A Book About Lithuanian War Refugees in Britain

A new book “West Midlands Ho!” is a compelling work of local history, focused on a particular corner of England but set against a background of tumultuous international events. In the book, Lithuanian author Aldona Grupas reveals the personal tales of Lithuanian migrants who moved to Britain in the wake of WWII. Unable to return to their homeland due to the Soviet occupation, from 1947 onwards, several thousand refugees swapped the refugee camps of Allied-occupied Germany for basic accommodation in Britain, along with jobs in manufacturing and agriculture. In the following decades, they put down roots in Britain, all the while keeping their Lithuanian identity alive. In a series of interviews, Grupas teases out the personal experiences of five members of this migrant community in the West Midlands of England.

The book begins with an overview of Lithuanian history, taking in WWII and the post-war Soviet period. Drawing on existing literature, Grupas explains why so many Lithuanians were stuck in Germany in the post-war period and were subsequently offered new lives in Britain under resettlement programs like Balt Cygnet and Westward Ho!

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The Book “Breaking Through the Iron Curtain”

At the end of WWII, the Baltic States found themselves in the Soviet grip, isolated from the free world. The people who remained in the country lost the opportunity to travel freely. Soviet oppression and restrictions on freedom of movement prompted many Lithuanians to flee Lithuania. The book “Breaking Through the Iron Curtain” prepared by Dr. Darius Juodis examines the flight of the Lithuanian population from the Soviet Union.

The book presents several periods: the first escapes (1940-1941); the period after WWII; the partisan escapes; the flight of the Lithuanian population to the West from 1950s to 1990s and the subsequent escapes.

Two components stand out in the structure of the book: research and the analysis of situation and a biographical description of each flight. The latter part lists the persons who successfully fled abroad. Dr. Juodis’ book presents various stories of escapees, photos of persons who fled and border crossings and KGB documents from the Lithuanian Special Archives, other memory institutions and personal archives.

A New Batch of Documents from the Lithuanian Cultural Attaché in UK

The archive of Justė Kostikovaitė, the cultural attaché of the Republic of Lithuania in the United Kingdom, covering the period from 2016 to 2020, has arrived at the National Library of Lithuania. Kostikovaitė noted that during the four years of her term as a cultural attaché, the need for contemporary cultural content had arisen. The events focused on the virtual content distribution have become very important, particularly during the on-going pandemic.

While in the office, Kostikovaitė was able to introduce new communication tools now used by almost the entire network of Lithuanian cultural attachés. One of them is an e-newsletter, which helps to inform the audience about Lithuania. There is also a huge array of archival and communication material in social media, such as a FacebookLithuanian Art and Culture in the UK,” Twitter—“@LtCultureUK,” and Instagram—“lithuanian_art_in_the_uk,” created and administered by Kostikovaitė.

Kostikovaitė also noted that in recent years there has been a great need to form a digital archive of cultural and other special attachés, which currently contains a large number of material on dissemination and documentation of the events.

Lithuanian-American Poet and Zen Practitioner AL ZOLYNAS

By David A. Bainbridge


I would like to introduce you to my favorite poet, Algirdas Zolynas. His most recent book was his just released, Near and Far, Garden Oak Press, December, 2019,141 pages. $11.69 at B&N.

Al’s poems are personal, rich in emotion, and often leavened with humor. Many capture the beauty and mystery of every day life. Some of my favorites include: Bread, In Gratitude; Near Sunskai, Lithuania; Watching a Day; the Western Felt Works, Leaving Kaunas, 1944, and Sideways Down Rapids.  

Also worth a look in earlier books: Love in the Classroom, The Zen of Housework, Nothing to do—Nowhere to go, The Way He’d Like it, Running down Summit Avenue in Saint Paul in a Heavy Snowfall, and Living with Others.

Al was born in Austria of Lithuanian parents in 1945. They had fled the Soviet advance and survived bombing raids in Berlin. His parents became part of the wave of 11 million displaced people (DP) after the war. His father had been an attorney and one of his grandfathers signed the Lithuanian Declaration of Independence in 1918. As refugees they were refused entry to the US, where you had to have a sponsor, a place to live, and a guarantee that you would not displace American workers or, better yet, a related American citizen. 

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Jonas Mekas and John F. Kennedy’s Camera

Jackie Kennedy at her home, 1970 . In: A dance with Fred Astaire / Jonas Mekas ; [edited by Johan Kugelberg, Jonas Mekas, and Sebastian Mekas]. – New York : Anthology Editions, 2017, p. 318.

Jonas Mekas:

Jackie Kennedy was one of the most special women I was privileged to know in my life. I do not mean her position in society: I mean her intelligence, a very special intelligence with a deep sensitivity, and her elegance, her style, her generosity, her simple, straight, magic human quality. I could go on and on.

[…]

This event took place the very first time I visited Jackie in her Fifth Avenue home. Somehow the talk turned to John F. Kennedy and movies. You know,” Jackie said, just a few months before he died somebody gave him as a present a little 8mm movie camera. He always carried it in the pocket of his raincoat. You know, as I am thinking now, it must still be there.

She went to the closet and found a beige raincoat and there it was! In the raincoat pocket there was a small 8mm movie camera! She brought it to me. I regret I do not remember now the brand of the camera.

He did some filming. But he never finished the roll. It’s still in the camera,” she said.

She put the camera back into the pocket of the raincoat.[1]


[1]A dance with Fred Astaire / Jonas Mekas ; [edited by Johan Kugelberg, Jonas Mekas, and Sebastian Mekas]. – New York : Anthology Editions, 2017, p. 319

Reinforcing the Field of Cultural Diplomacy

On January 22, 2019 Jurgis Giedrys, former cultural attaché of the Republic of Lithuania to Ukraine, visited the National Library of Lithuania. During the meeting with the representatives of Library, Mr. Giedrys donated numerous documents, booklets and books which he collected during his term in Ukraine, from 2015 to 2018.

More than 200 events were organized in Ukraine during Mr. Giedrys’ fouryear term of office. People of Ukraine met with more than 700 Lithuanian artists. Events were advertised and written about by over 400 traditional or e-media outlets, as well as social media. The events dedicated to Lithuania and Lithuanian themes attracted more than 100,000 people.

The National Library of Lithuania has been increasing its activities in cultural diplomacy. It promotes the dissemination of Lithuanian culture abroad, supports the efforts of foreign embassies, cultural centers and institutes in Lithuania to present projects reflecting the world’s cultural diversity. The Library carries out its exclusive mission by collecting the Lithuanian documentary heritage created abroad.