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The Lithuanian treasure from Chicago: the Dr. Kazys Pemkus collection at Klaipeda University Library.

Lithuanian physicians have been the backbone of medical healing but function also as keepers of a nation's soul. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth-century and through the start of the twentieth century (when tsarist Russia banned the Lithuanian press), doctors were the advance-guard of the nation and made up the core of the intellectual community in Lithuania. At that time, medical doctors such as Jonas Basanavicius, Vincas Kudirka, Vincas Pietaris, Jonas Sliupas, and Kazys Grinius nurtured Lithuanian culture and nourished the ideas of a free independent state. Their noble mission continued also after 1918, when Lithuania became an independent republic. Even though in free Lithuania it was not necessary to battle for the nation's interests, still, there was much to be done in the field of the formation of the national mentality. Much work was done by Lithuanian medical doctors through the corporation Fraternitas Lituanica (its anthem was composed by composer Stasys imkus). The organization declared that "the aim of the corporation was to unite Lithuanian medical people professionally and spiritually to advance the medical science, and to support Lithuanian culture." (2) Another supporter of Lithuanian culture was the medical corporation Gaja ("Vitality"), with the slogan of: "Vital body--vigilant soul." (3)

During the period of Soviet occupation, the public activity of medical doctors was suppressed to a great extent. However, in the West, where thousands of refugees found shelter after WWII, medical doctors again had a chance to work for national unity and interest, nurturing the hope to regain independence of the Lithuanian state. One of them was Kazys Pemkus (1920-1996).

History and Development of the Pemkus Collection

Kazys Pemkus was born on 24 June 1920, in the village of Rukai, in the district of Mosedis. His interest in literature began during his school years. He graduated from Skuodas High School in 1940, where he was known as an active member of The Federation of Future. He was well-read, had begun to write novellas in high school and published small items in the local press. He started studying medicine at Kaunas University, but in 1944, as the Red Army approached, he had to cancel his studies and immigrated to Germany. Despite all the hardships of a displaced person's life, Pemkus continued studying medicine at the universities of Tubingen and Heidelberg, where he also attended several courses of psychology and sociology. In 1946-1948, he was a leader of the students' group Gaja. He was awarded his medical degree in 1950 and between 1952 and 1956, worked as a medical doctor in Lithuanian work units for the US Army. He moved to the United States in 1956.

In exile, Pemkus did not give up his literary work. In the USA, he wrote for the Lithuanian community and he published his writings in Ateities spinduliai ("Rays of the Future", Ateitis ("The Future"), (4) was the editor of the Gajos aidas ("Echo of Vitality") in 1961-1964, and Medicine in 1974-1976. In 1979, he edited a book by the historian and archaeologist Jonas Puzinas (1905-1978) on Professor Petras Avizonis. (5) He published the memoirs of one of the heroines of the Catholic resistance in Lithuania Nijole Sadunaite's KGB akiratyje (In Sight of the KGB). (6) This is how, besides his medical profession, Kazys Pemkus made his contributions to literature. It was not only the means of professional knowledge seeking but also a hobby, which grew into a great passion for collecting Lithuanian literary treasures. This passion in him was inspired by Jonas Puzinas, who took an active part in Lithuanian cultural life in exile.


Pemkus' dreams came true when Puzinas asked him to write The History of World Lithuanian Medical Doctors. The task was not easy, but it was interesting. Pemkus had to visit many libraries, establish connections with Lithuanians residing in different states, and meet Puzinas, who was then working at the University of Pennsylvania. He gave Pemkus various Lithuanian books and documents, even his manuscripts and letters. It was the beginning of Pemkus' library, which was later expanding and growing richer. Its founder decided to collect literature not only about medical doctors but also about all distinguished Lithuanians. Many of them, especially those who were of elderly age, were very glad because they had no idea what to do with their own personal archives. Pemkus continued to visit various centers of Lithuanian culture: the archive-museum Alka in Putnam, Connecticut; the daily Draugas ("Friend"); Marian monastery and St. Casimir convent bookstores; the Lithuanian World Community archives; and Juozas 'Nilevicius' Lithuanian musicology archive in Chicago, Illinois. (7) Everywhere he went, he received rare printed materials or collections of periodicals since he was able to sincerely communicate with people. His collection contained not only Lithuanian literature published between the World Wars but also old printed materials from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sometimes Pemkus had to find a way to communicate diplomatically with Lithuanians of different political views. Willing to get something from some of them, he had to be silent about others.

