Lithuanian Soviet refugees | True Lithuania
True Lithuania

Lithuanian DPs / Second wave of emigration (~1940s)

As Soviets came to reconquer Lithuania in the 1940s, hundreds of thousands have left everything fleeing westwards, knowing that staying behind would have meant certain death. They became known as the DPs, or Displaced persons.

While far from the largest group of Lithuanian emigrants, the DPs arguably achieved the most. Feeling more like refugees or even exiles rather than emigrants, they created pieces of Lithuania in every country where they emigrated to - in the form of ethnic-styled Lithuanian churches, schools, club buildings, and memorials. Being mostly intellectuals, they created new styles of Lithuanian arts and architecture and developed Lithuanian science at the time Lithuania itself was deeply behind the Iron Curtain. At the same time, they campaigned vigorously for the Western world to support Lithuania.

While some waves of Lithuanian emigration have a somewhat negative image, a DP is often seen as that stereotypical "ideal emigrant" who managed to love and support Lithuania from abroad.

Lithuanian Youth center facade with Vytis and the memorial to those who died for Lithuanian freedom in front

DP-built Lithuanian Youth center facade in Chicago with Vytis and the memorial to those who died for Lithuanian freedom in front

Why did the DPs leave Lithuania ~1940s?

In 1940, Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union started its genocide, which eventually led to murdering and expelling hundreds of thousands. In 1941, Nazi Germany occupied Lithuania, its regime being more lenient, at least for non-Jews.

In 1944, however, Soviet armies approached once again, and, knowing that the Soviet Genocide would return and they would be likely targets, the DPs fled westwards as refugees, hoping to return after the war. Most of them belonged to the groups that were the prime targets of the Soviet Genocide: the religious, the intellectuals, the landowners, the politicians, the businessmen, those of German or Lutheran ancestry, etc. Having barely survived the first Soviet occupation in 1940-1941, they knew what to expect.

The DP's "retreat westwards" was often taken in steps, from one still-German-ruled city to another, sometimes spending weeks or months in a "safe location" only to find out that the location became unsafe as the Soviet armies approached there as well. En-route, these refugees had to earn food somehow as well as avoid Nazi German persecutions and forced drafts. Still, to ethnic Lithuanians at the time, Germany was far less dangerous than the Soviet Union (in terms of likelihood to be murdered or persecuted). Moreover, Germany's defeats in the war meant that the German Reich itself was crumbling and no longer able to enforce its "order" that well, allowing loopholes for fleeing Lithuanians (even some Lithuanians previously persecuted by the Nazi German regime now managed to successfully "lay low" while retreating through German-occupied lands).

Tragic statistics of the occupations of Lithuania - the DPs run in order not to become part of these numbers.

Initially, many DP Lithuanians believed their "retreat" to be temporary ("Until the Germans beat the Soviets back" or "Until Lithuania is reestablished after the war"). As the German defeat began to seem imminent, all of the DPs desperately tried to reach the parts of Germany occupied by western powers as they knew that the Soviets or Soviet allies would return them to the occupied Lithuania or even execute on spot.

As the war came to its end, they were also joined by some of those who had been deported by Nazi Germany to its concentration or labor camps in 1941-1945, or to forced labor, and survived the persecutions there. Now free from the clutches of the defeated German Reich, they knew better not to return to Soviet Lithuania where similar or worse fate would have awaited.

Special case: Jewish Holocaust refugees. While the terms "Second Wave" and "DPs" terms are generally reserved for that short and massive wave of 1944 emigration of tens of thousand people desperately trying to flee the advancing Soviet soldiers, for Lithuania's Jews, Nazi German occupation (1941-1944) and its genocide (Holocaust) was more dangerous than the Soviet one. Thus they began fleeing earlier to avoid the Holocaust, sometimes with the help of righteous-among-nations.

Special case: Klaipėda Region and Lithuania Minor. In most of Lithuania, the Soviet Genocide was not equally dangerous to everyone as certain groups were targetted more than others. In Klaipėda Region, however, everybody was a target for Genocide as this region comprised of Germans and Lithuanian Lutherans, both groups despised by the Soviets. As such, more people have fled the Klaipėda Region ~1944 than the rest of Lithuania put together, and when the Soviets invaded Klaipėda city they found merely ~20 local citizens remaining. Still, Klaipėda Region and Lithuania Minor emigrants are often not counted to the Second Wave tally due to their cultural differences and the fact this part of Lithuanian history tended to be obscured during the Soviet occupation.

