Interpreting Lithuanian Historical Trajectories through Jadvyga Damušienė’s Memoirs

Ilona Strumickienė (Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania)

The Adolfas Damušis Democracy Studies Center, established at the National Library of Lithuania in 2017, focuses on exploring the ideological and cultural transformations of Lithuania throughout periods of modernization, foreign occupation and the experiences of its diaspora. The Center has significantly enriched the library’s collection with valuable books and archival documents, including the remarkable memoirs of Jadvyga Damušienė.

Damušienė’s memoirs offer a unique perspective on the lives of Lithuanian expatriates before, during and after World War II. The presentation delves into this personal narrative, analyzing its significance for understanding broader themes in Lithuanian history. Jadvyga Damušienė (1915-2010) was a respected educator and public figure. Alongside her husband, Adolfas Damušis (1908-2003), she navigated the turbulent times during and after World War II. The story of the Damušis family marked by resistance, imprisonment and eventual exile to the United States, reflects the resilience and adaptability of many Central and Eastern European families during this era.

Damušienė’s memoirs chronicle the family’s emigration experience in vivid detail. She describes their departure from Lithuania, the hardships they faced in the last month of the war, the efforts to secure her husband’s release, and their life in DP camps, before the eventual emigration to the USA. By presenting the experiences of a young woman caught in these historical events, the narrative offers a fresh perspective on DP memoirs, revealing previously unknown aspects of this period.

The analysis of Damušienė’s memoirs sheds light on the invaluable contribution such personal accounts make to understand the post-war experiences of Lithuanian expatriates. Through this lens, we gain a deeper appreciation of Lithuania’s historical context in the aftermath of World War II. Furthermore, the presentation underscores the critical role ego-documents play in enriching historical archives and fostering a more nuanced understanding of the past.