This book had been recommended to me by two readers of my blog, both of whom have been mentioned in previous posts. As with most of my book selections, a recommendation by one reader puts it on my reading list. A recommendation by two moves it to the top of my list. I ordered the book from Amazon, and it arrived right before my departure to the Feefhs conference. Perfect timing!
I have read several books on this topic, (See the May 27 and May 27, 2014 post) and this one proved a timely choice.
George P. Blum was the eight year old son of the minister of the Pilviskis Methodist church when ethnic Germans were evacuated from Lithuania at the beginning of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania in 1940. His family was displaced to West Prussia, then East Prussia. In late 1942 when the Germans were in control, they returned to Lithuania until the summer of 1944 when the Soviets began what would become their fifty year occupation. The Blum family of three were evacuated to West Prussia again, then eastern Pomerania, until they managed to get to the American zone and finally to the United States in 1952. George became a professor of history at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, and has written several books.
We had been to Pilviskis/Pilviskiai with our family history tour guide (See the January 28, 2014 post), the home village of Wilhelmine Kaptain who had married William Gustave Spurgat. Three of his grandchildren are special friends of mine and I wanted to visit this village because their father, August Spurgat and uncle had recorded special memories of his life there until he was eight years old. We had been impressed with the rather new Methodist church in the village and had stopped to photograph it. I didn’t know why I thought taking this picture was important at the time, but it seems that the connections to today’s Lithuanian do not stop.
I was intrigued with George’s intertwining of family events with larger historical events and appreciated his chapter on Historical and Social Background, his 1731-1732 to 1946-47 Chronology, and his four maps showing Interwar to 1990 Lithuanian borders. Could this historian help pinpoint the time that my German ancestors had “moved to” Lithuania?
I was especially intrigued with his statement that “probably the largest number of Germans settled there [southwestern Lithuania, later Suwalki Province] between 1820 and 1830.” I wanted to ask him personally how he came to that conclusion. Below is a paraphrase of some of that telephone conversation.
I think as far as the migrations were concerned, the Germans migrated into Lithuania before Napoleon’s time when that part of Lithuanian was part of the Kingdom of Prussia.
A number of my own relatives migrated into that area. Then the boundaries were redrawn and that part reverted back to the Russian Empire.
Migration under Catherine II went much farther into Russia and I am sure that there was not any significant number of Germans who actually migrated into western (eastern???) Prussia.
No records of my father’s family survived.
I read German accounts about German migration and how Germans ended up in Eastern Europe. That is basically I how I went about my research.
The revival of the Methodist church in Lithuania was a revival among Lithuanians. They were drawn to Methodist churches there and were helped by German Methodists and the American Methodist church.
It is a remarkable development that small pockets of those who were unhappy with the Catholic Church have had an opportunity to associate with non Catholics. Made possible with a lapse of…
This happened with the emergence of Lithuanian as a newly independent state.
Methodists experienced no outright persecution of the Nazi regime as long as they did not express opinions or take stances contrary to the regime. Free churches were ok. Jehovah’s Witnesses were at odds with the regime because of their stance on matters relating to the military. Methodists and Baptists were left alone.
A lay person in Titlist made some statements that implied criticism of Nazi policies. He found himself in a concentration camp through spies in the church.
I accumulated a certain amount of information. I used a family book published by a cousin and I used that as an overview. Ancestors on my father’s side were Salzburgers, Protestants who were persecuted and expelled by the Archbishop in the1730s. They migrated to Prussia and spilled over into the western Lithuania.
I read German accounts about the ethnic Germans in the Baltic states, especially Lithuania. The family book was good for ancestry, but I wrote my book to be suitable for American relatives.
My eyes do not allow me to do extensive reading. In order to do effective research, I would have needed to know the Baltic languages, Lithuanian and Polish.
So from a distinguished scholar well-read with German source material, the best answer we get to determine the arrival of many of our families in southwestern Lithuania, later Suwalki Province, is the decade that parallels the founding of evangelische parishes in the area.
Back to the book. George’s life was more fortunate than many refugees because his father’s skills as a pastor allowed him to work in various. The family also received help from the Methodist church. Also critical were the family members already settled in America who arranged for the family to emigrate in 1952.
Once again, our visit to this land has made me much more aware of the plight of the people who did not leave when my grandparents did. I experienced a deeper understanding of the early history of the area and the plight of ordinary families caught in a war zone and its aftermath.