Volume 37, No.1 - Spring 1991
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas, University of Rochester
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1990 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Antanas J. Van Reenan (Adomėnas), LITHUANIAN DIASPORA: KONIGSBERG TO CHICAGO (Lanham, New York, London: University Press of America, 1990), xxiv, 329 pp., cloth, 3 appendices, illustrations, annotated bibliography, name index, general index.

This challenging seminal study is "neither a history of Lithuania nor a definitive study on either of the two Lithuanian immigration waves — the economic immigrants (1867-1914) followed by a second wave of exiles (1948-1952)" (p. xv), as the author disclaims. Rather, the monograph of the intellectual historian seeks to analyze the notion and experience of ethnicity in the lives of the Lithuanian minority, particularly in multi-ethnic Chicago. The pioneering nature of this work is evident in its fresh assertions. To give one example, new is the author's claim of philologist Filip Fortunatov's influence on Stasys Šalkauskis, whereas the Lietuvių Enciklopedija entry (Vol. VI, pp. 347-48) on Fortunatov by Pranas Skardžius is silent.

In pursuit of his topic, Van Reenan deftly weaves together an array of material from the angle of philosophy, history, political science, and his own sociological surveys. Invaluable interviews interspersed throughout the study give flesh and blood to theoretical concepts. The author forges a formidable case about the evolving emigre mentality of the postbellum era of the 1940s. The Displaced Persons, he boldly asserts, unwittingly reduced themselves from a diaspora people to an assimilating ethnic group because of the "exile community's failure to understand the dynamics of assimilation" (p. xvii) and "because the leadership within the diaspora did not understand its own ideology" (p. xviii). The author likewise asserts that political activity of central organizations and inhouse fighting weakened a united front in violation of the Lithuanian Charter of the original "Community" (Bendruomenė), fashioned out of the refugee camp diaspora (pp. 158 ff.) Furthermore, "ideological differences" between the old and new waves "resulted in both a physical and mental isolation," an additional stumbling block to a united effort (p. 179). Likewise, the universalism of the Roman Catholic faith differed from the emphasis on individualism that diaspora survival seemed to require (p. 7, 179, 251).

Van Reenan defends his thesis in Chapters 1 and 4 on "Old World Roots" and "Exiles Not Immigrants," respectively. Therein he muses about German and Slavophile philosophers whose influences touched Stasys Šalkauskis, philosopher of "Ateitis" (Future), the Roman Catholic movement aimed at rearing a faith-rooted intelligentsia (Chapter 4). Chapter 2 lays the groundwork on Chicago, the huge metropolis that received upwards of 10,000 exiles from Displaced Person camps of Europe, especially Germany, as described in Chapter 3.

Van Reenan goes on in Chapter 5 to describe the "Establishment of Institutions to Deflect Assimilation." Here he assesses a variety of avenues intended to preserve Lithuanian culture. Coming under scrutiny are the roles of the alliance of engineers and architects, the scouting program, the Lithuanian Community (Bendruomenė) and its financial-aid program, the independent world youth alliance, the network of Saturday Schools, and the Endowed Chair of Lithuanian Studies at University of Illinois at Chicago. The author devotes a separate chapter to the genesis and significance of "Dainava," the youth camp in Manchester, Michigan. A final chapter focuses on the impact of Lithuanian political involvement and its eroding effect on the diaspora ideal.

The sensitivity of some of the author's assertions is clear from a lengthy and not entirely laudatory description of his dissertation that appeared in Draugas of July 25, 1987. Based on an abstract only, the article was flavored with remarks of a reviewer who had carefully read the entire text. Unease with Van Reenan's study surfaced in the caption for a later review in Draugas of December 12, 1987. The curious title ran: "Išeivijos istorijos šiupinys disertacijos forma." Vilius Peteraitis' dictionary (p. 479) gives "pea-pudding" as the literal meaning of "šiupinys," with figurative meanings of "mess," "medley," and "hodge-podge." Using the third meaning of "miscellanies," the mildest translation of the caption might read: "Miscellanies about the Diaspora History in Dissertation Form." Whether or not one agrees with the author, he has certainly furnished provocative fodder for prolonged discussion and debate.