A column of German and Lutheran Lithuanian refugees who attempted to flee the Klaipėda region was overran by Soviet tanks. Such wanton killings (as well as torture and rapes) of the despised Germans and groups perceived to be similar to Germans, e.g. Lutheran Lithuanians, at the hands of conquering Russians were extremely common in the mid-to-late 1940s Europe.

How many people fled Lithuania ~1940s?

Some 60 000 - 80 000 have successfully fled Lithuania-proper in 1944 to be considered the Second-Wave-proper. Additionally, some 30 000 have tried to flee but returned or were forced to return as, for example, the frontline has outpaced them.

Special case: Klaipėda Region and Lithuania Minor. Additionally, some 170 000 fled the Klaipėda Region, roughly equally divided between ethnic Germans and Lithuanians. Additionally, some 500 000 fled the parts of Lithuania Minor outside the Republic of Lithuania, among them up to several hundred thousands of Lithuanian origins.

Special case: Jewish Holocaust refugees. The exact numbers who managed to flee are unclear but it may be in tens of thousands. Chiyune Sugihara, the consul of Japan in Kaunas, alone saved 6000 Jews by giving them Japanese visas (although some of these Jews were not from Lithuania). These are not included in the Second Wave numbers above.

Where did the DPs fled Lithuania to ~1944

The frantic goal of the Lithuanian refugees was to go anywhere where there were no Soviet troops. Typically they left Lithuania shortly before the Soviet arrival into their Lithuanian homes, and then had to remain on a constant move westwards as Soviets were conquering new and new territories behind them, rendering them unsafe and threatening their lives once again. By December 1944, some half of Poland fell, then in 1945 the remainder of Poland and also East Germany: before each new Soviet conquest, DPs who were taking refuge there had to flee further west. The majority of DPs thus ended up in the zones of Germany that were to be occupied by the Western powers (~65 000), while a minority found their safety in Denmark (~3000), Austria, Norway (~700), Italy (~400), all of which also had never been reached by the Soviet armies.

In these countries, the western powers have established Displaced Person camps. These provided Lithuanians (and other peoples of Eastern Europe with similar fate) modest housing "not any worse than that of locals". Initially, the idea of the great powers was that Lithuanians and others would be relocated back to their homelands after the war ends. Increasingly, however, it became evident that the Soviet Union will continue the occupation of Lithuania and genocide there. Thus, while the Soviet Union demanded the western governments to give up the Lithuanian refugees, the governments of the countries Lithuanians went to did not comply. However, they understood that so many Lithuanians would have nothing to do in war-torn Germany and Western Europe without foreign support, so a permanent solution was needed. Therefore, a plan was devised in 1947-1948 to resettle the Lithuanian refugees to various distant and comparatively rich lands.

Bamberg Lithuanian DP camp in Germany (with Lithuanian coat of arms)

Bamberg Lithuanian DP camp in Germany (with Lithuanian coat of arms). Typically, surviving German buildings would be temporary taken by the US/British/French occupational regime in order to house the DPs

The largest number (~29 000) went to the USA, mainly the cities of Northeast and Mid-West (New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, Omaha). However, the USA accepted only those Lithuanians who had American citizens guaranteeing for them. Therefore, this option was surely available only for those who had relatives among First Wave Lithuanian migrants. In some cases, though, Lithuanian parishes and clubs in the USA provided such guarantees to the people they didn't know in order to bring as many DPs into the safe USA as possible.

DPs who failed to get guarantees for the US migration would take up the offers by Canadian and Australian governments to get residence permits in exchange for several years of work for their governments in some far-away towns. Some 7700 went to Canada and 5000 went to Australia.

Yet others, following the roads of Lithuanian Interwar Migration, went to South America. Some went to their recently emigrated relatives in Brazil (700) and Argentina (800), while others established entirely new Lithuanian communities in Venezuela (2000) and Colombia (550). Due to worsening economic conditions there, many would have tried to use Latin America as a "trampoline" to eventually move into the USA.

