Volume 39, No.3 - Fall 1993
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas, University of Rochester 
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1993 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


Alfred Bammesberger
Katholische Universität Eichstatt

First Steps


I don't precisely remember when I began learning Lithuanian seriously. As a student of Indo-European linguistics, I had been faced with a certain number of Lithuanian forms. I knew some details about the sound laws of Lithuanian. I knew the paradigm of the substantive vilkas "wolf," because this substantive is regularly used in textbooks on comparative linguistics. I also knew that the feminine of vilkas 'wolf was vilkė "she-wolf." But these bits of information were rather isolated. And you simply can't carry on a meaningful conversation if the only substantives you are able to use mean "wolf" and "she-wolf". After I picked up the verb ėdu and found out about its rich ancestry I willingly added this verb to my repertoire. But the result was rather astonishing when I said somebody ėda mesa, because in Modern Lithuanian ėda means "gobbles down" and is not normally used with reference to humans.


After having passed the state examinations in English and French philology with the aim of becoming a secondary-school teacher, I continued university studies in the field of Indo-European linguistics. I submitted a thesis on a problem of Germanic word-formation with special emphasis on verbal formations in Old English. I passed my doctoral examinations at the University of Munich in 1965. At the time I was a teacher of English and French in a secondary school. My dissertation supervisor. Professor Wilhelm Wissmann (1899-1967), suggested to me that I should continue research work. Given the German University system it was clear that I would have to prepare a major research contribution, and that this had to be on a subject totally different from that of my dissertation.. Wissmann, whose lifelong interest in Baltic linguistics is well-known, suggested in the terse way so characteristic of him:

"Why don't you write on abstract formations in Baltic?"


I took the question very seriously indeed. But I also realized that it would be absolutely necessary for me to learn Lithuanian properly. I was lucky in having Dr. Lucia Baldauf at Munich University, who regularly taught Lithuanian. But then I also thought that I needed more native speakers. There were many people on the way to learning Lithuanian, and they are far too many for me to name them individually. I may single out the Lithuanian Secondary School (Vasario Šešioliktosios Gimnazija) at Hüttenfeld in Germany, with whose then director, Vincas Natkevičius, I have been in constant contact over the years. He first insisted that I should speak Lithuanian, and consistently addressed me in Lithuanian, even if there was reasonably little I could say that made any sense. From an early period, I also had contact with the Lithuanian Studies Week organized every summer in Europe. For this studies week, Lithuanians from all around the world come together, deliver lectures, listen to the lectures and discuss them. There is also always a musical program. From the beginning I was overwhelmed by the high quality of these meetings.


After Wilhelm Wissmann's untimely death in 1967, it was totally unclear how I could continue my academic work, since in the German tradition one is rather dependent on a "father" figure. I was therefore particularly happy when Professor Szemerényi (born 1913) allowed me to take up the post of assistant at his Institute in the University of Freiburg. To him I owe much of my understanding of Indo-European linguistics. But he also insisted that I should acquire a good grounding in practical Lithuanian if I wanted to work in the field of Baltic linguistics.


Over the years I began to read more and more of the Lithuanian press. And gradually I found out that in Germany where I live one can listen to broadcasts in Lithuanian every day. The Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Vatican, and a few other stations broadcast every day. I regularly listened to those I could receive. Dr. Čeginskas, who worked for Radio Free Europe for almost twenty years, was a major figure on my road to Lithuania. I met him first some time in the early seventies. Although I was hardly able to properly express any ideas in Lithuanian, he insisted from the start that he would use only Lithuanian in conversation with me. He spoke slowly, articulated very clearly, and explained many points. I remember that on one occasion I was able to say: "Ar manote, kad Lietuva vėl bus laisva ir nepriklausoma?" ("Do you think that Lithuania will again be free and independent?") He looked me into the eyes and said: "Ar manote, kad Vokietija bus viena?" ("Do you think that Germany will be one?") I answered: 'Taip." He added: "Taip pat Lietuva bus laisva ir nepriklausoma." I don't know which of us believed what we were saying then. We were both right.

