The Lithuanian Treasure from Chicago: The Dr. Kazys Pemkus Collection at Klaipeda University Library

By Petrauskaite, Danute | Fontes Artis Musicae, January-March 2009 | Go to article overview

The Lithuanian Treasure from Chicago: The Dr. Kazys Pemkus Collection at Klaipeda University Library


Petrauskaite, Danute, Fontes Artis Musicae


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.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

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. …

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