Throughout the text, Van Reenan attributes to the Ateitininkai (members of Ateitis) an enormous role in continuing Lithuanian-ism in the diaspora, far out of proportion to the size of membership in the Catholic movement. Likewise, the writer assigns to Ateitis the principal responsibility for the alleged failure of Lithuanians to keep Lithuanianism intact. His claims drew sharp criticism from Ateitininkas, Romualdas Kriaučiūnas, in a review based on the unpublished doctoral text (Draugas, Dec. 12, 1987). The commentator especially objects to what he regards as Van Reenan's simplistic analysis of the evolution of Lithuanianism. Kriaučiūnas, in effect, further questions whether the author succumbs to the error of "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" in assigning fault to the patriotic efforts of Ateitis in dealing with waning Lithuanianism among the young. Were the Ateitininkai responsible for this diminution, or were they seeking to respond to a fait-accompli, resultant from unavoidable assimilation? Both issues are valid questions worth pondering for a better appreciation of Lithuanian Diaspora.

The author comes down hard on the program of the Endowed Chair, lacking a "cohesive social philosophy to reshape Lithuanian-ism in an American setting." He further points to the lack of a context of "European literary movements'' as the needed background for the courses devoted heavily to literature (pp. 190 ff.). The broader light of history is necessary, one would think, to give the graduate students a proper preparation. Perhaps more time is needed for a proper assessment of the Chair.

In the minds of most Lithuanians, strictly endogamous marriages have been crucial to the preservation of Lithuanianism. Saturday Schools, summer camps, dance ensembles, and choruses have had, as a chief goal, such preservation. Nevertheless, unless Lithuanians had created an isolated community like sects such as the Amish or the Hassidic Jews, one cannot defend successfully against the basic factor of proximity in the choice of marriage partners. A common neighborhood, school, or workplace lend themselves to exogamous unions. The Lithuanian Franciscans' Resurrection parish in Toronto hardly has an equal in ethnic exclusivity. Yet parish registers show a preponderance of inter-ethnic weddings.

Van Reenan unearthed some intriguing data about geographer Kazys Pakštas and his idealistic colonization schemes aimed at creating a "Reserve Lithuania." In this perhaps most striking section of the book, one learns about visionary Pakštas' exotic hopes geared to a settlement in British Honduras to preserve Lithuanian culture, including the Catholic faith. Meanwhile, the United States plainly fell into the category of "Countries Unfit for Colonization" (pp. 132 ff.) His reveries were reminiscent of other colonization endeavors in U.S. history, such as the one associated with Bishop Benedict Fenwick of the Boston archdiocese in the 1830s. Anxious to protect Irish immigrants from the corruption of the city, the prelate purchased a huge tract of land in northern Maine, hoping to direct newcomers into potato farming. The fascinating scheme achieved only modest success in the all-Irish town of Benedicta, and evenutually went bankrupt in the 1980s. Pakštas failed to match such a minor accomplishment. The dreamer's advocacy in the 1940s and again in the 1950s went for naught. As Van Reenan points out, adherence to personal security and middle-class status precluded the already assimilating new wave exiles from joining the Pakštas bandwagon. Blundering U.S. efforts at forced repatriation (pp. 86 ff.) in the refugee camps had left ineradicable scars in the hearts of the Displaced Persons. Understandably, this dreadful experience of many of these uprooted people prompted them to seek material stability in rewarding steady employment and home ownership.

Van Reenan acknowledges that members of the Ateitis movement have been in the forefront of the struggle to preserve what the author calls linguistic nationalism in a religious setting, as opposed to the secular nationalism preached by some of the a-religious pioneers. Adherence to speech is the essential binder that preserves Lithuanianism, and enables a person of Lithuanian roots to be a bearer of one's heritage. Gifts such as literature and music must be handed on in their original lingual setting. It is language above all that creates a "home" and preserves it for scattered members of the community.

