swimmer to compete in the Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, winning a silver medal in the 4×200 m freestyle relay event. [103]

Participating at the 1938 Lithuania’s Olympiad, American Lithuanians Macionis, Budrikas and Bikinas won every available swimming contest. The American Lithuanian team also won all diving and water polo events. In track events, American Lithuanians Stanishis and Blozyte won gold in 100 meters dash, and Bernotas in attaining a 2m. height record-breaking jump.

One of the most significant and lasting contributions to Lithuania, in becoming the basketball “MECCA” of Europe, was a score of Lithuanian American basketball players teaching and participating in the game. Pranas Lubinas (Frank Lubin), a gold medalist from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, was the revered idol and inspiration for Lithuania emerging as a basketball powerhouse in Europe. {104,105}

Pranas Lubinas was born in Los Angeles, Ca. in 1910, to a family of Lithuanian immigrants. The 6-foot 7-inch center, playing for the UCLA Bruins from 1928 to 1931, earned the All-Pacific Coast Conference honors. Subsequently, as part of the Twentieth Century Fox AAU team, he was selected to play on the U.S. basketball team at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The team won the championship and thus the Olympic gold medal. During the Olympics, Lubinas was invited to come to Lithuania. There, he became the coach of Lithuania’s first national basketball team.

Prior to Lubinas ascendency on the world’s sports stage, Konstantinas Savickas and three other prominent American Lithuanian basketball players B. Budrikas, J. Knašas and F. Kriaučiūnas came to Lithuania to participate at the 1935 All Lithuanian World Congress. They not only engaged in teaching basketball fundamentals but also remained there for nearly a year to prepare the Lithuanian basketball team for European wide matches. Upon arrival and encouragement of Lubinas, Lithuania decided to participate in the second European Basketball Tournament. Coached by Lithuanian American trainers and players F. Kriaučiūnas and B. Talzunas, Lithuania won for the first time in Riga the 1937 European championship.

The fame of Olympic champion Lubinas and the win of the 1937 European championship, spiked interest in basketball in Lithuania to an immense hype. With Lubinas, and Lithuanian Americans V. Budriunas and M. Ruzgys playing, Lithuania’s basketball team won the third European Basketball Tournament in 1939. [106, 107}

Image for post
Frank Lubin, Capt. of the 1936 Olympic Basketball Championship team

Breakout of WWII and Soviet occupation of Lithuania in 1940 brought all further cooperation to an end.

Newspapers and journals [108, 109, 110,111, 112]

Most Lithuanian Americans were still living after WWI in their concentrated settlements. This suited their organized life rather well. Their political and religious orientations were reflected in numerous newspapers which addressed ideological preferences of their readers, such as advocating Catholic thought, promoting socialism, glorifying communism, or encouraging patriotism.

Catholic thought Draugas newspaper was one of the most remarkable Lithuanian American journalistic achievements. It was controlled by the Marian Fathers, but it was edited by lay people as a basically non-denominational publication with a clear Lithuanian national orientation. It held a conservative line with a broad coverage of life and events in Lithuania as well as in America’s Lithuanian communities while avoiding ideological bias. Its weekly supplement covered a wide range of reviews of literary publications, cultural events, and topics on education, history, philosophy, personalities, etc.

Image for post
The front page of the Draugas newspaper of June 17, 1940

Weekly and less frequently appearing Catholic oriented newspapers throughout the entire 1920–45 period were Lietuvos Vytis (Lithuanian Knight), Moteru Dirva (Women Acres), Darbininkas (The Worker), Laivas (The Boat), and Garsas (Echo). Several Catholic organizations published a number of minor journals and newspapers for sort few years. One notable exception was the journal Zvaigzde (the Star) published in Philadelphia. It excelled with in-depth articles on Lithuanian arts, sciences, literature, and national affairs. It ended publication after 43 years in 1944.

Image for post
Cover page of Journal Moteru Dirva

Lithuanian Christian Protestants and dissident Catholic groups published several newspapers and journals over short periods of time, but none of lasting duration.

The Socialist thought was represented by the well-received Chicago daily Naujienos (the News) with supplementary sections on women, health, music, students, youth, etc. Boston’s Keleivis (The Traveller) was a very popular weekly aimed at the working segment of socialist-minded Lithuanians by intermixing news items sometimes framed in light humor and satire. The socialist faction also produced several short-lived magazines and newsletters, but none of any mentionable significance.

Image for post
Home office of the socialist newspaper Naujienos in Chicago

The Communist faction published two long in time duration newspapers “Laisve” (Freedom) in Brooklyn, N.Y. and “Vilnis” (the Surge) in Chicago. Vilnis shortly before WWII had a daily circulation well in excess of 20,000 copies. Other shorter life communist oriented newsprint included a monthly “Darbas” for Lithuanian tailors, “Darbininku Tiesa” (Workers Truth), “Naujoji Gadyne” (New Era), and “Aidas” (The Echo). The American Lithuanian Workers Literature Society with a membership of over 6000, published a quarterly journal “Sviesa” (The Light), and numerous books covering topics of interest to its membership.

