Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide

Lithuanian cemeteries abroad

There are at least 100 Lithuanian cemeteries outside Lithuania.

Full of traditional Lithuanian large gravestones, Lithuanian monuments, Lithuanian symbols, and Lithuanian inscriptions, they are a treasure trove for ethnic, history, or genealogy researchers and potent symbols of Lithuania as well as hallowed grounds for those of Lithuanian descent.

One of the entrances to the Westville Lithuanian cemetery

One of the entrances to the Westville Lithuanian cemetery, Illinois.

Most Lithuanian cemeteries are located in the USA, especially in Pennsylvania. Some of them are the oldest Lithuanian cemeteries outside Lithuania. They were established by the First Wave of Lithuanian emigration (late 19th century). This was the first time in history Lithuanians migrated in large numbers. Despite emigrating, they continued to see the USA as a foreign land. Thus, they did not only establish their own parishes and clubs to continue Lithuanian activities but they also wanted to be buried together in separate Lithuanian cemeteries.

Lithuanian Liberty Cemetery of Spring Valley

Lithuanian Liberty Cemetery of Spring Valley

The quest for separate cemeteries was often difficult, though. Catholics at the time needed to be buried in Catholic cemeteries and non-Lithuanian bishops often saw no reason to have a separate Lithuanian cemetery. Still, many Lithuanian parishes eventually managed to establish their own cemeteries or bundled together to establish a Lithuanian cemetery. Furthermore, additional Lithuanian cemeteries were established by non-religious or non-Catholic Lithuanian organizations which bought their own land. These were used by a wide array of smaller groups of Lithuanian emigrants including Tautininkai („nationalists“), leftists (atheists), as well as Lutheran Lithuanians.

Lithuanian National Catholic Cemetery of Lawrence, Massachussetts

Lithuanian National Catholic Cemetery of Lawrence, Massachussetts. National Catholics separated from the Roman Catholics and one of the reasons was internationalizing factors within the Roman Catholic church

The Pennsylvania tradition of ethnic Lithuanian cemeteries in the USA was later copied by Lithuanians in other US states, as the First Wave of Lithuanian migration continued there, for example in upstate New York, Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and the mining towns of southern Illinois.

A map of Lithuanian cemeteries in the areas of the USA where most of them are located at

A map of Lithuanian cemeteries in the areas of the USA where most of them are located at

In the larger cities, though, establishing separate Lithuanian cemeteries was more difficult. While in the mining towns, Lithuanians were often among the first settlers (together with other communities), in the larger cities, such as Boston, New York, or Detroit, they migrated into an already established urban fabric and land prices were high. One exception is Chicago, where the Lithuanian community (100 000+) was large enough to establish two Lithuanian cemeteries: a Catholic St. Casimir one and a non-religious one. Two other larger US cities that have Lithuanian cemeteries are Pittsburgh (PA) and Grand Rapids (MI) and – both of them also have a religious and non-religious ones.

Huge Lithuanian coat of arms at the entrance of St. Casimir Lithuanian cemtery of Chicago (the largest Lithuanian cemetery outside Lithuania)

Huge Lithuanian coat of arms at the entrance of St. Casimir Lithuanian cemtery of Chicago (the largest Lithuanian cemetery outside Lithuania)

The older burials in Lithuanian cemeteries (those from before WW2 and especially WW1) are typically large traditional gravestones with inscriptions in non-standard Lithuanian language (as the Lithuanian orthography was only standardized after the 1918 independence and this standardization took decades to reach the USA). Often, these long inscriptions describe the life of the person and his death (e.g. which parish in Lithuania a person immigrated from or how he died in the mines). In some cemeteries, images of those deceased are common on the gravestones, something unavailable in that era in Lithuania itself where photography was not yet widely accessible.

