Thursday, 26 February 2015

What's in a name?

When I was growing up in Adelaide I was well aware that some Lithuanian DP families had shortened their surnames after arrival in Australia in order to make them easier to pronounce in a society and culture dominated by English speakers. For example:
  • Stasiškis became Statkus;
  • Vasiliauskas became Vaskas;
  • Venslovavičius became Vens.
First name simplifications (Antanas to Anton, Pranas to Frank, etc) were even more common. I went through the Australian educational system being known as John rather than Jonas. It was only later that I realised there was also an economic dimension to such name changes; your competitiveness in the jobs marketplace is improved if you have a more local-sounding name.

What was also clear was the fact that many families chose not to dilute their identity and used their 'difficult' Lithuanian names in both the confines of the Lithuanian community and in wider society.

Early Lithuanians and name changes

As with the DPs, many of their predecessors also chose to simplify or anglicise their names. Some did so in Australia, others while they were resident in Britain, North America or elsewhere before arrival in Australia:
Kazys (Key) and Jadvyga Brazauskas (Braz), Sydney
 (source: Metrastis No. 1)

  • Stasys Žygas became Stanley Zygas;
  • Aisikas Segalis became Isaac Segal; and
  • Kazys Brazauskas became Key Braz.

However, the pattern of name changes for early Lithuanians seems broader. There was likely more pressure on them to assimilate or disguise their cultural identity:
  • Jonas Vedrinaitis became John Wedrien;
  • Zigmas Baltrušaitis became Sid Bolt.
Jonas Vedrinaitis/John Wedrien, Sydney
(source: Metrastis No.1)

Others made more wholesale changes:
  • Jonas Zeleniakas became John Green;
  • Kazys Astrauskas became Charles Ashe;
  • Juozas Plaušinis became Joe Miller;
  • Zale Zapolski became Levi Zalman;
  • Lozoraitis became Brown, Petraitis became Patrick, Ruzga became Ross.

Further complications for the amateur historian arise when people are known by or use several variations of a surname, for example:
  • Piliulis/Paliulis/Phillules;
  • Mikėnas/Makeness/Mekenass;
  • Čepkauskas/Capouski/Cepkouski.

Also, even without simplified or anglicised names, some people alternated their names depending on the cultural context they were in:
  • Max Lipschus (a german name) from Memel/Klaipeda was known to the Lithuanian community as Maksas Lipšius;
  • Stanislaus Urniarz (a polish name) from Vilnius was known as Stasys Urniežius.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

100 years ago

What was happening in Europe?

By 1915 the Lithuanian lands had been under rigid Russian domination for 120 years, as a consequence of the final partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795. Despite some reforms in the early twentieth century, such as the lifting of the ban on the use of the Lithuanian language in education and on publications using the latin alphabet (1904), czarist rule continued to be repressive. It was only amidst the confusion of the First World War that the first high school with tuition in the Lithuanian language was allowed to be established in Vilnius (1915). The war facilitated the fall of the Russian empire, following which an independent Lithuanian state was established in 1918.    
Russian WWI propaganda poster

Despite initial Russian successes against the Central Powers early in the First World War, by late 1915 the German army had pushed the Russian forces out of Warsaw, Kaunas and Vilnius.  While the stalemate of trench warfare was avoided on the more fluid Eastern front, there were huge military losses and population displacements. In addition to the withdrawal of industry and business into 'mother Russia' ahead of the German advance, Russian military commanders often perceived the minorities living on the western fringes of the empire - such as the Lithuanians, Jews and Poles - as a threat and forcibly deported many to the Russian interior. There may have been 5 or 6 million such refugees; my father was born to such a family in Russia.  

What was happening in Australia?

The events of World War One also take centre stage in Australian history, in particular the Anzacs' landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. The aim of the Allied Powers was to seize Constantinople and establish direct contact with the Russian forces. Unfortunately the Turks were waiting at Gallipoli and the plan ended in tragedy, with a forced withdrawal in December 1915.
Australian WWI propaganda poster

By 1915 the Australian population had reached almost 5 million, having increased from 3 million in the late 1880s. Domestic support for immigration from the British Isles had been strong in the early part of the twentieth century, in keeping with the new federation's strong identification with the British Empire, but the war put a halt to further large migrant intakes. At the same time, domestic antagonism to non-British foreigners and aliens also increased; people of German heritage in particular became targets.  1915 also saw the introduction of a federal income tax proposed, at least initially, to support the war effort.

