Thursday, 16 November 2017

Jonas Zeleniakas (John Green)

An earlier post [click link here] featured Kazys Brazauskas ('Key Braz', 1898-1980) who had served as a volunteer in Lithuania's independence movement after WW1 and settled in Australia from 1927.  A very similar path was followed by Jonas Zeleniakas ('John Green', 1898-1975) who arrived in 1929.  They undoubtedly knew each other, living in Sydney and Port Kembla, and both served on the committee of the pre-WW2 Australian Lithuanian Society.

Jonas Zeleniakas was born in Panemunė, Lithuania, but grew up in England. The family returned to Lithuania before the First World War and settled in Šančiai, a suburb of Kaunas.  He had two sisters and two brothers, Antanas and Karolis. After the declaration of Lithuanian independence and the end of WW1, Jonas was one of the first to volunteer and join the new Lithuanian army (in the Lithuanian language he was a Lietuvos Kariuomenės Kurėjas Savanoris). His brother Antanas also joined the army and rose to officer rank, however he died during the Second World War.

By the mid 1920s Jonas had decided to try his luck elsewhere; he left London aboard the Orvieto on 31 August 1929 bound for Australia.  Almost inmmediately after arriving, in October 1929, he was elected to the founding committee of the Australian Lithuanian Society.  Initially he lived in Sydney, but later settled at Port Kembla where he worked in a steel mill with the intention of saving enough to buy a house and bring a bride out from Lithuania.  Unfortunately the Second World War interrupted those plans and he remained a bachelor for the rest of his life.

In October 1939, after 10 years residence in Australia, Jonas published a notice of his intention to take out Australian citizenship.  He gave his place of residence as Perkins Beach, Port Kembla.
After WW2 his brother Karolis, who had escaped the soviet occupation, came out to Australia with his family. Karolis had been born in 1901 in England, his wife Marija in Kaunas, and their son Algirdas in 1928 in Kaunas.  The Australian press reported in 1949 that both Karolis and Algirdas were commercial photographers who hoped to open a studio in Sydney; however Karolis and his family moved to the USA in the mid 1950s.

When Jonas retired from the steel mill he bought a motor boat; he enjoyed fishing in the Pacific ocean and many Lithuanians would come down from Sydney to go fishing with him. He died at Port Kembla on 8 June 1975 and was buried at the West Dapto Catholic cemetery.  A cemetery record at suggests he also used the name 'John Green' in Australia, and the cemetery headstone (sighted in October 2018) appears to confirm that. 

Much of the above material is from the obituary for Jonas Zeleniakas written by Antanas Baužė and published in Mūsų Pastogė, Nr. 24 of 23rd June 1975.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Nineteenth and early twentieth century migration

Another recently published book is a great source for understanding the context of early Lithuanian emigration. The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World by Tara Zahra (2016, W.W. Norton and Company) deals with the growth of "American fever" in, and emigration from, two of the largest empires in Europe - the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire.

The scale of these migrations was massive: an estimated 55-58 million Europeans moved westward to North and South America in the period 1846-1940, and another 46-51 million left via Manchuria, Siberia, Central Asia and Japan.

By the end of the 1800s emigration had become big business, "littered with opportunities for exploitation and profit". If they made it safely to the Atlantic seaboard, the most common departure points for East Europeans were Hamburg and Bremen, followed by Rotterdam, Antwerp and Liverpool.  As well as the huge risks faced by the individuals involved, Zahra documents broader concerns: depopulation and social unrest in the east and the push for greater regulation and control in the west.  An interesting example is that from 1892 Germany set up delousing and disinfecting stations along its borders with Russia and Austria-Hungary in an attempt to control the risks to public health.  In 1901 the Hamburg America Line (HAPAG) constructed a dedicated migration depot outside the city, the intention "was to completely isolate East European migrants from the German population"; by 1906 there were 1,186 emigrants in residence, divided into 'clean' and 'unclean' sections and subject to daily medical examinations. 

While much of the book deals with those departing the Austro-Hungarian empire for the American dream, there is also much useful information regarding the experience of Russia's subjects:

  • Prohibitions on emigration from the Russian empire dated back to the era of Peter the Great; 
  • However, Russian imperial authorities began to encourage Jewish emigration in the 1890s, and by 1910 the officially sanctioned Jewish Colonization Association had established 400 offices throughout the empire. In general, emigration remained illegal for non-Jewish Russian citizens;
  • Nevertheless, 2.7 million Russian subjects left between 1880 and 1910; most of these were Jews, Polish-speakers or German-speakers;
  •  In 1910 a passport enabling travel abroad cost 17.25 roubles, around a month's wages for an agricultural worker. An alternative was a free 'emigrant' passport which did not permit return and in effect resulted in statelessness. Many simply risked being caught and crossed Russia's western frontier illegally, often with the help of a smuggler or agent.