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Illustration 10 July 2024

Exhibition “Stranded: The Experiences of Fleeing West in 1944-1952”

“Tens of thousands of Lithuanians were driven from their homeland by the Communist terror. It was so terrible that Lithuanians left their home, their savings, and their farms they had inherited from their parents, everything they had, just to save their lives and the lives of their families,” writes the Lithuanian-American journalist and priest Juozas Prunskis in the introduction of his memoirs “We Fled the Terror,” published in Chicago in 1980.

Lithuanians were not alone. At the end of WWII, many Eastern Europeans (Ukrainians, Latvians, Estonians and others) fled west. When they reached Western Europe, they experienced the shortage of food and basic goods. They faced the threat of being killed by bombing. Even when the war in Europe ended, the mood of uncertainty did not dissipate. Displaced Persons camps in West Germany and other neighboring countries became temporary homes for many refugees. Despite their poor living conditions, the DP camps had a vibrant life, with kindergartens and schools, a wide range of organizations, theater and music. Sooner or later, however, the residents of DP camps had to leave Western Germany and look for another place to settle. They scattered over several continents of the free world.

The exhibits bear witness to the experiences of the displaced persons in a variety of ways: from a train ticket, chest X-rays, a songbook to the newspapers published on the board of the ships. The art works by Lithuanian artists, Lina Šlipavičiūtė and Margarita Valionytė, were especially created for this exhibition. In her neomural, Šlipavičiūtė uses the street art stylistics to convey the atmosphere of the DP camps in a closed space. The stenciled composition was inspired by a photograph from 1947, which appeared in the album “DP Baltic Camp at Seedorf, 1946-1947” published in Hamburg and compiled by a Lithuanian journalist and photographer Salomėja Narkeliūnaitė. Valionytė‘s three animated clips complement the exhibition and tell about the experiences of persons who left Lithuania at the end of WWII and became displaced persons. The artist relied on the personal stories of Irena Arnauskaitė-Grigaitienė, Juozas Gaila, published in the newspaper Draugas, and the story of Juozas Kapačinskas from his book  Horrifying Days: Memoirs of 1944-1950 (Chicago, Ill.: Chicago Lithuanian Literature Society, 1965).

The exhibition is available in Lithuanian, English and Ukrainian. Translated into Ukrainian by Ivan Khoruzhyy and into English by Dalia Cidzikaitė.

The venue of the exhibition: Laimė Lukošiūnienė Hall (5th floor) at the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania

Running dates: June 26-September 29, 2024

The exhibition was prepared by Valda Budreckaitė, Dr. Dalia Cidzikaitė, Asta Miltenytė, Silvija Stankevičiūtė and Dr. Ilona Strumickienė

Exhibition architecture by Algirdas Jakas

Graphic design by Emilija Dobrovolskienė

Coordinated by Milda Dainovskytė

We thank Ona Bartusevičienė, Irena Arnauskaitė-Grigaitienė, Lina Grigaitis, Dailė McCann, Nida Gaila, Juozas Vytautas Kapačinskas, the Lithuanian-American newspaper “Draugas,” the Maironis Museum of Lithuanian Literature, the Šiauliai Aušra Museum, the Tauragė Regional Museum Santaka, the Trakai History Museum and the Venclovas’ House-Museum for their contribution.

Organized by the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania

Partner: Lithuanian Research Center, USA

The exhibition is part of the project “Eighty Years After 1944: Then and Now”, which was partially funded by the Lithuanian Council for Culture. Project manager Dr. Jolanta Budriūnienė.