Some of the oldest graves at the Westvillle Lithuanian Cemetery

Some of the oldest graves at the Westvillle Lithuanian Cemetery

Surviving images of long-dead people in the Lithuanian cemeteries

Surviving images of long-dead people in the Lithuanian cemeteries

The newer gravestones in Lithuanian cemeteries tend to be especially patriotic in style. The people buried under them are from the Second Wave of Lithuanian migration, that is, those who escaped the Soviet Genocide in 1944. They always saw themselves as exiles rather than emigrants and sought to create „pieces of Lithuania“ in the USA even more than the First Wave did. Their gravestones are thus more Lithuanian than any in Lithuania itself, adorned by patriotic poems and symbols. There were artists who developed this gravestone style, e.g. Ramojus Mozoliauskas. Never would such gravestones have „bastardized“ or anglicized surnames on them but only the original Lithuanian ones. Such gravestones are the most common in the large city Lithuanian cemeteries, though (especially Chicago) as few Second Wave immigrants immigrated to the smaller towns and villages (or even if they migrated there at first, they moved elsewhere later).

Many graves, like this one of Balys Savickas, have Lithuanian patriotic symbols and inscriptions. The inscription on the left says ‚After losing my homeland I lived for its freedom and I lived to see it‘, referencing to him dying in 1996, after independence. The inscription on the right adds ‚Such was my fate given to me by the Almighty‘. Symbols on this grave are the Vytis (Lithuanian coat of arms), Cross of Vytis and the Three Crosses memorial, a potent symbol of Vilnius and of Soviet repression as it was demolished by the Soviets and then rebuilt by Lithuanians as independence seemed real

Many graves, like this one of Balys Savickas, have Lithuanian patriotic symbols and inscriptions. The inscription on the left says ‚After losing my homeland I lived for its freedom and I lived to see it‘, referencing to him dying in 1996, after independence. The inscription on the right adds ‚Such was my fate given to me by the Almighty‘. Symbols on this grave are the Vytis (Lithuanian coat of arms), Cross of Vytis and the Three Crosses memorial, a potent symbol of Vilnius and of Soviet repression as it was demolished by the Soviets and then rebuilt by Lithuanians as independence seemed real

Second Wave immigrants typically used the Lithuanian cemeteries they found that was established by the First Wave. The few new Lithuanian cemeteries they managed to establish were that in Mississauga (near Toronto), which is also a treasure trove of ethnic Lithuanian gravestones, as well as in Putnam, Connecticut, near a Lithuanian convent. Elsewhere, the Second Wave managed to create sections within non-Lithuanian cemeteries, e.g. in West Palm Beach (FL), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), and Sydney (Australia). Even where this was not possible, they often tried to bury themselves not far away from each other, making unofficial areas with higher Lithuanian burial density.

A common Lithuanian grave/memorial in Rio De Janeiro cemetery built by DP Lithuanians

A common Lithuanian grave/memorial in Rio De Janeiro cemetery built by DP Lithuanians

While the First Wave (pre-WW2) era burials in the Lithuanian cemeteries are typically those of „simple miners and factory workers“, the Second Wave also included many famous figures: writers, artists, and politicians. Many of them are also buried in the Lithuanian cemeteries of America although some of their bones have been moved to Lithuania after it became independent in 1990.

Adolfas Šapoka grave

Grave of famous Lithuanian historian Adolfas Šapoka in Toronto (Mississauga) Lithuanian cemetery

Over time, Lithuanian cemeteries became not only hubs for Lithuanian burials but also for Lithuanian monuments. Monuments for Lithuanian freedom, for Lithuanian heroes, for Lithuanians who fought in World War 2, and more were erected in many Lithuanian cemeteries abroad, especially while Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. Laws in many countries make memorials built in cemeteries safe from demolition, thus making Lithuanian cemeteries a safe haven for them.