The patriotic-nationalistic side of Lithuanian readers were covered within the 1920–1945 time frame by weekly and/or bi-weekly newspapers: Dirva (the Acres), Vienybe (The Unity), Amerikos Lietuvis (America’s Lithuanian), Saule (the Sun), Sandara (Solidarity), and a very popular light humor journal Margutis (The Easter Egg). Several organizations published over short periods of time a number news bulletins and journals such as Ateitis, Varpas, Jaunimas, and others.

Image for post
The top of cover page of second oldest Lithuanian newspapers in America

Besides large volumes of prayer books published for Lithuanian church parishioners, the parish school system was a large volume printer of school books in the Lithuanian language. Also a number of professional organizations

Image for post
Cover page of the “Margutis” October 1932 journal

published over shorter periods of time, periodicals related to agriculture, trade, health and medicine, music, and even news about alcoholic beverages. There were a few attempts to publish bulletins and newsletter in the English language, such as The Lithuanian Booster, Lithuanian American, Lithuanian Leader, and a mimeographed pamphlet “Hope”. All were of relatively short duration

Upon Lithuania’s occupation in 1940, the Lithuanian legation in Washington D.C. began issuing a bimonthly news bulletin titled “The Lithuanian Situation”. It was mailed to relevant U.S. government offices, members of Congress and all foreign embassies in Washington. In addition, the Lithuanian National Council started publishing in 1943, a monthly brief — The Lithuanian Bulletin.

On the whole, it is evident that Lithuanian journalism in the diaspora served America’s Lithuanian informational, political and cultural needs reasonably well. While there are no recorded statistics on Lithuanian language books published in the United States between WWI and the end of WWII, judging by voluminous announcements of a variety of new books in the newsprint, their numbers appear to have been quite substantial.

Lithuanian radio hours [113,114]

When radio broadcasts began in the United States, America’s Lithuanians would not be left behind. The first Lithuanian language radio program began in Chicago in 1921, in Pittsburgh in 1923, and in Boston in 1924. Soon thereafter, most settlements had their own weekly radio hour. With competition stepping in, some larger settlements began having two and three different programs. Some were simple broadcasts of Lithuanian music, interspersed with advertisements of local business and community events, and even touching on medical and citizen rights information. Others produced programs with a high artistic and cultural content, local and national news events, including those occurring in Lithuania, etc.

Image for post

From the very beginning, the Lithuanians were very proud of their radio programs. To help finance the broadcasts, managements of radio hours would stage community picnics and dances that would be attended by hundreds and sometimes thousands. Extremely popular were the Vanagaitis “Margutis radio hour“ staged picnics in Chicago with considerable entertainment content, and the Jokubas Stukas “Lithuanian radio program” outings in New York City. Both events were drawing crowds from far away regions.

Image for post
Co-participants at a Vanagaitis Radio Stage Play in Chicago

The radio hours from the very beginning had a beneficial educational power by broadcasting in well-pronounced Lithuanian language and introducing to wide audiences Lithuanian music and songs, soloists, ensembles, choirs, and radio stage plays. All participants felt great honor to be heard far and wide by their fellow countrymen through the airwaves. The radio was one of the very important media that helped to maintain and raise pride, consciousness and togetherness of numerous dispersed Lithuanian communities.

Most Notable Events at the National Level

A gift from the Heart —the Liberty Bell for Lithuania [115,116,117,118]

The world took a deep breath: when the horrors of the 1914–1918 war were over. Lithuanian people, like numerous other oppressed nations, thought that they had the right to look for freedom and independence. Blood spilled and destruction experienced by Lithuanians appeared to guarantee them the path to liberty. After all, President Wilson in his 14 Points, promised that all nations will be free to choose their destiny. But the winning Allies chose not to hear Lithuania’s quest for independence and wanted neither to know nor think about it. They tried to deliver Lithuania to the new exploiters, who since olden times, have been digging graves for the Lithuanians and making a coffin for their nation.

American Lithuanians felt that it was time to help their native land to gain recognition and freedom. They decided to address their concerns through their American government. The necessity to do this in a National Convention was recognized by the boards of both the Catholic and Nationalists councils in a meeting on Jan. 19, 1919, in New York City. Because of disagreement on the location of the Convention, the meeting fell apart.

The All-America’s Lithuanian Convention in Chicago in 1919

The Council of Chicago Lithuanian societies, sensing a futile impasse by the great world powers, took upon themselves to call an all-America’s Lithuanian Convention on June 9-11, 1919, in Chicago to help Lithuania’s cause. The idea received wide support by various Lithuanian organizations throughout America including the American Lithuanian Council, the Prussian Lithuanian Council, and one of the largest Lithuanian organizations, the Lithuanian Alliance of America.

The Chicago Lithuanian organizations proposed at this Convention to procure a Liberty Bell and then to donate it to Lithuania in the name of all America’s Lithuanians. The Liberty Bell would be an appropriate gift, closely related to America’s Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, a symbol of freedom for the people of America, who had bravely fought for their liberty.

