Staying with the Flock: The Role of Lithuanian Catholic Priests in Sustaining the Diaspora Community in Germany, 1951-1990

Ignas Stanevičius (Vilnius University)

During the aftermath of the Second World War, a significant proportion of Lithuanian refugees, predominantly Catholics, sought refuge in DP camps in Germany and Austria. Among these refugees were over 200 Catholic priests, comprising approximately a quarter of the clergy, and three church hierarchy members. Distinguished by their intellectual background, many of these clergy members were highly educated and actively engaged in cultural endeavors, transcending their roles as religious leaders to contribute to academia and cultural activities. As the post-war era unfolded, a gradual shift in the aspirations of Lithuanian refugees transpired, wherein the fervent desire to return to their homeland waned in favor of seeking new opportunities across the Atlantic. Host countries, predominantly interested in admitting youthful, robust individuals with sponsors, became the focal point for many displaced persons (DPs). Concurrently, Catholic clergy, responding to invitations extended by bishops in the United States and Canada, or those of Lithuanian descent, embarked on journeys alongside their faithful adherents. However, for individuals failing to meet stringent criteria such as advanced age, infirmity, German heritage or unresolved familial and financial matters, despite sincere intentions, the possibility of relocation remained out of reach. Amidst this backdrop, the clergy who chose to remain in Germany demonstrated unwavering compassion towards their compatriots, offering support and solidarity to fellow travelers who remained in limbo, awaiting opportunities for relocation abroad.

This scholarly investigation delves into the integral role played by Lithuanian Catholic priests in nurturing and sustaining the Lithuanian diaspora community in Germany from 1951 to 1990. Drawing upon archival data sourced from the Institute of Lithuanian Culture in Germany, this study employs a rigorous methodology involving prosopographical analysis and examination of correspondence to elucidate the multifaceted contributions of these clergy members.

The presentation examines the myriad challenges encountered by Lithuanian Catholic priests in integrating into post-war DP camps, alongside the forms of material and social assistance provided to Lithuanian refugees. Moreover, it scrutinizes the range of social activities orchestrated by the clergy to foster community cohesion and preserve Lithuanian cultural heritage. The research contributes to the scholarly discourse on diaspora studies, shedding light on the enduring significance of religious leadership in navigating the complexities of displacement and fostering resilience within diaspora communities. By analyzing the roles and activities of Lithuanian Catholic priests, the study offers insights into the socio-cultural dynamics of the Lithuanian diaspora in Germany during the mid-20th century.