How Higher Education Was Fought for: Lithuanian Aspects of UNRRA University 1945-1948

Arvydas Pakštalis (Vytautas Magnus University) and Brigita Tranavičiūtė (Kaunas University of Technology)

The refugees who fled to Germany during the Second World War were mainly united by the same goal: to escape the hostilities and the terror of the armies occupying their countries. Many refugees stayed in Germany during and after the war hoping to return to their homeland, but as the Soviet government established in Lithuania, they had to adopt different survival and life strategies.

The refugees from Lithuania who settled in DP camps were largely members of the intellectual and cultural elite that formed in Lithuania. Many writers, scientists, artists, teachers, priests, political figures and others who moved west to escape the terror of the Soviet army, came here with their families and felt the need to take care of more than just their daily lives. Once in the DP camps, Lithuanians, alone and together with their brothers in fate from other countries, soon began to engage in organisational work, setting up their own societies, educational and training institutions.

In 1945, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was established with funds from the countries that won World War II. One of the main activities of this organisation was the education of refugees. In the same year, thanks to the efforts of professors from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, the US military authorities and UNRRA were given the go-ahead to establish a university in Munich.

At the beginning of its activities, UNRRA was composed of 8 faculties: civil engineering (with departments of construction, geodesy and architecture), mechanical engineering (with departments of mechanical and electrical engineering), natural sciences and mathematics (with departments of mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology, biology and pharmaceutics), medicine (with departments of odontology and medicine), law, economics, agriculture and philosophy. 3,000 students enrolled and 179 teachers were recruited. Initially, 602 Lithuanian students registered. Lithuanians, J. Šimoliūnas, J. Gabrys, S. Kolupaila, J. Puiša, J. Kuodis, J. Kovalskis, V. Žemkalnis, J. Gimbutas, A. Damušis, and others taught at the UNRRA University.

Although the history of education in the DP camps has received some attention, the history of secondary or special education has been studied the most. The Baltic University has received a little more attention from researchers, but the history of the UNRRA University has remained mostly out of sight. In order to fill the historiographical gaps, we present the history of UNRRA University through the prism of Lithuanian students and research staff. We look at the dynamics of the number of Lithuanian students and research staff, focusing on the activities of the Faculty of Construction. We also present the faculty’s teaching curricula and highlight the contribution and activities of Lithuanians at the university.