Warming up


Before continuing the Lithuanian story, I must put in a few remarks about my private curriculum vitae, because without this background information the story doesn't make sense. In 1970, my work on Baltic abstract formations was accepted as part of my Habilitation at Freiburg University, and I was appointed a Dozent. Having always had a strong interest in English linguistics, I applied for an opening in the English Department in 1972, and I was successful. The major turning point occurred in 1973, however, when Anneliese and I got married. Since the following account will steadily turn around her, I must give some indications as to who she is. She is a teacher of German and Latin and has a particularly strong background in Germanic linguistics. For a time, it was thought that she could perhaps enter university teaching. In Freiburg she worked at various schools. When we moved to Eichstätt in 1980, she took up teaching at one of the two secondary schools here. The school is called Willibald-Gymnasium, and the name will recur frequently in the following account. She soon felt totally integrated in the school system and became a successful teacher in the Willibald-Gymnasium.


In the seventies it had seemed for a time that we would stay at Freiburg forever. All of a sudden the German University hierarchy developed major interest in hiring me. In rapid succession, I was offered two chairs of English Linguistics, one at the prestigious University of Munster, the other at the then fairly new Catholic University of Eichstatt. Negotiations were rather complicated. In the end we opted for Eichstatt. The road here was in no way smooth, but we have never regretted the choice. When eight years later the University of Würzburg invited me to take over the Chair of Indo-European we declined the offer. The following year, the English Department of the University of Freiburg offered me a return to teaching where I had started in 1973. But by then we Were so deeply rooted in Eichstatt and our work had ramified to such a degree that it seemed to us impossible to move. So we stayed.


Apart from the regular teaching load, my work in Eichstatt was in the beginning much in the administrative line. There were considerable problems to be overcome. Our university is called Katholische Universität, and in its description it is unique in the German system of tertiary education, since all other universities are run by the government of the Under (e.g. Bavaria, Swabia, Hessen, Berlin etc.). We are financially supported by the land Bavaria. Our nominal head is the local Bishop. He appoints the professors. This was bound to cause problems from the beginning. Since I was elected Dean of my faculty in 1981, I had to bear the brunt of the dashes. My theory was always the same, it has remained so to the present day, and I am happy to say that we are getting closer and closer to what I thought the situation should be. But we lost a good deal of time. The Bishop, on the other side, for a long time insisted on appointing Catholics only. Understandably this led to much friction, to much unnecessary trouble, because in a number of subjects it was just impossible to get qualified Catholics. My view was that the person who would suit our context best should be a highly qualified scholar who believes in Christian and democratic values, without being in any sense narrow-minded. I preached this gospel for years. In the university, I was for a long time more or less an outcast. When my own scholarly work found international recognition matters changed for the better.


I must go a bit further back into the past and put in some information about my early years. I was born in 1938 in Munich into a middle-class family. My father Harry Bammesberger (1909-1968) was a clerk in a textile company. He was drafted into the army in 1939.1 remember practically nothing about the war years apart from the fact that they seemed traumatic. My sister Hannelore was born in 1943. We saw our father very rarely. My mother Anna Bammesberger (1913-1978) was our major focus. My father was taken a Russian prisoner after the war, returned in 1948 from Russia, and his health was seriously impaired. My sister at first completely refused to recognize him. She had never seen him. Our mother regularly showed us photographs of what he was like as a young man. When he returned he did not resemble those photographs at all.


When he returned from Russian prison, my father had great difficulty in finding work again. Every day he went to the Arbeitsamt, and after a while, when it seemed that just about no employer would accept him, he said that he would take along a regular satchel like other German workers, so that people in our street thought that he had found work. Into the satchel he put a thermos bottle containing some tea and a slice of bread which was his daily food ration. One day in December of 1948, when he was very desperate indeed, he said that he would take just about any type of work he could find. And that very day he was sent to an accountant's office, where there was an opening. The owner of the enterprise asked him whether he had ever done the type of clerical work needed there. My father never had, but he boldly said "Yes," and he got a minor job. He held the job for one year. At the end of the year, his boss told him that he had been his best employee. Then my father admitted that in the beginning he did not have the faintest notion as to what the work was like. He was told: "You have done a wonderful job." My father was very proud of that. He returned to the firm where he had worked before being drafted into the army. The firm reopened in January 1950 and was by and large successful. The fifties were our happiest years.