Furthermore, some 12 000 have remained in Western Europe. Only West Germany (~7500), Great Britain (~3000), and France (~550) received large enough communities to be influential.

Special case: Jewish Holocaust refugees. Some Jews also managed to go to Palestine, although immigration there was limited by the British mandate then in power. More of the Jews, therefore, emigrated to the USA.

Special case: Klaipėda Region and Lithuania Minor. Germany considered people of Klaipėda Region and Lithuania Minor to be its citizens and thus organized a bit more orderly evacuation to Germany-proper. It was still very dangerous, though, as the Soviets would attack and kill fleeing refugees. Unlike most of the regular DPs, the Klaipėda Region and Lithuania Minor residents who succeeded to reach Germany-proper would typically stay there after 1948 as well, aided by their knowledge of German language and culture in starting new lives.

How did the Lithuanian DP refugees live after emigrating ~1944?

Until some 1948, most still hoped to return to Lithuania once the war ended, believing that independence would be returned to Lithuania. They spent their years in refugee camps re-establishing improvised Lithuanian schools, parishes, and even university there to continue their studies, activities, and relationships as much as possible. This was easier there than any time later, as Lithuanians would typically live in their own camps or sections, next to each other.

Lithuanian festival in a DP camp in Germany

Lithuanian festival in a DP camp in Germany

Then, they were spread among various countries ~1948-1951 (see above). Not speaking the languages there nor having recognized diplomas, most were underemployed despite being intellectuals. Regarding themselves to be exiles rather than emigrants, they spent a very large share of their lives participating in Lithuanian activities and promoting the support for occupied Lithuania.

They have established the “Global Lithuanian Community” which was essentially a state without territory and every DP Lithuanian was its citizen (some of the first wave emigrant and Interwar emigrants joined the Global Lithuanian Community as well).

The Global Lithuanian Community had not only its leaders and parliament, but also its own school system, the Lithuanian Saturday schools that were created for the next generation of DPs born abroad so they would learn Lithuanian language, culture, and love for Lithuania. Very few of the DPs have married non-Lithuanians, meaning their families were entirely Lithuanian. Many would speak Lithuanian-only to their kids and the kids would learn the other languages only in school.

Where it was possible, DPs joined the Lithuanian parishes established by first wave Lithuanian emigrants, revitalizing them and providing patriotic priests and faithful Lithuanian-speaking nuns. Where such parishes did not exist, they created their own. Where this was mostly impossible (Australia), they created Lithuanian clubs. While during the first wave emigration era, religion and ethnicity seemed to be equally important, for the DP community, ethnicity often seemed more important than faith, and they often rebuilt Lithuanian churches in a more ethnic style to become also shrines for the lost homeland of Lithuania.

Dayton Lithuanian church during a mass

A modest Amarican-architect-designed 1923 Dayton Lithuanian church was refurbished into a a modern Lithuanian style by a famous Lithuanian DP designer V. K. Jonynas, adding these stained glass windows in the form of traditional Lithuanian chapel posts, among many other Lithuanian symbols

Initially, DPs who went on some invitations lived in the same towns and districts where the inviters lived. Some of these proved to offer few jobs, so there was a drift to the main cities. Furthermore, after the immigration of the DPs, the USA was ravaged by racial riots (1960s), leading to white flight from many traditionally Lithuanian districts. DPs felt unfairly targeted: themselves being refugees and having had worse experiences in their lives than most African-Americans, they were still treated as "privileged whites" by the Civil Rights activists. Nevertheless, most DPs were forced-by-crime to abandon their districts and move to suburbs or other cities. As such, some of the key architectural achievements of the DPs became abandoned or no longer used for the Lithuanian cause. Still, many of their creations survive even if no longer in Lithuanian use; in the countries and cities where racial riots did not take place or did not reach Lithuanian areas (e.g. Canada), more has survived in operation.

