Lithuanian diaspora: countries, numbers, waves | True Lithuania
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Lithuanian diaspora

Lithuanians are among the nations that have emigrated the most. Some 2-3 million people may have left Lithuania in the past two centuries, almost as many as there are inhabitants in Lithuania today. Due to intermarriages, some 6 million people worldwide may have at least a single great-great-grandparent from Lithuania by now.

This Lithuanian diaspora did not simply dissipate: it has built massive churches and club palaces, established century-lasting organizations and traditions, and, essentially, became "the other Lithuania" that had to be reckoned with, constantly replenished by new and new waves of emigration. Many of the key Lithuanian feats were achieved by the diaspora, such as publishing the first Lithuanian-language novel or encyclopedia.

Lithuania's sad history of occupations and persecutions is responsible for much of the emigration, but there were numerous waves and groups of emigrants that had different reasons, goals, and life after emigration. Whether you are a descendent of a Lithuanian emigrant or you seek to understand Lithuania and Lithuanians more these articles will help to learn all the whys and hows.

Numbers and locations of Lithuanian diaspora

Few estimations vary as wildly as those of Lithuanian diaspora numbers. That's because there is no clear definition of who is a Lithuanian and different countries use wildly different measures for statistics, including citizenship, birthplace, native language, ancestry, self-declared identity, etc.

Lithuanian diaspora is easiest to understand as a series of Migration Waves. The members of the same Migration Wave and their descendants have more in common with each other (even if living oceans apart) than they do have in common with the Lithuanians from other waves (even if they migrated to the same city). The Waves are described in the paragraph after this one.

The following liberal geographic estimates include people who are either ethnic Lithuanians, descendants of ethnic Lithuanians with exposure to Lithuanian culture, or Lithuanian citizens, irrespective of their language knowledge, place of birth or diaspora participation. They do not include non-Lithuanians who temporarily resided in Lithuania (e.g. during the Soviet occupation) and then emigrated. With limited data for some countries, some of the estimates still have a big margin of error.

A map of Lithuanian diaspora, each square Lithuanian flag representing 50 000 diaspora members and each smaller flag 10 000

A map of Lithuanian diaspora, each square Lithuanian flag representing 50 000 diaspora members and each smaller flag 10 000

Click on the country names on the table to learn more about Lithuanian heritage there.

Country Number of Lithuanians Comments
United States 650 000 Mostly First wave (pre-1915) and Second wave (~1940s). Mostly New England, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest.
United Kingdom 200 000 Mostly Third wave (post 1990-). Mostly cities.
Brazil 60 000 Mostly interwar migrants (1920s). Mostly Sao Paulo.
Germany 55 000 Mostly Third wave (post-1990)
Norway 50 000 Third wave only (post-2004)
Canada 47 000 Mostly Second wave (~1940s). Mostly Ontario and Montreal.
Argentina 45 000 Mostly interwar migrants (1920s). Mostly Buenos Aires, Beriso, Rosario
Ireland 40 000 Third wave only (post-1990)
Russia 32 000 Mostly Exiles (1940-1953), Soviet-era migrants (1945-1990)
Latvia 30 000 Mostly indigenous communities (near the Lithuanian border), Soviet-era migrants (1945-1990)
Belarus 30 000 Mostly indigenous communities near Lithuanian border, Soviet-era migrants (1945-1990).
Spain 30 000 Third wave only (post-1990)
Denmark 20 000 Third wave only (post-2004)
Sweden 16 000 Third wave only (post-2004)
Poland 15 000 Mostly indigenous communities near the Lithuanian border
Australia 13 000 Mostly Second wave (~1940s). Mostly Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Geelong, Perth.
Uruguay 10 000 Mostly interwar migrants (1920s). Mostly Montevideo.
Kazakhstan 7 000 Mostly Exiles (1940-1953) and Soviet-era migrants (1945-1990). Mostly Karaganda.
Ukraine 7 000 Soviet era migrants (1945-1990) and Third wave
The Netherlands 7 000 Third wave only (post-2004)

The Lithuanian emigration waves

Lithuania's emigration waves were so different from each other that they are the most important groupings of Lithuanian emigrants.

Destinations, periods, ethnicities, professions greatly depend(ed) on the wave with which the person has left Lithuania.

*Indigenous Lithuanians abroad. This part of the Lithuanian diaspora has never emigrated: they live in the same Lithuanian areas and villages their families lived for centuries and millenniums. However, 20th-century politics meant that these villages were not included in the Republic of Lithuania, being awarded to Russia, Poland, Belarus, or Latvia instead.

*Pre-modern emigration (before 1865). Before mid-19th century, migration was only accessible to Lithuania's elite. They left to rule far-away lands of Grand Duchy of Lithuania, left for international noble marriages, missionary duties, or escaped political enemies - yet they were so few in numbers they quickly assimilated in the regions they went to (or assimilated into the local Polish or German communities). Sometimes they left traces in stones - but little traces in local culture.

*First wave (1865-1915). A.k.a. "Grynoriai". At the time Lithuania was ruled by the Russian Empire which enacted discriminatory policies, was economically backward and left Lithuania undeveloped on purpose. Avoiding discrimination and seeking economic opportunities Lithuanians (mostly peasants) thus emigrated in larger numbers than ever before with some 700 000 leaving, most of them to the USA where they would work in the industry and mines. They established entire "colonies" abroad that included Lithuanian churches, club palaces, businesses. Lithuanian language and culture lingered for over a century in some of them, and the heritage still remains in many more.

*Interwar Lithuania emigration (1915-1939). While 1918 Lithuanian independence quenched the anti-Lithuanian discrimination back home and kick-started the economy, Lithuania still had a lot to catch up. Some Lithuanians (~100 000) did not wait and emigrated instead: as the USA was by then effectively closed to immigration, most have chosen South America or Canada, creating smaller versions of "First wave" Lithuanian "colonies" there. This minor wave of emigration was cut short by the 1929 Great Depression that ravaged the western economy more than that of Lithuania. Furthermore, during this period many of the pre-1915 Russian Imperial settlers emigrated to their own countries.

*The Exiles (1940-1953). Considered to be the most tragic part of recent Lithuanian history, they were a part of genocide. Soviets expelled some 350 000 to Russia's most inhospitable lands. Many of them died due to forced labor, malnutrition, and cold, leaving little trace behind them. A smaller number was also expelled to concentration camps by Nazi Germany in the 1941-1944 period.

*Second wave (~1944). A.k.a. "DPs", "Displaced persons", "WW2 refugees", "Soviet Genocide refugees". As Soviet armies invaded in 1944, many Lithuanians knew they were targets of the Soviet Genocide and so fled for their lives, mostly westwards. After several years spent in refugee camps, they would spread across key Western nations (mainly the USA, Canada, and Australia). Numbering at 70 000, the Second Wave was smaller in numbers than the First Wave, it left as big a mark on Lithuanian history because many second-wavers were patriots who would have never left Lithuania in other circumstances, so they worked hard to recreate a piece of Lithuania in their new homelands, keeping the Lithuanian language and culture alive and vehemently campaigning for Lithuania's freedom. Many of them were also intellectuals, launching the Lithuanian-styled arts, architecture, and sciences abroad.

Lithuanians DPs in a ship which moves them from refugee camps in Germany to a new world (left image). They later established cohesive communities, such as the one centered around this new (1950s) Nativity BVM church in Marquette Park, Chicago (right image).

*Emigration from Soviet Lithuania (1945-1990). Emigration from the Soviet Union was nearly banned, making the number of emigrants low despite some of the most horrible living conditions in Lithuanian history. Non-ethnic-Lithuanians, however, were often allowed to emigrate to their titular homelands and some 250 000 of them did (most of Lithuania's Jews emigrated to Israel, many Poles to Poland and Germans to Germany). There were also movie-scenario-like stories of escapes and infiltrations. Emigration to other parts of the Soviet Union was allowed (sometimes even encouraged) for all ethnicities, however, few Lithuanians wanted it.

*Modern emigration or the Third wave (1990-). The current and largest wave of Lithuanian emigration. As European Union membership allowed free and uncontrolled emigration to Western Europe, almost a million Lithuanians (over a quarter of the total population) used up the opportunity to leave their Soviet-ravaged homeland for larger salaries of the West. Most of them settled in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway, Spain, and Germany. Furthermore, many of the Soviet settlers departed for their historic homelands.

Note: this classification into three waves is the prevalent one in Lithuanian historiography and Lithuanian words such as "antrabangiai", "trečiabangiai" (second-waver, third-waver) are understood in the diaspora. There are alternative classifications, however, e.g. one with five waves, considering Interwar and Soviet migrations as separate waves. However, these migrations are more correctly seen as low-points of emigration from Lithuania between the "waves" (high-points).

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First wave of Lithuanian emigration (1865-1915)

The first massive emigration wave in Lithuanian history (1865-1915) had truly epic proportions.

Some 20-30% of Lithuanians then fled their country which was ruled by a discriminatory and economically backward Russian Empire. They established their "colonies", churches, and organizations across several continents. These emigrants were also called “grynoriai” and it was they who launched the Lithuanian diaspora. Most of the people searching for their heritage in Lithuania these days descend from "grynoriai" and this article helps to understand why they did leave, how did they live, and what they leave after them.

The majority of first-wave emigrants were Catholic Lithuanians. However, there were sizeable minority groups that also emigrated from Lithuania at this time (Jews, Poles, Germans). Where their experiences differed from the majority, they are explained as special cases.

Why did Lithuanians emigrate in the 19th century and before World War 1 (1865-1915)?

At the time, Lithuania was under the rule of the Russian Empire. Lithuanians were heavily persecuted and the Lithuanian language was banned while males could be drafted into the Russian army for 12 years, essentially extinguishing their youth and possibly life.

Furthermore, until 1861 most ethnic Lithuanians were considered serfs – a slave-like property of local nobles for whom they performed forced labor. While serfdom was abolished in the 1860s and Lithuanians gained freedom of movement, there was no land reform to give them land which remained in the hands of the mostly non-Lithuanian nobles.

Thirdly, the Russian Empire decided not to develop industry in Lithuania, making non-agricultural jobs scarce. Moreover, even most of the non-agricultural jobs that existed were inaccessible to ethnic Lithuanians: government jobs were reserved for Russians, while most businesses were owned by non-ethnic-Lithuanians who prefered to recruit employees from their own ethnic groups (at the time, nearly all Lithuania's cities were minority-majority, with Jews, Poles, Russians, and/or Germans outnumbering ethnic Lithuanians who were just starting to move in from the villages they were forced to live at as serfs). This meant that, for many ethnic Lithuanians, emigration was the best or even the only option to make a living.

The main reasons for emigration were thus (1)Earning money (for those who inherited no land), (2)Avoiding drafts, (3)Avoiding persecution.

A Lithuanian postcard of Kražiai massacre when Russian cossacks massacred Lithuanian Catholics who were defending their church from closure. An example of anti-Lithuanian discrimination that pushed people from Lithuania

A Lithuanian postcard of Kražiai massacre when Russian cossacks massacred Lithuanian Catholics who were defending their church from closure. An example of anti-Lithuanian discrimination that pushed people from Lithuania

Special cases: minorities. In addition to ethnic Lithuanians, many of Lithuania’s Jews, Poles, and Germans also left. While their social standing in Lithuania was typically above that of many Lithuanians (they were never serfs), there were still forms of discrimination directed particularly at them. Furthermore, unlike ethnic Lithuanians, ethnic minorities (especially the Jews) had less of a reason to stay as Lithuania was culturally as alien as the USA to many of them.

Special cases: Lithuania Minor. A significant part of Lithuania, known as Lithuania Minor, was ruled until 1945 by Germany rather than by Russia. There, serfdom did not exist and emigration started in the 1840s. However, the numbers of these Lithuanians were smaller; many passed as Germans.