Like any worthwhile seminal study, Lithuanian Diaspora raises questions for further inquiry. For instance, in 1920 at Fribourg, Šalkauskis wrote his doctoral dissertation on "L'ame du monde dans la philosophie de VI. Soloviev." A reader would like to know more about this Soloviev influence on Šalkauskis. The role of Jonas Šliūpas in establishing Lithuanian parishes (e.g. p. 45) is yet to be clearly documented, though it is a claim often made in Lithuanian sources. The answer may well lie in chancery archives still unexplored. The author intensely binds Lithuanianism with Roman Catholicism (p. 129). In this ecumenical age, one wonders where Lithuanian Protestants fit in with the followers of Ateitis.

A few miscellaneous observations are appropriate. Despite his protestations against Poles, Šliūpas did maintain relations with some of them, as the research of Joseph Wieczerzak indicates. (This professor discovered Šliūpas' fraternization with Poles while preparing a biography of Francis Hodur of the Polish National Catholic Church. This Polish-Polish tie is an intriguing topic that awaits scrutiny). Van Reenan seems unaware of the link in his discussion of Šliūpas (p. 47). The unidentified companion (p. 49) of Kazimiera Kaupaitė matriculating at Ingenbohl, Switzerland, was Magdalena Šedvydaitė, sister of Fr. Mykolas Ševedis. Besides Saturday Schools as a tool to "deflect" assimilation, one recalls the endeavor of the Lithuanian Franciscans and their all-male high school at Kennebunkport, Maine, in the 1950s. As Assistant Director of Ethnic Affairs in the White House administration of President Ronald Reagan, Linas Kojelis reached one of the highest positions any Lithuanian ever attained at the federal level (pp. 246 ff.). The author might also have discussed the significance of Chicagoan Fr. R. George Šarauskas, Ph.D. becoming a White House Fellow in 1979. The talented priest was one of 17 such Fellows from a field of 1326. He was assigned as Special Assistant to David A. Newson, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs.

A few historical inaccuracies crept into the text. Gazieta Lietuwiszka of 1879 was the first Lithuanian newspaper in the United States, not Jonas Šliūpas Unija (p. 44). The parish of St. Casimir in Plymouth, Pennsylvania, underwent no name-change. The text (p. 46) confuses the parish with Holy Cross in Mt. Carmel in the same state. Without eclipsing credit due to Fr. Antanas Staniukynas, the Lithuanian Priests League did not start with him in 1909 (p. 50). Rather he revieved the association whose forerunner, "Lietuviszkų Amerikos Kunigų Draugystė," Fr. Juozas Žebris originated at Plymouth, Pennsylvania, in December of 1894. Historians of ethnicity usually refer to the foreign-born as "first-generation" and their offspring as "second-generation," whereas the text (e.g. p. 58) speaks of first-generation as American-born. The bank edifice on p. 59 should be called the Simanas Daukantas Building (the name is given in the Lithuanian genitive). Finally, the danger of making negative claims surfaces on p. 211 in the assertion about "no precedent for owning and operating a Roman Catholic corporation outside the jurisdiction of the local bi-shop..." There are exceptions. For decades until 1979, the German lay trustees of St. Louis Parish in Buffalo, New York, held title to their church property. To this day, The San Marco Society in the North End of Boston is still legal owner of St. Leonard of Port Maurice.

The attractive gold-lettered volume in cloth cover employs a good, clear typeface. Unhappily, more than several dozen errors escaped the proofreader's eye, somewhat marring the overall appearance.

These minor notes aside, Lithuanian Diaspora is a very important study. It should evoke lively discussions among concerned Lithuanians, especially members of Ateitis about prospects of Lithuanianism in the days ahead. Historians of ethnicity should also pay attention to this book for its valuable insights about one ethnic community for comparison with other ethnic bodies.

William Wolkovich-Valkavičius