The Liberty Bell — an ageless memorial to Lithuania’s freedom

The Liberty Bell was cast of brass in St. Louis, Mo. and received in Chicago on June 5, 1919. It was more than 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide, weighing 1,000 lbs. without frames, 1,200 lbs. with frames. On one side of the Bell casting was a raised image of a Lithuanian knight riding a horse. A poem below it, composed by Hon. B. K. Balutis, read:

“Oh, ring for ages, to the children of Lithuania

He is not worthy of Liberty, Who is not defending her”.

On the opposite side of the bell cast in relief were letters with the following words:

“The American Lithuanian Convention to Lithuania, June 9, 10 and 11, 1919, Chicago, Illinois.

Let that Bell, the symbol of liberty, testify for ages to the coming generations the sympathy and love of the American Lithuanians for their nation and for the fatherland Lithuania.”

Image for post
Unveiling the Liberty Bell

The Bell was unveiled and rung for the first time on June 8, 1919, at the pre-Convention meeting at the Chicago Auditorium Theater. It was attended by over 4,000 people including a number of prominent representatives of the United States government. In front to the right of the stage by the Bell sat designated speakers and prominent guests. On the left side of the Bell was a display of American and Lithuanian flags. At one side of the Bell in close proximity stood as honor guards Mrs. Drangelis, representing America’s Columbia, and on the other side was Miss Staniulis, representing Lithuania. They and the Bell were surrounded in half wheel form by a row of little girls. They were appropriately dressed as ancient tenderers of the flame of the eternal holy bonfire. Composer Stasys Shimkus led a choir in songs during the very soul moving ceremonies at the unveiling and first ringing of the Bell.

Image for post
Liberty Bell of Lithuania unveiling festivity in Chicago 1919

Post ceremony speeches were delivered by the United States Congressmen, William Mason and A.J. Sabath, both from the State of Illinois; the Chairman of the State of Illinois legislature, D E. Shanahan; Judge G.F. Barrett, of Cook County; V.F. Jankus, of New York City; Atty J.S. Lopatto, of Wilkes Barre, Pa.; and M. Vinikas, of Washington, D.C. The chairman of the evening event was Atty J. Bagdziunas.

Official proceedings of the all-America’s Lithuanian Convention started on June 9 and ended on June 11, 1919. It was attended by 500 hundred delegates. Upon introductory ceremonies of the Liberty Bell to the public and singing of National anthems, two keynote speakers were invited to make their deliveries. The first speaker was prof. F.L. Anderson, of Northwestern University. He was followed by Attorney J. Lopatto of Wilkes Barre, Pa.

After their spirits raising speeches, an election was held. S. Geguzis of Mahanoy City, Pa. was named the president of the Convention and attorneys J. Lopatto of Wilkes Barre, Pa. and F. Bradzulis of Chicago, Ill. as first and second vice-presidents. J. Ewald of Chicago, Ill. and V. Rackauskas of New YorkCity were elected as first and second secretaries.

Subsequently, the conventioneers were divided into working groups to address issues facing Lithuania, perils to its independence, initiatives and steps Lithuanian Americans should undertake help Lithuania, and specific language needed to ask support from their own government.

The Convention was honored by a speech by Mrs. McDowell, who has devoted much of her time and effort in working for the welfare of Chicago Lithuanians. She indicated that Lithuanians are not alone. They have sympathy, understanding and support of the American people. The convention chairman thanked her for the speech and encouraging words. As a token of appreciation, he presented her a mini replica of the “Liberty Bell”.

During the convention, hundreds of letters and telegrams were received, including cablegrams from the President of Lithuania, Antanas Smetona; and from Lithuania’s delegates at the Paris Peace conference prof. Augustinas Voldemaras, and Martynas Ychas.

The convention sent telegrams to the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, to President Smetona of Lithuania, to the Paris Peace Delegation, and to hundreds of senators and congressmen of the United States with the appeal to intervene on behalf of Lithuania in its struggle for independence. Numerous telegrams were received from U.S. senators and congressmen expressing sympathy for Lithuania’s struggle for freedom and wishing prompt solution of the problems facing the country.

In the sixth session of the Convention, the presiding officer proposed to adopt the following resolutions regarding the Liberty Bell: (1) a bronze mini model of the Liberty Bell be awarded to any donor of not less than five dollars and (2) a book be written about the history of the Liberty Bell with names of the donors listed in it.

To take care of expenses to create the Liberty Bell, the convention elected a funds raising committee: consisting of S. Geguzis, Mahonoy City, Pa.; J. Bagdziunas, Chicago, Ill.; B., Butkus, Chicago, Ill.; Atty. J.. Lopatto, Wilkes Barre, Pa.; T. Paukstis, Pittston, Pa.; Dr. K. Drangelis, Chicago, Ill.; K. Norkus, So. Boston, Mass.; V. Cesna, Baltimore, Md.; A. Dambrauskas, Philadelphia, Pa.; V.Jankauskas, New York, N.Y.; A. Kranauskas, Cleveland, Ohio; J. Tareila, Ansonia, Conn.; M. Vinikas, Washington, D.C.; J. Grinius, Philadelphia, Pa.; K. Snuolis, Detroit, Mich.

The convention closed on June 11, 1919.

