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Germans

The Klaipėda Region that was joined to Lithuania after the Klaipėda Revolt of 1923 had been a German-ruled territory since the 13th century Baltic crusades. While it is a part of Lithuania Minor cultural area the Lithuanian majority there was already fragile by the 20th century with the Klaipėda (German: Memel) city itself being predominantly German. In the area Germanization had been taking place with local Lithuanians adopting German language and customs over generations (similar to polonization in Lithuania-proper).

Additionally there were some ethnic Germans in Sudovia and the main cities, although these numbers were far behind those in Latvia or Estonia. German traders came to Lithuania when it was still pagan, German knights followed them, but unlike its northern neighbors Lithuania as a whole was never subdued by German rulers until the World Wars.

German national romantic style is common in the early 20th century buildings of the Lithuania Minor, where Germans made a significant minority until World War 2. These iconic red bricks were also a popular building material for barns and farmsteads in the region. The building in this picture was constructed in 1909 in Šilutė (German: Heydekrug) and now houses a vocational school. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In the interwar period the Germans made up 4,1% of Lithuania‘s population (41,9% in the Klaipėda region and 1,4% elsewhere). Sadly this community was all but destroyed by the advancing Soviet armies in the World War 2. Most were either killed, expelled or evacuated never to return. A few however remained while some others chose to come back after Lithuania became independent once again. Currently Germans are the 7th largest ethnic community of Lithuania, made up of 3 200 people.

However, according to the 2001 census only 804 (27%) of Lithuania's Germans spoke German natively. The majority (1587, or 54%) spoke Lithuanian, while a significant minority (18%) named Russian as their native language. Additionally, unlike in the interwar period when the German minority was predominantly Lutheran today only 39% of them are Lutherans, another 39% are Roman Catholics and 13% are atheists. These linguistic and religious shifts were influenced by the Soviet policy which unofficially equalled all Germans to Nazis and discriminated them. Therefore many Germans who managed to remain in Lithuania feared to speak German or to do other things attributed to their German ethnicity while the Soviet occupation continued, and especially so in 1940s-1950s.

A part of Lithuania's Germans are so-called "wolf children". Orphaned due to World War 2 and the Soviet genocide they were wandering through Lithuania of late 1940s and many were secretly brought up by Lithuanian peasants.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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