Part IV: The Lithuania Community of Cleveland Since World War II

Post World War II: Arrival in Cleveland

Whether the post World War II arrivals experienced more difficulties than those immigrants coming at the turn of the century is open to discussion. But up to the point of their arrival in the United States the persons displaced by World War II certainly led a long, harrowing, uncertain existence. They had survived the first Russian occupation of 1940; the Nazi occupation of 1941-1944; the attempt by the Western allies to send them back to occupied Lithuania after the war which would have meant death or imprisonment; and the uncertainties of life in the displaced persons’ camps. Now they were in a new land where they were not sure they wanted to remain. This group of Lithuanians had either lived through or grown up during an extremely stimulating era in Lithuanian history. After many years of foreign occupation, Lithuania had declared her independence in 1918, and for over two decades there existed a period of exuberant nation building. Then, in a series of rapidly moving events, all came to an end. Now they found themselves in the United States with an almost uncontrollable hope that Lithuania would soon be free again and they would be able to return home. This does not in any way imply that they were to become disloyal or burdensome, for just the opposite proved to be true. Despite this it is necessary to understand the feelings involved in order to comprehend their activities since World War II.

In Cleveland a large number of the earlier immigrants’ children had been effectively pressured by economic and political realities to throw off all that was “foreign” and become “Americans.” Perhaps the most successful tool was the educational system, which sometimes subtly and at other times openly ridiculed the retention of the old culture. There were, however, those who resisted, and they formed the backbone of the needed sponsors for the new arrivals. Approximately 3,000 Lithuanians found their way to Cleveland after World War II, and as expected tended to settle in the areas already inhabited by Lithuanians, particularly the Superior Avenue area round St. George’s Lithuanian Roman Catholic Church. Later many moved to the Glenwood district and then to Euclid where they took up residence around Our Lady of Perpetual Help Lithuanian Roman Catholic Church, while others moved to the various Cleveland suburbs, especially those to the east.

One of the early World War II arrivals was Antanas Smetona, the first president elected in independent Lithuania. With the first Soviet invasion Smetona was forced to flee with his family to Germany on June 15, 1940, but they were soon compelled to leave for Switzerland due to an agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union. Eventually they arrived in the United States, where Smetona was received by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Secretary of State Sumner Welles. Smetona then settled in Cleveland from where he traveled to other Lithuanian colonies throughout the country, speaking on behalf of Lithuania. He began to write his memoirs, but before penning a great deal he met his untimely death in the fire which consumed his house on January 9, 1944.[1]

Another leader of independent Lithuania to settle in Cleveland was Dr. Vladas Nagevičius-Nagius. A physician, archeologist, and general in the Lithuanian army, Nagius fought relentlessly for Lithuania’s independence and as a result was incarcerated by Czarist officials. He was instrumental in forming the clandestine, patriotic Fraternitas Lithuanica organization in 1908. After Lithuania gained her independence he headed the medical corps for almost the entire inter-war period, and also founded and directed the largest museum in the country. As an archeologist he participated in three significant excavations of fortress hills, and delivered papers at international conferences. He died on September 15, 1954, in Willoughby, Ohio.[2]

  1. E.L., XXVII, 178.
  2. E.L., IV, 11, 12.


Lithuanian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland Copyright © 2020 by Cleveland State University . All Rights Reserved.

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