The Liberty Bell on a funds raising tour to Lithuanian settlements

Festivities to send the Liberty Bell on a journey through Lithuanian American settlements in America were held on August 24, 1919. The event was organized by J. Bagdziunas. With about 18,000 people participating, the program included a parade through downtown Chicago followed by a celebration at the largest hall in Chicago. At the time, it was the Seventh Regiment Armory.

The parade was made up of three sections. The first and the second sections involved marching members of organizations and societies dressed in folk costumes while carrying flags, placards, and other illustrative memorabilia. Orchestras and choruses were interspersed among the marchers. The third section was made up of automobiles decked out with flowers and carrying beauty contestants and important dignitaries. Each of the sections was led by a marching band and uniformed WWI veterans consisting of 508 soldiers, 11 sergeants, and 3 officers, The most impressive display was a float with a “Free Lithuania on the hill”. Seated at the foot of the hill were scores of Lithuanian girls in national costumes and waving white handkerchiefs.

The parade ended at the Chicago Auditorium. It was followed by a musical program and spirit-raising ceremonies and uplifting speeches. The musical program was the responsibility of Miss Mary Rakauskaite. The Birute choir performed under the direction of Stasys Shimkus.

The first speaker was Colonel John Clinnin, of the 130th Infantry Regiment, who praised the patriotism and bravery of Lithuanian soldiers under his command during the war. The second speaker, Rev. P.C. Conway, rector of the St. Pius Roman Catholic Church, was an inspiration raiser of the Lithuanian spirit in America. He not only learned to speak Lithuanian but also knew the country’s history. The third speaker was S. Shimkus, and the fourth, the veteran soldier Dr. S. Biezis. Upon ending of festivities, the attending public was invited to ring the bell for a donation of one dollar per ring.

After Chicago, the Liberty Bell was sent on a yearlong funds raising journey to exhibit it at numerous Lithuanian settlements throughout the United States. The tour was an extremely popular and financially successful event. It drew large crowds, particularly for an opportunity to ring the bell. It became a signal for unity in helping brothers and sisters in Lithuania to fight for freedom and the nation’s destiny.

Farewellfrom Chicago to Lithuania

The Liberty Bell was returned to Chicago on August 15, 1920, for a gigantic festivity at the Chicago Auditorium to celebrate the recovery of Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius. The festivity took a special meaning by the attendance of the head of Lithuania’s mission in the United States, Hon. Jonas Vileisis and the military attaché Major Povilas Zadeikis. At this opportune time, the president of the Liberty Bell committee conveyed in a moving ceremony the property rights of the Bell to the Lithuanian government represented by Jonas Vileisis, as a gift from America’s Lithuanians. The chairman of the event, J. Badgziunas bequeathed duties to the departing Bell in the following words (excerpted from his speech): “Thou by being on the Gediminas hill, day and night, guard our fatherland. If at any time you should see threatening dangers to our fatherland, if the enemy should threaten to harm our brothers and sisters, threaten to take away their liberty, ring with full power. When we hear thy voice, we will help Lithuania. We will defend her from her enemies, no matter who they may be.”

Image for post
Jonas Vileisis, Lithuania’ envoy to the United States

Mr. Vileisis, after accepting the Liberty Bell and all other assets accompanying it, delivered a rich and timely address. He thanked all America’s Lithuanians for this most significant and historically important and spirit-raising gift to the people of Lithuania.

The Liberty Bell reached the shores of Lithuania on January 12, 1922. Because Vilnius was again occupied by Poland, the Bell was installed in the tower of the War Museum in Kaunas, The first ring announcing its watch over Lithuania’s freedom was heard by the citizens of Lithuania on February 16, 1922, the fourth anniversary of Lithuania’s independence. The Bell’s ringer was Petras Vileisis, one of the oldest wounded veterans of the war for Lithuania’s freedom.

Upon occupation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union in 1940, the Liberty Bell was silenced for 49 long years. The next time it rang again was in 1989, and it continues to ring on festive occasions ever since.

Image for post
Tower of the War Museum in Kaunas housing the Liberty Bell of Lithuania

The farewell parade in Chicago and all of the accompanying activities were documented in silent motion pictures, but not in sound, since recording technologies for sound were not yet available at that time. The motion pictures were repeatedly shown in a number of Lithuanian settlements throughout the Chicago area as well as in most other Lithuanian communities in the United States. Lithuania has honored the Freedom Bell several times during the years of independence by issuing commemorative medals, coins and postage stamps depicting the Bell’s image.

Lithuanians at the Sesquicentennial Celebration in Philadelphia [119,120]

Although the Government of Lithuania in 1925, was unable to accept for economic reasons President Coolidge’s invitation to participate in the Sesquicentennial Celebration in Philadelphia in 1926, Lithuanian American organizations, after lengthy discussions, decided not to pass up an opportunity at least to represent the American segment of the Lithuanian nation. An organizing committee was formed with Rev. Simonas Draugelis as chairman. The Lithuanian Day was set for August 28, 1926. Several subcommittees were established to support organizing and carrying out the event.