Throughout their lives, most DPs considered themselves Lithuanians first and foremost. Even if they eventually naturalized in their new homelands (far from everybody did), they did not really begin considering themselves Americans, Australians, or Canadians. They considered themselves exiles rather than emigrants and such a unique situation led to strongly anti-integration behavior. It was not uncommon, for example, to punish children for speaking the local language (e.g. English) beyond when it was necessary. Some refused to learn the language of the new homeland and even though many did, they still preferred to use the Lithuanian language in as many spheres of life as possible. Not only they would publish Lithuanian books or newspapers and vehemently defend Lithuanian masses in churches, they even published the first world's first Lithuanian language encyclopedia, thus expanding the Lithuanian language into a domain it didn't tap even while Lithuania was free.

A fragment of the Lithuanian soldier stained-glass window in Hamilton Lithuanian church extension

A fragment of the Lithuanian soldier stained-glass window in Hamilton Lithuanian church built by the DPs. For most DPs, every part of their life was permeated by patriotism and consciousness for Lithuania: so, while soldiers have nothing to do with religion, they have to do lots with Lithuania and if the church is Lithuanian, then the image belongs there too

Organizations of Lithuanian scientists and doctors, Lithuanian boy scouts, and even a Lithuanian-American opera were established by the second wavers in order to have all the necessary vestiges of the independent country. In order to help Lithuanians meet there were events such as Lithuanian National Olympiads (competitions of Lithuanian sports clubs from all the nations) or Lithuanian Song Festivals where all the parish choirs would come. Lithuanian social scientists would even research Lithuanian folk culture among Lithuanian emigrants, continuing the researches to begin in independent Lithuania. They would collect the Lithuanian documents of the Americans and those saved from Lithuania into Lithuanian-American archives, they would build museums and galleries for the Lithuanian art.

DP generation had many world-class artists but most of them too stayed with that "Lithuanian nation without territory". Writers and poets wrote in Lithuanian, architects saw Lithuanian clubs and churches abroad as their magnum opuses, and painters who depicted symbolic scenes of Lithuanian past glories and current tragedies rarely attempted to show off their works beyond the Lithuanian community. On the one hand, that gave the Lithuanian diaspora an artistic heritage that is worthy of an entirely independent nation. On the other hand, that meant most artists somewhat faded into obscurity as their works did not get attention outside of the contemporary Lithuanian diaspora. Back in Soviet Lithuania, their works were banned/forgotten and only after the 1990s fully appreciated there. The process of their discovery by non-Lithuanian Americans, Australians, etc. is just beginning. Only in the 2010s, for example, was the most famous Lithuanian diaspora novel translated into English (existentialist "White Shroud" by New York Lithuanian Antanas Škėma about his experience as underemployed DP in New York society; originally published in the USA in Lithuanian language in 1958). Still, some artists managed to successfully combine Lithuanian heritage with other works (Jonas Mekas) or ditched the heritage altogether (George Maciunas), albeit the latter was heavily controversial among the Lithuanian diaspora.

A Lithuanian-inspired art inside the Melbourne Lithuanian Club. The paintings on right and left are both based on the Lithuanian tricolor flag (yellow-green-red). The middle picture shows a memorial for Lithuanians murdered and exiled by the Soviet Lithuanian regime. Images by ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Campaigning for Lithuanian freedom was an important activity for the DP diaspora and while, as the time passed, it became more and more clear the new homelands of the DPs would not send their forces to liberate Lithuania, it was still important to lobby them so they would not recognize the occupation of Lithuania, to remind all the non-Lithuanians about the plight of the Lithuanians so they would support the Lithuanian cause should the opportunity for freedom arise. It was also important for the DPs to remind their own children and grandchildren of Lithuania and its plight so they would not abandon the struggle in order to simply enjoy their free Western lives. Such campaigns involved lobbying, media interviews, and construction of monuments commemorating the Soviet genocide victims or those who died for Lithuanian freedom.

A chapel for those died for Lithuanian freedom glowing in the night at the Kennebunk Lithuanian monastery park

A chapel for those died for Lithuanian freedom glowing in the night at Kennebunk Lithuanian park

All in all, a typical DP would often spend most of his free time with other Lithuanians, essentially continuing Lithuania as a "country without territory", its citizens spread across four continents but still having nearly as many relationships with each other as with the outside world despite the fact those were pre-internet days.

