LITHUANIANS. The settlement of Lithuanians in Cleveland follows historical patterns similar to those of other East European nations. The first wave of immigrants came here at the turn of the century (1890-1910), and the second wave--more appropriately termed political refugees--arrived in the wake of World War II (1948-50), after the USSR had forcibly annexed Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in 1940. Early Lithuanians, the first of whom are recorded here in 1871, were absorbed as cheap labor into thriving local industries. They concentrated around St. Clair and Oregon Ave. (now Rockwell) and ranged eastward to about E. 71st St. between Oregon and Cedar avenues. The overwhelming Catholic sentiments of the early community were evidenced in the establishment in 1895 of
The second wave of immigrants came after World War II, when approx. 4,000 Lithuanian refugees settled here. This influx comprised mainly educated, professional levels of society and included the last president of the Lithuanian Republic,
An all-encompassing cultural, educational, civic, and social organization, the Lithuanian-American Community of the USA, Inc. (Lietuviu Bendruomene), was formalized in 1952. On the political front, the Lithuanian-American Council (Amerikos Lietuviu Taryba), active in the U.S. since 1942, lobbied during the war and after on behalf of the plight of Lithuania under Soviet rule. The council embraced major organizations of the early immigrants as well as postwar organizations such as the Lithuanian Christian Democratic party, the Socialists, the Natl. Alliance, the Lithuanian Front, and others. Saturday schools for youngsters were an immediate priority for the preservation of the Lithuanian language, heritage, and culture. For that purpose, the Bp. M. Valancius School opened at St. George's Church in 1949 and conducted classes into the mid-1960s. St. Casimir School started classes at Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in 1952 and is in session to the present time.
In 1949 the Lithuanian Voice Radio Program (Tevynes Garsai) was founded by a group of community activists. Boy and Girl Scout troops, a Catholic student federation (Ateitis), a Lithuanian cultural fund, and a refugee society were all formed that same year. In 1950 an athletic club (Zaibas) was instituted, as was a theatrical society (Vaidila). In the cultural and artistic field, the Lithuanian Natl. Art Ensemble (
The postwar period brought an added vitality to the Lithuanian community, whose members became acculturated quite readily and successfully, but who were more actively attuned to the preservation of the Lithuanian heritage in the face of the Russification occurring in Lithuania itself. A new community center, Lithuanian Village, was built and dedicated in 1973 along E. 185th St., and community activity shifted to that area and into the eastern suburbs, as the area around old St. George's parish went into decline. The Lithuanian community, which presently numbers about 16,000, remains active in civic, social, artistic, political, and community affairs, with a vast majority of the children of postwar immigrants holding degrees in higher education and well-situated in the professions. Cleveland's Lithuanian community is recognized as one of the most active and productive in terms of organizational activity, community consciousness, political and civic involvement in the general affairs of Greater Cleveland, literary activity and the arts, and folk art ensembles, and is the home community of numerous persons prominent in various fields among the Lithuanian nation worldwide. A notable measure of the Cleveland community's standing as a major anchor of the Lithuanian culture apart from the homeland is the Lithuanian Collection at Kent State Univ., a permanent archive of upwards of 15,000 volumes of historical documents, rare books, memoirs, publications, and papers chronicling the Lithuanian experience in immigration and exile.
A monumental impact on the community was the re-establishment of Lithuanian independence and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The leader of the re-established state, Vytautas Landsbergis, visited Cleveland several times seeking support even while Soviet troops were still in control of the country. When Lithuania was formally recognized, the new U.S. ambassador, Darryl N. Johnson, made a trip to Cleveland his first official stateside visit in that capacity. Both the visits of Landsbergis and Johnson were in acknowledgement of the significant role the Lithuanian-American community here played in the 50-year lobby effort on behalf of the liberation of the land of their roots.
As a result of the many years of organized effort aimed at the goal of the re-establishment of the Lithuanian state, many organizations presently are grappling with a need to redefine their own roles in the community. There has been a modest level of return migration and some members in the community have established business ties with the country, while others have offered professional assistance through U.S. government and private programs to assist Lithuania's transition to democracy and a market economy.
Cadzow, John F. Lithuanian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland (1978).
Coulter, Charles W. The Lithuanians of Cleveland (1920).