Publisher: Hertfordshire Press
In the book, Lithuanian author Aldona Grupas reveals the personal tales of Lithuanian migrants who moved to Britain in the wake of World War II. Unable to return to their homeland due to the Soviet occupation, from 1947 onwards, several thousand refugees swapped the refugee camps of Allied-occupied Germany for basic accommodation in Britain, along with jobs in manufacturing and agriculture. In the following decades, they put down roots in Britain, all the while keeping their Lithuanian identity alive.
In a series of interviews, Grupas teases out the personal experiences of five members of this migrant community in the West Midlands of England.
The book begins with an overview of Lithuanian history, taking in World War II and the post-war Soviet period. Drawing on existing literature, Grupas explains why so many Lithuanians were stuck in Germany in the post-war period and were subsequently offered new lives in Britain under resettlement programs like Balt Cygnet and Westward Ho!
The main part of the book consists of five interviews with members of the Lithuanian migrant community in the city of Wolverhampton, where the interviewees spent most of their lives.
The first interview is with a woman named Gene, who arrived in Britain in 1947. Gene tells of the wartime experiences that caused her to flee Lithuania, her time as a refugee in Germany, and her migration to England. She describes the basic living conditions and the long process of building a new life and raising a family.
Gene describes the ongoing effort to balance two conflicting forces: the need to integrate into one’s host culture, and the desire to preserve one’s national culture and identity. This latter task was important to migrants such as Gene, due to the Soviet occupation of their country, which they feared might erase the national culture.
Gene tells of the creation of a network of community groups that linked all post-war Lithuanian migrants across Britain, and her local branch in Wolverhampton, which organized social, religious, sporting, and cultural events.
Another of the first-generation migrants interviewed is Kunigunda, who arrived as an infant, having been born to Lithuanian parents in post-war Germany. She tells of her parents’ difficult migration journey, and the challenges faced by a young girl of migrant background.
The three second-generation migrants — John, Gražina, and Terese — provide similarly personal accounts, covering such issues as bullying, poverty, cultural identity, language, and the strong bonds of camaraderie formed within a tight-knit community.
All five tell of the difficulty of communicating with relatives in Lithuania during the Cold War period, and the changes brought about by independence.
Grupas concludes her book with a summary of the key factors that caused these post-war migrants to bond in the way that they did, forming a strong and vibrant community that nurtured their distinct identity against all the odds.
This book is an important contribution to the body of work on migration within Europe in the period since World War II. With its focus on personal accounts extracted through face-to-face interviews, it conveys the highs and lows, challenges, and triumphs of a community caught up in the stormy seas of major historical events.
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