Four waves of emigration from Lithuania have resulted in a rather impressive community of Lithuanian-Americans, whose size, according to some estimates, may be up to 1 million people.
It should be noted that in the historiography of Lithuania, only three major waves of emigration are considered. The division into four or five waves needs to be looked into in greater detail.
While the descendants of Lithuanian emigrants lead lives as full-fledged Americans, Brazilians, Australians, etc, their Lithuanian roots now allow many of them to obtain dual citizenship. In this way, not only do they get the additional benefits of an EU passport holder, but also maintain the connection with their historical roots – for themselves and future generations.
The First wave of emigration from Lithuania to the USA
The period between 1865 and 1915 marked the beginning of the first wave of migration. At the time, the Russian Empire, which had discriminating policies, was economically backward, and purposefully left Lithuania undeveloped, reigned over Lithuania.
The Lithuanian population in the Russian Empire succumbed to discrimination. The Lithuanian language was banned, Lithuanian youths could be taken into the army for 12 years, and people of Russian nationality were brought to Lithuania’s territory to change the population’s composition. Russians were also given priority when it came to hiring, and most large enterprises also did not belong to Lithuanians.
Thus, Lithuanians emigrated in significant numbers; some 700 000 left, and the majority went to the United States where American Lithuanians would work in the industries and mines to avoid discrimination and seek economic prospects.
Unfortunately, the descendants of the first wave of emigrants (before 1918) have no chance of obtaining Lithuanian citizenship as deemed by the legislation in force as of 2022.
The Second Wave – Lithuanian emigration between the first and second world wars
By the time of gaining its independence from the Russian Empire (February 16, 1918), the economic condition of Lithuania was in decline. This was mainly due to the consequences of the First World War and the destructive activities of the Russian Empire.
And even though Lithuania finally gained independence, it was the worsening economic factors that pushed its citizens to move to a country where they could earn money for their families.
In addition, a new phenomenon arose that helped drive the second wave of emigration as Lithuanians were provided with full support for the emigration process and actively advertised new opportunities in the new country.
The change of government in 1926, when right-wing forces came to power was also another factor that influenced the formation of the second wave of emigration. This was especially felt by the Litvaks.
As a result, after a slight slowdown after independence, emigration again became a mass phenomenon. During the second wave, about 100,000 citizens left Lithuania.
Almost 30,000 of them went to the US. More than 40,000 people emigrated to South America – mainly to Brazil, but also to places like Argentina and Uruguay. And up to 10,000 people emigrated to Canada during the second wave of emigration from Lithuania.
By 1930, mass emigration from Lithuania to the countries of America had stopped as a result of the Great Depression of 1929 in the USA.
The good news is that almost all the descendants of the second wave of Lithuanian emigrants have the opportunity to restore their Lithuanian citizenship and pass it on to their children. At the same time, they do not have to renounce their existing citizenship. This is truly a great opportunity that is not to be missed!
The Exiles – The Third Wave of emigration
The beginning of the Second World War for Lithuania was marked by a short-term occupation of the Soviet Union in 1940, then by Germany, and then again by the Soviet Union in 1944.
Although the first occupation by the Soviet Union was short-lived, it was very brutal. Hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians were expelled, and many were brutally killed. The Russian occupiers were distinguished by extreme cruelty as they committed terrible tortures.
The occupation by Germany led also led to the extermination of hundreds of thousands of Lithuanian Jews. While the local population of Lithuanian nationality suffered less from the German occupiers than from the Soviet ones, thousands of them were deported to concentration camps.
Hence, when the Soviet Union made its return to Lithuania in 1944, the Lithuanians knew what to expect. And those who could, left the country. Up to 100,000 Lithuanians left their homeland to escape the Soviet’s foreign rule.
Tens of thousands of Lithuanians were killed during the Soviet occupation. A lot of people were sent exiled. At least 350,000 Lithuanians were deported to Siberia and other troubled regions of the Soviet Union. 200,000 Lithuanian Poles were expelled to Poland, and over 150,000 Lithuanian Germans were expelled to Germany. Some of these exiles subsequently made their way to the United States.
In total, during the period from the beginning of the Soviet occupation until the death of Stalin, after which a certain thaw came, the population of Lithuania lost up to a million people – that’s a third of its population! For comparison, during the years of German occupation, losses only amounted to 250,000 people, mostly Lithuanian Jews.
The borders of the Soviet Union were closed. As such, there was no mass emigration but rather there was mass deportation – both within the Soviets and beyond.
The descendants of the generation of exiles, in most cases, also have the opportunity to regain their Lithuanian citizenship, retain their connection with their roots, and pass it on to their children.
The Fourth Wave of emigration
The Fourth or Modern wave started approximately in the 1990s and is still ongoing, gradually fading away.
This wave is considered to be the largest wave of Lithuanian emigration. As European Union membership allowed free emigration to Western Europe. Almost a million Lithuanians left their homeland looking for a job, but only a relatively small number went to the US.
This fourth wave has another feature. This group, who grew up in the Soviet Union, witnessed the decline of the economy and degradation, often do not see the prospects of Lithuania and wanted to break free from it. Even now in the comments on social networks you can see their opinion that Lithuania is a country without a future.
However, as Lithuania develops and becomes an advanced economy (and Lithuania is currently ranked 11th in the ease of doing business ranking), the flow of emigration from the country is declining.
In 2019, the number of immigrants exceeded the number of emigrants. At the same time, one can note not only the influx of foreigners into the country but also the increase in the number of Lithuanians returning to their homeland.
The current legislation does not provide for the possibility of obtaining dual citizenship for emigrants of this wave. But some of the new immigrants are assisted by their relatives 1-2 generations back, that left before 1940.
Facebook’s community for sharing the common experience
Probably, nobody knows exactly how many Lithuanians live in the USA. The largest Lithuanian community in the United States, with a population of up to 1 million, is surely comprised of the four waves of emigration from Lithuania.
There is the Facebook group “USA Lithuanians” where Lithuanian Americans can share their family stories and archived family photos. One can learn more about the home country’s past and exchange information with nearby descent. So many people will be able to see the history of their family. Additionally, through the group, one can also find friends and like-minded people, organize a joint celebration of national holidays.
The renewal of Lithuanian passport in the USA
The renewal of a Lithuanian passport in the USA is firstly a question of freedom of choice. The underlying motivation for renewing a passport is not for traveling but first and foremost – for an opportunity to reconnect with the homeland of ancestors. The opportunity to pass on European citizenship to one’s children also plays a big part in making this choice. The second motivation is to live and work in Europe. The Lithuanian passport provides visa-free access to 185 countries. Thus, the renewal of it has a great number of advantages.
Each interested person is able to renew the Lithuanian passport in the USA. For the renewal or issuance of a dual Lithuanian passport, each applicant must collect the required package of documents and translate them into Lithuanian. If any documents are missing, they must be searched in the archives.
We thank Ari Kleit for providing the photo of his father and grandfather