Thousands of Lithuanian Americans arrived in Philadelphia from New England, New York and New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania’s anthracite regions to participate in the festivities. Lithuanian flags were hoisted at the Exposition grounds and at all of the principal hotels and city government buildings in Philadelphia. Lithuania was represented by minister Bizauskas, Lithuania’s consuls Zadeikis and Dauzvardis, and prof. Eretas as president of the ceremonies. Philadelphia’s Mayor Kendrick was the host of the event.

Image for post
Lithuanian Day in Philadelphia in 1925

The Lithuanian Day was one of the most impressive displays by Lithuanians commemorating America’s 150 years of independence. The day began with religious services at Sv. Kazimiero (St. Casimir) church. It was followed by a colorful parade of about 11,000. Leading the parade was a division of Lithuanian WWI U.S. army veterans It was followed interspersed by marching bands, colorful floats depicting Lithuania’s history, representations of participants of home cities and towns with a heavy Lithuanian art and cultural accent, displays of craftsmanship, singing choruses, and numerous societies with member participants dressed in colorful national costumes. The parade followed down the city’s Broad Street, thrilling thousands of Philadelphians en-route, and terminating at the Exposition Grounds (EG). The day ended at the EG Auditorium with a concert of orchestras, a songfest by an 894-voice chorus, a colorful display of folk dancing intermixed by fiery patriotic speeches by the dignitaries to a cheering crowd of over twenty thousand.

Philadelphia and regional newspapers described the event in great detail. The Public Ledger in Sunday Morning issue of August 29, 1926, printed the following headline: “LITHUANIAN PAGEANT AT SESQUI SUCCESS. Minister to the United States — Central Figure in Impressive Ceremonies. Thousands Who Throng Grounds See Blonde Beauties in Historic Parade.”

Not to be forgotten that earlier on that day, the Lithuanian Minister Bizauskas, accompanied by a delegation of the organizers, called upon Mayor Kendrick at a reception in Philadelphia’s City Hall. Subsequently, the entourage was received by Rear Admiral McGruder at the Navy Yard and by Brigadier General Learnard, the commander of the Sixth Field Artillery Battery at Camp Wayne. IThe entourage was greeted by a salute of 15 guns in each event.

Image for post
Minister Bizauskas greeted with 15 gun salute at Camp Wayne Pa.

Darius and Girenas: A heroic accomplishment with a tragic end [121,122,123]

Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas unprecedented flight from America to Europe is one of the brightest and awe-inspiring events in America’s Lithuanian life and of eternal memory in Lithuania’s history. It is not only a sign of love and dedication to their homeland, but also a significant milestone in world’s aviation. While both fliers perished in a crash of their airplane in bad weather upon crossing the Atlantic Ocean and a good part of Europe, their legacy, high ideals, and noble aims are forever and deeply ingrained in the hearts of all Lithuanians. Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas reflected the courage and dedication of two Lithuanian American aviators to bring fame and glory to the young Lithuanian nation.

Image for post
Committee sponsoring the Darius-Girenas transatlantic flight before take-off on July 15, 1935. Both pilots are to the right or left of the plane at center.

To remove all doubts about their goals, Darius and Girėnas wrote a testament dedicated to the Lithuanian nation just before the flight. Lofty and not without a dose of pathos, the declaration well captures the mood and aspirations of the two young pilots at the time:

“Young Lithuania! Inspired by your spirit, we embark on a mission we have chosen. May our success strengthen your spirit and confidence in your own powers and talents! But should the Neptune and the mighty ruler of storms Perkūnas unleash their wrath upon us, should they stop our way to Young Lithuania and call Lituanica to their realm — then You, Young Lithuania, will have to resolve anew, make sacrifice and prepare for a new quest, so that gods of stormy oceans be pleased with Your effort, resolution, and do not summon You for the Great Judgement. May Lituanica’s victory strengthen the spirit of young sons of Lithuania, inspire them for new quests”.

The single engine plane, a six-seat Bianca, was acquired by Darius and Girėnas for $4,000.The money was collected in numerous FLY to LITHUANIA small donation drives at Lithuanian American settlements. The plane, which Darius had piloted under a contract as a mail and goods carrier in three prior years, was reconstructed for a long two men flight. It was named Lituanica. It took off on July 15, 1933, from Floyd Bennett Field in New York for a non-stop flight to Lithuania. Their ambition, to cross the Atlantic on a small plane, astonished the aviation world, and was most awaited in Lithuania. The international media, covering Lituanica’s take-off in hundreds of comments said that it was the most risky and bold adventure in the history of transatlantic aviation — never before had anyone attempted to cover the distance in such a small aircraft.

Image for post
Darius and Girenas at their plane just before take-off

The flight was intended to take off from New York, over Newfoundland, across the Atlantic Ocean, fly by London, Amsterdam, Swinemuende, Koenigsberg, and land at Kaunas airport (a distance of about 7,100 km). Due to weather conditions over Ireland, they veered to the north and reached Germany via Scotland and the North Sea. In 37 hours and 11 minutes, until the moment of the crash, they had flown 6411 km, only 636 km short of their goal — Kaunas.

