LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 44, No.4 - Winter 1998
Editor of this issue: Dalia Kučėnas
Copyright © 1998 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
ENDURANCE OF HOMELAND SUPPORT BY LITHUANIANS IN THE UNITED STATES
If it is true, as Oscar Handlin observes in his prize-wining essay, The Uprooted, that the day an emigrant leaves his village he begins to change, it is also true that such a one tends to bear an indelible homeland affection branded in one's psyche. The purpose of this study is to illustrate some of the many ways in which Lithuanian hearts have ever striven to reach back to their land of origin.
Literature, Funds, Travel Fare
In the Lithuanian Diaspora of the United States, one of the first expressions of ethnic consciousness stems from August 16, 1879. That was the date of the premier journalistic endeavor, the newspaper Gazieta Lietuwiszka, whose chief contributor was the Franciscan Brother Augustinas Zaicas (Zeitz). Though 132 subscribers could not sustain the paper beyond sixteen issues, 1 - Gazieta became the seed of numerous publications to follow. One wonders if an ethnically precocious immigrant in the United States succeeded in transmitting a copy of Gazieta to his homeland relatives and friends. If so, what a sensation it would have been. Significantly Gazieta preceded Auszra (from Prussia) the voice of awakening nationalism in Tilsit, Prussia, by nearly four years.
In any case, issue Nos. 7 & 8 of Auszra for 1884, that were smuggled into the homeland must have snatched readers' attention as they thumbed through the seventy-eight pages of that contraband publication. Therein the editors published a letter from Antanas Jurgelaitis of Springfield, Ohio, under the novel caption: "Korespondencija Lietuviu isz Amerikos. " The writer testified to the beginnings of humanitarian aid to fellow countrymen in the form of travel expenses. Referring to good wages in Pennsylvanian coal mines, Jurgelaitis remarked that already one or another was sending for a friend or relative, and was able to provide ocean passage and to help as much as possible ("... vienas kita atsikvietė ir vienas kita gelbėjo kiek galėdami. ") Bemoaning the lack of literature and disinterest in reading among his fellow immigrants, Jurgelaitis rejoiced over the appearance of Auszra "for which we cannot give enough thanks to the Creator of heaven and earth. " (... negalime atsidekavoti... sutvertojui dangaus ir žemes."2 Evidently at least a few of Jurgelaitis' estimated 30, 000 Lithuanians in the United States were subscribing to Auszra, as was the enlightened Ohio resident.
In America there followed two more short-lived newspapers, Unija (October 26, 1884 - April 25, 1885) and Lietuwiszkas Balsas (July 2, 1885 - February, 1889). Some copies of these sheets did penetrate Lithuania through surreptitious channels. But then began the long-lasting Wienibe Lietuwninku, dating from February 10, 1886, and enduring for an entire century. Copies of this weekly circulated not only throughout the American diaspora, but some issues reached Lithuania. Juozas Gabrys (1880-1945), famed activist in France and Switzerland most of his life, attests to the novelty and power of the printed word arriving from the United States. Recalling his days in the homeland, he wrote in 1911:
On one occasion a friend of mine stopped by and furtively asked: "Have you seen an American newspaper? "No, " I replied, glancing about to see if we were being observed, and impatiently adding: "If you have one, quickly show it to me. " He pulled out a bundle, unwrapped it, and spread it out on the table before me" "Look, it's Vienybe Lietuwninku!" l couldn't believe my eyes... As a man hungering in the presence of a morsel of bread, I lunged toward the newspaper. 3
Meanwhile, a trend to literature purchases from both sides of the Atlantic was beginning when Ūnija, in an issue of 1884, in a modest paragraph called "Apgarsinimai" [advertisements] offered three titles from the press of Mykolas Twarauskas, and three more publications from Europe ("Isz Auropos"), i. e. Lietuviskas Sziupinis, for 15 cents, Oszabalų dainos for 25 cents, and a year's subscription to Auszra for $2, with single issues at 20 cents.
