By Audrone Barunas Willke and Danute Barunas
2nd edition, 2015
Refugees are again in the news. But the dislocations of World War II left millions homeless and stateless.
In this riveting memoir, Audrone Willke and her sister, Danute Barunas, describe their trans-Atlantic move to Boston as small children in a Lithuanian family. Interweaving her own memories with the memoirs of her father, we get a picture of what life was like for new immigrants to the United States in the middle part of the last century.
Lithuania, had been part of the Russian empire under the czars, but during World War I it was occupied by Germans, and the villages impoverished. At the end of the war, the country had a brief period of independent democracy from 1918 to 1926. In World War II Lithuania was taken over by the Soviets. Mass deportations to Siberia occurred, and members of the Barunas family were among the victims. In 1941 the Nazi’s occupied the country, and after they lost war, Lithuania was once again in the hands of the Russians. In this atmosphere of fear, poverty, and hunger, Audrone and Danute’s parents educated themselves and married. As the Germans started to retreat from Lithuania towards the end of 1944, and the Soviets pushed towards Lithuania, the population feared a new reign of terror under Stalin. So the family escaped by train to Germany where bombings and extreme hunger awaited them. Finally, the war ended and they went to a displaced persons’ camp. By now a family with four children, the Barunas’ were lucky to find a sponsor in Brockton, Massachusetts, and emigrated at the end of 1949.
The second half of the book describes how a non-English speaking family can find work, buy a house, educate their children, and assimilate in a country that accepts them willingly. Audrone met her husband, Dr. Klaus Willeke, a German immigrant, at Stanford University when both were studying for their doctorates. Now a retired professor, Dr Willike’s book shows what immigrants offer to a culture. Her story is a testament to an America that once was, and that could be, again.