At first sight, the home of Kazys Pemkus was no different from other upper middle-class residences of suburban Chicago. But every guest who visited his home and went to the basement was greatly surprised. Instead of a usual bar or a fireplace there were a lot of shelves with numerous orderly arranged books. (8) The basement became the Lithuanian culture centre. It was visited by many scientists and artists from the USA and Lithuania. Pemkus, a modest and reserved man, described with a bibliophilic passion the rare items in his collection, being especially proud of publications which had perished in Lithuania. Guests were impressed by unique books and numerous copies of various press materials. Pemkus used to make many copies because he cherished the information more than authenticity. Making enormous numbers of those copies, Pemkus used to spend a lot of money. His library could not expand without investments. The family of Pemkus understood this, approved, and helped. He also collected the press published in the USSR that is why in his collection a reader can find almost all Lithuanian literature of the 20th century, published in various countries around the world.

After 20 years of the library's existence, an important question of its future was raised. Pemkus understood that with his declining health he would no longer be able to manage his collection properly. Moreover, after Lithuania's independence was restored in 1990, he started thinking about donating his collection to some educational institution. There were many institutions willing to receive it, but the lucky one was Klaipeda University. Its rector, Professor Stasys Vaitekunas, met Pemkus while visiting the United States in 1994 and convinced him to send his collection to this newly established educational institution in Western Lithuania. (9) This step of Pemkus was possibly influenced by the sentiments for his homeland, and the advice of Vytautas Kamantas and Antanas Razma (active members of the influential and rich organization Lithuanian Foundation): not to send this collection to Kaunas or Vilnius, where all the charity from Lithuanians living abroad goes, but to give it to Klaipeda University.

The first shipment of 395 boxes was delivered to Klaipeda in July 1995, and the second (371 boxes) in October of the same year. In total, there were 25 tons of press items, which Pemkus had carefully packed with the help of his friends, especially Dr. Antanas Razma, and volunteer helpers. Pemkus had hoped to visit Lithuania himself and see his library being established in the new place. But in January 1996, the university received the last letter from Pemkus. He wrote: "With my health failing, it is hard to believe that in the near future I could come to discuss the matters of the archives. Cope on your own. I will help if I come. There is something left here at my place, but I will try to send it." (10) However, he could not manage to accomplish it. He died on 15 April 1996. The rest of transportation was managed by the people he appointed: his son Arunas and Dr. Antanas Razma, who sent the last shipment of materials (21 boxes) in the summer of 1996.

The cargo transportation expenses ($10,000) were covered by the Lithuanian Foundation. It also gave financial support to the construction of the library because the university was only able to give facilities (120 square meters in the Faculty of Arts). The money of American Lithuanians paid for the repairs, special shelves, a reading room, the librarian's office, and also the security system.

The management of the library was given to the head librarian Danute Steponaviciute. Seeing her walking between the stacks of boxes, it was hard to believe that she alone would soon start to unpack the boxes, categorize, and register the materials. But this extremely diligent and professional specialist managed by herself to carry thousands of books and periodicals to the shelves. In less than a year, Pemkus' library was open to visitors. Its official opening ceremony took place on 14 July 1997, right after the meeting of Lithuanian World Community in Vilnius and the conference of The Federation of the Future in Palanga. A great number of American Lithuanians came to the opening. Many of them had known Pemkus or had financially supported his collection transfer to Klaipeda. All of them were glad that the collection of Pemkus found a safe shelter and wished that it would serve Lithuanian researchers. Those wishes are coming true, for the library attracts great interest of teachers and students of the Humanities, Pedagogy, and Arts faculties, also the employees of Lithuania Minor History Museum and various readers from all over the country. The library of Pemkus contains materials which are impossible to find in the libraries of Vilnius. Moreover, the variety of subjects is very wide, from medicine to music.