Lithuania ~1900 - the one the First Wave has left. This simplified map shows (in black) the boundary between Russia and Germany that used to divide the Lithuanian ethnic areas into a Russian-ruled Lithuania-proper and German-ruled Lithuania Minor. Also, it shows the three main linguistic divisions of people of Lithuanian origin at the time: the ethnically Lithuanian areas where Lithuanian language still predominated, the ethnically Lithuanian areas where Slavic (mostly Polish) language predominated ~1900 and those where the German language predominated. The map is a simplification, however, as, even in the Lithuanian-speaking areas there were Polish-speaking Lithuanians (especially among the elite), while even in the Polish- or German-speaking areas there were also many Lithuanian speakers. Many people spoke multiple of these languages. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

How many people emigrated from Lithuania between 1865 and 1915?

Some 700 000 people left Lithuania in this era, making this the second-largest emigration wave from Lithuania ever (after the Third Wave).

Where did people from Lithuania emigrate in 1865-1915?

Most (~350 000) emigrated to the USA. Mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes, and New England industrial cities, mining areas of Pennsylvania and Illinois. In 1915, most of the Lithuanian-Americans lived in Pennsylvania (27,7%), Illinois (18,7%), New York (15%), and Massachusetts (14,7%). The two key areas of Lithuanian settlement were Chicagoland and the Pennsylvania Coal Region, each housing some 100 000 Lithuanian-Americans. At the time, immigration to America was essentially unrestricted: only a few percents who were deemed health hazards or too frail to work would not be admitted. Still, emigration to the USA was an expensive and difficult undertaking. With no direct shipping routes from Lithuania to America, the migrants had first to get to major European ports (e.g. by railways): not an easy task for mostly illiterate peasants who spoke no Western languages. At the beginning of the First Wave (~1870-1880s), emigration from the Russian Empire was even illegal, leading to possible problems with corrupt officials, scammers, and others en-route. Back then, emigration may have involved walking on foot to a larger town, then traveling by horse carriage in a multiple-leg journey to a port city likely somewhere in Germany. But by the early 20th century, emigration grew increasingly regularized with "packages" being sold, more shipping routes established, and railways becoming common in and around Lithuania.

Lithuanian churches in the USA marked by red symbols. Nearly all of them have been established by the first wave, this map closely showing where this wave emigrated to

Lithuanian churches in the USA marked by red symbols. Nearly all of them have been established by the first wave, this map closely showing where this wave emigrated to in the USA

Much smaller numbers (~20 000) went to the key cities of the UK, Canada, Argentina, and Brazil.

Significant numbers (~330 000) also went to other areas of the Russian Empire, mainly the industrial and educational centers such as Saint Petersburg, Riga, Warsaw, Kyiv, and Odesa. ~100 000 of them went to what is now Latvia. A minority ended up in villages where they were attracted by cheap land. All these people often emigrated by railroads.

Ellis Island museum of immigration

Ellis Island immigrant registration facility of New York passed by most of the America-bound Lithuanians. They would spend weeks in the third class of transatlantic vessels to see the mighty skyline of New York and disembark here for the final decision of acceptance

How did the pre-WW1 Lithuanian emigrants live after emigration?

Most of them worked in industries and mines. The jobs were hard, long, and dangerous yet they still trumped what was available back in Lithuania.

Outside of work, they formed self-sufficient communities. In each “free” city with more Lithuanians (nearly all of those were in the USA), they would build a Lithuanian church that served as a community hub. Church buildings or building complexes typically included event halls for secular and ethnic activities as well as a school for immigrant children, staffed by Lithuanian nuns, who would also care for the sick and widows. Some 10-20 years after the establishment, as the community grew and salaries grew as well, the “temporary” church would be replaced by a larger permanent one, with even more premises.

Holy Cross Lithuanian church in Chicago (Back of the Yards)

Holy Cross Lithuanian church in Chicago stockyards districts, one of the largest Lithuanian churches in America. It is surrounded by other buildings of the parish that served the community

Around every Lithuanian church, a Lithuanian district would develop as Lithuanians would try to live at a location from where they could easily walk to all the Lithuanian activities taking place in the church. Such a district would have many Lithuanian businesses and in many such districts, the English language was not needed for life.

The cast of 1910 performance Kęstutis based on the history of Lithuania, as acted by Worcester (MA) Lithuanians

The cast of 1910 performance Kęstutis based on the history of Lithuania, as acted by Worcester (MA) Lithuanians

These districts were also large markets for Lithuanian goods. The relative wealth and significant freedom in America allowed the first wave of Lithuanian emigrants to perform deeds not possible back in contemporary Russian-ruled Lithuania. They had the world's first Lithuanian language novel published. They operated the biggest-circulation Lithuanian newspaper in the world at the time. They were the first ones to organize Lithuanian-language theater troupes. They established some of the first Lithuanian orchestras and, aided by America's technological advancement, made the first Lithuanian musical records. Technologies such as photography, film, or pianolas were far more widespread there than in contemporary Lithuania, leaving more historical media documents from the US Lithuanian communities than from Lithuania itself.

Shenandoah Lithuanian orchestra

Shenandoah Lithuanian orchestra

At that time back in Lithuania, literally every ethnic Lithuanian was religious (some 90% Catholic and 10% Lutheran). After emigrating, however, some became accustomed to radical leftist ideas in their new workplaces. Up to 10% of Lithuanian first wavers could have joined leftist movements and abandoned religion. These atheists would establish Lithuanian Halls or Clubs, often as an alternative to Lithuanian parishes. There, only secular activities would take place. As the number of atheists was lower, such secular clubs existed only in major communities and were typically smaller than the churches there. In addition to leftist/socialist Lithuanian clubs, there were nationalist Lithuanian clubs that, although did not deny religion, saw ethnicity as more important than religion and so disliked the internationalizing and foreign-control factors of the Roman Catholic church. Typically all the Lithuanian clubs were located not far away from the Lithuanian church, as they were established in the already-existing Lithuanian districts.

Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society members posing with their uniforms (image from the Society's heritage rooms)

Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society of Grand Rapids members posing with their uniforms before World War 1. They considered themselves Lithuanian lancers and would march in Grand Rapids and were associated with the nationalist line (image from the Society's heritage rooms)

Another major division was that between “Lithuanists” and “Polonists” which had been imported from Lithuania itself. In Lithuania, for centuries, the Lithuanian language and culture were regarded to be lower in status than Polish; the Lithuanian language was little used outside of family conversations. During the late 19th century, however, a national revival was sweeping Lithuania: Lithuanians sought to use the Lithuanian language for all the spheres of life (including culture, science, religion, and literature). That had repercussions in America where, back in the 1870s-1880s, Lithuanian-speaking Lithuanians, Polish-speaking Lithuanians, and Poles would often form parishes together (with Polish as the main language) but, as the Lithuanian national revival went on, Lithuanians would often break away to form Lithuanian-language parishes (1890s and later), sometimes leading into bitter conflicts over the property of the once-joint organizations. A minority of Lithuanian-Americans opposed this “Lithuanization”. They remained in Polish organizations and eventually ceased to consider themselves Lithuanian(-American)s.

Due to such multilingualism in Lithuania, it used to be the norm to translate one's name just as any other word (e.g. call oneself "Michał" when speaking Polish and "Mykolas" when speaking Lithuanian). Moreover, there was no standard Lithuanian orthography yet. As such, after emigration, even relatives often ended up with very different last names: some took Lithuanian versions (in various orthographies), some took Polish versions, and some tried to anglicize their names. Some names were misheard by the officials and written down incorrectly (most of the First Wavers were illiterate and couldn't write their names down themselves). As such, few of the last names used by First Wave emigrants after emigration (and their descendants today) are exactly like those that exist in Lithuania itself (this is in contrast to the later Lithuanian emigration waves).

A graves of Bočkauskas family in Mahanoy City illustrates the Polonist-Lituanist divide of the era. While the main gravestone has the surname written in Polish (Boczkowski), the grave of Dominikas Boczkauskas, a publisher of the largest Lithuanian newspaper at the time, has the same surname written in pre-modern Lithuanian (Boczkauskas).

Graves of Bočkauskas family in Mahanoy City illustrates the Polonist-Lituanist divide of the era. While the main gravestone has the surname written in Polish (Boczkowski), the grave of Dominykas Boczkauskas, a publisher of the largest Lithuanian newspaper at the time, has the same surname written in pre-modern Lithuanian (Boczkauskas).

For social security, Lithuanian insurance communities were established. Within some 10-30 years, as more and more Lithuanians died, Lithuanian parishes and some Lithuanian clubs acquired their own land lots to be used as Lithuanian cemeteries so that even after death Lithuanians could be buried next to other Lithuanians. This tradition was limited to the USA, especially Pennsylvania, Illinois, New England, and New York, however.

Lithuanian-American cemeteries map. All of them were established by the First Wave emigrants, with the exception of Toronto one

Lithuanian-American cemeteries map. All of them were established by the First Wave emigrants, with the exception of Toronto one

Given that much of Lithuanian activity used to take place within the emigrant community and many even never learned other languages or naturalized, they would often marry other Lithuanians even after emigration and thus have Lithuanian families. As more men than women did emigrate at first, it was common for them to invite their wives, sweethearts, or other women from Lithuania. They typically spoke Lithuanian with kids although often wanted the kids to learn the local language as best as possible (i.e. typically English).

Detroit Lithuanian Hall

Detroit Lithuanian Hall. Many of such halls were established by leftists

A certain part of pre-WW1 emigrants would move again after initial emigration, seeking better economic opportunities. Those who emigrated to countries other than the USA gradually moved to the USA. In the USA itself, there was a movement from mining towns to new industrial centers (e.g. Upstate New York, Detroit). Typically, Lithuanians would move there in large numbers and once again create a Lithuanian church and/or clubs.

Many Lithuanian-Americans would send money back to Lithuania, supporting their relatives there. Many would also invite their siblings and more distant relatives to America, growing the Lithuanian communities that way.

As the independence of Lithuania began seeming real ~1914, Lithuanian emigrants would support the pro-independence activities financially. After Lithuania became independent in 1918, they would invest in Lithuania. Some third of Lithuanian-Americans actually returned back to Lithuania, often buying land there for money they earned in the USA. Such “return” peaked after the 1918 independence.

The first wave Lithuanian-Americans campaign for the liberty of Lithuania in the 1910s.

Among those who didn't "return" to Lithuania, however, only a minority would ever visit it again. They may have wanted to but a transatlantic voyage at the time meant many days of shipboard travel time at a cost of numerous monthly salaries. Journeying back to Lithuania, in terms of time and costs, could be compared to taking a several-month-long cruise around the world today. Thus, unless their relatives also emigrated, most of the First Wavers would never see them again, keeping correspondence by mail alone.

Special cases: minorities. Jews, Poles or Germans who emigrated from Lithuania at this time would not see themselves as Lithuanians at all but simply as Jews, Poles or Germans (e.g. Jewish-Americans, Polish-Americans, German-Americans but not Lithuanian-Americans). Thus, they did not join the Lithuanian communities or organizations but rather integrated into the wider communities and organizations of Poles, Jews, or Germans in the area. They also nearly never returned to Lithuania.

This was understandable at that time as, in the pre-WW1 Lithuania, minorities typically did not speak Lithuanian or know Lithuanian culture and lived very separate and different lives from the ethnic Lithuanian majority. It was the ethnicity/language/religion rather than citizenship or birthplace that defined a person at the time (the citizenship was Russian and no community except for ethnic Russians actually identified with it).

At least 30 000 Jews left Lithuania in this era, while the numbers of Lithuania's Poles and Germans are not researched.

