No Home to Go To: Lessons from the Decade-long Baltic DP Exhibition

Sigita Balzekas (Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, USA)

Ten years ago, the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture invited representatives of Chicago’s Latvian and Estonian communities to capture the untold first-person testimonies of Baltic refugees fleeing the ravages of Soviet and Nazi occupations during WWII. The culmination of their efforts was the critically acclaimed exhibition No Home to Go To: The Story of Baltic Displaced Persons from 1944 to 1952.” This collaboration earned the Balzekas Museum the distinct honor of being the first non-UN-related entity to present an exhibition at the United Nations in New York. “No Home” subsequently toured the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in Washington D.C.; the Philadelphia, New York, and Arlington Public Libraries; and the Lithuanian Museum and Archives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. A Lithuanian version of the exhibition was presented at the Seimas in Vilnius, Lithuania; Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas; and the Janina Monkutė Marks museum in Kėdainiai. 

The caliber of the exhibition and its reach rests squarely with the exhibition’s curator, Irena Brokas Chambers, and her team; the donors and grantors who supported the project; and the surviving witnesses to WWII and its aftermath who revealed their stories. Brokas Chambers had the foresight to call the exhibition “unfinished,” anticipating that as more people saw it, they would want to add their memories and artifacts. Over the past decade, her vision has been realized. The Baltic Displaced Persons archive at the Balzekas Museum has continued to grow with oral histories, manuscripts, personal collections, and documents. These materials are sought by scholars, historians, and filmmakers. In light of world events—the pandemic, Russia’s war on Ukraine, and record refugee displacement globally—the exhibition continues to have relevance to this day in the individual stories of resilience and its lessons for refugee agencies and governments. The exhibition provides a counterpoint to a resurfaced Soviet-era narrative that paints all Baltic refugees as Nazi collaborators in hopes of weakening support for the Baltic States, NATO, and more broadly, rules-based order and democratic ideals.

Through film footage, images, and interviews, the presentation gives an overview of the exhibition, its ongoing impact in the telling of WWII history, and the experiences and contributions of Baltic displaced persons to their host countries and respective homelands. The benefit of Baltic collaboration in the creation of this exhibition and other activities is highlighted.