Both men perished as the plane went down in stormy weather on July 17, 1933, 0:36 AM (Berlin time) in the forest by the village of Kuhdamm, near Soldin, Germany (now Pszczelnik, Poland). In terms of comparison for non-stop long distance flights, their result ranked second only to that of Russell Boardman and John Polando, and was fourth in terms of duration of flight at the time. Without navigation equipment and under unfavorable weather conditions, the flight was one of the most precise in aviation history. In some aspects, it surpassed Charles Lindbergh’s classic flight. This flight also carried the first transatlantic postal air mail consignment in history.

On July 19, 1933, a German airplane brought the bodies of the pilots to the Kaunas airport. Some 25,000 people crowded the streets in Kaunas to meet the arriving heroes in great sorrow. The subsequent funeral procession was one of the most solemn and massively attended commemorations in the history of the first Lithuanian Republic. Tens of thousands lined the city streets in total silence and with tears in their eyes showed thanks to their fallen heroes for the valiant effort.

In 1936 the Lithuanian government built a mausoleum for Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas in Kaunas’ old cemetery. Inasmuch as the cemetery was demolished during the Soviet occupation, the pilots’ bodies were laid to rest in the cemetery of Šančiai, Kaunas. The wreckage of Lituanica is on display at the War Museum in Kaunas. A commemoration monument dedicated to Darius and Girenas was erected 1935, at the Chicago Marquette Park. Since then, the Chicago Lithuanian community is holding annually memorial services at the monument in their honor [124]. Also, the fliers were memorialized in 1957 in a granite base flagstaff located at the Lithuania Square in Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Image for post
First postal airmail consignment in the history of the world

The flight was vividly reproduced in a movie Skrydis per Atlantą (Flight across the Atlantic) in 1983. The Kaunas sports complex, the Lithuanian Academy of Sports, and the Ąžuolynas Park have been named after them. Sculptor Bronius Pundzius carved in 1943, the pilots’ faces into Puntukas, the largest known stone boulder in the territory of Lithuania. Numerous songs have been composed about their epic flight and their tragic death.

Image for post
Darius-Girenas monument erected in 1935 in Marquette Park, Chicago, IL

The flight was vividly reproduced in a movie Skrydis per Atlantą (Flight across the Atlantic) in 1983. The Kaunas sports complex, the Lithuanian Academy of Sports, and the Ąžuolynas Park have been given their names. Sculptor Bronius Pundzius carved in 1943, the pilots’ faces into Puntukas, the largest known stone boulder in the territory of Lithuania. Numerous songs have been composed about their epic flight and their tragic death.

A few months after the Lituanica tragedy, some prominent members of the Chicago Lithuanian community discussed the possibility of financing another transatlantic flight. This idea was also greeted with much enthusiasm, and enough funds were raised even during the Great Depression to purchase a faster and more modern Lockheed Vega plane. The aircraft was named Lituanica II. Felix Vaitkus accepted the challenge to fly solo to Lithuania. He flew across the Atlantic in 1935, but, due to bad weather force-landed in Ireland rather than in Kaunas. [125] He entered the aviation history for being the sixth pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic.

Lithuania at the 1939 World’s Fair [126,127]

The 1939 New York World Trade Fair, known as The World of Tomorrow, was opened on April 30. The Lithuania pavilion was the most modern and expansive exhibition outside the country. The exhibit was supported by a large number of Lithuanian American organizations and individuals. It was first in history for Lithuania to be housed in a separate pavilion of its own.

Image for post
Cover page of an extremely rare picture book of the 1939 N.Y. World’s Fair

The Lithuanian pavilion opened its doors to visitors on May 14, 1939. It was located near the Lake of Nations in a two levels building with a 500m. sq. display area. The exhibition sought to demonstrate the Lithuanian culture, crafts, work tools, products of farm and industry, achievements in arts and literature, levels of education and economy attained over the past two decades of independence.

Image for post
Lithuania’s exhibit building at the 1939 World’s Fair (on left)

Many of the artistic decorations were coordinated for display by Brooklyn born sculptor Jonas Subacius. The first floor of the pavilion displayed the historical past of Lithuania: the walls were covered with copies of historical maps, paintings depicting the more important events in Lithuania’s history. An impressive large Vytautas Magnus sculpture created by Vytautas Kashuba was of primary focus. Paintings of other well-known Lithuanian artists included those of Petras and Rimas Kalpokas, Adomas Galdikas, Stasys Ušinskas and Adomas Smetona.

Image for post
One of seven Lithuania’s murals on display at the 1939 World’s Fair

Well admired by visitors were a variety of dolls, dressed in colorful native costumes representing the folk art of the various Lithuanian regions. They were displayed at the country house set up in the courtyard of the model village. Nearby interspersed on stands and tables were highly decorated treasure chests, a variety of amber based jewelry and decorations, Lithuania specific musical instruments, and numerous exhibits of woven, wooden and ceramic folk art.

Exposition of Lithuania was of great interest to America’s Lithuanians. It was a very important event for particularly the younger generations who knew little about Lithuania. It generated a significant patriotic upsurge and pride in being Lithuanian, especially during the Lithuanian Day. Thousands were hearing songs and seeing folk dances by some twenty-nine hundred singers and 300 dancers. It raised their consciousness of being sons and daughters of a great, resourceful and valiant nation.

