On the Occasion of Its birthday, VU Will Honour People Expelled from the University During the Years of Occupation
On 1 April, Vilnius University (VU) will honour VU students who have suffered under totalitarian regimes.
On the birthday of VU, in the Grand Courtyard, Rector Prof. Rimvydas Petrauskas will present symbolic Memory Diplomas to three former VU students: a nun Laimutė Antanina Vanagaitė (Sister Lina-Marija), Alfonsas Bujokas and Zigmas Juozas Tamakauskas, whose social origin, disloyalty to the then regime or entering a convent became the main obstacle for them to study at VU.
“The 20th century was a time of military conflicts and devastating wars. The issue of what to do with this very difficult historical heritage is relevant to all groups, to all institutions. There are two paths one can take: one path is to try and forget, erase, clear that troublesome memory. Another path is to be active – try to remember instead,” says VU Rector Prof. Petrauskas.
The symbolic Memory Diploma of Vilnius University has been created to commemorate those who were denied the opportunity to be members of the VU academic community due to the volatile history of Lithuania, totalitarian regimes or collaboration of local people. Symbolic diplomas and their public award ceremony are part of the Recovering Memory initiative, born in 2016 at VU as a result of historical research.
The main goal of this initiative is to evaluate the impact of totalitarian regimes on the VU community, to identify those who were affected and to symbolically reintroduce them to the VU community. As Prof. Jurgita Verbickienė, the instigator of the initiative, claims, Recovering Memory is now becoming a strong incentive for the present VU community to know and understand VU’s history better, to fill, rethink or even rewrite some of its lesser-known pages. “Responsibility and aspiration to know and recognize a history which contains not only beautiful but also dishonourable episodes is a springboard for the creation of an open university community and university prospects. Justice, responsibility, diversity of opinion and freedom are all values, without which we cannot imagine our life, and yet, for quite a while, they had to be fought for by opposing the regime, and the fights took place here, at Vilnius University and in its community, too,” says the historian.
Delving into the fate of different VU community members, the main events that robbed them of their opportunity to study at the university or even live took shape. These were: the first Soviet occupation that began on 15 June 1940, followed by the national-socialist occupation together with the Second World War and the Holocaust, and this in turn was followed by sovietisation that lasted for more than five decades. This year marks 80 years since the first expulsion of Jewish and Polish students and members of staff which occurred in the autumn of 1941, instigated by the national socialists.
Today, there are about 1,000 people who could apply for a Memory Diploma: Lithuanians, Poles, Jews. The latter two groups were expelled from universities during the national-socialist occupation solely on the grounds of their nationality. In the Soviet era, the views of those expelled, their disloyalty to the regime, the exile of their relatives or having been exiled themselves, their connection to Lithuanian guerrillas and the resistance, their social origin became more relevant motives for expulsion.
At the beginning of the Nazi occupation alone, around 650 Jews and about 80 Poles were forced to leave or were expelled from VU, alongside a few hundred Lithuanians, who were also deprived of the opportunity to work or study at VU under the first and second Soviet occupation. So far 106 VU members have been identified and honoured with symbolic diplomas, including such well-known people as Antanas Terleckas, dissident and political and social activist, Algirdas Endriukaitis, a signatory of the Independence Act of Lithuania, Pranciškus Baltrus Šivickis, a professor at the Histology and Embryology Department, Professor Antanas Žvironas, the first dean of the Physics and Mathematics Faculty, and Chlounė Meištovskis, a student, whose biography was the initial impetus for the initiative.
Other expelled members are yet to be identified. Vilnius University would thus like to encourage people who were expelled from VU because of political regimes after 15 June 1940, or who knew somebody in their circle who was, to inquire via email or fill in the application form for honouring them with a Memory Diploma.