Thursday, 27 June 2019

Lithuanian Australians in World War 2

The recent 75th commemoration of D-Day (the allied landings in Normandy) reminded me that there were also Australian Lithuanian servicemen and women who participated in World War Two.

At least 25 Australian servicemen who served during WW2 (1939-45) recorded their place of birth as Lithuania. Some were born in independent Lithuania (from1918) while others had been born while the country was still part of the czarist Russian empire. Here are a few of their stories.

Myer ALTMAN, born 9 May 1923 in Kaunas was living in Mosman (Sydney) with his father Samuel when he enlisted at Sydney University - he was an economics student there - in October 1941. He continued to serve in Australia until discharge in January 1946.

Judah John DAVIES, born 21 October 1905 in Kaunas enlisted in May 1941 at Paddington (Sydney). He was a motor accessories traveller, married to Betty Shwabsky Davies, and saw active service in the Middle East and New Guinea before being discharged on medical grounds in September 1944.

John KELLERT (Jonas KELERTAS), born 9 June 1924 in Panevežys, enlisted at Bankstown (Sydney) in July 1942. He qualified as a radio/radar mechanic and served in New Guinea from October 1943 to May 1944, discharged in October 1946.

Harry KURZKI had been born in 1893 in Kaunas and served in the Russian army during WW1 during which time he received a gunshot wound to the head. He arrived in Australia in 1925 and enlisted at Paddington (Sydney) at the age of 49 but was discharged after one month as medically unfit.

Zalman LEVI (also known as Zale ZAPOLSKI) had been born in 1904 in Lazdijai and enlisted at Claremont (Perth) in June 1942 at the age of 38. He was married, an antique dealer, and only 5'3" tall, but recorded continuous full-time war service in Western Australia, New South Wales, and the Northern Territory until January 1946.

Walter MARCIN (Vladimiras MARCINKEVIČIUS), born 9 December 1917 in Kaunas had arrived in Australia in 1928 with his parents and settled in Arncliffe (Sydney). He had attended the Royal Art Society of NSW and the Julian Ashton Art School while completing a 5 year apprenticeship as a stained glass draughtsman. Walter enlisted with the RAAF in March 1943, served as aircrew and navigator before being promoted to Flight Sergeant and Warrant Officer and joining the RAF (in the UK) in May 1944. He survived the war in Europe and was discharged in January 1946. 

Anthony PATRICK (Antanas PETRAITIS), born 10 September 1908 in Sintautai had arrived with his family in 1928 from Scotland and worked in Sydney as a french polisher. He enlisted in May 1943 and provided 1030 days of active service within Australia until the end of the war.

As well as the above, the following Australian WW2 servicemen recorded Lithuania as their place of birth. Many were Lithuanian Jews, several were from the same family:

Isdore BERMAN (Idelis BERMANAS) from Jurbarkas;
Bernard BLOCH (BLOCHAS) from Varniai;
William BLOCH;
Kay Kazys BRAZ (BRAZAUSKAS) from Kaunas;
Samuel EPSTEIN from Kaunas;
David GOLDBERG from Kaunas;
Hyman GRAY from Zanov(?);
Sundel HANEMANN from Memel (Klaipeda);
Maurice MARGOLIS from Vilnius;
Noel MILLER (Chane MILERIS) from Nemakščiai;
Leon PLATUS from Godz(?);
Edgar SEEBERG from Zabelai(?);
Harry SEGAL from Žagare;
Albert SILVER from Židikai;
Leslie SILVER;
Peter Stasium STANTON (Petras STASIUNAS) from Pašvitinys.

Still others who served Australia during WW2 were the Australian-born descendants of Lithuanian immigrants; for example Lt Frank John AUGUSTUS, the son of Pranas and Magdalena AUGUSTAITIS who had arrived in 1924 from Scotland; and Aircraftwoman Frances Merle SIMKUS, the grandaughter of William ŠIMKUS who had been born around 1861 in Memel (Klaipeda) and arrived in NSW in 1886. Others included Bombardier Anthony Joseph ALANSKAS from Western Australia and Staff Sergeant Anthony Wedrien from Sydney.

Sources: NAA (National Archives of Australia) and

Friday, 14 June 2019

Sydney Lithuanians in 1915

An earlier post dealt with early Lithuanians in Sydney around the time of the First World War and included the photograph below. I had mentioned that they had written an article to the American Lithuanian newspaper Lietuva, which they are displaying at the base of the photo, and have now tracked down the article which provides some more detail about their lives here.

Lietuva (meaning Lithuania) was published in Chicago from 1892 to 1920. The article from Sydney was published on 16 April 1915 (not in 1914 as previously thought) and sets out what the authors knew about the small number of Lithuanians in Sydney at the time:
  • they knew of 21 people in their circle: 9 men (4 of whom were married and one a widower); 6 women and 6 children [we now know that there were in fact more Lithuanian-born people living in or near Sydney at the time];
  • they considered their standard of living to be good; six of their number had acquired property (four owned their own homes and two had parcels of land);
  • at least six of these community members worked in the tailoring trade where wages ranged from three to six pounds per week; although the wage rates were good, the cost of living was a little higher than in the UK, in particular accommodation rentals, and this was an incentive to acquire property as quickly as possible; 
  • the first Lithuanians they knew about had arrived back in 1887; these were Jonas Mickevičius (John McCowage) and his family - see the above post for more details on him. Jonas was the most well-to-do member of the community, having acquired a home near the centre of the city; one of his sons was a successful Sydney greengrocer. Another early immigrant, Stanislovas Urnėžius (Stanley Urniarz) had arrived in 1904 from Manchuria. All the other Lithuanians in this group had arrived more recently from England or Scotland;   
  • the authors contended that opportunities for new immigrants were improving as there was a shortage of labour and the standard of living in Australia was better than in other countries; they looked forward to welcoming more Lithuanian immigrants and growing the size of their community.

If you would like to read the full article (in Lithuanian) it is accessible through