The Collection

The collection of Kazys Pemkus contains periodicals, books, and archival materials (photos, letters, and documents of various organizations); there are also maps and audio recordings as well. Periodicals are already entered in the catalogue. There are 2,396 of periodicals: 2,396 Lithuanian titles (632 newspapers and 1,764 journals), others are in English, German, French, and Spanish languages. They date from the end of the nineteenth century to 1995. For researchers collecting data on Lithuanian musical life in the exile, it is a great treasure. Before the musical press appeared, Lithuanian newspapers had all the information about concerts, their annotations and reviews. The most valuable are the first musical publications Vargonininkas ("The Organist"), published in 1909 in Kaunas; Muzika ("Music") published in 1916 in Philadelphia; and Muzikos zinios ("Music News"), started by the American Lithuanian Church Organist Union in 1934 and published up to present day. Items which are in bad condition are scanned and placed into digital storage. That way, the old newspapers are protected from wearing out and their content can be accessible to readers.


All the periodicals are kept in one storage place and books in another. Pemkus himself had no time to make catalogues or lists, so it is not yet possible to tell how many books exactly there are. The cataloguing is not yet complete. There may be about 60,000 publications in total. By 15 October 2008, there were about 27,200 books entered into the catalogue. Pemkus made repairs to damaged books where he could, coping and inserting missing pages and putting on new covers. The copied books were stapled or bound. Pemkus marked all of his books with the stamp Dr. Kazys Pemkus. Archives or Kazys Pemkus, M.D., 1022 Beau Brummel Dive, Sleepy Hollow, Dundee, Ill. 60118.

The book collection covers all fields of research, divided into sections. In each section, books are sorted in an alphabetical order. The part of collection that has already been arranged mostly contains religious and Lithuanian historical literature. The library is also very rich in musical materials: musical press, sheet music, composer manuscripts, concert booklets, and documents from music organizations and schools. Pemkus also collected the works of the first Lithuanian composers: compositions by Vincas Kudirka and Ceslovas Sasnauskas, songs and hymns by Juozas Naujalis and Stasys Simkus, operas and operettas by Mikas Petrauskas, also choral, chamber, and symphony music by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, and the most important pieces by Juozas Gruodis. Pemkus made copies of works by famous composers in exile. That way the collector acquired the whole musical legacy of a composer Vytautas Bacevicius (there are not only scores of his symphonies and quartets but also instrumental parts, as well as Mephisto Waltz by Franz Liszt, edited by Bacevicius), numerous pieces by Juozas Bertulis, Vladas Jakubenas, Jeronimas Kacinskas, Juliuius Gaidelis, Kazimieras Viktoras Banaitis, Bruno Markaitis, Juozas and Faustas Strolia, Stasys and Algis Simkus, Vytautas Marijo-Zius, and Darius Lapinskas. The collection contains many vocal, instrumental, and scenic works of non-professional composers or church organists. Pemkus also collected various opera and operetta librettos. Lithuanian performers, who want to include musical works of composers in exile into their repertoire, do not have to go to the other side of the Atlantic to look for materials. They are in the library of Klaipe da University. From the archives of Zilevicius, Pemkus collected the works of the most populada Soviet Lithuanian composers: Balys Zilevicuis, Stasys Vainiunas, Eduardas Balsys, Julius Juzeliunas, Antanas Raciunas, and Jonas Nabazas.

Kazys nas emkus carefully examined every printed or handwritten paper, selected the most valuable ones, and placed them in his library. That way he acquired not only sheet music, but also the composers' letters and theoretical works, including Vladas Jakubenas' paper in English about Lithuanian music in the USA or singer Antanina Dambrauskaite's hand-written list of her roles while working in Kaunas State Opera and living in a displaced persons (DP) camp in Germany. Pemkus took the financial documents and accounts of Vytautas Bacevicius' concert organization expenses in New York's Carnegie Hall as well as the composer's letters, Valerija Tysliaviene's (a pianist residing in Brooklyn and an employee of the WCB concert agency) recommendations with and official letter from the American composer and publisher Frederic C. Erdman, also the financial accounts of the singer Algis Brazis' concert organization in the big halls across the United States. At that time, they seemed insignificant, but today they are important historical evidence of Lithuanian musicians' hard path to world-famous stages.