Thus, the first significant expression of homeland support from the American diaspora took shape through the transmission of contraband publications and the start of sales of booklets from Prussia. Almost simultaneously, furthermore, homeland ties were gradually strengthening in other ways, too.
In possibly the first such advertisement, Unija ran a notice of Mikolas Twarauckas as the general agent for the Hamburg-American Company, offering Lithuanians and Poles passage from either New York to Hamburg or the reverse for $14 or double for the round-trip. The agent also sent money to Europe and other countries. By way of a good advertising technique, Twarauckas warned readers who wished to invite relatives or friends to America to hurry, "for in a short while there will be a price increase. " To offset some well-founded suspicions in other instances, the agent gave assurance that anyone who came to him could be assured that "he would not fall into the hands of a crook or bloodthirsty person. " The warning about an imminent rate increase may not have been entirely candid, nevertheless. A few issues later, the cost of the transatlantic voyage failed to increase, but instead dropped to only $10. 4 Such advertisements became a common feature of the immigrant press, verifying the assertions of the Ohio resident Jurgelaitis.
Wienibe soon became a fixture in immigrant life. The number of readers far exceeded the list of paid subscribers as copies were passed around from hand to hand in saloons, factories, and mines. Advertisements flooded the pages of Wienibe, offering money order services and oceanic travel tickets for relatives and friends in Lithuania, anxious to pursue fortune in the New World. Already, the very first issue of Wienibe heralded J. Pauksztis as a "Szipkorcziu" [passage ticket] Lithuanian and Polish agent, offering the lowest rates. In addition, the businessman-banker transmitted gifts of money "to every country in the world" at the best Prussian exchange rate, and also converted Russian, Austrian, and French currency into American funds. 5
In the first decade and a half of immigrant history, these newcomers, then, kept alive their bonds with kinfolk and through them to their land of birth, by means of letters bearing money orders and coveted transatlantic tickets to the New World. At the same time, the infant press provided publications for the book smugglers to include in their wares.
Response To The Kražiai Massacre
On November 22, 1893, the tsarist regime unwittingly furnished Lithuanians abroad with a major cause that provoked intense patriotic emotions and heightened ethnic awareness. Recall the ongoing nineteenth century attempts to assimilate Lithuanians by erasing incipient ethnic consciousness and pressuring them to join the Russian Orthodox Church. The Russian government set out to achieve this goal by suppressing Roman Catholic churches and monasteries, or converting them into Orthodox places of worship. Popular resistance occurred in 1864 at Tytuvėnai and in 1886 at Kestaiciai, but surpassed in violence at the uprising at Kražiai, resulting in nine fatalities and scores of injuries. 6
News of the Kražiai Massacre inflamed Lithuanian immigrant enclaves in America, especially in coal mining settlements of Pennsylvania, housing the largest numbers in that decade. Vienybė Lietuvninkų printed a front-page lament in black-lined columns, coupled with a narrative about the carnage. In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the heartland of US. Lithuanians at that time, activists of the Plymouth, Pittston, and Wilkes-Barre Lithuanian parishes took the initiative to stage a mammoth observance of grief on March 4, 1894. The somber event that drew members of fourteen societies from the trio of sponsoring churches became a national ("tautiskza") day of mourning, marked with a street procession that included eight Polish associations from New York and New Jersey, expressive of close Polish-Lithuanian ties in that decade. Nine other regional fraternities, including leftists, joined the dolorous pace of the marchers. Three riders led the cortege, with horses decked in black bunting. Men of the St. George Society carried an American flag bearing a long silk mourning ribbon. Directly behind came a large black silk banner with this English inscription on both sides:
In memoriam of the Lithuanians whom Cossacks by Russian [l. c. in original] Czar's command massacred for their religion in the church of Krozhe (sic) 22nd of November 1893. Massacred over 160, injured over 200.