Anti-integration attitudes led to some friction between the Second Wave (DPs) and the First Wave of Lithuanian emigrants. To the Second Wavers, the First Wavers were too integrated, forgetful of their Lithuanian ethnicity and history, perhaps due to their lack of education. To the First Wavers, the Second Wavers' (DPs') complete unwillingness to integrate seemed stubborn, while their views towards First Wavers as lesser-educated felt elitist and insulting. The different visions could in part be explained by the fact that the First Wavers were not forced to emigrate in the same way as the DPs were, and so they tended to accept integration more.

A sign rented by Dayton Lithuanians encouraging Americans not to forget

A sign rented by Dayton Lithuanians encouraging Americans not to forget

For the DPs, though, such integration seemed to be not simply a weakness, it was dangerous. There was always a chance that the Soviets would continue their genocide in Lithuania, that they would murder or exile all Lithuanians and settle Lithuania with Russians. The Lithuanian language and traditions would then disappear in Lithuania itself. In the minds of the DPs it was, therefore, up to the Lithuanians of the "free world" to make sure that, even if that happens, the Lithuanian nation, traditions, and language do not die out. Every child who did not learn Lithuanian, every closed Lithuanian club was making this goal harder.

And then there was a fact that some of the First Wavers became leftists or communists while in America. While the ranks of such communists grew scarcer as the Soviet crimes became better known in the West, the mere fact that there were First wave Lithuanians in America who essentially welcomed the Soviet occupation of Lithuania (which the Second wavers ran for their lives from, which has murdered so many of their friends and relatives) tarnished the reputation of the entire wave deepening the stereotype of a "stupid First Waver" among the DPs.

The possibility for DPs to keep contacts with their friends and relatives back in Lithuania was heavily limited. The letters were censored, the calls were listened to by the Soviet authorities. There are many stories of families that were separated in 1944, when, for example, the husband and some children left, while his wife and their other children remained in Lithuania. In such cases, quite often they never met again. The contact between DP Lithuanians and Lithuanians in Lithuania became somewhat less dangerous after Stalin's death (1953) but still heavily controlled, and it was still impossible for the left-behind relatives to join or even visit their family abroad. On the other hand, it became possible for DP Lithuanians themselves to visit Lithuania, although only on tightly Soviet-intelligence-controlled tourism programs that included mandatory visits to "key Soviet sights" in Moscow and only allowed to spend a few days in Lithuania itself, and even there never venture beyond a few cities. Some DPs took on the opportunity, often bringing lavish gifts for their relatives who suffered in a poor Soviet-occupied Lithuania. Others still feared to even travel to Lithuania, expecting arrest or persecution while there. Yet others simply did not want to bring any money for the Soviet regime. Moreover, by this time, DPs and people of Lithuania were essentially living in separate worlds, (self-)censorships and decades of extremely different experiences leading to misunderstandings and precluding close "inter-Iron-Curtain" relationships. Instead, many such visits were more charitable than friendly; the people of Lithuania would wait for the "never-seen-before" gifts their "uncle from America" would bring them this time, while that "uncle" would feel good that he could help fellow Lithuanians in their economic misery.

The DP generation (Second Wave) always dreamed of returning to live in liberated Lithuania though that dream was growing more and more distant with every year of the Soviet occupation. They campaigned as much as they could to encourage the West to support Lithuania but this support never went beyond diplomatic declarations. When Lithuania did eventually become independent in 1990, most of the DPs were too old or too rooted to actually return. However, some key activists did, becoming influential figures in Lithuanian politics (e.g. president Valdas Adamkus) and the creation of the first western-styled businesses. Others would support reborn Lithuania through charity and/or would regularly visit it as long as the health would allow it.

The real "Golden Years" for many Lithuanian DPs instead passed in various American beachside resorts, often selected for their similarity to fabled Lithuania's prime resort of Palanga, the golden dunes of which were etched into the nostalgic collective memory of the DP generation. Such resorts would initially serve as summer retreats for wives and kids in the 1960s when most Western women still did not work, and then would be transformed into permanent residences after retiring age. Resorts such as Beverly Shores (Indiana), Wasaga Beach (Ontario) or St. Pete Beach (Florida) became elderly Lithuanian DP communities. While these people were past their prime age of building massive churches or club palaces, they still managed to create a piece of Lithuania there in a more modest sense through utilitarian Lithuanian clubs or small memorials.