The library contains many folklore publications and music theory works. The oldest ones are two volumes of Christian Bartsch's Dainu balsai [Voices of Songs]: Melodieen Litauischer Voklslieder, printed in 1886 and 1889 in Heidelberg. (11) This is the largest Lithuanian folk-melody collection of the nineteenth century. Besides Lithuanian song melodies, Bartsch gave the translations of lyrics into German, and the first stanzas in Lithuanian (under the notes). In the introductory articles, he gave an overview of Lithuanian song melodies, lyrics, and folk instruments. Among the oldest Lithuanian folk melody collections, there are Hymn Voices (1894) by Waldemar Hoffheinz, Melodje ludowe litewskie (1900) by Antanas Juska, (12) and all of the most important Lithuanian songs collections published in Poland, Finland, Lithuania, Germany, and the USA. In addition, there are also collections of religious hymns, dances, songs and marches for the Lithuanian military, a periodical sheet music collection Margucio dainos ("The Songs of Margutis") from Chicago, as well as Lithuanian songs arranged for American audiences. In Pemkus' library, one can find primitively published booklets of songs from the DP camps in Germany after WWII, which were made for the local Lithuanian school teachers and students; partisan songs, which were hand-written by a teacher, Juozas Kreive nas, in Chicago, who later published them in the form of small booklets.



Pemkus paid great attention to collecting the concert booklets and posters. They can tell much about different types of performers, repertoires of song festivals, concert styles, their organizers and participants. Biographies in those booklets are often the only evidence about the life of those singers, church organists, choir leaders, pianists, and violinists. Pemkus' library contains the most important Lithuanian musicological literature: books by Mikas Petrauskas, Teodoras Brazys, Algirdas Ambrazas, Algimantas Daunoras, Juozas Gaudrimas, Vytautas Landsbergis, and Julius Juzeliunas, dissertations of Leonardas Simutis and Raminta Lampsatyte, which were written abroad. By 15 October 2008, 5,448 musical publications were entered into the catalogue: 3,770 units of sheet music and 1678 books and concert booklets. Although these numbers may seem small, considering the fact that this is one person's collection, made over decades and devoted only to Lithuanian items, the value of Pemkus' library is hard to estimate in terms of money. It is a cultural treasure.

The greatest secrets are still behind the third door of the library storage facility. There are still unpacked boxes with newspaper excerpts, collected by Pemkus on various political, historical, and cultural subjects. A glance at the boxes' labels tells us that that they contain valuable documents of famous Lithuanian cultural workers: their letters, diaries, and photographs. Letters make up a big part of the archives; these will require a great deal of work as Pemkus did not record to whom and by whom they were written. Most of them are placed in boxes containing materials about certain people. As expected many pieces of correspondence are letters addressed to Pemkus, but as yet it is impossible to tell their number and authors. It will be possible after careful examination and registration. The photographs show Lithuanian choirs, musicians, and composers in the USA at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Pemkus was interested in the activities of Lithuanian public organizations. He acquired the archives of the newspapers Vienybe ("Unity"), published in New York, and Naujienos ("News"), published in Chicago, with manuscripts and photographs of various authors. The press photographs are especially interesting because they were used just once, and then kept in the press archives, where they were forgotten. Today they allow us to take a second look at the musical events of the past.

Pemkus packed the archival material into the boxes by subject: libraries and museums, art, history, culture, mythology, symposiums of research and culture, old written documents, history of the press, monasteries and schools, music and musicology. The latter boxes are mostly filled with concert programmes and excerpts of newspapers in Lithuanian and English. When arranging the archives, all the material will be catalogued and put into special folders by the subject.