Special cases: emigrants to other Russian Imperial cities Lithuanians who emigrated to other Russian Imperial cities (Riga, Saint Petersburg, Tbilisi, Kyiv, Warsaw) also established businesses and organizations but failed to build churches or club palaces for several reasons: (1)This was limited by the discriminatory policies of the Russian Empire (2)Their incomes were smaller (3)They were much more likely planning to come back after either earning money or getting an education. Indeed, nearly all of the Lithuanians who emigrated to other Russian-ruled lands at this time returned after 1918 Lithuanian independence, extinguishing Lithuanian communities in places such as Russia or Georgia and reducing the Lithuanian community in Latvia by two-thirds. In 1920-1922 the Russian Soviet revolution essentially rendered Russia unliveable.

Lithuanian choir of Liepaja, Latvia (then Russian Empire). Even where no Lithuanian buildings were constructed, Lithuanian choirs were an important pillar of ethnic activities

Lithuanian choir of Liepaja, Latvia (then Russian Empire). Even where no Lithuanian buildings were constructed, Lithuanian choirs were an important pillar of ethnic activities

Unlike in the West where nearly all Lithuanian emigrants were blue-collar, some Lithuanian intellectuals also moved to other Russian Imperial cities. That's because the closure of Vilnius University (1832) left Lithuania without higher education opportunities, the closest universities being in places such as Saint Petersburg or Kyiv. Such intellectuals almost invariably returned to Lithuania after studies or a brief pre-1918 career.

How did the children and grandchildren of first-wave Lithuanian emigrants live?

In the main clusters of Lithuanian-Americans, so-called “Lithuanian colonies”, the childhoods of Lithuanian-American children culturally resembled childhoods in Lithuania.

They went to a Lithuanian mass in a Lithuanian church with their parents, they went to Lithuanian parish schools. Often there were enough Lithuanians in the area to have a Lithuanian-speaking group of friends. Many of them learned English only in their late childhood or teenage years.

Memorial plaque for Little Lithuania in Shenandoah

Memorial plaque for Little Lithuania in Pennsylvania's Southern Coal Region where numerous villages and towns still have a Lithuanian ancestry percentage at 10%, 20% or more.

Often, they would marry other Lithuanians as a Lithuanian-centered social life meant the likelihood of falling in love with a non-Lithuanian girl or boy was lower. Also, the parents still often opposed interethnic marriages.

Still, there was always a slow “cultural trickle” out of the Lithuanian community. The children who grew up in less-Lithuanian areas and went to non-Lithuanian-parish schools often integrated into the non-Lithuanian-speaking community, as they were often even bullied for speaking Lithuanian. Also, there were some Lithuanian-Americans who tried to speak English to their children as they believed that was beneficial to them, especially in the less Lithuanian areas. Despite this, many English-native-speaking (grand)sons or (grand)daughters of Lithuanian immigrants who lived in the “Lithuanian colonies” would still consider themselves Lithuanians.

South Pittsburgh St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Massive Lithuanian churches such as South Pittsburgh St. Casimir were grounds for not only marriage rites but also for meeting your husband, wife, and friends

Until World War 2, many Lithuanian churches added English masses to accommodate those who spoke better English than Lithuanian. While some parishioners would go to that English mass, very few would leave a Lithuanian church altogether. The high birth rates meant that any Lithuanians who “left the community for good” were well replaced by new Lithuanians well into the 20th century.

After Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, many first wavers Lithuanian communities supported its cause. Arguably, their biggest achievement was inviting tens of thousands of Lithuanian Soviet Genocide refugees (the "second wave") to immigrate into the old Lithuanian "colonies", providing them initial financial support and accommodation. In many cases, they would be helping distant relatives whom they never seen before, yet in other cases, first wave Lithuanian-American organizations invited thousands of completely unknown-to-them Lithuanian refugees.

While these refugees rejuvenated and expanded the old Lithuanian colonies and parishes, many first wavers were surprised by how different the recent arrivals were from them. Back in Lithuania, two decades of independence (1918-1940) had established consensuses on the "best" forms of Lithuanian language, Lithuanian art, Lithuanian culture, Lithuanian intellectualism and Lithuanian patriotism. While all these were almost axiomatic to the DP refugees, they were little known to the first wavers whose families had never experienced living in a sovereign Lithuanian nation. As such, there was arguably less intermingling between the DPs and the first wavers than could have been expected.

This small Omaha Lithuanian parish invited some 2000 Lithuanian refugees after World War 2, allowing them to sleep in the church basement

This small Omaha Lithuanian parish invited some 2000 Lithuanian refugees after World War 2, allowing them to sleep in the church basement

The true destruction of the first wave Lithuanian-American communities came ~1960, and typically this was the time when the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the original immigrants were growing up. The key reasons were white flight and public welfare.

Public welfare made the Lithuanian parish schools redundant as Lithuanians could send their children to public schools for free. Educated there among non-Lithuanian pals, the children would not really be able to communicate well in Lithuanian. One after another, the Lithuanian parish schools closed down ~1960s-1980s. Likewise, the Lithuanian insurance institutions became redundant as well.

Waterbury Lithuanian school entrance adorned by Vytis

Waterbury Lithuanian school entrance adorned by Vytis. The building has been abandoned and sometimes rented out to non-Lithuanian events

Yet it was the white flight and racial riots that really killed these Lithuanian communities. Most of the Lithuanian districts and institutions were in the inner cities of the US rust belt. Blacks moved into these districts ~1960s and the crime rates soared there. Lithuanians felt forced to leave to the suburbs but nowhere they would create a “Lithuanian suburb”, spreading across tens or hundreds of miles of suburbia instead. Not having fellow Lithuanian neighbors, they no longer had the need to talk in Lithuanian or the possibility to easily participate in Lithuanian activities.

Often, at least some of the “children” and “grandchildren” generations (who were adults in the 1960s) continued to go to the original Lithuanian clubs and parishes despite no longer living in the area, but the generations who grew up away from there nearly never did. The organizations, therefore, began “dying out” ~1980s. For example, the majority of Lithuanian-American parishes built by the “first wave” were closed down or became non-Lithuanian in the 1980s-2000s.

Lithuanian Ss. Peter and Paul church during demolition

Lithuanian Ss. Peter and Paul church during demolition in Westville, Illinois

~2000 the popularity of genealogical research, however, made some descendants of the first wavers rediscover their heritage, although their connection with that heritage is different: rarely they would learn the language or traditions, but rather study family stories and visit the sights of their immigrant (great) grandparents' childhoods. Interestingly, some Poles and Jews have also joined this trend: they would consider themselves as having a Lithuanian heritage if their forefathers came from Lithuania, even though those Jewish or Polish forefathers would have never actually considered themselves Lithuanians. That‘s because in modern-day America it is the location forefathers emigrated from that matters in establishing ancestry (rather than ethnicity, the most important piece of identity in Lithuania of ~1900).

Decades after the closure of Rumford ME Lithuanian club building, grandsons/granddaughters of immigrants have reestablished Lithuanian organization which now organizes annual picnics

Decades after the closure of Rumford ME Lithuanian club building, grandsons/granddaughters of immigrants have reestablished Lithuanian organization which now organizes annual picnics

Special case: smaller USA towns (especially the Pennsylvanian Coal Region) In some towns (especially Pennsylvania, Illinois) Lithuanians made up 10% or more of the population. There, the white flight did not happen. As such, the Lithuanian institutions survived, still populated by the descendants of first-wave emigrants. Hotly-contested church consolidation closed most of the churches, but the clubs remained, although gradually they would begin accepting non-Lithuanians and some of them lost association with the Lithuanian culture, except for their name and history.

Mount Carmel Lithuanian club

Mount Carmel Lithuanian club in Pennsylvania, open since 1926

What heritage the first wave of Lithuanian emigration has left behind?

Some 80 massive Lithuanian churches built by this generation still stand in the USA, as well as tens of club palaces and some 50 cemeteries.

Most cemeteries are still operational (albeit mostly no longer Lithuanian-only), however, most of the churches are now closed, except for those located in the main cities that have been joined by the later immigrant groups.

One of the entrances to the Westville Lithuanian cemetery

One of the entrances to the Westville Lithuanian cemetery, still cared for by the Lithuanian descendants in this 3000-strong town

The full online map of Lithuanian heritage in the USA is located here.

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Interwar Lithuanian emigrants (1920s-1930s)

While 1918 stemmed much of the Lithuanian emigration, it continued for a while, establishing unique Lithuanian communities mostly in Latin America.

Why did Lithuanians emigrate in 1920s and 1930s?

While Lithuania became independent in 1918 and the discriminatory policies of the Russian Empire ceased, the repercussions of that occupation remained for a while: Lithuania was poor, left without industry, and recently damaged in World War 1 and the Wars of independence. Lithuanian economy thus lagged behind the American countries that did not have a recent war or occupation on their soil. Thus, in order to become richer, some Lithuanians continued to emigrate even after independence, although the numbers were much smaller than before World War 1, when reasons for emigration were both economical and political.

Additionally, in 1926, Lithuania suffered a coup when a leftist government was replaced by president Smetona’s rightist regime, this encouraging emigration of numerous leftist Lithuanians.

An advertisement in Lithuania advertising emigration to South America

An advertisement in Lithuania advertising emigration to South America

The interwar emigration almost ceased after 1930, as the economic situation in Lithuania itself improved while America was hit by the global crisis, rendering the economic difference between Lithuania and America too small to be worth the great costs, hassle, and risks emigration poised at the time. Moreover, Smetona‘s regime did not turn fascist, as some leftists may have feared, and continued benevolently until being cut short by the Soviet occupation in 1940.

A typical Lithuanian emigration bureau in a Lithuanian city. At this time, emigration became a planned affair with even a Law on Emigration drafted. Lithuanians would typically get a complete service of traveling from Vilnius to a place of emigration, combining trains and ships, and this was a more orderly affair now

A typical Lithuanian emigration bureau in a Lithuanian city. At this time, emigration became a planned affair with even a Law on Emigration drafted. Lithuanians would typically get complete service of traveling from Vilnius to a place of emigration, combining trains and ships, and this was a more orderly affair for interwar emigrants than it was for the First Wave

Special case: Russian Imperial settlers In 1915, hundreds of thousands of Lithuanian population were Russian settlers: non-Lithuanian people who came to live in Lithuania because of the policies of the Russian Empire. Some of them were Russian soldiers and officials. Others were regular people who were encouraged to move to Lithuania to dilute the local ethnic majority (they were mostly ethnic Russians or Jews; Russia's Jews were banned from settling in much of the Russian Empire, forcing them to settle in Lithuania and a few other lands).

As the Russian grip of Lithuania was lost, these settlers suddenly found themselves in a strange land. Lithuanian language was to replace Russian in the official sphere (and they mostly spoke no Lithuanian). The jobs for soldiers and officials of the massive empire were suddenly gone. The land was to be redistributed from those Russians who had been given it by the Russian Empire after the Empire took it from Lithuanians.

Given such developments, many of the Russian settlers chose to leave. Because neither they nor their ancestors ever were citizens of any Lithuanian country (and they didn't consider themselves Lithuanians or practiced Lithuanian culture), these people are not considered part of the Lithuanian interwar emigration. They are seen as subjects of the Russian Empire and they mostly never emigrated from the Russian Empire: instead, they retreated from Lithuania together with their empire.

A map of interwar Lithuania (i.e. the Lithuania the Interwar emigrants left) with some additional information for clarity. In addition to the areas held by Lithuania throughout the whole 1918-1940 period, there was Klaipėda Region that Lithuania contolled in years 1923-1939 only and Vilnius Region that Lithuania claimed throughout the period but actually controlled only partly and only in years 1918-1920 and 1939-1940, as it was occupied by Poland for most of the period

How many people emigrated from Lithuania in 1918-1940?

Some 100 000.

The emigration began to be thoroughly registered in 1926. During the 1926-1930 "minor wave", ~60 000 people left Lithuania.

In comparison, during the entire next decade (1931-1939), only ~10 000 did emigrate.

Some 30 000 may have left Lithuania in 1918-1925.