After their deaths, many Lithuanian-Americans opt to be buried under traditional large Lithuanian gravestones, often inscribed with patriotic symbols and quotes pledging allegiance to Lithuania. This was especially common while Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union and the key Lithuanian cemeteries of Chicago and Toronto are treasure troves of this unique form of patriotic art. Yet other Lithuanian DPs requested to be buried in Lithuania, despite having spent only a small part of their lives there. That only became possible after 1990, when Lithuania restored its independence - but even the remains of some of those DPs who died earlier were transferred to Lithuania after 1990.

Many graves, like this one of Balys Savickas, have Lithuanian patriotic symbols and inscriptions. The inscription on the left grave says ‚After losing my homeland I lived for its freedom and I lived to see it‘, referencing to him dying in 1996 after Lithuanian independence was restored. The inscription on the other side of the same grave adds ‚Such was my fate given to me by the Almighty‘. Symbols on this grave are the Vytis (Lithuanian coat of arms), Cross of Vytis and the Three Crosses memorial, a potent symbol of Vilnius and of Soviet repression as it was demolished by the Soviets and then rebuilt by Lithuanians as independence seemed real

Many Lithuanian DP graves, like this one of Balys Savickas, have Lithuanian patriotic symbols and inscriptions. The inscription on the left says ‚After losing my homeland I lived for its freedom and I lived to see it‘, referencing to him dying in 1996, after independence. The inscription on the right adds ‚Such was my fate given to me by the Almighty‘. Symbols on this grave are the Vytis (Lithuanian coat of arms), Cross of Vytis and the Three Crosses memorial, a potent symbol of Vilnius and of Soviet repression as it was demolished by the Soviets and then rebuilt by Lithuanians as independence seemed real

Special case: Jews The DPs who fled the Soviet Genocide and the Lithuanian Jews who fled the Holocaust were bitterly divided and never cooperated. That's because two very different collective memories of World War 2 existed among these communities. Most Lithuanians would remember suffering at the hands of Soviets, often aided by Jewish collaborators. Most Jews, on the other hand, would remember suffering at the hands of Nazi Germany, often aided by Lithuanian collaborators. Both the Lithuanian thought of "Liberation from the Soviets in 1941" and the Jewish thought of "Liberation from Nazi Germany in 1944" seemed radical and hateful to the other community (as what was "liberation" to one community meant genocide to the other). The ethnic Lithuanian and Jewish emigre communities remained separate as Lithuania's Jewish refugees integrated into wider Jewish communities while Lithuanians cooperated more closely with Latvian and Estonian diasporas with whom they shared their fate and the "main enemy". In reality, both collaborations existed, although their memory was blown out of proportion by cognitive bias (as a single collaborator armed by an occupational regime may inflict great damage to hundreds of families, all of which would remember that). Sometimes the Soviet Union sought to use this division for its own favor by trying to wrongfully accuse various key Lithuanian DPs of having been collaborators, expecting that this could induce the Jewish diaspora to attack them and make them lose their credibility as freedom fighters; the fact that some Jews would "take the bait" divided the communities further. The authorities of Western governments (e.g. OSI of the USA) carefully investigated such accusations and founded them to be unfounded in all major cases (although there were a few Lithuanian Nazi collaborators among regular emigrants who were then tried).

Telshe Yeshiva students

Telshe Yeshiva students in Cleveland. This yeshiva sees itself as a continuation of Telšiai yeshiva that was closed by the Soviet regime in 1940 but was reestablished in the USA by some of its rabbis who emigrated. While located not far from Cleveland's Lithuanian club, the two institutions maintain few ties

Special case: Klaipėda Region and Lithuania Minor. Many of these refugees were ethnic Germans or spoke German at near-native levels. Many of them integrated into German society together with other German deportees from the east, though there were exceptions.

How did the DP children and grandchildren live?

