Sunday, 29 September 2013 22:57

Lithuanians in New York

From 1892 to 1954 biggest majority of Lithuanian immigrants entered the U.S. through portal of Ellis Island, located in the Upper New York Bay. But because of the lack of jobs, majority of Lithuanians did not stay in New York and they headed to Pennsylvania, Maryland (Baltimore), Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and others.

Catholic organization the Worker’s Association (1915-1965) began publishing the newspaper “The Worker” (Darbininkas) in 1915 and in 1950 transferred it to the Lithuanian Franciscans in Brooklyn, NY. Another weekly newspaper “Lithuanian Unity” (Vienybė Lietuvninkų) was moved to Brooklyn, NY, in 1907 from Plymouth, PA (was published from 1886 to 1985).

Darius and Girenas were Lithuanian pilots, emigrants to the U.S., who made a significant flight in the history of world aviation. On July 15, 1933, with their plane “Lituanica” they flew from Floyd Bennett Field Airport in New York across the Atlantic Ocean, covering a distance of 3,984 miles (6,411 kilometers) without landing, in 37 hours and 11 minutes. However they crashed in Germany on July 17, only 650 km short of their goal — Kaunas.

There is a tree planted at the Floyd Bennett Field Airport for the commemoration of the flight of Darius and Girenas. It is marked by the Memorial plaque with the logo of “Lituanica”, created by artists Julius Ludavičius and Laura Zaveckaitė.

Lithuania Square in New York City? Yes, there is one! Bounded by South 2nd Street, Hewes Street, and Union Avenue (Brooklyn, NY), this triangular patch of land is dedicated to the memory of two Lithuanian-Americans, Steponas “Stephen” Darius and Stasys “Stanley” Girenas, who attempted to fly nonstop from New York to Lithuania in 1933. This plot of land was originally under the jurisdiction of the Brooklyn Borough President. In 1935, it was named Lituanica Square, although it is more commonly known as Lithuania Square. Twelve years later, the New York Lithuanian community erected the monument in the middle of the park to honor the two Lithuanian pilots.

Dr. Juozas P. Kazickas, a well-known Lithuanian-American entrepreneur and philanthropist came to the U.S. after the World War II with his family. He made his fortune by establishing Neris International, Inc. with fellow Lithuanian refugee Juozas Valiūnas. The Manhattan-based firm became a major exporter of coal to post-war Germany and Italy. Since 1980, Kazickas has also been active in venture capital, consulted many international corporations, including Exxon, Philip Morris, Coca-Cola. J. Kazickas founded the first private capital communication company "Litcom" (later renamed into "Omnitel"). In 1998 he founded the Kazickas Family Foundation, which primarily sponsors programs and projects on education and culture, health care.  Jurate Kazickaite, his daughter, is President and Board Chairperson.

In 1949 Jonas Mekas, a well known film-maker and poet, emigrated with his brother to the U.S., settling in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. There, he came into contact with avant-garde cinema and began to make and show his own films in 1953. In 1954, J. Mekas founded “Film Culture”. Since 1958, Mekas has written film criticism in his column Movie Journal for New York’s city magazine “Village Voice”. In 1962, together with Emile de Antonio, Mekas founded the independent Film-Makers’ Cooperative (FMC) and in 1964 the Film-Makers’ Cinematheque, which later developed into the Anthology Film Archives, one of the most comprehensive and important collections of avant-garde film in the world. He was a close collaborator with artists such as Andy Warhol, Nico, Allen Ginsberg, Yoko Ono, John Lennon, Salvador Dalí, and fellow Lithuanian George Maciunas. Since the 1970s, J. Mekas has taught film courses at the New School for Social Research, MIT, Cooper Union, and New York University.

Saint George Roman Catholic Lithuanian Church was founded by Lithuanian families a century ago to give witness for Christ and Christ's love for them through worship of God through their accustomed Lithuanian devotions. It served as a community center for Lithuanian-Americans and imbued several generations of parishioners with Christian values. Unfortunately, St. George Lithuanian celebrated its final Mass on Hudson Avenue July 21, 2010.

Supreme Committee for the Liberation of Lithuania (Vyriausiasis Lietuvos Išlaisvinimo Komitetas, VLIK) was established in German occupied Lithuania in 1943, then moved to Germany in 1944 and to New York City, U.S.A., in 1955. One of its main tasks in the U.S. was to continue the policy of non-recognition of Lithuania’s occupation and to spread information about it. VLIK members participated in various events in the name of Lithuania and were always declaring Lithuania’s right to freedom and independence.

Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid was founded in 1961 in the State of New York to support the clergy, the faithful, and dissidents in Soviet-occupied Lithuania. In the 1970′s and 80′s it was instrumental in the translation and dissemination of the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, sent much religious and humanitarian aid to persecuted Lithuanian Catholics, and supported the Lithuanian Information Center, a news-dissemination service about soviet-occupied Lithuania. Since the re-assertion of Lithuanian independence in 1990, LCRA has helped the Catholic Church in Lithuania rebuild.  LCRA supports Catholic religious, educational and social outreach projects in Lithuania and its diaspora. Recent projects include aid to retired religious, funds for retreats and faith-based summer camps, support to childrens’ centers and care for the elderly.

Lithuanian Information Center was established in New York in 1979. Its main goal was to inform the world about the situation in Lithuania. It started with the underground press streaming news to the Western media, Lithuania, and Lithuanian diaspora abroad (about 70 Lithuanian newspapers, radio pragrams and organizations were getting a constant information flow from the Center). Another aim of this Center was to influence the public opinion to be more friendly and cooperative towards Lithuania’s aim for Independence. Lithuanian Information Center was closed in 1991.

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