Special case: Russian Imperial settlers The Russian Imperial settlers who left Lithuania ~1915-1920 are not included in these numbers. Some 70 000 Russians and 70 000 Jews may have left Lithuania at the time.

Where did these people emigrate from Lithuania in 1920s-1930s?

The statistics for 1926-1939 period:

USA (Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, New England) - 30%
Brazil (especially Sao Paulo) – 24%
Argentina (especially Buenos Aires, Rosario, Beriso) – 16%
Canada (especially Delhi area) – 8%
Uruguay (especially Montevideo) – 4%

"Immigrant hotels" were the institutions in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay where immigrants would temporarily live in crowded conditions until employers would pick them up for job. This room is recreated in Sao Paulo museum of immigration

"Immigrant hotels" were the institutions in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay where immigrants would temporarily live in crowded conditions until employers would pick them up for job. This room is recreated in Sao Paulo museum of immigration

While the United States would have still been a preferred place to emigrate to, the United States had limited immigration from Eastern Europe, making Lithuanians seek for the „next best thing“ (unless they had relatives in the USA). At the time, Argentina and Uruguay were industrial countries on-par with Europe in terms of economy, and not damaged by World War 1. Brazil seemed attractive for its cheap land. Some of the uneducated migrants actually failed to differentiate different American lands believing all America was as rich.

Special case: Jews Jews from Lithuania often also went to Palestine (following the Zionist ideas to build a Jewish homeland there; 5% of total emigration) or South Africa (for no particular reason save for the fact that Jews who emigrated before would tell other Jews about the site; 7% of total emigration).

Special case: Russian Imperial settlers Most of the Russian Imperial settlers emigrated to Russia where they were offered citizenship as per the Lithuania-Russia treaty.

How did the interwar Lithuanian emigrants live after emigrating?

Depending on the location of emigration, they worked either in the industry (in the cities) or agriculture (Brazilian and Canadian countryside). Over time, some Lithuanians drifted from the villages to the cities.

In the USA, Lithuanians generally joined the older Lithuanian-American communities and parishes, as they were typically invited to the USA by Lithuanians who emigrated earlier and thus came to the cities where communities have already existed.

In Canada and Latin America, however, Lithuanians had to establish new parishes and organizations. Their wages were not as good as those in the USA and so they were unable to build massive churches or clubhouses as in the First wave did in the USA.

Lithuanian buildings thus appeared only in the key cities and were relatively modest. Lithuanian clubs were the main hub of activity where the Lithuanians would meet, sing the Lithuanian songs, celebrate the Lithuanian festivals. However, where they existed, Lithuanian immigrants would typically marry other Lithuanians and live the Lithuanian way.

Uruguay Lithuanians celebrate 15th years of establishing their club

Uruguay Lithuanians celebrate 15th anniversary of establishing their club

Numerous Lithuanian emigrants thought about returning to Lithuania after earning enough money. Some were disillusioned with their "new homeland", especially the Lithuanian-Brazilians: Brazil proved to be not richer than Lithuania itself. Some broke emigrants were even "returned to their homeland" for free by Lithuania as a form of humanitarian assistance.

The emigrants who remained abroad were also supported by the Republic of Lithuania which saw them as a kind of „reserve Lithuania“ where Lithuanian culture could thrive despite dangers in Europe. In order to achieve this, the Republic of Lithuania created Lithuanian schools for the children of these emigrants. That „cultural lifeline“ was quickly lost as Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940.

Lithuanian-Brazilian Union building, originally serving as a Lithuanian school for Sao Paulo Lithuanians. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The Lithuanian church establishment in Canada and Latin America was also precluded by the fact that a significant part of these emigrants were leftists and thus refused to support church construction works. Lithuanian churches were often funded by the Lithuanians from the USA and most of them were constructed only after World War 2, staffed by priests from the First-wave Lithuanian-American communities or those who newly fled from Lithuania during World War 2 (Second (DP) Wave of emigration).

 Buenos Aires Lithuanian church

Buenos Aires Lithuanian church, finally opened in 1942

The leftist-and-poor Lithuanian emigrants in Latin America proved to be a fertile ground for Soviet propaganda: after occupying Lithuania in the 1940s, Soviet Union organized campaigns among the Lithuanian-Argentines, Lithuanian-Uruguayans, and Lithuanian-Brazilians encouraging them to „return“ to the „now free“ (i.e. communist) homeland, promising them good and rich life. Some agreed, only to discover the real sad situation of Soviet-occupied Lithuania, have the Soviet promises broken and themselves unable to leave back to Latin America.

Until their deaths, the original Lithuanian emigrants, however, remained divided between a pro-Soviet minority (supported by the Soviet Union) and the anti-Soviet majority (supported by Lithuanian-Americans), with the latter gaining the upper hand as the Soviet brutality became well understood worldwide and the earlier drifting into oblivion. Moreover, the pro-Soviet minority would also bear the brunt of the local governments, who were mostly aligned with the USA in the Cold War and thus would crackdown on communists at times.

Lithuanian anti-Soviet protest in Uruguay

Lithuanian anti-Soviet protest in Uruguay ~1965

Special case: Jews They generally integrated into the local Jewish communities without keeping ties to Lithuania or Lithuanians, especially those who left for Palestine and South Africa. After all, the main idea of emigrating to Palestine was to create a Jewish ethnic homeland there; with Palestine seen as the real motherland for worldwide Jewry, any other lands where they previously lived (including Lithuania) were often seen as merely alien temporary homes.

Some of the Jews who left for Brazil, Argentina, or Uruguay, however, kept some ties to Lithuanian organizations there, although only a minority.

Special case: Russian Imperial settlers The former settlers never considered themselves Lithuanian or were attached to Lithuania, so, they quickly integrated into their homelands.

How did the children and grandchildren of the 1920s-1930s Lithuanian emigrants live?

In the rural areas without major Lithuanian concentration, the Lithuanian culture was generally not passed on and dissipated within one or (rarely) two generations. While the original Lithuanian emigrants in that countryside would be visited by Lithuanian missionary priests, for example, their children typically no longer needed that. Mixed families would cut the Lithuanian heritage there altogether.

In the main cities, however, Lithuanians clung around their clubs and churches and often formed Lithuanian families, passing the culture on. The survival of Lithuanian culture was greatly financially supported by the Lithuanian community in the USA after the 1940s, as they saw the then-recent and sizeable Lithuanian community of interwar emigrants as a great reserve force of Lithuanity in the free world.

For example, the Lithuanian-Americans would provide scholarships for Latin America’s Lithuanian children to join the February 16th Lithuanian boarding school in West Germany. There, Lithuanians from all over the free non-communist world studied and, being unable to converse in any other single language, they had to quickly learn Lithuanian.

Materials and collections of the main Lihuanian-Argentine newspaper Argentinos lietuvių balsas, now preserved at the Lithuanian farmstead in Patagonia

Materials and collections of the main Lihuanian-Argentine newspaper Argentinos lietuvių balsas, now preserved at the Lithuanian farmstead in Patagonia

These pupils of February 16th Lithuanian boarding school would become the core of the Lithuanian clubs later on, ensuring the survival of the Lithuanian language and culture there. However, the ranks of such clubs grew scarcer as other immigrant children and grandchildren would form mixed families and leave.

Yet, unlike in the USA, mixed families not necessarily broke the chain of Lithuanian culture transmission in Latin America: indeed, some of the Lithuanian-speaking youth of Latin America’s Lithuanian clubs are only 1/4th or 1/8th Lithuanian. That is because while the USA is a melting pot of different immigrant groups and a “mixed family offspring” typically has 4 or 8 different ethnicities, unable to share affinity among all of them, in Latin America such person would often be of 3/4th or 7/8th “local blood” (with no memory of immigration), making the Lithuanian history a unique and interesting part of heritage with no (or few) other similar alternatives. Furthermore, a relative richness of the countries matters: while for the Americans, roots in Eastern Europe mean roots in a country much poorer and less significant than their new homeland, for Latin Americans, roots anywhere in Europe are roots in a richer and "more influential" area of the world.

Lithuanian folk dancers rehearsing in the Lithuanian Center of Argentina

Young Lithuanian folk dancers rehearsing in the Lithuanian Center of Argentina (2018). This is the grandsons and granddaughters (or even great grandsons / great granddaughters) of the original immigrants

Unlike most other Lithuanian communities, the Interwar Lithuanian communities in Latin America were never replenished by significant new waves of immigration after the 1940s as by the time Third Wave of Lithuanian migration began after 1990, Latin America was too poor to attract any new immigrants. In fact, vice-versa happened: after Lithuania became independent in 1990 and after it became richer than most Latin American countries ~2000, some of the “most culturally Lithuanian” children and grandchildren of the original 1920s-1930s immigrants opted for re-emigration to Lithuania.

After Lithuania joined the European Union in 2004, many non-Lithuanian-speaking Latin Americans who had a single Lithuanian ancestor also began seeking to restore Lithuanian citizenship, however, typically only to emigrate to other EU-members, mainly Spain (for Argentines) or Portugal (for Brazilians), that were already far more culturally acceptable to them than Lithuania.

Members of the Lithuanian club Mindaugas of Beriso, Argentina, in 2019

Members of the Lithuanian club Mindaugas of Beriso, Argentina, in 2019. Almost no Lithuania-born members are left but traditionally they still consider themselves to be 'immigrant clubs'

Special case: Jews The children of Lithuanian Jews who emigrated to South Africa and Israel typically had no relation to Lithuania anymore, as at the time ethnicity was considered more important than nationality and thus they saw more common ground with Jews from elsewhere than with Catholic Lithuanians.

Inside the Litvak (Lithuania's Jewish) syunagogue of Sao Paulo. This is the only synagogue in Latin America that is officially Litvak; in the rest of communities, Jews simply integrated into the general Jewry

Inside the Litvak (Lithuania's Jewish) syunagogue of Sao Paulo. This is the only synagogue in Latin America that is officially Litvak; in the rest of communities, Jews simply integrated into the general Jewry

Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, however, sometimes became more interested in their roots. They see these roots as Lithuanian, as the concept of ethnicity is not well understood in America and it is citizenship (nationality) that is held as important; and, having left Lithuania mostly in the 1920s, their Jewish forefathers were Lithuanian citizens.

The interest grew after the 1990 independence and 2004 when Lithuania joined the European Union. Thousands of these Jews restored Lithuanian citizenship although nearly all of them do not plan to move to Lithuania: instead, they use this citizenship as a gateway into the European Union.

What heritage have the interwar Lithuanian emigrants left behind?

The key cities where they immigrated to (Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rosario) have Lithuanian churches and clubs operating, while Beriso has only clubs.

Bas-relief of club Mindaugas depicts the first Lithuanian Christian king Mindaugas with a cross and a sword

Bas-relief of club Mindaugas depicts the first Lithuanian Christian king Mindaugas with a cross and a sword in club Mindaugas of Beriso, Argentina

The churches are greatly Lithuanian in design but typically hold no Lithuanian mass anymore, despite still often being more or less a center for Lithuanian communities. The clubs, on the other hand, still organize many Lithuanian activities and in some of them, the Lithuanian language still survives well.

A fragment of a stained glass window in Montevideo Lithuanian church

A fragment of a stained glass window in Montevideo Lithuanian church

The districts around the Lithuanian churches and clubs are still noticeably Lithuanian, with numerous Lithuanians living there, perpetuating Lithuanian activities. The most Lithuanian district that derives solely from the interwar emigration from Lithuania is Vila Zelina in Sao Paulo.

Arguably the largest achievement of the interwar Lithuanian emigrants and their children is Lituanika, a unique Lithuanian village in the midst of Brazil with some 60 homesteads, a Lithuanian chapel, and public buildings.

Lituanika Lithuanian village entrance near Sao Paulo

Lituanika Lithuanian village entrance near Sao Paulo

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Lithuanian exiles and deportations (1940-1953)

In 1940, the Soviet Union has occupied Lithuania, launching the Soviet Genocide.

