Historical Background, Influences

Why They Came

Located in Europe on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, Lithuania is a small nation just northeast of Poland and west of Belarus (and Russia). From 1795 to 1918, Lithuania was part of the oppressive czarist Russian Empire.

Reacting to a Lithuanian revolt in 1860, the Russian Empire for decades tried to forcibly substitute Russian Orthodoxy for Lithuanian Roman Catholicism–and totally banned the Lithuanian language from speech, institutions, books and newspapers.

As the descendants of freed serfs, mostly rural Lithuanians faced intense poverty, lack of education, illiteracy, and religious repression with the closure of their Catholic village churches and church schools by order of the Empire. Any Lithuanian youth who could be “caught” could be conscripted into the czar’s army for 25 years.

With both their human dignity and survival threatened in their homeland, young Lithuanians had every reason to leave and few to stay.

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