Volume 42, No.2 - Summer 1996
Editor of this issue: Robert A. Vitas
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1996 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Leonardas Šimutis, Lietuvą aplankius: Pirmo pasaulio lietuvių kongreso įspūdžiai 

[Lithuania Visited: Impressions of the First Lithuanian World Congress] (Chicago: Lietuviškos Knygos Klubas — Lithuanian Book Club), 1995), pp. 177, illustrations, index of persons, cloth cover, no price given.

The author of these vignettes was arguably the most significant Catholic voice in the Lithuanian diaspora of the 1920s and beyond. His impressive credentials, to name but a few, included the post of editor of the Catholic daily, Draugas, for over four decades, 1927-1968, and the national presidency of the Catholic Alliance from 1934 to 1972. He was a major figure in siring the political voice of Lithuanians in the United States, long known as the Amerikos Lietuvių Taryba (ALT) from 1940, and still functioning to this day. In the pioneering days of the Knights of Lithuania, Šimutis provided needed leverage in firming up this lay association. In a word, there was scarcely a major Lithuanian movement or campaign that did not benefit from his presence as a moving spirit. The highly inadequate, single column about this sterling activist in Lietuvių enciklopedija conceals a personage deserving a full-length monograph.

Lietuvą aplankius is a four-month daily diary of articles that appeared in Draugas from September 28, 1935 to January 27, 1936. There are ninety-two entries and four appendices, amply illustrated with photos bearing extensive identification of people in group pictures. The handsome maroon volume is a gold mine of impressions and insights into Lithuania in its struggling infant years as an independent state. One catches fascinating glimpses of the somber, militaristic mood in Germany; the farmers strike in Suvalkija that left three protestors dead; and some behind-the-scenes events of the First Lithuanian World Congress with its stillborn resolutions judged too sensitive for presentation to the assembly. One is intrigued by Social Democrat delegate L. Purnėnienė, whose lengthy speech for some unclear reason stirred protests from her opponents at the Congress. Perhaps most striking is Šimutis' private confrontation with President Antanas Smetona, whose regime by 1935 had banned most societies and required the presence of a policeman monitor at any meetings.

The writer's side trips and visits to scenes of his boyhood fill the volume with the scent of nostalgia. For instance, a sensitive reader cannot be untouched by Šimutis' visit to the grave of his ten-month old daughter.

The easy reading style should make this tome accessible to most Lithuanian Americans who still remember a modicum of their parents' language. Nevertheless, this is one of the many gems that could stand an English translation, though needing a heavy editorial hand with historic explanations. Meanwhile, to appreciate these memoirs, one would do well to keep the Encyclopedia Lituanica handy to familiarize oneself with the various names that turn up on page after page.

William Wolkovich-Valkavičius