Historical Memory of the Consequences of WWII Based on the Experiences and Testimonies of Displaced Persons

Regina Butkus (Lithuanian-American Community)

Various roads led Lithuanians to postwar Displaced Persons (DP) camps in Germany. Some were taken by the Germans for forced labor during the Second World War or as prisoners of war. Others were conscripted into the German Army or forcibly evacuated from Lithuania. A number who could claim German ethnicity were repatriated in 1941 or accompanied such individuals.

However, the largest concentration of Lithuanians left their homeland in July of 1944 and Traveled westward for several months. They retreated along with the German Army to escape the returning Soviet terror as Stalin’s forces pushed Nazi Germany to defeat. Those fleeing knew of military operations in Western Europe and had the objective of traveling far enough west to eventually come under the protection of American or British forces.

In 1945-1946, Lithuanian DP’s were hopeful that, with the assistance of the United States, the Baltic States would soon regain their independence and they could return to their homeland. Unfortunately, due to changing political events, concessions made by the Western allies and the realization that Stalin would either permanently occupy Eastern Europe or install puppet regimes there, the residents of the DP camps, living under the temporary care first of military forces and then the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, had to consider long-term or permanent migration to other countries.

Amass emigration began in 1947, which opened the ways to Canadian (approximately 20,000 Lithuanians), Argentinian (800), Brazilian (700), Columbian (500), and New Zealand (250) job markets. But the most attractive country for the Lithuanian DP’s, furthermore with the oldest Lithuanian immigrant history (the first Lithuanians settled in North America as early as the 17th century), was the United States. Under immigration legislation passed in 1948, the US authorized the admission of 30,000 Lithuanian DP’s. Later, some of the Lithuanians who had previously migrated to the United Kingdom, Belgium, Canada or Australia also moved to the US and joined the ranks of the various Lithuanian-American communities.

Some Lithuanians remained in Western Germany even when the DP period had concluded. The Lithuanian Refugee Community was reorganized into a Lithuanian German Community. Formal Lithuanian Communities were sooner or later established in the Lithuanian colonies. They were formally united under the umbrella of the Lithuanian World Community, which commenced its activities in 1949 upon the promulgation of the Lithuanian Center.

The presentation highlights the experiences of several Lithuanian DP families, the context in which they lived and survived, and their later arrival in the United States.