(These first statistics were inflated, as later documentation shows. ) Three musical units dispersed throughout the procession, sounded dirges along the two-mile walk. Society members wore their full regalia, including white gloves and black and white uniforms. Onlookers were estimated at 7, 000 Lithuanians and 3, 000 of other nationalities. Some in the overflow crowd, seeking a better view, perched on rooftops. Some 3, 000 jammed the Wilkes-Barre church to hear a fervent talk by Fr. Aleksandras Burba. An unplanned collection netted $38. 97, a tidy sum for those days. By 7 o'clock the entourage wound its way back to the starting place at the Court House. On the morning of March 5, nearly all the area newspapers printed full reports. At Forest City, Fr. Aleksandras Burba gave another fiery speech, as Poles joined in the protest rally. Despite unemployment of the day, a collection of $10. 57 helped defray the cost of printing a brochure about the Kražiai Massacre. Soon afterwards, the newly-ordained, future activist, Fr. Jonas Žilinskas, compiled a brochure called Kražių skerdynė ir jos pasekmės (though some sources attribute it to Žebris. ) While pastor in Waterbury, Connecticut, Fr. Juozas Žebris immediately penned an influential play about the tragedy called "Kankinamas lietuvių Lietuvoje" in a run of 750 copies, printed by Vienybe Lietuvninkų. 7
Explaining the rationale for such protests, a fiery editorial in Vienybė Lietuvninkų voiced the universal sentiments of Lithuanians. "We cannot refrain from crying out. Our sorrow surpasses our patience, " lamented the writer, explaining that the benefit of such public shouting was to tighten unity, and to foster courage and boldness in the face of such satanic Muscovite behavior. Furthermore, this Lithuanian outcry would stir the attentions of non-Lithuanians and win their sympathy and even the "humanitarian segment of the Russians themselves. " The editorial relied on the power of public opinion to deter the Russian authorities, rallying readers "to call out again and again to the utmost to the four corners of the earth, publicizing names and surnames of evildoers and their locations. "8
A student at the Philadelphia archdiocesan seminary (St. Charles) added his voice to the protest. Though unable to take part in the rally, Vaclovas Matulaitis felt compelled to participate at least with his pen. He noted that the barbarism at Kražiai echoed throughout the churches of both Europe and America, appealing for aid to the wounded victims suffering in prison and the surviving widows and orphans. The seminarian solicited especial attention from the enclave in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, some of whom originated in Kražiai. Besides asking for donations, he urged fellow Lithuanians to inform local newspapers about the massacre, and to appeal to the citizenry against the Muscovite regime.
Paris World Exposition, Motinėlė Society, 1905 Revolution
There were other instances of homeland support. Around this same time, several activists shrewdly looked ahead to the World Exposition of 1900 in Paris as a rare chance to showcase the cause of Lithuania. The notion of an exhibit arose in the ranks of the Laurynas Ivinskis Society, dating from December of 1893. Initiators of the exhibit were future clergy luminaries: Antanas Kaupas, Antanas Milukas, and Jonas Žilinskas. The last-named promptly began collecting artifacts and soliciting funds, beginning with a personal gift of $60. After a temporary lapse of interest, the project regained attention in 1898 when a committee was formed to prepare the display. Despite some internal discord in the ranks of the promoters, the Lithuanian exhibit won world exposure for the homeland struggling under tsarist oppression, thanks to sympathetic French scholars and the Polish writer, Marja Szeliga. 9
At the turn of the century clergy-activists devised another form of homeland aid when they founded the Motinėlė Society (1900-1945) at Pittston, Pennsylvania. Annual member donations of $10 or more provided tuition payments for students at places like Friburg University in Switzerland. Over the years, recipients included such well-known figures as: the future Blessed Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis, composer Stasys Šimkus, writer M. Pečkauskaitė (Šatrijos Ragana), philosophers: Pranas Dovydaitis and Stasys Šalkauskas. During its nearly half century of activity, Motinėlė aided over forty students in preparing for their professions. Some stipends were given outright, while others took on the nature of a loan. 10
Lithuanians in the United States responded again when the 1905 Revolution broke out in the Russian empire. Routinely, local societies of every stripe sponsored lectures and gathered funds. Donors were regularly recorded in newspapers that served as collection agencies. How much money was garnered and how successfully it was transmitted is open to question. The same issue arises as to how the funds were utilized and what was accomplished.