The children of the DP generation who grew up in foreign countries were still often very patriotic and considered themselves to be Lithuanians or only Lithuanians. This was instilled in them by the families and Lithuanian Saturday schools. Through Lithuanian summer camps, Lithuanian sports clubs, Lithuanian scouting, and choirs their Lithuanian parents enlisted them to Lithuanian culture and cause. Therefore, they often lived in "Lithuanian bubbles" created for them.

Hill of Corsses of Dainava

Lithuanian camp Dainava in Michigan, USA and its Hill of Crosses representing the one in Šiauliai, Lithuania. The largest in the Americas, this 91 ha camp is like a calm and pretty Lithuanian park that comes alive in summers when Lithuanian children and parents from all over the USA descend on here to communicate in Lithuanian and/or about Lithuania, encouraged by various programs. Creating such camps was among the main achievements of the DP generation

Still, such a bubble did not cover all the spheres of life. While some of the children were spoken to only in Lithuanian by their parents and grandparents, they quickly picked up the local languages from their peers and generally fared much better in the job market than their parent generation did.

As the DP children grew up and left their parents' homes, they made a choice. Some of them continued their parents' way of being Lithuanians first and foremost, and essentially inherited the Lithuanian parishes, clubs, and other organizations. They would campaign for Lithuanian freedom together with the friends they made back in the Lithuanian schools and camps, speaking Lithuanian among themselves in yet another "bubble".

Others, though, slowly distanced themselves from the Lithuanian life. Even in the teenage years, they may have felt that Lithuanian schools or camps are an uninteresting waste of time. Further on, they would limit their Lithuanian activities to some annual holidays (e.g. Kūčios) together with their parents.

Typically Lithuanians who married other Lithuanians, as well as the ones who had made many Lithuanian friends and lived in cities and districts with many other Lithuanians, were more likely to stay within the community. On the contrary, a mixed marriage was often the end of that branch of Lithuanity.

Even more Lithuanians drifted away with the grandsons/granddaughters generation as, by the time it grew up ~1980, Lithuanian-Americans no longer lived tightly in the same districts, while some of the final Lithuanian parish schools were replaced by English-speaking public schools. To many Lithuanian children of the era, the only area to make Lithuanian friends and pick up Lithuanian history were the two-week summer camps or Saturday schools.

Still, well into the 1990s-2000s nearly all the DP organizations, schools, and parishes remained viable led by the second generation of leaders. Ironically, the event that arguably hit the most was Lithuanian independence. With Lithuania independent, Lithuanians lost a unifying cause to rally. Those stories of discrimination, persecution, and Soviet Genocide that inspired the Lithuanian-American youth of the 1970s or 1980s to fight against the injustice suddenly felt no longer as important, as the persecutions have ceased. It was no longer *that* crucial to save the Lithuanian language or traditions in the USA, Canada, or Australia, as with the Soviets out, they would be saved in Lithuania itself. It was no longer logical to research Lithuanian traditions or history from the documents available in the "free world" when all the Lithuanian archives became accessible and Lithuania's universities were free. The institutions such as the Lithuanian Opera of Chicago had much less symbolic value when their professional counterparts in Lithuania itself were liberated from the Soviet clutches. Furthermore, some of the most Lithuanian-minded activists of the DP children generation actually moved to Lithuania, "decapitating" some diaspora institutions.

By 2000s-2010s, therefore, some DP organizations folded and some parishes were closed down, while others rely on the aging DP-children generation with few DP-grandchildren or DP-great-grandchildren seriously joining their ranks. The key worldwide or America-wide institutions still survive strongly, somewhat replenished by the post-independence Lithuanian emigrants. With greater mobility, the younger Lithuanian-American DP descendents interested in their heritage would typically drift towards such major institutions rather than smaller-though-closer ones. In many cases, the rule of thumb is that if there were many hundreds or several thousands of DP Lithuanians in some location back ~1950, the Lithuanian life still survives, while if there were only low hundreds or less it likely no longer does.