Although life was rather modest we felt reasonably well off. But the major problem loomed even then, namely that my father's health was steadily deteriorating. Coronary problems became stronger and stronger. After a major heart attack he was forced to give up regular work in 1966 at the age of 57. Another heart attack in 1968 was fatal. My mother all the while tried to keep the household running as best she could. Her major aim was not to allow anybody to realize how the situation was at home. Only very rarely did she tell me how hopeless she felt. My father talked extremely little about the war and the time he spent in Russian prison. He used to say that nobody would understand his account anyway. But he felt particularly bitter in having been cheated in every respect. He had steadfastly refused to join the Nazionalsozialistische Partei (Hitler's Party). In the prison camp from time to time groups of prisoners would be released. Mostly those who seemed to be in particularly bad health were allowed to go. He was several times in the group of those who were to be sent home. But there was a scar on his upper arm, which was due to a not very professionally carried out inoculation in the late twenties. The prison authorities thought that he had tried to remove the tattooing of the SS-marks. And every time he would have been allowed to go, they said that he was a particularly dangerous individual, and they kept him. Finally, when he was close to dying, they allowed him to go. After my mother's death in 19781 found a number of letters written by my father in which he described life in the prison camp. Evidently my father had given the letters to my mother with the instruction that she should keep them and not show them to anybody. I still have those letters. They are documents that would move a heart of stone.


It is hard for me to describe my father's influence on me. He was evidently proud of my becoming an intellectual (as he saw it). He was particularly proud when I passed the doctoral examinations, since I was the first member of the whole clan to have a doctorate. I cared little for the degree, because for me only work was important. After all I was a school teacher, and I liked the job. I felt somewhat on the margin, however, since few of my colleagues had a doctorate, and I always felt that they eyed me in a particular way. But I just tried to do the regular work. And when people asked me what I did after finishing work, I evaded the question. Only rarely did I admit that even then studying Lithuanian had become a second identity. I knew only too well what the result was when I admitted that I spent much time on learning Lithuanian. "Why do you do that?" was the question I would be asked. I had difficulty explaining that Lithuanian is a "normal" language. Nobody knew where Lithuania was. If one mentioned that the language group Lithuanian belongs to was called "Baltic," an ensuing question was bound to concern the location of "Baltic," which often revealed a confusion of "Baltic" with "Balkan." And if I explained where Lithuania was and that Lithuanian was really much different from Russian, then I had to face the question: "Would it not be better to learn Russian in the first place?" In those years I decided to keep Lithuanian to myself. I shared Lithuanian with very few people only.


Of course the thought occurred again and again to me that I could travel to Lithuania. Colleagues asked me why I did not go there. Many people traveled to Russia and other parts of the then Soviet Union. I was always hesitant. I must say that none of my many Lithuanian friends in exile ever discouraged me from going to Lithuania. But whenever I asked them when they had been in Lithuania for the last time I was given dates around 1944, when they left the country. Why did they not return? Some of them did not have a German or, for that matter, any passport. They were displaced persons. And they did not want to ask Moscow's permission to go to Vilnius. This point impressed me very deeply. It seemed indeed strange that I should get the permission from the Soviet Embassy in order to travel to Lithuania. After all the Lithuanians had always said that they had been forcefully incorporated into the Soviet Union. And Western Governments continued to express some type of non-recognition of that incorporation. Although I have no particularly strong feelings in this context, it seemed that it would have been strange (to say the least) if I applied for a visa to go to Lithuania. Since I was fully occupied with numerous chores anyway, the years passed by, and I did not travel to Lithuania. The time was not lost however. After all, I climbed up in the academic world, my loving wife always bore up with my continuing effort to learn Lithuanian and to improve my Lithuanian, although at times she must also have wondered why on earth a professor of English Linguistics should always be studying that foreign sounding language.