The initial sparks of World War I in 1914 touched the hearts and minds of US. Lithuanians still further. The more astute activists realized that ideological differences of religion and politics must be put aside to furnish a common front. Various Lithuanian editors aired the notion of a nationwide political convention. Immediately, nevertheless, a dispute arose about the site. The annual congress of the Catholic Federation had been slated for Chicago in September of 1914 anyway, so a cross-section of Chicago activists, though heavily Catholic, unilaterally decided to hold this novel political assembly in the same city. The leftists and their newspapers opted for New York City as a better location, and accordingly boycotted the Chicago assembly, withholding information about it. Even so, the Chicago congress of September 21 & 22 did take place, though almost entirely Catholic in makeup. Guests included Fr. Motiejus Gustaitis from Lithuania and Juozas Gabrys from the Lithuanian Information Bureau in Paris.
Resolutions demanded the fullest political autonomy for Lithuania, based on considerations of ethnography, culture, and language, including the territory of Prussian Lithuania Minor. The Chicago delegates also urged the return of the Suvalkai region under Poland, severed from Lithuania by the 1815 Congress of Vienna. Meanwhile, the assembly named its neighbors: Latvians, Poles, Byelorussians, and Ukrainians and others for whom the Chicago representatives wished similar political autonomy. Another resolution was a plea for representation in the foreseeable international European Peace talks. The Chicago Lithuanians selected Gabrys as their spokesman for such a conference.
Other resolutions included a range of issues: establishment of a five-member liaison with the nation's capital, a request for political prisoner amnesty and victims of violations of the Hague Peace Treaty considerations, and the start of a National Fund to aid war sufferers and to seek political autonomy. The Chicago gathering likewise hoped for a National Council, embracing the spectrum of political views. Failing to win the allegiance of the leftists, the Catholics proceeded to institute their own version of the Council, though still open to all delegates.11
Meanwhile, socialists and nationalists sponsored a parallel convention in New York, October 1-3 of that same year, with socialists in command. They were less interested in a separate Lithuania than in promoting the international brotherhood of the proletariat. A nationalist remnant then broke away to conduct its own "convention, " with a list of resolutions similar to those of the Chicago assembly.