Some boxes contain vinyl records. Even though Pemkus did not try to collect all the Lithuanian recordings made (as was done by musician Vytautas Strolia, who lived in New Jersey), he was not indifferent to records of the period between the world wars, and collected mostly short-playing records. Pemkus collected more than 200 of them. Most of them are records of Lithuanian musicians in the United States and Lithuania made by Columbia, RCA Victor, Parlophone, Odeon, and Polo Records studios. Listening to them gives an insight into the Lithuanian musical life both in the home land and in exile during the first decades of the twentieth century. It also gives us knowledge of the best singers: Mikas and Kipras Petrauskas, Juozas Babravicius, Antanas Sabaniauskas, and Antanas Vanagaitis; the orchestras: Lietuvikas maineriu ("Lithuanian Mainers"), Sargyba ("Guard"), Lietuviu tautiskas benas ("Lithuanian National Band"), Worcesterio lietuviu ("Worcester Lithuanians"), Respublikonu gvardijos ("Republican Guards"), Brooklyno lietuviu ("Brooklyn Lithuanians"), Jezavito radijo ("Radio of Jezavitas"), the orchestras under direction of Misha Hofmekler and Daniel Pomeranc, Kaimieciu benas ("Countrymen band"), Kauno karikas benas ("Kaunas Military Band"); the choir of Stasys Simkus and the Queen of Angels Parish Choir; as well as the musical entertainment of that time.



In giving his collection to Klaipe da University, Dr. Kazys Pemkus made it possible to local a significant Lithuanian archive outside the capital city, and his donation to the university most distant from Vilnius, has made it one of the largest Lithuanian bibliography centers in the world. Other bibliophiles of exile, who lived or were born in the Western region of Lithuania, are following his example and giving their personal archives and book collections (including musical) to Klaipe da University. Thus, the wealth of Lithuanian culture is made available to the breadth of the Lithuanian people.


(1) Danute Petrauskaite is professor of music and director of the Institute of Musicology at Klaipe University, Lithuania.

(2.) Fraternitas Lithuanica, 1908-1958, Edited by Balys Matulionis, Putnam, Connecticut: Privately published, 1958, p. 15.

(3.) Kazys Pemkus, "Korp. Gaja," Ateitininku keliu, Chicago, 1977, p. 132.

(4.) There are three journals with this name in the United States, coming from different cites: Boston, New York, and Chicago. Dr. Pemkus wrote for Ateitis (New York) in 1950-60 and in 1967-68 and wrote for Ateitis (Chicago) in 1960-66 and in 1969-94.

(5.) Jonas Puzinas, Profesorius medicinos daktaras Petras Avizonis (1875-1939) : jo visuomenine, kulturine ir moksline veikla, Cikaga [Chicago]: Amerikos lietuviu b-kos l-kla, 1979.

(6.) Nijole Sadunaite, KGB akiratyje, [Chicago]: Ateitis, 1985. English translation: Nijole Sadunaite, A Radiance in the Gulag, Manassas, Virginia: Trinity Communications, 1987.

(7.) For the story of the development of these archives, see Danute Petrauskaite, "Juozas Zilevicius' Lithuanian Musicology Archives: Past and Present," Fontes Artis Musicae, 52/1 (2005), pp. 45-59.

(8.) Juozas Zygas. "I Lietuva iskeliavo dr. K. Pemkaus lituanistikos turtai". Dirva, 25 January (1996), p. 7.

(9.) Alma Zizitene, "Atvyko pagerbti iseivijos sviesuolio palikimo," Klaipeda, 26 July 1997, p. 25.

(10.) A letter of Kazys Pemkus to the Rector of Klaipeda University Stasys Vaitekunas and to Director of Klaipeda University Library Janina Pupeliene, 2 January, 1996, Dr. Kazys Pemkus Library at Klaipeda University.

(11.) Christian Bartsch, Dainu balsai: Melodieen litauischer Volkslieder, Heidelberg: Carl Winters Universitats-Buchhandlung, 1886-1889.

(12.) Antanas Juska, Melodje ludowe litewskie = Litauische Volks-Weisen, Krakau : Wydawnictwo Akademji umiejetnosci, 1900.

Danute Petrauskaite (1)
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Author:Petrauskaite, Danute
Publication:Fontes Artis Musicae
Geographic Code:1U3IL
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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