While tens of thousands of people were killed outright by the Soviets, it was the Exiles that became the face of the tragedy. In the Exiles, entire families would be put into cattle carriages and moved to prisons and villages in the least hospitable parts of the Soviet Union. Some half died there because of executions, cold weather, or malnutrition.

Hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians were exiled this way. In just a single week of June 1941, for example, the Soviet Union has exiled 2% of the entire Lithuania’s population, while the total number stood at nearly 14%.

A family goes to their fate in a cattle carriage

A family goes to their fate in a cattle carriage

These exiles are deeply etched into the Lithuanian psyche and nearly every Lithuanian has at least a single relative who was exiled.

This article explains what it was to be a Soviet exile, and also provides information on other similar contemporary experiences such as the Nazi German persecutions, Soviet evacuations, and fleeing Lithuania as refugees.

Statistics of people lost to Lithuania 1940-1959, both per event and per perpetrator. The tables are compiled consulting multiple sources (turmoil and subsequent propaganda made the exact figures impossible to find out, so approximations vary somewhat per source. Moreover the boundaries of Lithuania switched multiple times in the era). The per-event table lists the murdered and the refugees/deportees in separate rows where possible; where impossible they are put together and the approximate share of those killed is provided instead (most/many/some).

Why were people exiled from Lithuania?

Soviets undertook a genocide aimed at certain groups in the Lithuanian population: the religious Christians, the Lutherans, the rich, the intellectuals, the patriots. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin viewed these groups as the "vilest" ones and wanted to eradicate them in order to make the occupation of Lithuania eternal.

At one time, an idea was floated to murder or exile the entire Lithuanian nation, as Soviets did to some other ethnic groups, such as Chechens (Lithuanian affairs commissioner Mikhail Suslov: "There will be Lithuania - but without Lithuanians"). However, eventually, this idea was dropped in favor of targetting narrower parts of the Lithuanian nation based on their love for Lithuanian culture, religion, and social class.

Exiled Lithuanians at a transhipment camp en-route

Exiled Lithuanians at a transhipment camp en-route

As this was a part of genocide rather than a form of political persecution, the targetted groups would be expelled as a whole: if the person was from a family of the persecuted group, his/her own beliefs did not matter. In fact, a third of those expelled were children and newborns who happened to be born to parents of the persecuted groups. Even where beliefs did matter, little evidence was needed to prove them: ownership of a Lithuanian flag or a membership of the boy scouts may have been enough of a proof of patriotism/religiosity for deportation or murder. In other cases, some people would be either tortured to give away others or rewarded for such collaboration; in these cases, the interrogated person would often lie to end tortures or get a reward, that way condemning another person for deportation.

Special case: Nazi Germany Nazi Germany that has occupied Lithuania in 1941-1944 perpetrated its own genocide, targetting the Jews. Nazi Germany has also expelled significant numbers of people to concentration camps or forced labor. However, due to the end of World War 2, this experience was short and people were either killed or liberated by ~1944. Nazi German genocide is thus typically not treated as Exile but rather as outright murders (even if a person was moved to some death camp abroad to be murdered) or as temporary imprisonment/persecution (for those who were freed). "Exiles" in Lithuania are thus synonymous with Soviet policies.

Special case: Evacuations As Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1940, the Soviet Union has evacuated some of its most loyal collaborators so they would not be punished. This was a mirror image of the exiles: the evacuees were saved from punishment this way rather than persecuted.

Special case: Fleeing Knowing what the Soviet occupation had in store of them, hundreds of thousands have fled Lithuania beforehand in 1944. They are considered a separate group known as DPs or the Second Wave of Lithuanian emigration, however, to themselves, they were as much "the exiled ones" as those in Siberia as they would have never left Lithuania otherwise.

How many people were exiled from Lithuania?

Soviets have exiled some 350 000 to the inhospitable parts of the Soviet Union and the labor camps, many of them perishing.

This number does not include the "Special cases" that are not considered parts of exiles but are closely related (their numbers are written below).

Special case: Nazi Germany Nazi Germany expelled some 20 000 ethnic Lithuanians to concentration camps and 30 000 for forced labor. Between the census years 1923 and 1959, the number of Jews in Lithuania declined by 200 000 during that time but this includes not only those expelled to concentration camps but also those killed locally, those who died resisting Nazi Germany, those who successfully fled Lithuania before/during/after WW2 or were exiled/evacuated by the Soviet regime.

Special case: Evacuations Soviet Union has evacuated some 30 000 collaborators in 1940.

Special case: Fleeing Some 200 000 - 300 000 people fled to the west from Lithuania (including Klaipėda region).

Where were the people from Lithuania expelled to?

Soviet Union mostly exiled people to the far-away parts of Russia (Siberia, Far East and north) - 80% of those exiled.

A typical 'house' in a cold village of Siberia where the exiled people lived at

Exiled Lithuanians in a Siberian village

The remaining 20% were exiled to Kazakhstan.

Several thousand were exiled to Tajikistan.

What was life like for exiled Lithuanians?

Many have died en-route, unable to withstand the crowded transportation in cattle carriages. Children, a third of deportees, suffered the most.

If they survived the journey, depending on the place of the exile, they had two fates:
(1)Those who were expelled to Gulags (mostly men): prison camps were forced to work endlessly: e.g. dig coal or build railways through inhospitable tundra. Hard work, lack of food, regular executions and murders of the prisoners, and other reasons meant the majority of these victims died while in Gulag.

Entrenched Gulag near Vorkuta

Entrenched Gulag near Vorkuta

(2)Those who were expelled to inhospitable cold Soviet villages of Siberia, northern Russia, or the Russian Far East (mostly entire families) simply had to live there starting from scratch: building their own shack, trying to find food. Many of the local Russians despised them as the Soviet Union claimed them to be “fascists”, yet some locals have helped them to survive. In these villages too, many have died unable to survive the cold or hard work, but the majority did survive as the conditions were still better than in Gulags. Note: sometimes, when talking about "Exiles", only this group is considered, while the Gulag prisoners are considered to have been imprisoned rather than exiled. In this article we, just like the majority of Lithuanians, use the word "Exiles" to cover both fates. If you, however, ever see a claim that, for example, less than 200 000 Lithuanians were exiled, this is because those exiled to Gulags are not counted in that number..

A typical 'house' in a cold village of Siberia where the exiled people lived at

A typical 'house' in a cold village of Siberia where the exiled people lived at

If they survived until 1953 when Stalin died and Khrushchev became the leader of the Soviet Union, most of them were suddenly declared “rehabilitated”: even the Soviet regime recognized they were expelled for no reason.

So, they were slowly getting permission to leave the places of exile. Whoever could return, returned to Lithuania, typically having to start from scratch again as the homes that were taken from them were not returned. Those who wasted their youths in exile typically spent their lives underemployed, as they still remained undesirables in many Soviet workplaces. Some 17 000 were allowed to return to Lithuania by 1956 and 80 000 returned by 1970.

Some of the exiles, however, were still not allowed to return to Lithuania but could move to other parts of the Soviet Union. Often, the ones who were exiled for their ethnicity, religion, social class, education, or opinions, were allowed to return to Lithuania, but those who also had performed pro-Lithuanian actions (e.g. anti-Soviet guerillas, pre-occupation Lithuanian politicians) were not allowed to return. Many of those not allowed to return settled in Latvia or Kaliningrad Oblast to be close to Lithuania.

And yet a few decided to remain in their places of exile: mainly because of frail health or family reasons (e.g. they married someone there). Such “remainers” were too few in numbers, however, to actually continue as a Lithuanian community of any form; besides, any formal Lithuanian organization was banned by the Soviets outside Lithuania.

Special case: Nazi Germany. Those who survived Nazi German concentration camps and forced labor had two choices in 1945 after they were liberated: to go back to Soviet-occupied Lithuania (where they were likely to be persecuted again) or to try to move to the Western World, thus joining the Second Wave of Lithuanian migration. Whoever could, often chose this option, although that possibility also depended on their location (whether, for example, their camp/labor site was located in West Germany, East Germany, or Poland).

Special case: Evacuations. The Soviet collaborators who were evacuated by the Soviet Union in 1940, on the other hand, lived good lives while in evacuation and were typically sent back to Lithuania after Lithuania was reoccupied by the Soviets in 1944 and were given important positions there. By that time, they were even more detached from Lithuanians and influenced by the Soviet Union. Many evacuees "of lesser importance" did not return, however, mostly staying in the other parts of the Soviet Union and integrating there.

How did the children and grandchildren of exiled Lithuanians live?

The children born in the places of exile had the Exile experience imprinted on them even if they came back to Lithuania after 1953. They continued to be discriminated against by the Soviet regime and, as the 1990 independence approached, they, still quite young, were generally instrumental in vocalizing the plight of their parents and themselves in the Siberia of 1940s. As Russia and Kazakhstan were opening up, these "children of the exile" organized trips there to commemorate the plight of their (grand)parents as well as to discover and take their bones back to Lithuania.

Those who did not move back to Lithuania after 1953 often integrated into the local communities, speaking Russian to their own children. Some of them did eventually return to Lithuania after 1990 when Lithuania made it a priority to invite the remaining exiles back, even building them free apartments.

In a few places, descendants of the exiled ones managed to form Lithuanian organizations after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Kazakhstan, where the memory of the exiles is cherished and respected, parts of these descendants started being proud of their forefathers' high moral standing and place in the elite of Lithuania for which they were persecuted.

What heritage the exiled Lithuanians left?

They could leave only crumbling graves after them.

In the case of Gulags, the prisoners would be buried in secret common graves without any markings. In the case of those exiled to villages, they would sometimes establish improvised humble Lithuanian cemeteries. As their families died out or moved away though, the cemeteries became uncared for.

A group grave of Lithuanians who remained in Kazakhstan (village of Rudnyk) after surviving Gulag.

A group grave of Lithuanians who remained in Kazakhstan (village of Rudnyk) after surviving Gulag

After the independence of Lithuania, the exiles became a symbol of the Lithuanian tragedy under the Soviet occupation. At first, the descendants of those exiled or their relatives would search for their relative graves, repatriating them to Lithuania if possible or otherwise marking them with improvised memorials. As even that generation became frail and began dying out the “Misija Sibiras” program began where Lithuanian youths would visit the cemeteries.

While Russia, still in Soviet-Genocide-denial, has curbed any memorialization of the Lithuanian exiles, numerous monuments were constructed in Kazakhstan by the Lithuanians and Lithuanian-Kazakhstanis. The story of Lithuanians (among other exiles) is also told in museums there, such as that of Dolinka.

Kingyr Gulag Lithuanian memorial

Kingyr Gulag Lithuanian memorial. A Vyšniūnas, M. Kurtinaitis, 2004.

The heritage of the exiled Lithuanians is also commemorated in many Museums of occupation and resistance that dot the Lithuanian cities and towns.

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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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Soviet era emigration from Lithuania (1945-1989)

After the Soviets reoccupied Lithuania in 1944, they essentially banned emigration, making Lithuania one large prison for those who remained there and did not manage to flee in time together with the 1944's Second Wave of Lithuanian migration.

Still, there were tens of thousands of people who emigrated from Lithuania at this time, using the limited opportunities that were still available.

Why did people migrate from Soviet Lithuania?

Soviet-occupied Lithuania was a terrible place to live, especially in the 1940s-1950s. A genocide was underway with hundreds of thousands murdered or expelled (often to their deaths), anti-Soviet guerilla war was raging without much hope, most of the freedoms were curtailed (including cultural, religious, freedom of speech, and others), while the economy was drifting into self-destruction.