Lithuanians gained nationwide attention on November 1, 1916, in behalf of their war victims. A congressional decree signed by President Woodrow Wilson declared that date as the official National Day for solicitations from the general public. Immigrant enclaves had recruited throngs to go into the public arena with collection canisters in hand. Children were not excluded from among the volunteers. Despite typical enclave wrangling over which parish or society should take charge, the substantial sum of nearly $177, 000 was collected, according to data in the American Red Cross archives. The sum of $49, 000 was sent to Switzerland for aid to Lithuanian prisoners in German camps. The rest of the funds were frozen when Germany occupied Lithuania. After the Armistice, however, Red Cross officials, in consultation with the Lithuanian representative, Attorney Jonas Lopatto, used the remainder of the donations to purchase medicine and clothing for Lithuanian war victims. 12
A year and a half later, another major endeavor put Lithuanians in the limelight in New York City. On March 13-14, 1918, the so-called "Great Convention" took place at cavernous Madison Square Garden in New York City. The count of registered delegates reached one thousand one, representing a spectrum of local societies. Despite a violent prayer controversy that broke out the first afternoon, threatening to disrupt the entire proceedings, Fr. Fabijonas Kemėšis managed to quell the disputants. He proceeded to formulate a series of resolutions that won unanimous approval. As a result of the huge gathering, the general public became better acquainted with the aspirations of emerging Lithuania. 13
Though February Sixteenth of 1918 became the Lithuanian Fourth of July, a major obstacle to hurdle remained. The United States government was quite slow in extending official recognition to the reemerging Baltic nation. Several delegations visited President Woodrow Wilson and his successor, President Warren G. Harding. Other delegates attended the Paris Peace Talks to supplement these endeavors. Finally, activists in the United States devised a clever public relations "coup" by gathering one million signatures around the country. A committee of six delegates then traveled to the nation's capitol, with 138 bound volumes in hand to present to President Harding on May 30, 1921. Soon after on July 28, the United States accorded recognition to the three Baltic states. 14
During the 1920s and 1930s, the novelty of a free homeland precipitated new efforts to assist Lithuania. The fascination of returning permanently to an independent native land momentarily enchanted a small number. Nevertheless, a frequently cool reception and the jolt of suddenly realizing one's dormant Americanism resulted in only a minor phenomenon of returnees, some of whom reemigrated. In contrast, excursions became a popular avenue of both support and enhancement of ethnic sentiments.
The year 1936 marked another significant endeavor in Lithuanian ties with its emigres, though it proved to be a Utopian scheme. A World Congress did succeed in drawing delegates from enclaves around the globe. Leonardas Šimutis represented the Lithuanians of the United States, as his memoirs describe. To make this convocation more attractive, ambitious planners arranged a mini-version of the Olympics in conjunction with the congress. Constantine Savickas of Chicago, just sworn in as an attorney, devoted an entire year of his life at this time to train aspiring athletes in Lithuania. An excellent sportsman himself, Savickas introduced the art of basketball and even penned the first basketball handbook, full of diagrams and a newly-devised vocabulary. As is well known, Lithuania went on to become European basketball champions within a matter of months in 1937. 15 published in abridged form under the same title in 1985 by the Lithuanian History Society, Chicago.
Response During The Soviet Era
The Soviet occupation of Lithuania in the 1940s goaded Lithuanian activists into political action, centered in Chicago. There Catholic and Nationalist leaders formed the American Lithuanian Council (Amerikos Lietuvių Taryba). ALT arranged annual conventions and encouraged local and regional patriotic observances. The Council inaugurated an information center in New York for the dissemination of accurate news to offset Soviet Communist propaganda. Above all, ALT promoted recourse to federal officials in the nation's capital. The Council's major achievement was its role in creating the Kersten Committee to investigate Communist aggression. ALT goaded the government to maintain recognition of the Baltic States as sovereign entities, despite the Soviet forced annexation. 16
The Knights of Lithuania, spearheaded by the fiery Fr. John Jutt-Jutkevičius, likewise took up arms. The zealot inaugurated a constant letter-campaign aimed at the US. Senate and Congress. These federal leaders were unceasingly reminded to withhold recognition of the Soviet takeover. Each February Sixteenth marking the original Lithuanian Independence Day intensified a barrage of letters to Washington, D. C., prompting speeches by officials sympathetic to the cause of the three Baltic nations. Their remarks are preserved in the Congressional Record. 17
Meanwhile, the end of World War Two found thousands of refugees in Displaced Persons camps throughout Germany. Again, Lithuanians in the United States rose to the occasion with a concerted relief effort, spearheaded by the relief agency known as BALF, i. e. Bendras Amerikos Lietuvių Fondas. Associations such as BALF and Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid furnished leadership and example. Meanwhile, scores of private individuals sponsored refugees, providing clothing, room and board, and job searches, sometimes for several years. Other kindly Lithuanians stood in behalf of the Displaced Persons at subway entrances in New York City, begging funds from passersby and commuters. 18
With the sudden burst of liberty in Lithuania a few years ago, a litany of new humanitarian efforts has sprang up throughout the United States, furnishing clothing, medical and school supplies. In the Boston area, there is Lithuanian Children's Relief; in Chicago - Lithuanian Children's Hope, and the nationwide Knights of Lithuania "Operation Mercy Lift. " A coalition of professional educators, under the acronym A. P. P. L. E., travels each summer to Lithuania to provide seminars for teacher counterparts. At this writing, the Pittsburgh-based Franciscans have released three Sisters to work in Lithuania at Utena and Kretinga. These are only a few examples of similar enterprises.
