The 1947-1949 arrival in Springfield of about 60 World War II refugees, displaced persons (“DPs”) from Lithuania, had a big impact on the Lithuanian Independence Day observation at St. Vincent de Paul Lithuanian Catholic Church in 1950.
St. Vincent de Paul’s was a natural first stop for the fresh immigrants. Many carried traumatic personal experiences of the German and Soviet invasions of Lithuania 1940-44, and were anxious to tell the story of their brutalized homeland.
In these crucial early years, the DPs’ ability to get their story out was severely hampered by language. So, it was natural that their first attempts to communicate were with and through the existing Lithuanian-American community.
That community was made up mostly of turn-of-the-Century immigrant coal miners and their children and grandchildren, some of whom, along with other Americans, had not yet heard details of what had happened to Lithuania during the War. For many Americans, credulity also was strained by the enormity of the horrors and the fact that the U.S.S.R. had been a war-time U.S. ally.
So in many cases, DPs who had lost everything and experienced the travails of DP camps in ravaged, post-War Germany, did not get a supportive hearing, or arouse much concern for the truth of their personal experiences, after arriving in the U.S.
The Feb. 12, 1950 issue of the Catholic diocesan newspaper “Western Catholic” describes a “one-act” play especially written and presented by local DPs for the Feb. 1950 commemoration of Lithuanian Independence Day (official date: February 16). The play dramatized the “knock on the door in the middle of the night” that typified the mass deportations to Siberia that occurred during the first Soviet occupation of Lithuania 1940-41 (and resumed again in 1944). Many of the DPs had narrowly escaped these deportations, and had friends and relatives who had been “disappeared” with their whole families, never to be heard from again.
The DPs’ play was part of a program at 3 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 12, 1950, in the St. Vincent de Paul Church Hall. The program also included remarks by the Rev. Casimir Toliusis and DP Vincent Abramikas, as well as music by the church choir to the organ accompaniment of Mrs. A. Foster.