Romas Kalanta memorial at the St. Casimir Lithuanian cemetery of Chicago

Romas Kalanta memorial at the St. Casimir Lithuanian cemetery of Chicago was the first memorial to him built anywhere in the world. He was a Lihuanian who self-immolated against the Soviet regime in the 1970s

In addition to the „emigrant“ cemeteries there are two other types of Lithuanian cemeteries outside Lithuania:

*Cemeteries in the traditionally or historically Lithuanian towns and villages around Lithuania (in Latvia, Poland, Kaliningrad Oblast, Belarus). Those are not strictly Lithuanian but the majority of burials may be Lithuanian. Some of them are destroyed.
*Cemeteries of Soviet Genocide victims in Russia. There, Lithuanians were able to erect small crosses at best and were often buried in mass graves. Despite hundreds of thousands of people dying in the Soviet Genocide, few remains remain.

Lithuanian main memorial at Spassk

Lithuanian main memorial at Spassk, Kazakhstan. In this field, Gulag prisoners of many ethnicities were thrown into pits. While the location of the field was obviously not marked anyhow while the Soviet Union existed, as it became crumbling, Lithuanians visited here to build a mamorial for all the unknown Lithuanain victims who lay there. Other nations followed suit and so now this 'cemetery' instead of gravestones with names has gravestones for each ethnic group that was buried here en-masse, among them Lithuanians

The current state of the Lithuanian cemeteries abroad varies greatly.

The Lithuanian cemeteries of Lithuanian-American Catholic parishes (by far the most numerous) typically somewhat followed the fate of the parishes. As parishes included more non-Lithuanian members, these would be buried in the cemeteries as well. Where the Lithuanian parishes were closed, the cemeteries typically became owned by the diocese and accept all burials. That said, as the old burials and monuments are not removed, the Lithuanian character firmly remains, even if not in the name (such cemeteries are typically named after the same saint as the parish was named after and have no official ethnic designation, e.g. the cemetery of St. George Lithuanian parish would be known as St. George cemetery). New burials are relatively rare in those old cemeteries usually, many of them are still of the people related to those buried there before, and so Lithuanians will never be outnumbered by non-Lithuanians there. Typically, these cemeteries are well-cared for by the Catholic diocese.

Cornerstone of the Holy Trinity church at the Old Holy Trinty Lithuanian cemetery of Wilkes-Barre

Cornerstone of the Holy Trinity church at the Old Holy Trinty Lithuanian cemetery of Wilkes-Barre. After the demolition of the church, the cornerstone was brought here

The fate of non-Catholic Lithuanian-American cemeteries varies far more greatly. As they were owned and cared for by Lithuanian institutions, their fate follows that of those institutions. Some institutions folded and so the cemeteries became uncared for, even overgrown with forests. Yet other institutions fared quite well and the cemeteries are not only cared for but also especially ethnic, with Lithuanian flags still waving over them. The non-religious Lithuanian cemeteries are often the only ones officially named „Lithuanian“ as it was the ethnic designation rather than association with a parish that was crucial to them. Some of the „forgotten“ Lithuanian cemeteries were at one point rediscovered and partly or fully renovated by the descendants of those buried or by other Lithuanians or Lithuanian-Americans.

Lithuanian cemetery sign near Yorktown

Lithuanian cemetery sign near Yorktown. This cemetery is the oldest Lithuanian cemetery in the USA. It has been forgotten and abandoned by the mid-20th century but rediscovered by the late-20th century and this sign was built then

Somewhat derelict Bensalem Lithuanian cemetery near Philadelphia

Somewhat derelict Bensalem Lithuanian cemetery near Philadelphia

The cemeteries of exiled Lithuanians in Russia are often forgotten and not cared for, as the relatives came back to Lithuania after it was allowed. While various Lithuanian expeditions went to take care of these crumbling graves in the mid-1980s, the hatred of the Russian government towards these graves and Lithuanians in general later led to a ban on such expeditions, and many of the memorials built by Lithuanians were demolished.

Ryudnyk cemetery Lithuanian memorial

Crumbling Lithuanian graves in Rudnyk, Kazakhstan (image taken in 2018; the graves have been since reburied, as the situation in Kazakhstan regaridng the care for Lithuania graves is better than in Russia itself)