The Lithuanian exhibit was well received and evaluated by the organizers of the Fair. Two works of art were awarded the Grand Prize. The Mayor of New York City granted Magdalena Avietėnaite, chief coordinator of Lithuania’s part of the Fair, and two other Lithuanians, the title of Honorary Citizens of New York City [128].

The N.Y. Fair was closed on October 31, 1939, soon after the outbreak of World War II. Due to hostilities in Europe, the Lithuanian exhibit was left in “temporary” custody of Lithuanian institutions and organizations in America.

Image for post
Magdalena Avietėnaite, chief coordinator of Lithuania’s part of the Fair

Two Unique Individuals: Condemned to Death to Life Experiences

Beating all odds, Devenis escapes the jaws of the Soviet Union

As a young Petrograd university student, Mykolas Devenis came in 1914 to visit his parents who at that time were residing in the United States. During his stay in the U.S. WWI broke out. Ignoring Russia’s call to return to military duty, he enrolled in engineering studies at the University of Michigan. In 1915, he transferred to Yale University’s Medical School graduating cum laude as a medical doctor. Inasmuch as Yale since its inception was highly oriented toward Presbyterianism, it appears that it was here where the young Devenis formed a strong foundation and conviction to support and provide leadership in his protestant way of life [129]

Dr. Devenis started private medical practice in Waterbury Ct. He became U.S citizen in 1920. In private life, he supported Lithuanian diaspora social-cultural activities and sent books related to teaching medicine and appropriate instruments to help establish a Medical School at the University of Lithuania. In 1923, he was elected chairman of the Union of Lithuanian Evangelical Reformed Church in the U.S. and a mentor.

Image for post
Dr. Devenis around 1923

In 1924, he returned to Lithuania for a visit. While there, he met his future wife Alena Vileišyte. The marriage extended his stay during which he acquired sizeable farmland. Devenis was thrust into Lithuania’s political life by becoming a member of the Central Committee of the Peasants Union. In 1926, he returned with his family to the United States to continue his medical practice in Waterbury, Ct. In 1928, the Devenis family decided to return to Lithuania for permanent residence. Due to Lithuania’s bureaucratic intrigues, Dr. Devenis was prohibited to practice medicine in Lithuania for the next five years. While waiting for resolution of the problem, he turned his talents into operating an exemplary farm by introducing sugar beets farming in Lithuania. This led to the use of sugar beets for the establishment of sugar and alcohol production. Concurrently, dr. Devenis was deeply engaged in activities of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania, and in 1937 he became its curator (director).

Devenis, upon occupation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union in June 1940, was arrested by NKVD (Russia’s political police) on July 22 and imprisoned on trumped-up charges. On March 1,1941, he was sentenced for eight years of hard labor to a gulag (prison labor camp) in Vorkuta, Russia, in the vicinity of the Arctic Circle He was moved from Lithuania on June 16, 1941. In the beginning, he was put to work in the coal mines. However, with a shortage of physicians, within a year he was transferred to the gulag’s Sanitation Department to attend to sick prisoners.

Image for post
Partial view of the Vorkuta gulag

His wife, Alena Devenis, realizing that she could not help in Lithuania for her deported husband, turned to the U.S. ambassador Owen Norris for help. Inasmuch as the Devenis children were American citizens, the ambassador issued visas to allow their departure, including a temporary visa for none- U.S. citizen Mrs. Devenis as their escort. Evading evil eyeing communist “watchdogs”, the family left Lithuania the night of September 4, 1940. They arrived in U.S. via Germany and Portugal on October 13. After finding temporary shelter in Oakville, Ct. and work to support her family, Alena began intense rescue activities of her husband through Lithuania’s legation in Washington and the U.S. State Department.

Initial efforts produced nothing but silence from the Soviet embassy in Washington. It all began to change upon break-out of Russia-Germany war in June 1941, and upon Mrs. Devenis providing evidence to the State Department of her husband’s location of imprisonment and his case number. With the arrival of the new U.S. ambassador to Russia, Admiral William Standley on April 7, 1942, and his intervention with the Soviet government, the NKVD ordered dr. Devenis’s release from imprisonment to the custody of U.S. embassy on April 19, 1942, with a demand of his immediate departure from the Soviet Union. In nearly five months-long journey from northern to the southern part of Russia and then through Iran, Pakistan, India, and the oceans, he finally arrived in New York on September 7, 1942.

The reunited family settled in Watertown, Ct. where dr. Devenis resumed his medical practice. During the WWII years, Mrs. Devenis was one of the principal advocates for creating the United Lithuania Relief Fund of America (ULRFA) to help Lithuanian deportees, refugees, and victims of war. Upon formation of ULRFA, she became one of its directors and a permanent representative at the American Lithuanian Council.

Alvin Karpis — Famous in crime and great in redemption [130.131]

Alvin Karpis is going down in America’s history as one of the most famous crime figures in the first part of the 20th century. Born in Montreal on Aug. 10, 1907, of Lithuanian immigrants, he grew up in Topeka, Kansas. By age 18, Karpis was convicted of attempted burglary and was sent to Kansas reformatory for 5 to 10 years. He escaped after three years and eluded capture for a year while living with his parents in Missouri.