Matters took a major turn in the late eighties. Sajudis appeared on the scene, and a formerly unknown professor of musicology voiced totally new opinions. There is no need to recapitulate the success story of Vytautas Landsbergis here. The only point that needs stressing is that this man apparently from the very beginning represented in the most direct way imaginable the opinions and wishes of his people. Otherwise the overwhelming Sajudis victory in the 1990 elections would not be comprehensible. The remainder of the story is simple and straightforward. When the Parliament declared the continuation of the 1918 Declaration of Independence on March 11, 1990, the western world was flabbergasted. I for one immediately knew that in this case the wheels of history could certainly not be turned back. I knew that this time it was all or nothing, either complete independence or complete slavery. Friends asked me whether I would support Lithuanian independence. I immediately assented. A major campaign of writing to western heads of government began. I repeatedly wrote to the chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, and in retrospect, I am happy to say that the answers which I received from the chancellery, although at first rather evasive and lukewarm, were always to the point.


The major problem in the West was of course to convince people that this was not a matter of personalities. I always had to tell people that I had absolutely nothing against Michael Gorbachev; of course he was operative in allowing German unification to be achieved. But I always stressed that the incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union had been illegal from the start, therefore there was absolutely no reason for not recognizing the Baltic states. 1990 and 1991 brought an endless amount of correspondence. Since all that had to be carried on after I did my official work for the university, it is certainly understandable that I was at times quite tired and exhausted. In the summer of 1991,1 came close to feeling that the whole effort would fail. But in my innermost heart, I knew that it could not fail, and so we carried on. In August 1991, the major breakthrough occurred in the shape of that perverse "putsch," which led to the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union. And of course I was most happy when the Federal Republic of Germany soon followed the lead of Iceland and Denmark and extended diplomatic recognition to the three Baltic Republics. Some might have thought that we now had victory in our hands, and there was nothing further to worry about. In fact, the work was to begin in earnest.


Of course work brought all sorts of revelations. I had not known before that toward the end of the World War and immediately afterward a sizable group of Lithuanians had lived in Eichstatt. Only gradually did I find out who some of the individuals were. On one occasion Vytautas Landsbergis wrote me in a letter that his father (Vytautas Žemkalnis) had been in the refugee camp in Rebdorf quite close to Eichstatt, and that his brother, who now lives in Australia, had also been in that camp. I found out about several students who had been in the seminary, some of whom were ultimately ordained priests. All these pieces of information gradually yielded a picture. We were quite central in this picture, because Anneliese as a professional school teacher of course had contact with many people, and she enjoyed and practiced the contact. And it became clear that now finally the stage was set for me to travel to Lithuania.


From the beginning I thought that this would not be a simple tourist venture. And it soon became clear that Anneliese would also come along. After all, she wanted to see the country where the language was spoken, the language that had haunted our lives for many years. In 1991, we had Professor Albertas Steponavičius from Vilnius University working at our University in Eichstatt. I had been in contact with him for several years. In February of 1992, the Minister of Culture, Darius Kuolys, visited Eichstatt. This visit was well covered in the local press, and it had considerable consequences. A colleague of Anneliese's suggested that the Willibald-Gymnasium, where they both teach, should establish a link with a corresponding school in Lithuania. I therefore wrote to the Minister of Culture and described this wish. We said that we wanted a school of good standing, we would want to support the school in the transition phase materially, but the relationship must be based on mutual respect, since after all we want to learn from them also. I had given a short address in Lithuanian at a reception offered by the Landrat, and the speech was particularly well received. The main theme was that in the hardest of circumstances the Lithuanians had kept alive a spiritual tradition, and that we wanted to learn from them. Materially we in the west were well off, in many ways too well, that for us, and certainly also for the younger generation new ideas are needed. I said that spiritual strength achieves a lot. And this the Lithuanians ought to teach us. The tone was totally new.

Vilnius - Kaunas - Vilnius


On Friday, June 12,1992, we rolled out of Schwechat airport (Vienna) on board an Austrian Airlines plane with Vilnius as our destination. On the bus to the plane we had met a lady from Lithuania who had left her homeland in 1944, spent all her life in Austria and was now returning for the first time. We did not know who the other fellow travelers were. From the type of clothing they wore, many of them must have been business men or academics. In Vilnius, we were met by Albertas Steponavičius. We had the weekend practically for ourselves. Steponavičius explained to us the main sights of Vilnius. We were certainly impressed by the historical buildings. But I cannot suppress our disappointment about the abominable condition in which much of this building substance is nowadays. Many houses are totally abandoned. It will take a long time to restore the beauty of the city.