So the question should be not “Why did some emigrate?” but rather “Why did not everybody emigrate?”. The reason for this was that the Soviet Union basically banned emigration outside of the Union. Illegal emigration was also typically impossible as:
1. There was no single border crossing between Lithuania and the "Free World". Lithuania was separated from it by the Baltic Sea or other communist-ruled countries with tightly defended borders.
2. Lithuanians were generally not allowed to travel abroad and the few who were allowed (e.g. sportsmen who went to the Olympic games) were closely watched, implicitly knowing that any escape attempt on their part would put their own families back in Soviet Lithuania in jeopardy.
3. Ethnic Lithuanians were also generally barred from jobs that would give them access to foreign countries (e.g. pilots flying international routes).

The existing ways for Lithuanians to emigrate were:

Way 1: Emigration to other parts of the Soviet Union. The sole "universal" opportunity for emigration was within the Soviet Union to other Soviet republics and even that was regulated. Still, the Soviet regime sometimes encouraged such migration in order to populate some empty regions or build infrastructure, allowing such emigrants to earn money or have a rare opportunity to live abroad. Being patriotic, most Lithuanians avoided that, as such migration meant losing their family culture and having to integrate into the local Russian communities, besides, many parts of the Soviet Union were even worse off economically and freedom-wise than Lithuania was. Moscow or Saint Peterburg were exceptions as they offered intellectual career opportunities unavailable in Lithuania (e.g. for scientists). Still, many Lithuanians sacrificed those to stay in Lithuania, moreover, few were allowed to move to the main cities of the Soviet Union (only those loyal to the regime were).

Way 2: Ethnic minority repatriation. The Soviet Union actually allowed some people to emigrate outside of the Soviet Union. Claiming that “every ethnic group should live in its own country”, the Soviet Union would permit out people belonging to ethnic groups that mostly lived outside of the Union: Lithuania's Jews were allowed to Israel, Germans to Germany, Poles to Poland. Even among those groups, however, many were refused out of the Soviet Union (e.g. those who ever worked in factories vaguely related to military effort). Those who were permitted gladly took the opportunity (or even bribed the officials to get their "ticket out"). This was called "repatriation", although in many cases neither the people in question nor most of their ancestors ever lived in the country they were being repatriated to: the only reason was that they had the same ethnicity as the ethnic majority of that country.

Way 3: Infiltrations. In addition to the said ethnic minorities, a few ethnic Lithuanians were allowed to emigrate by the Soviet Union as well. In some cases, they may have managed to get emigration permits through bribery. In most cases, however, it is believed such people were KGB agents meant to spy on the Lithuanian diaspora. They would typically claim to have been “anti-Soviet activists” in the Soviet Union and thus courted the Lithuanian diaspora leaders. In reality, however, no real ethnically Lithuanian anti-Soviet activists would have ever been allowed to emigrate from the Soviet Union or to freely move within the Union for that matter.

Way 4: Escapes. The rarest and most difficult form of "emigration" often required hijacking vehicles or a great deal of successful deceit. The Hollywood-like escape stories were often converted into films in the "free world" (e.g. "The Hunt for the Red October", "Defection of Simas Kudirka").

Way 5: Poland's (Punskas/Seinai) Lithuanians. Post-WW2 territorial borders were drawn in such a way that a part of ethnic-Lithuanian-majority territories fell under the rule of Poland. While Poland was equally backward economically and also communist-ruled, the regime there was freer and it allowed people to emigrate. As such, the descendants of this small Lithuanian minority living in a few Poland villages next to the border of Lithuania make up a disproportionately large part of some Lithuanian communities abroad.

Way 6: Perestroika era (late 1980s) exceptions. After Soviet Union embraced perestroika and glasnost (democratization and transformation into capitalism), emigration restrictions loosened. Suddenly, people who were long waiting for previously-impossible-to-get emirgation permits received them. Often those were either people who had relatives in America (e.g. aging grandparents who needed care) or love in America (which they found through the increasingly possible international contacts, e.g. fell in love with Lithuanian-American tourists visiting Lithuania), although some „adventurous seekers of better life“ gradually also joined the trend.

Note: Second Wave. While technically the Second Wave of Lithuanian emigrants (DPs) fled Lithuania during the occupation as well, they did so using the World War 2 confusion before the Soviets completely reoccupied Lithuania. Their story is explained elsewhere.

Note:Exiles. This article is only about voluntary migration. Hundreds of thousands of people from Lithuania were also deported forcibly by the Soviet Union in the years 1941-1953 but their story is explained in another article.

How many people did emigrate from Soviet Lithuania

Way 1: Emigration to other parts of the Soviet Union. Some 30 000 left Lithuania for other parts of the Soviet Union until 1959 alone.

Way 2: Ethnic minority repatriation. Lithuanian historic ethnic minorities were more than halved in numbers as whoever had the opportunity emigrated to their at least somewhat freer "ethnic homelands":
200 000 Poles left. The current Polish population in Lithuania is also 200 000, although many of those have been relocated from Belarus by the Soviets.
12 000 Jews left in 1959-1989 alone. The current Jewish population in Lithuania is 3050.
10 000 Germans left, in addition to 51 600 already resettled to Germany in 1941 and up to 100 000 fleeing ~1944-1945. The current German population in Lithuania is 2418.

Way 4: Escapes. Less than a hundred people are known to have escaped Soviet Lithuania to the "free world" illegally. The number between 1951 and 1976 stood at 24, or less than one per year.

Way 6: Perestroika era (late 1980s) exceptions. The numbers are not researched well enough primarilly because it is difficult to differentiate these migrants from the Third Wave that began to rise ~1990. Wherever someone immigrated in 1989 or 1991, their cultural experiences are often similar.

Where did people from Lithuania emigrate to from Soviet Lithuania?

Way 1: Emigration to other parts of the Soviet Union. Those who took the legal opportunity to move to other parts of the Soviet Union for work often ended up either at the Virgin Lands (Kazakhstan area of not previously used agricultural pastures) or the Baikal-Amur mainline construction, two of the Soviet mega-projects.

A Soviet propaganda postcard encourages the building of the Baikal-Amur mainline

A Soviet propaganda postcard encourages the building of the Baikal-Amur mainline

Way 2: Ethnic minority repatriation. Ethnic minorities were legally allowed to emigrate solely to their "titular homelands". For Poles, that was Poland. For Germans, that was communist East Germany (as they were not allowed to migrate to West Germany). Given that these two countries were also communist, such migration was easier to control for the Soviets. Jews, however, were allowed to emigrate to Israel, which was capitalist and not controlled by the Soviet Union anyhow. Therefore many Jews, after telling the Soviet authorities they would emigrate to Israel, emigrated to the USA instead.

Way 3: Infiltrations. Soviet infiltrators typically moved to the key capitalist countries where the largest Lithuanian diaspora existed, mainly the USA, Canada, and such.

Way 4: Escapes. Those who escaped Lithuania typically asked for asylum in the first country where they managed to get to (often those were the capitalist states that neighbored the Soviet Union, such as Sweden or Turkey). However, in most cases, eventually, they would migrate to countries with old Lithuanian DP communities. Even if they had no relatives there, inspiring and rare stories of their escapes would often give them a kind of hero status in Lithuanian communities abroad.

Sculpture of S. Kudirka

Sculpture of Simas Kudirka who escaped a Soviet ship by jumping into an American ship. Still, Americans returned him to the Soviets where he was imprisoned, but the backlash and publicity meant that the USA was forced to eventually negotiate Kudirka's release and permit to leave the Soviet Union. Simas Kudirka became a popular topic of Lithuanian-American art

Way 5: Poland's (Punskas/Seinai) Lithuanians. Lithuanians from Poland mostly migrated to Canada.

Way 6: Perestroika era (late 1980s) exceptions. These Lithuanians left for countries where Lithuanian communities already existed, as having relatives there was often a prerequisite. Mostly, that was the USA or Canada.

How did emigrants from Soviet Lithuania live after emigrating?

Way 1: Emigration to other parts of the Soviet Union. Many of the intra-Soviet emigrants aimed to return, after earning money and having an "adventure" that was otherwise hard to get in the Soviet Union where travel was tightly controlled. Some, however, would marry non-Lithuanians and continue to live there, something encouraged by the Soviets and feared by the Lithuanian relatives back in Lithuania, for whom it would be just another step to the destruction of Lithuanian ethnicity. Those who left for a career (e.g. scientists) would also often continue to live abroad. While the Soviet Union has (to some extent) permitted Lithuanian culture within Soviet-occupied Lithuania itself, once Lithuanians migrated to other parts of the Soviet Union, they were expected to essentially "become Russians" with no public Lithuanian cultural activities allowed. So, speaking Lithuanian to other Lithuanians often was the only Lithuanian activity they could take and many did not even have any nearby Lithuanians to speak to. After Lithuania became independent or even before it, significant numbers of such emigrants returned but many were already too old and too distanced from Lithuania to consider this (e.g. no longer able to express themselves in Lithuanian well enough).

Way 2: Ethnic minority repatriation. The repatriated minorities typically integrated into the local populations without thinking any more about their origins in Lithuania. This was easy for them as they went to places where their own ethnic culture predominated.

Way 3: Infiltrations. Infiltrators would perform whatever missions they were given. That could include joining and spying on the Lithuanian diaspora organizations and reporting their plans to the Soviet Union. They could also try to gain access to foreign media and promote pro-Soviet ideas; when said by ethnic Lithuanians, such ideas, contradicting the stance of the official Lithuanian diaspora, were meant to make the foreigners confused about the reality (instilling thoughts such as "Some Lithuanians say Soviets are brutal, yet others say they are benevolent - so, it must be just a political disagreement, like Democratic-Republican one in the USA" or "I clearly don't understand who is right there - so maybe I should not actively campaign for Lithuania").

Way 4: Escapes. Too few people have escaped the Soviet Union from Lithuania to make generalizations, however, their lives were often unified by a star-like status in the diaspora that garnered support and attention.

Way 5: Poland's (Punskas/Seinai) Lithuanians. In Canada, Punskas Lithuanians created their own organizations but they generally integrated into the main organizations established by the DPs who arrived after 1944. Like the DPs and unlike the later emigrants, Punskas Lithuanians tend to be especially patriotic and value their language, something they had to safeguard even back in Poland where it was a minority language.

Way 6: Perestroika era (late 1980s) exceptions. Perestroika era migrants typically spoke no English language and understood very little about the life in a democratic and capitalist country where they had never lived before. As such, they often clinged to the established Lithuanian communities, mostly led by DPs, which helped them to find work and start their life. However, initially, some of these old communities viewed the perestroika migrants with distrust, expecting them to be possible Soviet spies (as, prior to perestroika, only spies would receive „emigration permits“).

How did the children and grandchildren of Soviet-era migrants live?

Way 1: Emigration to other parts of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had banned any Lithuanian activities (schools, clubs, media, theaters, etc.) outside of Soviet Lithuania, expecting the Lithuanian intra-Soviet emigrants to assimilate into Russians and use the Russian language and institutions instead that were available all over the Union. This meant Lithuanian language and culture had little use in the other parts of the Soviet Union and the children of Lithuanian migrants typically already did not speak Lithuanian, although the importance Soviet culture placed on ethnicity (the ethnicity used to be written even in passports and apartment deeds) meant that they still knew themselves to be ethnic Lithuanians (in a mixed family, one could choose one of the parents' ethnicities). After the Soviet Union collapsed and the atmosphere became freer, Lithuanian organizations were established in some cities of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan by the descendants of Soviet-era migrants. Such organizations are mostly Russian-speaking but they try to rediscover parts of Lithuanian culture. In the 2010s-2020s, when Lithuania became significantly more affluent than most of the former Soviet Union, many descendants of these Soviet-era migrants used their roots as a way to get a Lithuanian residence permit or passport. Economic opportunities and prestige presented by their "European connection" encouraged some of them to also rediscover their Lithuanian roots, switch their official passport-inscribed ethnicity (e.g. from their mother's "Russian" to their father's "Lithuanian"), and send their own children to a special boarding school in Lithuania.

