This work is undoubtedly a great contribution to a better understanding of Lithuanian Americans, their history and culture as well as their contribution to the development of the American nation. Even though one of the smaller European countries, Lithuania can be proud of its achievements among the world of nations.
The Lithuanian language itself is a wondrous gift to the world. Shrouded in the mists of time, it shines as a beacon among the maze of problems confronting Indo-European linguistics and philosophy. The oldest living Indo-European tongue, it is the key to our linguistic past.
The ancient songs of Lithuania, the “Dainos,” stand as magnificent monuments in Western and world literature.
Of them the novelist, biographer and critic Robert Payne has said “one comes to them almost unbelieving, surprised that such perfect songs should be permitted to survive. They have a beauty and pure primitive splendor above anything I know in Western literature except the early songs of the Greek islanders.”
Sunnitti Kumar Chaterji, professor of philology at the University of Calcutta, India in his book Balts and Aryans, has written that the “vedas” were the ancient literature of the Indian people, but that the Lithuanian “Dainos” had something profound. He further states that an older form of the “Veda” was the “dhena,” but a more perfect form of the “dhena” was the Lithuanian “daina.”
In law and education the Lithuanian contribution is extraordinary indeed, The Lithuanian Statute passed in the year 1529 was the most complete and extensive code of laws to be gathered and promulgated on the European Continent since the Fifth Century Code of the Emperor Justinian. The Statute was based on Lithuanian common law and had two more successive additions in 1566 and 1588.
It was unique in that codification of law in Western Europe started only in the 18th Century. But in Lithuania it was already begun in the 15th and three editions had been effected by the end of the 16th Century. The Statute also repeated the 1436 privilege of Sigismundus the First, which predated by some 250 years England’s famous Habeus Corpus Act of 1679.
The Russians translated the Lithuanian Statute into Russian for their use as a code of laws in the middle of the 17th Century.
The first system of National Education in Europe came into being in 1773 with the proposal of this project by Vice-Chancellor of Lithuania, Chreptavicius and the Bishop of Vilnius, Ignatius Masalskis to the Lithuanian-Polish Diet. The Diet accepted the proposal and appointed Bishop Masalskis as chairman of the Educational Commission.
This first system of National Education in Europe predated by some 20 years the establishment of a national system of education for France by Condrecot.
The Educational Commission instituted a teacher training program at the Academy of Vilnius. This program for the first time in educational history piaced teacher education at the university level.
The work of the Lithuanian Educational Commission continued until the Russian education reforms of 1803. Many writers feel that these reforms were based completely on the Educational Commission’s Statutes of 1783.
This unique atmosphere of legal and educational reforms had far-reaching repercussions upon the subsequent history of the Jewish people and ultimately the State of Israel. As the Jewish author, Tennenbaum states in his book Underground: “the tallest tree of Jewish learning flowered in Lithuania.” Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, was the cradle of early Zionist pioneers. The importance of Vilnius in preserving Hebrew education is immeasureable.
This Lithuanian concern with the legal, civic, religious and educational rights of its citizens led Lithuania to adopt a unique stance against Hitler during World War II. Not only did Lithuania refuse to join Hitler and the Soviet Union in the dismemberment of Poland, but during the subsequent Nazi occupation Lithuania was one of the few countries that refused to give Hitler an SS Legion or even a native Nazi Party.
The history of the United States, as well as Ohio, is linked significantly with immigration from other lands. Among the settlers of this area are the Lithuanians who came to this country in at least four major waves of immigration that coincided with periods of upheaval in Europe.
The Lithuanians of Cleveland number nearly 20,000, the first of whom came here soon after the Revolutionary War. Probably the best known of these is Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Polish-American hero of the American Revolution. It is commonly forgotten that Kosciuszko was born in Lithuania during the period of the Polish-Lithuanian Union and is a patriot of both countries as well as of America.
Lithuania, together with Latvia and Estonia, is located on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea and has been a crossroads of invading armies for centuries. So it was that oppression under the Russian Czars, the Napoleonic Wars, revolutions of the mid and late 1800’s, in 1905, and during World War I and II brought large numbers of Baltic people to the United States and to Ohio, where there were opportunities for new and productive lives.
They settled in various Ohio cities and towns, but metropolitan Cleveland, with its varied industrial, commercial, and professional opportunities, became the center for Lithuanians.
Older generations of Lithuanians tended to become assimilated, but those who came after World War II, when the Soviet Union forcibly annexed the Baltic States, maintain their colorful traditions and contribute to the rich cultural mosaic that helps make Cleveland a magnificently diverse city.
Lithuanians are found in virtually every occupation throughout the city and state, but the vast majority of the younger generation specializes in the professions. Having undergone centures of opression in their homeland, the Lithuanians are acutely aware of the blessings of democracy and are exemplary citizens of the community.
Dr. Viktoras Stankus