Cleveland Lithuanian club interior

Cleveland Lithuanian club interior with lots of Lithuanian memorabilia. While built by DPs, Cleveland club is one of the most active Lithuanian clubs in America

Some of the grandchildren of the DP would visit Lithuania and restore Lithuanian citizenship and some went back to their roots and learned the language, however, more often than not, there was no longer a large number of Lithuanians in a single place that would allow the language to thrive in America. While the global diaspora events continued, in many cases they were moved to Lithuania, allowing the diaspora to combine the goal of meeting up with the goal of visiting their historic homeland.

What heritage thas the Second Wave Lithuanian emigrants (DPs)left?

Second Wave architects have created a unique Modern Lithuanian style for the Lithuanian churches and club buildings of the time. Even numerous older Lithuanian churches were rebuilt in this style.

Interior of the church

Interior of 1950s Our Lady of Gate of Dawn church in Montreal is full of sombre Lithuanian spirit. A copy of three croses, by then a Soviet-demolished symbiol of Vilnius, is behind the altar, the church is named after the sacred painting in Vilnius, etc.

Many memorials were constructed to commemorate the famous Lithuanians and Lithuanians lost in Soviet atrocities in order to remind people of their new homelands about the plight of Lithuanians.

Many works of fiction and visual arts were created by them.

The Second Wavers (DPs) also created institutions such as Lithuanian archives and museums.

Lithuanian Youth center, housing numerous museums, archives, and memorials

Lithuanian Youth center in Chicago, housing numerous museums, archives, and memorials

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  1. This is extremely well done, but the story is still being written. This is the story of my family! – Juozas and Klara Virskevicius (Virskus). I have written the book about my father, from Vilkaviskis, Pioneer Batallion Commander and director of the Kaunas railroad station. His story is “The Last Train Out”, leaving Kaunas has the Soviets came to reoccupy the country. In fact, Valdas Adamkus was on that train with his mother which my father commandeered to escape the Soviets. My daughter, Jenn Virskus, has written a book about her grandmother Klara who survived the bombing of Dresden. My sister and I were born in a DP camp in southern Germany. We immigrated to the US on a liberty ship, processed through Ellis island, and arrived in Flint Michigan in 1950 where my father could begin his life all over again. I attended places like Dainava, and belongs to scouts, basketball teams, and various are there student groups. I did not marry a Lithuanian, but my wife keeps up the customs during holidays to honor the heritage. All three children have been to Lithuania several times, and all three are now dual citizens. Jenn lived in Vilnius for 6 years and was co-founder of Kalnu Erelai ski club to prepare young skiers for the Olympics. As I stated, the Lithuanian DP story is still being written. I have written a memoire about my father which will be published soon. I intend to bring his ashes from Florida back to Vilkaviskis next year.

    • Thank you for your DP story!

    • Thank you Vytautas. My grandfather had what sounds like a similar escape by train as the Russians were coming in 1941. Though his would be from Kybartai. He was hiding out at the time from the Russians, after having offended some troops, but he managed to board the train the last minute and hook up with his family on it. From there they resettled in Germany (out of the frying pan into the fire, or out of the fire, into another fire)
      I will look for your book “The Last Train Out”….sounds great… all the best from Toronto, Canada!

  2. My father’s father left Lithuania in 1890, age 20, and immediately made his way to Philadelphia, married and had six children, five BEFORE WW1. I always bragged about him for this, never knowing the horrors he beat by a decade or two, not to mention WWII.

  3. Great read…thanks for sharing!

  4. This article is fascinating. My father was a DP and married a German. They came to US in 1949, being sponsored by an aunt.
    Many things they would not talk about. This information needs to be told. Thank you!

  5. Another great article! Thank you so much!

  6. I am trying to find information on my grandfather Vincas Petruzis born 1923 Alytus/Daugai, His father were Bernardas.

    Vincas were a DP in Bocholt camp western Germany then came to UK 1946/47.

    we do not know his family heritage please help

    email any information to

    thank you

  7. Superb reading. Explains the situation with such details which my parents “could not” remember or want to discuss. My parents came from Vilkaviskis too. Thank you.

  8. I am researching my late father from Telsiai. He was born in 1927 and came to the uk after WW2. He ended up in Gloucestershire. I am struggling to find any details of his time in Germany. His name was Jonas Slepertas altough this might not be the true spelling

  9. Very interesting. Thank you. I went to Maria High School.

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