Way 2: Ethnic minority repatriation. The lives of the children of the repatriates were not any different from the lives of other locals. After Lithuania became independent in 1990 some descendants of the repatriates would visit Lithuania or research their roots and even restore citizenship (these activities seem to be the most popular among Jews in order to get access to the European Union that Germans and Poles have anyways).

Way 3: Infiltrators . Too few people are known infiltrators to make generalizations.

Way 4: Escapes. Too few people have escaped the Soviet Union from Lithuania to make generalizations.

Way 5: Poland's (Punskas/Seinai) Lithuanians. The love for Lithuania was passed on to the next generation just as it was passed on for many generations while living in Poland. The descendants of Punskas Lithuanians are among the Lithuanian-Canadians most likely to go to a Lithuanian Saturday school.

Way 6: Perestroika era (late 1980s) exceptions. Speaking only Lithuanian (and Russian), the perestroika era migrants often created Lithuanian families and spoke Lithuanian to their children, making these children very much exposed to Lithuanian culture.

What heritage they have left?

They left little visible heritage.

Way 1: Emigration to other parts of the Soviet Union. They were not allowed to build anything Lithuanian outside Soviet Lithuania, although after independence local Lithuanians participated in building memorials for Lithuanian deportees in Kazakhstan and Russia. A few monuments were also built or streets named after Lithuanian workers who participated in the construction back in the Soviet era.

Memorial plaque for the Lithuanian priest

Memorial plaque for the Lithuanian priest who managed to build the Central Asia's only Catholic church during the Soviet occupation. Karaganda.

Way 2: Ethnic minority repatriation. They didn't feel to have been Lithuanians and also saw no need to anyhow commemorate this descent.

Way 3: Infiltrators . They had no interest nor numbers to leave any heritage.

Way 4: Escapes. Their stories inspired movies and art. They integrated into older Lithuanian communities.

In Hunting for the Red October Hollywood flick, Sean Connery plays a Lithuanian submarine captain who secretly sailed to America. The real story that inspired this was more prosaic and included a sailor who crossed the Baltic Sea to Sweden

In the Hunt for the Red October Hollywood flick, Sean Connery plays a Lithuanian submarine captain who secretly sailed to America. The real story that inspired this was more prosaic and included a small ship captain Jonas Pleškus who crossed the Baltic Sea to Sweden

Way 5: Poland's (Punskas/Seinai) Lithuanians. The only group of Soviet-era Lithuanian migrants that left some heritage in the form of memorials in Canada.

Way 6: Perestroika era (late 1980s) exceptions. As they have joined the old Lithuanian communities, they continued the heritage of these institutions as the older generations passed out. In this, they were joined by later Third Wave migrants.

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Lithuanian emigration today: the third wave (1990-)

Lithuanians are currently emigrating at a speed is the largest in the history of Lithuania, sending the Lithuanian population on a rapid decline and accelerating it aging.

Considered a societal problem by many, it reached its current epic proportions in 2004 after Lithuania joined the European Union. 1,5% of the total population emigrate every year for 15 years in a row, the population declined from 3,5 million to 2,8 million. Such an emigration impact is unheard of in countries not hit by the war and disasters.

Why do people emigrate from Lithuania?

They emigrate because, since Lithuania became an EU member, emigrating to Western Europe became as easy as moving to another Lithuanian city, while salaries in the West are still significantly higher (often twice as high, although the prices are somewhat higher as well).

The Lithuanian economy has been ravaged by 50 years of occupation and the communist Soviet regime. At the time Lithuania became independent from the Soviet Union, the GNP of Lithuania was merely one-fifth of that of many Western European countries. The salaries were likewise lower. The economy was growing fast but it was widely expected it would take multiple decades (almost the entire generation) to catch up with the West.

However, paradoxically, in that "poorest" era (1990-2004) economic migration was at a fraction of what it is today. That's because emigration was difficult since rich countries did not easily accept Lithuanians at the time. Some "adventurers" have tried illegal emigration, others found various legal exceptions as they went to their relatives or won US green cards, yet the overall numbers of such emigrants were rather small.

All that changed when Lithuania joined the European Union in 2004. Emigration from Lithuania became easier than ever before in history: one did no longer even need a visa or a permit to legally emigrate to richer lands of the EU. Thus, even though the Lithuanian economy had by this time closed some half of its gap from the Western European economy, it was at this time that Lithuanian emigration reached proportions never heard before. The new generation of Lithuanians also increasingly spoke English and was well-versed in knowledge about western European life, rendering emigration even easier for the youth.

Lithuania closing the gap with the West economically. In 1995, Lithuania's GNP per capita made up only 21,69% of the Finnish GNP per capita. It rose to 72,81% by the year 2017

Lithuania closing the gap with the West economically after the liberation from the Soviet Union. In 1995, Lithuania's GNP per capita made up only 21,69% of the Finnish GNP per capita. It rose to 72,81% by the year 2017

While Lithuanians far from the only Central/Eastern Europeans to emigrate, a larger share of the Lithuanian population emigrated than anywhere else in the region. High historic rates of emigration (First wave and Second wave) must have contributed to that as they ensured nearly every Lithuanian had stories of emigration from their own families, putting this option into consideration.

Special case: Soviet settlers Throughout the Soviet occupation (1940-1941, 1944-1990), the Soviet Union sent settlers to live in Lithuania in order to dilute the Lithuanian ethnic majority. The majority of the settlers were Russians but there were also Ukrainians, Belarusians, and others. Most of these settlers did not speak Lithuanian, did not have relatives in Lithuania, and did not consider Lithuania to be their homeland. While the Soviet Union existed, this caused no problems to them (as everyone was obliged to learn Russian and there were no borders or visas hindering intra-Union travel) but as the Union collapsed, they decided to leave, often to their ethnic homelands. In the case of the Soviet settlers, most of them emigrated to other ex-Soviet countries that were not richer than Lithuania: the reasons for emigration were purely to be able to live where their culture and language dominated. Unlike Latvia or Estonia, Lithuania offered its citizenship to all the Soviet settlers who wanted to stay - however, some third still decided to leave immediately after independence. A part of the historic ethnic minorities (especially the Jews) have also left to their "cultural homelands" together with the settlers once the Soviet restrictions for immigration were lifted, as they were still less attached to Lithuania than the Lithuanians were. Some of the Soviet settlers who emigrated were actually the ones responsible for the Soviet Genocide and war crimes; they emigrated in order to hide from justice.

Special case: businessmen Lithuania became one of the best-performing ex-Soviet countries economically and it was the first one to get many Western-style businesses such as shopping malls, cafeterias, fast food restaurants, etc. All that happened in the 1990s already while many other Soviet countries still lacked such institutions in the 2000s. Entrepreneurial Lithuanians used up this moment to emigrate to such "eastern lands" and establish their own businesses there, essentially copying the Lithuanian experience of the 1990s. They had unique qualifications for that as, unlike businessmen of Western Europe, they understood post-Soviet business culture (e.g. corruption) as well as spoke Russian.

Special case: love and cultural reasons For the first time in Lithuanian history it is now possible to easily meet and fall in love with people from far abroad. This is facilitated by tourism and the internet. Situations, where Lithuanians (usually women) marry off to foreign lands thus became more common. In the 1990s and 2000s, some Lithuanian women sought for relationships with foreigners on purpose, hoping to marry off to richer lands, this essentially being a form of economic migration (such practices withered after Lithuania became richer, and EU membership made it easier to emigrate to even richer lands without marriage). Tourism, foreign TV shows, and the internet also made foreign lands and cultures easily accessible to Lithuanians, making some of them fall in love with specific foreign cultures (e.g. Indian or Japanese), with a few of these lovers ending up in the countries they came to love.

Special case: European bureucrats After Lithuania has joined the European Union, Lithuanians are accepted into various European institutions and in some, a quota has been allocated for each country. In order to work for these institutions, Lithuanians usually have to leave Lithuania (at least while in that job).

Special case: Students Now is the first time when foreign studies may be accessible to most, at least the studies in European Union where it is possible even to study for free. As such, many Lithuanian students opt for foreign studies.

How many people emigrated from Lithuania after 1990?

Up to 1 million or a third of the total population have left Lithuania after 1990, divided into the following groups:

*During the main post-2004 European Union wave - ~700 000 in total until 2020 (~45 000 every year, or ~1,5% of the population every year)
*Ethnic Lithuanians emigrating before the EU membership in 1990-2004 era - ~100 000 (~6 500 per year)
*Ethnic minorities (especially Soviet settlers) emigrating mostly in the early 1990s immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union: ~200 000, including some third of Lithuania's Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, and the majority of Lithuania's Jews.

Where do people emigrate to from Lithuania?

Most Lithuanian emigrants emigrate to the countries of the European Economic Area where emigration is free.

By far, the most popular has been the United Kingdom which has attracted ~300 000 Lithuanians, followed by Ireland (~80 000), Norway (~70 000), Germany (~60 000), Spain (~50 000), Denmark (~20 000), Sweden (~15 000). There are considerable variations in these estimates, though, due to undeclared emigration.

Prior to the European Union membership in 2004, the USA, Australia, and Canada were among the most popular destinations. Post-2004, however, it made little sense to emigrate there as one can get a similar salary in Western Europe with much less of a hassle. Some still go there, primarily those with relatives there or career opportunities (between the years 2010 and 2018, 12408 emigrated to the USA, 1873 chose Canada, and 1427 chose Australia).

The emigration to the UK and Ireland began before the EU membership presumably due to the English language prevailing there, which was already the most commonly-spoken Western language in Lithuania.

Soviet settlers typically departed for their own titular homelands, i.e. Russians for Russia, Belarusians for Belarus, Ukrainians for Ukraine, and Jews for Israel. While such emigration peaked in the early 1990s, there are still people among Lithuania's minorities who emigrate to their "cultural homelands". Between the years 2010 and 2018, for example, 12503 have emigrated to Russia, 8769 left for Belarus, 7642 left for Ukraine, 1568 left for Poland, and 751 departed for Israel. Some of the people emigrating eastwards are actually Lithuanian businessmen.

Love/cultural emigration knows no boundaries. Therefore, Lithuanians marry off even into exotic lands such as Latin America, Asia, or Africa but compared to other emigration the numbers are small.

It should be noted that these statistics do not consider personal history: that is, those emigrants who later returned to Lithuania are still counted as emigrants, and those emigrants who immigrated to Lithuania themselves before emigrating again are also counted among emigrants. Both groups are a minority, though.

How do Lithuanians live after emigrating?

The majority of post-1990 Lithuanian emigrants got low-skilled blue-collar jobs, even if some/many had university degrees back in Lithuania. Such blue-collar jobs are some of the lowest-paid in those countries yet still, they are often paid better than qualified work in Lithuania (although the gap has been disappearing) and nearly always paid better than similar jobs in Lithuania.

While prices were significantly higher in countries where Lithuanians emigrate as well, many emigrants got around this by living as tightly as possible and flying back to Lithuania for the most expensive services (e.g. dentistry). This allowed many Lithuanians to earn Western salaries and not pay full Western prices.

The quality of life, however, was often worse than in Lithuania due to such frugality. Many third-wave emigrants came in terms with that by expecting to return to Lithuania someday and using the money they saved to buy a better life (e.g. a nice private home) there. In reality, most never returned, becoming too used to live abroad. Many actually did buy homes in Lithuania, to be used for holidays, or as an investment, or saved for the day they would retire.

Many emigrants would send remittances back to Lithuania for their parents and children (it is relatively common to leave children behind when emigrating expecting to return). They regularly visit Lithuania, which is easy from most countries with modern-day Lithuanian diaspora due to low-cost flights.

As the time of return to Lithuania is dashed further and further on, Lithuanian emigrants slowly take more permanent solutions, such as improving their living conditions "there", bringing the kids (if they were left in Lithuania), cutting down on remittances, and visiting Lithuania less and less frequently. Sometimes, it takes about a decade before they fully recognize they won't be returning, although perhaps still hoping to retire to Lithuania.

