The Flight

“They left their homes herded by fear. Europe burned in the flames of war, and Lithuania was flooded by strangers…Finally, as the Red Army began to near Lithuania through breached German fronts for the second time, fear chased people from their homes in one direction—the West.”

Išeiviai iš Lietuvos
(Fleeing from Lithuania)
Kazys Dauglėla

 

 

 Flight

They fled as bombs fell. They left because the Soviet armies approached from the East. They sought safety and survival, and they thought they would return soon. These fleeing Baltic people traveled by any means available or inventable—by car, bicycle, horse-drawn wagon, boat, train, and even on foot. They left with little warning and in a hurry as each day brought more sounds of the approaching front and rumors of what might happen. They took with them very little. Neither time nor their own expectations of returning allowed for a thorough, thoughtful selection. Not knowing where they were going and what they were facing, they left their homes and, in many cases, loved ones. Most Baltic DPs ended their journey in Germany, though some found a haven in other European countries. The flight was just the beginning of a sojourn that would last several years.

Temporary student ID for Ona-Donata Krikščiūnaitė, 1943
Karuža Family Collection (1)

 

Identification document issued during the German occupation, 1943

 

This certificate was issued to Donata Ona Krikščiūnas, who was fourteen at the time. It included her nationality, occupation, place of residency, birth year, and father’s name. She took the certificate with her when fleeing Lithuania in 1944.

 

The Krikščiūnas family

The five member Krikščiūnas family (father Jurgis, mother Ona, daughters Julija and Donata, and son Gytis), left their farmstead in Šalynas on October 8, 1944. The family used a truck for travel. For short periods of time, they stayed in Berlin and Weimar, and later lived in DP camps in Würzburg (American zone), Hamburg and Detmold (British zone). Father Jurgis Krikščiūnas was a professor in the Baltic University in Hamburg. He died of cancer in 1947. The rest of the family emigrated in 1949, settling in East Chicago. Donata Krikščiūnas met and married Jonas Romas Karuža in Chicago in 1953.

 

Teacher dismissed by Soviet authorities, 1941

Ona Burneikis was an elementary school teacher in the town of Švenčionėliai. During the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, authorities dismissed her, stating that she was unqualified to teach children “in the Communist spirit.”

The Burneikis family

In 1944, Ona left Lithuania with her two-year-old son Romas and husband Povilas, who worked in Lithuania’s Departments of Agriculture and the Interior. For several weeks the family took refuge with a German family near Altenkirchen. When the Germans conscripted the father to dig trenches for the war effort, the family was separated. A year later, with help from the International Red Cross, the father arrived at the Rebdorf DP camp and found his wife and child. It took the son several days to acknowledge his father, because he insisted that his “Daddy is away digging trenches.” The Burneikis family came to the United States in July 1949, settling in Chicago. Their daughter Zita was born in Rebdorf in 1948. Hindered by language, the parents could not pursue their professions and worked as custodians, making sure that their children completed university degrees.

Zita Burneikis-Petkus Collection (2)
 
Burneikis Family
The Burneikis family in front of their Bridgeport apartment in Chicago , on ten-year-old Romas’s confirmation day in 1952. Zita Burneikis Petkus Collection (2a)

Nora Sugintas Collection (3)
Antanas Sugintas, 59, with his son Jurgis Sugintas, 25, on the General G.W. Haan which arrived in the US on March 16, 1949. Nora Sugintas Collection (3a)

Student’s diary documents flight from Lithuania

Jurgis Sugintas, a student in Kaunas, kept a detailed diary describing and sometimes illustrating his and his father’s flight from Lithuania, life as a displaced person in Germany, and resettlement in the US. In this passage from 1944, he writes: “Fleeing: father, myself, with the Rimkus family. October 16th: Königsburg; 21st: Danzig, Gdynia; October 30th: Berlin, Dresden—left horses in Gdynia—terrible times. Planes fly over at times, we go into the forest. Both of us are “arbeiteriai” (workers) twelve hours a day.”

 

The Sugintas Family

Antanas Sugintas, a prominent lawyer, and his twenty-year-old son Jurgis, left their farmstead in Stungaičiai, traveling by a horse-driven wagon. The mother, Marija Sugintas, refused to leave their big estate. She managed to escape deportation and, later, worked as a teacher in Telšiai. The father and son traveled through various parts of Germany and Poland. They lived in Munich until they left for the US in 1949, settling in Chicago. In 1970, Marija Sugintas came to visit her husband and son. During her stay, her husband Antanas passed away. Marija returned to Soviet Lithuania and lived out the rest of her life there. Nora Sugintas is the daughter of Jurgis and the granddaughter of Antanas Sugintas.

 

Family flees Lithuania by horsedrawn cart

On July 10, 1944, the Gimbutas family left Lithuania fleeing westward with belongings and people piled into a cart driven by two horses. This image shows them somewhere between Jurbarkas and Žvingiai.

Maironis Lithuanian Literature Museum Collection; Kaunas, Lithuania (5)

The Gimbutas Family


The Gimbutas family, made up of husband Jurgis and wife Marija and their daughter Danutė, as well as Jurgis’s sister Aldona Gimbutas-Grinius and her son Vygintas, reached Tübingen DP camp where they lived until 1949. Aldona’s husband, military pilot Aleksandras Grinius, emigrated to the US in 1948. In 1949, the Gimbutas family came to the United States, settling in Boston. Marija Gimbutas, extreme right in the above picture, became a renowned archaeologist, specializing in European archaeology.

 

 
Fleeing West , past wayside crosses Maironis Lithuanian Literature Museum Collection; Kaunas, Lithuania (5)

Fleeing with family, belongings, friends, and animals Collection of the Federal Archives, Germany Picture 183-R64866/Photo: Budulis (8)

Bombos Vakaruose (Bombs in the West ) Kazys Daugėla photograph, 1944, in the Antanas Skaisgiris Collection (7)

 

“They all had lived a peaceful life in their native Latvia. Then the war came, with two successive foreign occupations, and the next thing they had in common was the flight from their homeland, moving West, always West…”

Dr. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga

 

 

 

 

Kazys Daugėla

Kazys Daugėla fled with his wife as the Soviet Army approached, leaving their home in Molėtai and joining other refugees, seeking asylum in the west. Daugėla took with him images he had photographed in his native realm. He continued to document the experience of displacement with his “battered” camera, recording every aspect from the desperate flight, through the DP camps, to the journey to a new home. His photographs and comments were published in a book, Išeiviai iš Lietuvos, in Vilnius in 1992. This exhibition includes many of Daugėla’s photographs. They are an unsurpassed visual record taken by a talented and insightful photographer. The exhibition’s organizers are grateful to the Daugėla family for providing images and permissions for the use of these photographs.

In addition to being a photographer, Daugėla was a civil engineer, played the violin, and spoke German. He and his wife had two children. Daughter Rūta was born in Vienna, and son Linas was born in the United States in 1951. The Daugėla family arrived in the United States in 1949 and settled in New England. Kazys Daugėla died in 1999.

Kelionė Bavarijos žeme (Journey in the land of Bavaria)

Kazys Daugėla photograph, 1944, in Antanas Skaisgiris Collection (6)

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Next week, Part II – “The Camps”

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