There were possibly a few hundred Lithuanians already living in most states of Australia in 1915. Some were single men, some had brought families with them from overseas, others had established families here:

  • Antanas (Antoni) Alanskas originally from Suvalkija had settled in Western Australia with his wife Ieva/Eva and three young children who had been born in Glasgow during the family's 9 years in Scotland;
  • Jonas Balaika, a single man from near Marijampolė, had settled in Sydney having previously lived for 5 years in England and 2 years in Canada;
  • Joe Ipp, a Jew from Kaunas who had lived in South Africa for 3 years had arrived in Melbourne in 1914;
  • Gerard Skugar, a Pole from Vilnius, arrived in Sydney in 1914 and worked at various locations in Queensland including Brisbane, Mt Morgan and Rockhampton before enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF);
  • William Suscavage (?Šuškevičius) from Vilkaviškis arrived around 1914 and settled in Tasmania.   

Despite the war, some people were still able to reach Australia during 1915, for example:

  • Adolfas Miškinis (known as Adolph Mishkinis) who had been born in 1889 near Zarasai, arrived in the USA from Libau (now Liepoja, Latvia) in 1910 and became a naturalised US citizen in 1914.  He reached Melbourne in September 1915 as a sailor on an American ship and decided to stay, enlisting in the AIF in November 1915.  He was sent to fight overseas in January 1916; 
  • Isadore Solomon Cohen, born in Šakiai in 1890, arrived in Sydney in June 1915, married there in 1916 and settled in New South Wales. Before arriving in Australia he had lived in England from 1903 and in North America from 1909. 

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Who Were These People?

This photo from our family album is partly responsible for prompting me to start this blog:

Resident Lithuanians with new arrivals, Perth, 15 February 1948
It was taken in February 1948, a few days after my parents first set foot in Australia. They had arrived on 12 February as displaced persons (DPs) on the International Refugee Organisation's transport ship USAT General M B Stewart. My mother Bronė is second from the left, her friend Elena Kepalaitė is fourth from the left. Behind them is the city of Perth, Western Australia.

There may be other new arrivals in this photo as well - someone might recognise them? - but the intriguing thing for me was that they were met by Lithuanians who were already living here. My father noted in his diary that there were five families with Lithuanian heritage living in the vicinity at the time. Word quickly got around and the first contacts were made at Graylands Migrant Hostel on 12 February; three Lithuanian men, who had lived in Australia for 17, 15 and 12 years, came to meet the new arrivals. The Sunday outing depicted in this photo, a few days later, may represent one of the first recorded social contacts between earlier migrants and the new wave of DPs.

The new arrivals didn't waste much time in organising themselves. Four days after arriving in Australia, on 16 February, they celebrated Lithuanian Independence Day at the Graylands hostel, inviting the local Lithuanians and the hostel management to the event; the program was presented in Lithuanian and English, with a local girl - Adele Kurtinaitis - translating into English;
  • Adele Kurtinaitis was born in Western Australia in 1927.  Her parents Liudvikas and Katarina had arrived in Australia after the First World War and settled at Northam, near Perth. Liudvikas described himself as a labourer when he obtained his Australian naturalisation certificate in 1939, but was able to send his daughter to the University of Western Australia (first year Arts, 1945). She may have had an affinity for languages, choosing to study French and German.        

A few days later, on Saturday 21 February, the locals organised an outing to the horse races;
  • the diary records this as a strange experience, but notes that the races were extremely well organised.  They were taken there by a local, Juozas (Joe) Brown [Lazoraitis], who my father described as being a pleasant fellow.

By early March 1948 this batch of new arrivals had left the Graylands hostel for the eastern states; many of the men had been sent to temporary rural jobs while the women were sent to larger migrant hostels such as Bonegilla. They had new challenges, new futures to build. Contact with the local Lithuanians in Perth had been short-lived, yet it showed that the new migrants already had well-established compatriots in Australia.

My generation was brought up in the context of the DPs and their stories. There was little mention of the earlier settlers and their histories, who in most cases did not actively participate in the new community structures subsequently established by the newcomers. The following blog posts will seek to uncover some of that earlier history.  We may even be able to identify the other people in the photo!