Dr. Darius Petkunas is a Senior Research Fellow at the HMP Baltic Studies Center at the University of Klaipeda and is considered the unofficial church historian of the Lutheran Church in Lithuania. Almost 20 years ago, my husband and I had visited the Balzekas Lithuanian American Museum in Chicago and met with the director who had given me an eight page hand written document from May 1992 which listed the status of each Lutheran church in Lithuania compiled by Darius Petkunas. From those pages I had learned the fate of the Vilkaviskis Lutheran Church…that it longer stood. Later I leaned that it was now a gas station. I also learned that the church in Marijampole still stood and was holding services again! Fellow researcher BE recommended that I visit with Dr. Petkunas, and our guide arranged it.
What a beautiful modern structure this church is! Dr. Petkunas eagerly showed us the interior, noting the chandelier, the meeting rooms, and the parsonage upstairs where his wife, and teen age twin daughters graciously met us.
As the author of several books, Dr. Petkunas is very knowledgeable about the history of the Lithuanian Lutheran Church. I specifically asked him about
· The availability of Lutheran records from East Prussia other what had been filmed by the LDS church. Were there any parish registers in local archives or museums?
· Whether the –at names were Prussian, Lithuanian, or Prussian-Lithuanian.
· The time frame during which the Spurgats might have gotten from East Prussia to Suwalki Province.
· Were there any other large migrations of Germans from East Prussia to what is now Lithuania?
· The presence of Scotsmen in East Prussia/Lithuania Minor.
His answers included:
· The records are in Berlin or Leipzig. He knew of no others. (He reinforced what I already knew. The LDS has filmed them all.)
· He also recommended that a systematic search of Lutheran parishes starting at the East Prussian border and working west in concentric arcs would be a strategic way to search for Spurgats. He drew arcs on a map, each a little father west, to show this. The search for additional Spurgat ancestors in East Prussia should begin with the border areas closest to Wylkowiszki: Kybarti (Suwalki Province) and Eydtkuhnen, East Prussia, now Chernyshevskoye , Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia.
· He believes the origin of the Spurgat name is Lithuanian.
· He referred to the restoration of rights and privileges of Prussians in Lithuania in 1775. This was a vote for the Protestant church. He explained that he thought that the reforms started by Catherine the Great (II) of Russia in 1765 may have been a more likely reason that the Spurgats came to Suwalki Province rather than the Third Partition of Poland in 1795. This ecclesiastical viewpoint is different than the political viewpoint in most history books and gives me a different perspective than I had thought.
· In the 17th century it would have been frowned upon for a Lutheran and a member of the Reformed church (Scottish) to be married. Pietism, the belief that personal faith is more important than church theology and doctrine, was evident in 1718 in East Prussia. This type of marriage would not have been a problem later in the 18th or 19th centuries. By 1940 Germans and Lithuanians mixed freely.
Dr. Petkunas provided me with several maps that he thought would help. He also copied off the book titles and their publishing information that I might use for further research. I bought two of his books. Parts of these books are in English: The Repression of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania during the Stalinist Era (Klaipeda, 2011) and The East Prussian Lutheran Liturgical Tradition and Its Lithuanian Expression from the Reformation to the Agendas of the Donelaitis Era. (University of Klaipeda, 2012.)
The other books for which he provided the title page and publishing information are
Die Preussische Herrschaft Tauroggen in Litauen (1690-1793) by Manfred Hellman (1940).
Litauen und Seine Deutschen: Bietrage zur Litauischen gesch ichte sowie uber die Deutsche Volksgruppe in vergangenheit und gegenwart published by Jahrbuch der Albertus Universitat Konigsberg/Pr. (1955)
Die Deutsche in Litauen Ihre kulturellen und wirtschaftlichen Gemeinschaften zwischen den beiden Weltkriegen by Gustave Wegner (1959).
Builder aus der Geschicte des evangelsiche Deutschyums in Litauen II by H. Jaekel (1967).
Die reformatorischen Kirche Litauens by Arthur Hermann and Wilhelm Kahle (1998).
Tautiniai Santykiai Mazojoje Lietuvoje: Ligi Ddiziojo Karo Istorijos Statistikos Sviesoje (2009)
It is interesting to note that the lead article for the September 2013, Reporter, the Official Newspaper of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, featured the International Lutheran Council’s Fifth World Seminaries Conference “to explore the theme of suffering, persecution, and martyrdom as a mark of the church” which took place at the Palanga Lutheran Church. You can google “ILC conference explores persecution, martyrdom” to see the article.