It would take a separate paper to do justice to one other category of support, namely, the huge scholarly contribution - Lietuvių enciklopedija, Encyclopedia Lituanica, the journal Lituanus, the many volumes of the Lithuanian Historical Society, Lithuanian Catholic Academy of Sciences, Lithuanian Institute of Studies, the dozen unpublished doctoral dissertations and master's theses, and finally - Bronius Kviklys' monumental 4-volume Geography of Lithuania, and his 7-volume series on the Roman Catholic dioceses of Lithuania.
In a variety of ways, ethnic identity and expression have evolved and diminished among immigrants and their offspring in the past century under the impact of assimilation and acculturation. Nevertheless, the fact remains that a sturdy, underlying humanitarian impulse continues to link Lithuanians and their descendants to the land of their forebears as these many illustrations indicate.
N. B. This is a slightly revised version of a paper given at the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies biennial conference, June 27-29, 1996, Bentley College, Waltham, Massachusetts.
1 Only excerpts of Gazieta survive in other sources. None of the complete issues are anywhere to be found.
2 Auszra, p. 284. 285.
3 Vienybė Lietuvninkų 24 M. (1886-1911), p. 117.
4 Ūnija, November 9, 1884; January 31, 1885.
5 Wienibe Lietuwninkų, 10 Wasario (Luto) [Feb. ] 1886.
6 Lietuvių Enciklopedija, Vol. XIII, pp. 39-40 provide a summary.
7 Vienybė Lietuvninkų, No. 51, Nos. 6, 9, 10, 1984. (Henceforth, VL)
8 Ibid., No. 9, 1894.
9 Antanas Kučas, Amerikos lietuvių istorija (Boston, 1971), pp.
156-59; VL, August 23, November 8, 1899; No. 6, 1900.
10 A. Milukas, Motinėlės Draugija [reprint from Žvaigždė (Philadelphia, 1932).
11 Kučas, VL, pp. 304-06.
12 Kučas, VL, pp. 317-320.
13 Kučas, VL, pp. 346-53; William Wolkovich-Valkavičius, "Lithuanian-Style Separation of Church and State: The 1918 'Great' Convention in New York City, " paper given at AABS Conference, Toronto, June 12-14, 1992.
l4 For a summary of these efforts, see Kučas, VL, pp. 354-88. The greatest detail is in Constantine R. Jurgėla's 312-page typescript doctoral dissertation, "Lithuania and the United States: The Establishment of State Relations" (Fordham University, 1953),
15 Leonardas Šimutis, Amerikos lietuvių taryba (Chicago, 1971); Šimutis' memoirs - Lietuvą aplankius: Pirmo Pasaulio lietuvių kongreso įspūdžiai (Chicago, 1995); Dr. K. G. Savickas, Krepšinis (Kaunas, 1936).
16 Kučas, VL, pp. 551-558.
17 William Wolkovich-Valkavičius, Lithuanian Fraternalism; Seventy-five Years of U. S. Knights of Lithuania (Brooklyn, N. Y.,1988), pp. 124-31.
18 Joseph B. Končius, Atsiminimai iš BALFO veiklos, 1944-1964 (Chicago, 1966); Domas Jasaitis, ed., BALFAS 1944-1969 (Brooklyn, N. Y., 1969).