On Sunday, 13 June 1992, the referendum on the withdrawal of Russian soldiers from Lithuanian soil was held. Steponavičius allowed me to accompany him to the school where he was supposed to cast his vote. He wanted to be photographed holding in his hand the sheet of paper on which he had marked that he was in favor of the Russian soldiers' being withdrawn from Lithuanian soil.


On Monday, Steponavičius drove us to Kaunas, where our immediate work was to begin. We first went to the reopened Vytautas Didysis University (founded in 1922). The Deputy Rector, ponas Malkevičius, welcomed us and explained to us the structure of the University. The Rector, Professor Avižienis, was unfortunately not present. I would have loved to meet him, since he had passed through Eichstatt after the war before settling in the United States. Avižienis is now a professor of computer science at the University of California at Los Angeles.


From the university, we were driven to the seminary and arrived there in time for lunch. We were welcomed by Father Algis Baniulis S.J., whose warm personality and energetic approach to everyday work impressed us immediately. In the meantime we have become very good friends. Father Baniulis is rector of the seminary, and also director of the Jesuit school. We were given preliminary information about the Kaunas seminary as well as the Jesuit school. It should be the task of persons better informed than myself to fill in details here. I am sure that the history of both institutions is worth a lengthy description. And this description would help people in the West understand what spiritual values can mean.


Father Baniulis gave us firsthand information about the school. And we were told what the most pressing needs were. Obviously the buildings were in a dilapidated state. Practically everything has to be redone. But Father Baniulis explained that he could easily get the work-force. Parents and children are always willing to help. His main problem is buying the materials needed for refurbishing the buildings. And he said the sums required for that job were rather minor. We promised that we would see to it that at least a certain amount could be donated for that purpose. It became immediately clear to us that persons like Father Baniulis will have to shoulder immense responsibility in the coming years. Since we are primarily active in the cultural sphere, we do not judge any political activities. We are certainly not for any type of witch-hunt. But given the past 50 years of Soviet and communist rule, it is obvious that the time for a complete reshuffling of the country has come. It is also obvious that the Catholic Church will have to play a leading role in this process. Personalities like Father Baniulis, and he was by no means the only one whom we met, will have the responsibility of seeing the country through the post-communist period.


We felt Kaunas was like an oasis. It is of course true that Vilnius is the more interesting of the two cities. But then for us it is also too tainted by the communist past. In Kaunas we were happy to live in the seminary where we had a small room. We had the pleasure of eating together with professors in the seminary. We had the particular pleasure of meeting Bishops Michelavičius and Tamkevičius. Above all, Tamkevičius was well-known in the west for his courageous action during the communist regime. We permanently felt that here we were encountering persons who could bring a message of hope, but who were at the same time willing to work for a better future.


Father Baniulis drove us to Vilnius on Wednesday, and from then on practically every hour was taken up by special bits of program. Father Baniulis kindly accompanied us to the German embassy, where we were able to explain our purposes.


When we left the embassy, Steponavičius met us. He took us to the cathedral, because we wanted to deliver a letter written by Bishop Dr. Braun (Eichstatt) to the Archbishop of Vilnius, A. Bačkis. Since the Archbishop was out of town we were welcomed by Bishop Tunaitis, with whom we had a lengthy conversation. The questions turned around the position of the Catholic Church. Bishop Tunaitis made it clear that the Catholic Church was strong in the opposition, but that there was grave danger now that the Church would soon lose adherents.


On Thursday, we were received at the Pedagogical Institute. In the afternoon, we had an appointment at the Ministry of Culture and Education. Although it was clear that Minister Kuolys was extremely busy, we were allowed to spend about 30 minutes in conversation with him. We talked about the total reform in the education system that he wants to carry out. We promised that we would support this reform as best we could. We left the Ministry feeling that we had met a particularly good friend.


After leaving the ministry, Steponavičius drove us out to Trakai. It is probably unnecessary to describe any feelings. After the dirt and pollution of Vilnius we almost felt that we were in a different world. Steponavičius hired a rowboat and took us out on the lake.


Friday, our last day, was devoted to visiting the university. Steponavičius took us to the main philological sections where we could talk with a large number of professors and other teaching personalities. We were also shown the University Library and the University Church.



