Empowering People. Strengthening Communities.

In the 1970’s, the church my wife and I attended, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Newington, NH, was considering sponsoring a Vietnamese refugee family. The congregation was concerned about the potential challenges of assisting a family with limited English skills. When I told them I myself had come over as a refugee and knew no English when I first arrived, the congregation was persuaded to take on the sponsorship. The Vietnamese family did quite well! Holy Trinity also later sponsored a Laotian family.

If I had the opportunity to be part of a sponsorship again, I definitely would. It is my way of giving back for the help my family and I received as war refugees over 50 years ago. This is my story.

Fleeing the Nazis

My family’s refugee story is one of many refugee stories which emerged from World War II. My parents, brother, sister and I fled Lithuania in 1944 during the war trying to escape the ever encroaching warfront as the Soviet army began to push back the Nazis. We hitched our two horses to our wagon and left our farm and possessions behind as we headed west into Poland. Our troubles did not cease there. When we reached Poland, we were separated from my father when the German occupiers took my father away and we were forced to fend for ourselves. The Germans loaded us up into cattle railway cards and transported us further into Poland.

Becoming Refugees

By some miracle, we were later reunited with my mother’s sister and her sister-in-law. Together with my mother, they were able to acquire a covered wagon. This was home for all of us as we managed to stay ahead of the warfront though at one point we were engulfed in the conflict. Finally we were liberated by the British at the end of the war!

In the aftermath of the war, we joined other displaced people and were provided shelter and food in a Displaced Persons’ Camps. We moved from one camp to the next as the camp population began to dwindle due to emigration to third countries. Eventually we ended up near Hannover, Germany.

Reuniting with My Father

I was only eight when we left Lithuania, so I do not recall all that happened during that time. However, there is one thing I will never forget. After the war ended, my father roamed the country on foot looking for us in every Displaced Persons Camp. He finally found us as we were playing with friends in the street and approached us. He had a long beard so we did not recognize him, but he recognized us instantly and exclaimed, “I am your father!”

Resettlement in America

We waited another five years and at last were accepted for resettlement in America through the Lutheran World Federation which helped us through the resettlement process on both sides of the Atlantic. On March 31, 1952 we finally sailed into New York Harbor on a United States military ship, the USS General Muir. LWF found a farmer in Monroeville, Indiana who sponsored us and provided employment. A Lutheran church in the same town welcomed and supported us as we settled into our new lives.

Moving to New Hampshire

Our sponsor let us stay in a vacant house on his second farm on which my father worked. Soon my brother got a job, and my sister and I went to high school. My parents had friends in Manchester, New Hampshire so after a year we moved there. I finished high school in Manchester and eventually finished college with an engineering degree after struggling and flunking out during my first year of college. While in high school, I did not expect to attend college, and had not prepared for it. If it had not been for a machine shop teacher in high school encouraging me, I would never have even applied for college! If we had stayed in Lithuania, I might have been a farmer. Ironically, I farm in Washington, New Hampshire, but more for pleasure and because we like to eat locally grown food.