At that point, they face an important decision on what to do with their citizenship. Naturalization in their "new homelands" means losing Lithuanian citizenship as Lithuania does not permit dual citizenship to most people and, despite the diaspora activism, that article of the Lithuanian constitution is essentially impossible to change due to some of the strictest referendum laws in the democratic world. Some Lithuanians opt for naturalization, others remain citizens of Lithuania. Significant numbers keep both citizenships illegally by not notifying Lithuania about getting another citizenship.

Lithuanians (just like other Central/Eastern Europeans) tend to face discrimination in many countries they immigrate to. That's because Central/Eastern Europeans are not locals but still they are whites and Christians. In many countries where Lithuanians emigrated, various anti-discrimination measures are only effectively applied to discrimination against other races and religions but the discrimination against Eastern/Central Europeans is considered more acceptable. Stereotypes, jokes, and cliches that would be considered grossly racist if mentioning Blacks or anti-Semitic if mentioning the Jews are widely tolerated if they target Eastern/Central European immigrants. Still, the form of discrimination that has arguably attracted the most attention in the Lithuanian press has been linguistic/cultural one where various countries (especially Norway and the UK) preclude Lithuanians from bringing up their children the Lithuanian way, there being cases of Lithuanians actually having their children taken away for parents putting an "undue educational load" on them by trying to make them learn their native language.

The majority of recent Lithuanian emigrants went to countries with no historic Lithuanian communities. Compared to the previous waves, they do surprisingly little to cooperate with other Lithuanians. For example, 300 000 Lithuanians who emigrated to the UK is a number comparable to Lithuanians who left for the USA before 1914. And while Lithuanian-Americans built ~80 Lithuanian churches, ~40 Lithuanian cemeteries, many clubs back then, nothing similar happened in the UK. Lithuanian institutions typically consist of a few shops, restaurants and newspapers, aimed at quenching the nostalgia for Lithuanian food and information about fellow Lithuanians. There may be Lithuanian festivals attended by some but regular activities are rarer.

A small Lituanica store under a railroad in Birmingham. 'Lituanica' is the largest chain of Lithuanian stores in the UK, though even it has just 9 locations, all of them small and also selling other Eastern European goods to have a wider appeal. Google Street View.

One reason for such lack of cooperation may be that with the internet, cheap flights, and the Soviet occupation already ended, Lithuania itself is not that far away psychologically for there to be a reason to build a "tiny Lithuania" abroad. Another reason, especially for the most recent emigrants, is that they typically speak the local language (often English) well and thus they are able to read the local media and make friends with non-Lithuanians. Also, as people emigrate from Lithuania purely for economic reasons, there is no longer that mindset of being an "emigrant against your will" that prevailed in the previous waves.

Still, a minority of Lithuanian emigrants do actually try to "keep the Lithuanian flag waving" by creating Lithuanian language schools for their children. This is typically the case with those who emigrated after marrying in Lithuania and/or seek to return. The Republic of Lithuania, now independent, tries to support Lithuanian activities abroad through various funding programs.

In the countries where historic Lithuanian clubs, schools, and parishes were strong, however, such as the USA, Canada, the UK or Australia numerous recent Lithuanian emigrants have integrated into the Second-Wave (DP) Lithuanian clubs and even took the helm of such institutions as the DP generation is dying off. With all the work and investments already done, keeping such institutions going require less work and provides bigger benefits than trying to launch a new organization, so even for smaller Lithuania-minded third-wave groups this option is accessible. Such integration into pre-WW2 communities was more common from 1990-2004 as, at the time, Lithuanian emigrants often did not speak English well, and many were invited by their relatives who were already part of such organizations.

However, there is still a great cultural gap between the modern third-wave emigrants and the earlier waves of Lithuanian emigration - a lot of it is because of the third-waver's experience of the Soviet occupation. Only some have managed to overcome this. To some of the DPs who were forced to leave Lithuania to avoid the Soviet Genocide, the mere fact that the recent immigrants leave *independent Lithuania* en-masse for bigger money seems sacrilegious, while the lack of patriotism among the new migrants undaunting. To some recent migrants, though, the older Lithuanian diaspora members do not seem to be Lithuanians at all, as they speak Lithuanian with a strong accent (if at all) and know little about contemporary Lithuania, "naively loving some long-destroyed ideal".

Even bigger is the attitude divide. Soviet occupation has introduced (or expanded) issues such as corruption, bribery, and binge-drinking into the Lithuanian culture. While Catholic faith and parishes are the foundation of many pre-occupation Lithuanian communities abroad, after decades of the Soviet atheism, most recent migrants are not religious. They see the tacit DP expectation that they would join weekly religious services to be a hindrance. The levels of criminality and deceitful behavior are also higher among the recent immigrants whereas charitable behavior is less common (possibly because of the poorness experienced by the recent immigrants, making them cling to money much more). All that made the earlier generations of Lithuanians wary of accepting newcomers into managerial positions of their clubs. Not being easily accepted, newcomers sometimes see such clubs as a clique that is set to die off.

Then there is a generational divide: by the time the mostly-young Lithuanian emigrants started arriving en-masse from Lithuania, the pre-WW2 Lithuanian organizations mostly had a significantly older membership. Paradoxically, though, such a generational divide is smaller than it was between youth and old in 1990s-2000s Lithuania itself. Having spent their lives in a free society, even the old DPs had experience with activities that were considered "domain of the young" in Lithuania (traveling, driving cars daily, fast food, marketing, investing, etc.). Likewise, after living in a socially conservative Soviet Union, the third wave migrants were far more conservative than most Westerners of their age, this appealing to the elderly DPs. For example, an average Lithuanian who grew up in Soviet-occupied Lithuania of 1980s is likely to have similar opinions on issues such as same-sex marriages or high number of sexual partners as somebody who grew up in America in the 1940s.

Still, often the recent Lithuanian immigrants felt there were more differences between them and DPs than there were similarities and, to the horror of the older immigrants, some of them fraternize more with the Russian or other ex-Soviet immigrants who have the same experiences and collective memory of the Soviet Union and post-Soviet times.

Special case: career emigrants (expats) Some Lithuanian third wave emigrants managed to get qualified work in the West. Often these were some of the best in their field (e.g. doctors). Instead of emigrating “into the unknown”, they either emigrated already having a work proposal that could be regarded as a career step up, or emigrated for university studies and then remained in the country of emigration afterward. Such people typically integrated into society swifter (without a period of "being poor" by the Western standards).

Special case: criminals A significant number of Lithuanian criminals emigrated as well with the third wave, attracted by vast opportunities to get wealth illegally in countries where what was a great wealth in Lithuania was something-not-even-the-police-cares-about. This emigration slashed the crime rates in Lithuania but also created a negative image of Lithuanians in some Western countries.

Special case: Soviet settlers The Soviet settlers and the other ethnic minorities who emigrated in the 1990s generally integrated into the local societies and ceased associating themselves with Lithuania. For many of them, Lithuania was simply a temporary location where they spent some part of their lives, rather than a part of their culture or essence.

Special case: businessmen Lithuanians who went to do business in the less developed ex-Soviet countries typically enjoyed a situation reversal from that of their fellow Lithuanians who emigrated westwards. While the westwards migrants were considered "low class" locally and looked down at by many locals in their "new homelands", the eastwards-emigrating businessmen often became a part of the local high society to some extent, respected by the locals there as "advanced westerners". Due to the problems with democracy in many of these countries, though, such a position may be temporary and there were cases when Lithuanian businessmen were forced to leave their new country due to the changes in political winds; as such, few of them feel as rooted in their "new homelands" as Lithuanians of the West are.

Populi retail chain in Georgia has been established by Lithuanian businessmen and used Lithuanian symbolics. Not because there would be a large Lithuanian community in Georgia but rather because such symbolics were seen as prestigious by Georgians, for whom Lithuania was 'the West'. Eventually, however, due to changed leadership in Georgia, the owners had to leave the country. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Special case: Students While studying, many of them are unsure on how will their life go on. Many do return to Lithuania after they end their studies though others get a local job and remain, essentially joining the other emigrants.

Special case: European bureucrats The assignments in European Union institutions tend to be temporary. While some of the bureucrats aim to stay within these institutions until they retire, moving from one institution to another if needed, in general, far more of these people know they would return to Lithuania at some time than among many other groups. Depending on the position, European bureucrats may be either working for EU institutions directly, or be representatives of their own countries, with the latter retaining even more connection to Lithuania, their position being more equivalent to that of diplomats rather than to that of emigrants.

Special case: Early 1990s migrants to America. Because they often emigrated without knowing foreign languages or way of life that well, and they emigrated to areas with strong historic Lithuanian communities, they often joined and clinged to these communities. There they were exposed to Lithuanian histories that had been whitewashed in Soviet-occupied Lithuania through first-hand accounts of the Second Wave Lithuanian emigrants. This made some of the early 1990s migrants to America to be the most patriotic and Lithuanian-history-loving people in their generation, while early exposure to leftist Western values often made them especially wary of those.

How do the children of Lithuanian emigrants live?

Given the wide spread of the recent Lithuanian emigrants all over the world, it is difficult to compare the childhoods and youths of their children. The situations range from children who are brought up as Lithuanians to situations where they know little about Lithuania. Due to the influence of the local education system, however, even the most Lithuanian-brought-up children typically are significantly assimilated. In fact, due to the fact that formal education is available to younger children in many countries these years than it used to be decades ago, children are exposed to the local language very early and quite often start speaking that language even to their parents.

Some of the issues that influence children's assimilation:
*Children born in Lithuania or to parents who emigrated together as a family tend to speak Lithuanian at home and know the culture better. Such parents are also more likely to have some formal Lithuanian education for their kids, although even without it the children would likely speak the language.
*Children who are brought for prolonged summer holidays to Lithuania (e.g. to grandparents) also tend to feel more Lithuanian.
*Children whose parents are thinking about returning to Lithuania tend to be brought up as Lithuanians more.
*On the other hand, in mixed-ethnicity families, much less Lithuanian culture survives. While as a nod of respect to the Lithuanian parent some language or cultural traditions may be taught to the child, this happens only in a minority of the families and it is not comparable to the immersive Lithuanian experience of the single-ethnicity-family children. In mixed families, the parents typically speak a local language among themselves and thus to the children, removing a major possibility to learn the language through experience. It is highly unlikely such children would pass on even the few Lithuanian traditions they have learned on to their own children.

Lithuania seeks to keep these children as Lithuanian as possible, allowing them to even have Lithuanian citizenship despite having another citizenship (an option not available to their immigrant parents).

Given the newness of the Third Emigration wave, it is impossible to say so far how will the foreign-born Lithuanian kids live in their later years. The views vary widely:
-Optimists hope that significant numbers of Lithuanians and their children would return to Lithuania after it gets richer or would keep contact with Lithuania through modern means.
-"Realists" believe that Third Wave children completely assimilate into the local societies with the historic pattern of strong Lithuanianness lingering for ~3 generations after emigration not applicable due to higher intermarriage rates.
-Pessimists think that Lithuanian culture will slowly dissipate even in Lithuania itself, as more and more Lithuanian speakers will move out and they will be replaced by immigrants, destroying that millennia-old situation when Lithuania was a location where a clear majority of people were Lithuanians, and putting Lithuanians in the shoes of Native Americans or Aboriginal Australians, a minority in their own country.

What heritage do the Lithuanian emigrants leave after them?

They have built very little so far. Ephemeral businesses in rental premises are typically the only physically Lithuanian institutions in existence. While this emigration wave is larger than any wave before it, so far it had not constructed Lithuanian memorials, buildings, or churches, unlike each emigration wave before them.

In some cases, though, third wave Lithuanian immigrants were instrumental in saving and restoring the heritage sites built by previous Lithuanian diaspora waves, including building new memorials there.

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