Time was short. Soon after noon, Steponavičius drove us to Vilnius Airport. Everything went extremely smoothly. When the bus carted us to the Austrian Airlines plane sitting out on the tarmac, every passenger was required to identify his or her luggage. Being by nature very suspicious, I carefully looked around upon entering the plane. After all, one never knows. In this case my suspicions were amply rewarded. When we walked through the first class aisle I spotted a bespectacled face more or less hidden behind a copy of the Herald Tribune. But of course the face was familiar to me. I had met Vytautas Landsbergis in 1990, when he attended the Lithuanian Studies Week held in Einsiedeln, Switzerland. On the occasion he gave a paper which had deeply impressed me. I loudly remarked to Anneliese: "This is Vytautas Landsbergis." He looked up and greeted us in a very friendly way. With the then President of the Lithuanian Parliament sitting in the first class section of the plane, it was certainly not surprising that we lifted off with utmost punctuality and precision. The flight was most agreeable. Anneliese and I repeatedly considered the question whether I should walk up to Landsbergis and explain to him the main purpose of our visit. When the delicious Austrian Airlines food had been served with typically Austrian friendliness, I finally decided that, yes, I would approach him.


It turned out to be quite simple to speak to him. A stewardess was standing in the aisle, and I explained to her that I just wanted to have a word with Professor Landsbergis. She said that he was very busy. By that time I had begun addressing her in Lithuanian, which she did not understand. I spoke rather loudly so that Landsbergis had to hear me. He looked up, and we had a short conversation. I explained to him that we were returning home after having visited the Jesuit Secondary School in Kaunas, and that we wanted to establish a permanent link between the Willibald-Gymnasium in Eichstatt and the Jesuit School. I told him that we would of course want to establish exchange in both ways, but that there were many prejudices to be cleared up on both sides. Landsbergis kindly explained that he would support our work as best he could.


I returned to my seat and was very satisfied with the result of the venture. Shortly afterwards the plane touched down in Scwechat. Mozart music aired through the loudspeakers when we left the plane. A taxi was already waiting for us to take us to a flat in the center of the town from where we continued our trip home by car on the following day. We returned on Saturday and had only Sunday in order to get ready for regular work on Monday.


The following weeks were particularly hectic. Not only were we both deeply involved in the work connected with the final part of the school year, but numerous friends wanted to know about the trip and above all to support our efforts. Support was indeed overwhelming. I first wrote a piece for our University Gazette. Even before publication of that piece friends and colleagues asked me what one could do in order to "help". I always said that at the present point help could certainly be of a financial kind, but that ultimately this would have to be based on mutual understanding and collaboration.


The financial help materialized very rapidly. By the end of July it was clear that we could hand over at least 3,000 DM to the director of the school. And I wrote him that we would not send the money through any banking system. We would want him to come in person. On August 4, 1992, Father Baniulis came to Eichstatt. He was accompanied by Prelate Bunga. We had a wonderful day. Since my friends had been very active, it was not just 3,000 DM that we handed over, but the astounding sum of 7,500 DM. This is not the place and the time to mention individuals who contributed to this drive. I can only say that the support was wonderful. All individuals and institutions are to be thanked very warmly.


Since I have extended the meaning of the "trip" in the course of this essay to include more than one venture into the realm of Lithuanian, I may well offer as the final part a brief account of my stay in Austria on the occasion of the Lithuanian Studies Week held at Berwant in Tirol from August 16 to August 23, 1992. Anneliese and I were indeed welcomed very warmly, in the list of guests we ranked after his Excellency Bishop Antanas Deksnys, the deputy of the President of the Parliament K. Motieka, and our mutual friend the Minister of Education, Darius Kuolys. Two papers were read every day and Mass was said every morning. In the course of the week we felt that we were indeed in a great family, as our friend Dr. Jonas Norkaitis so touchingly said in the farewell address.


Our work for Lithuania has indeed been amply rewarded so far. We have found warm personalities, with whom we are happy to work together. In a world that is rapidly changing we certainly need persons of character and warmth who look into the future without fear. In our work as educators the contact with Lithuanians has immensely broadened our horizons. We hope we can continue work in this direction for the benefit of all.

Jesuitengymnasium, Kaunas; 1992