Police captured him in a stolen car and returned to the reformatory. There, he was reassigned to the Kansas State Penitentiary where he formed a friendship with prisoner Fred Barker. Upon release in 1931, both men joined forces and committed a series of well-planned burglaries. They were joined by Arthur “Doc” Barker upon his release from prison in 1932. The trio, along with other acquired gang members, began a spree of robbing banks, trains, and payroll shipments.

Image for post

Karpis, who possessed a superior intellect and photographic memory, later described in great detail 11 bank robberies in 1932, alone. His gang’s crimes were so cleverly masterminded, that most were blamed on other gangs that proliferated during the depression era. To this day, it is uncertain on how many deaths Karpis was personally responsible for during the robberies, but he and his gang members were wanted in public posters for only one lawman’s killing.

The Karpis-Barker crime spree spanned a broad portion of America‘s Midwest. In 1933, Karpis participated in two separate kidnappings-for-ransom of a wealthy Minnesota businessman. He was finally apprehended by FBI in New Orleans, La. on May 1, 1936. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover flew for that purpose to New Orleans to make a personal arrest and take credit for it. Karpis received a life sentence for his role in kidnapping in 1933, of William A. Hamm, president of the Hamm Brewing. Co. Though eligible for parole after 15 years, Karpis served more than 33 years in federal penitentiaries. He was at Alcatraz longer than any other convict from August 1936 to April 1962.

Image for post

At Alcatraz, Karpis became a model prisoner. Assigned for many years to the culinary department, he worked as a baker and cook. As a conscientious, skilled and well-mannered worker, he earned the respect of inmates and prison guards alike.

When Alcatraz was closed down in 1962, Karpis was transferred to the McNeil Island Penitentiary in Washington State. For good behavior, he worked as an office assistant and was allowed to live outside the prison walls, and occasionally led visitors on prison tours. While at McNeil he takes credit for teaching young Charles Manson and others to play guitar.

Image for post
Redeemed Karpis returning to Canada

In 1969, supported by recommendations from former prison guards and officials, he was finally paroled and deported to Canada. Back in Montreal, he proceeded to lead the life of an infamous, but reformed man. He granted interviews, gave lectures, appeared on television programs, wrote an autobiography, and even appeared in beer commercials. In 1973, he moved to Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol in Spain. Initial reports that his 1979 death was a suicide, was contradicted by Spanish coroner’s report stating that he died of a heart failure. Karpis is buried in Malaga, Spain.

Epilog and Prologue to Part III

The end of WWI in 1918 started a new era in the life of Lithuanian Americans. It was the beginning of their wider acceptance and infusion into America’s social stream. Service in the military and education of several generations of U.S. born children raised their interest in participating in wider social, business and political activities. Furthermore, by Lithuania restoring its independence, provided them a solid ethnic background which they lacked before 1918. These new circumstances initiated a burst of energy to ascertain their pride as an important ethnic community capable not only to provide valuable contributions to the society they lived in, but also helping their former homeland to rise from brutal foreign oppression and ashes of the just ended world war. Of remarkable magnitude emerged expanded education opportunities, newspaper and books publications, radio hours, banking and financial services, and a great variety of organized community activities. However, after reaching the pinnacle at the turn into 1930-s, interest in the continuous expansion of Lithuanianess began to fade. Generations of now native American-born individuals were continuously pulled away by assimilation into America’s mainstream. While still cheering for Lithuania as a free and independent country, they began to realize that their lives were tied more to the country of their birth and the land that they lived-in, rather than to the memories and images of a faraway land that they had warm sentiments for.

Newly arising threats to Lithuania at the end of the 1930-s, restored the American Lithuanian vigilance to developing dangers and revived their efforts to save their ancestral homeland Lithuania from harm. By Soviet Russia occupying Lithuania in 1940, stirred America’s Lithuanians into a vigorous reaction. Protesters poured out into the streets and the highest political levels of the U.S. government were asked to help restore Lithuania’s independence. Concurrently, concentrated activity emerged to help their distressed countrymen who have become victims of and refugees in Europe as a result of WWII.

Forthcoming Part III of this historical narrative deals with events describing massive rescue efforts by Lithuanian American organizations to help the resettlement of their refugee countrymen from Europe to America. The arrival of the refugee kinfolks initiated an enormous rebirth of vitality in the life of the Lithuanian oriented diaspora. The newcomers’ experience under Soviet occupation, provided powerful political arguments to the U.S government not to yield to Russia’s pressure to accept Lithuania’s incorporation into the Soviet Union over the next 45 years. This effort to a certain degree contributed to the creation of a political climate that led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1990 and reinforced the will of the Lithuanian people to successfully break away from Russia’s occupation.

Daha Fazla Göster


Media and News

İlgili Makaleler

Bir cevap yazın

E-posta hesabınız yayımlanmayacak. Gerekli alanlar * ile işaretlenmişlerdir

Başa dön tuşu