• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Silbajoris, Rimvydas

Prominent Refugees, 0

Rimvydas Silbajoris

Rimvydas Silbajoris

In September 1944, Rimvydas Silbajoris was a high school student in Lithuania when news came to his little border town that the Soviet army was advancing for a second time. At that time, he was active in the underground resistance against the Nazis, distributing leaflets and news bulletins.

In the meantime, the Germans proclaimed a general mobilisation and began recruiting Lithuanians for a Lithuanian SS unit to fight in the East. Silbajoris managed to escape forced recruitment by the Nazis, claiming he already belonged to a unit of Lithuanian defence forces.

Heading for eastern Prussia with his brother and several school friends, Silbajoris' group was stopped by German patrols and taken into custody. He was taken to the city of Posen (today Poznan), where he was made to join the German cavalry as an auxiliary, feeding and grooming horses.

At the end of the war, Silbajoris found himself on the eastern front of Austria. He spent a brief time in an American prison camp, and subsequently a displaced persons camp near Augsburg, Germany. He recalls, "They were isolated islands in a German sea, much resented by the natives, and sometimes with reason. For instance, our camp was established by driving out all the Messerschmidt factory workers, for whom the area was developed to begin with."

Silbajoris then moved to the United States, where he taught himself English while washing dishes in a restaurant. He received a scholarship from Antioch College, Yellow Spring, Ohio, and went on to do a doctorate at Columbia University.

He says of his exile experience, "I learned that the civilised world was a great deal larger than my native corner, that, having been driven out of it, it acquired breathless new spaces for learning ... altogether new horizons which I could not have possibly perceived back home in the little seaside town. Exile was also a liberation from petrified old value systems and I could search for the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. I was among those who ate the apple and did not regret it, for mortality has its own splendours. Driven from Paradise, I learned what a ghetto it really was."

Throughout his exile, Silbajoris helped maintain Lithuanian culture abroad. He was one of the founders of Santara, a discussion club that advocated dialogue with Lithuania even while it was still under Soviet rule. He co-edited its journal in exile, Metmenys (Outlines).

Today, Silbajoris is Professor Emeritus of Slavic and Eastern European Languages and Literature at Ohio State University. He has written extensively on literary criticism and on Lithuanian and Russian literature.




The Continuity Of Risk

A three-city study of Congolese women-at-risk resettled in the U.S.

Stateless in American Samoa: Mikhail Sebastian's Story

Mikhail Sebastian is a stateless man who has been living in the United States for more than a decade-and-a-half. In this video, he tells of the hardships he has faced and the importance of providing legal protections to stateless persons in the U.S.

Operational Guidance

Operational Guidance for the prevention of micronutrient deficiencies and malnutrition.

Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

UNHCR's annual Nansen Refugee Award was posthumously awarded to Senator Edward Kennedy at a ceremony in Washington DC on October 29 for his life-long commitment to refugee rights. Kennedy's wife, Victoria, accepted the award on behalf of her late husband. In presenting the award, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, praised the "vision and commitment" of Senator Kennedy in his support for the displaced.

The prize money of US$100,000 will be donated to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, where it will be used to train the next generation of leaders dedicated to the cause of refugee advocacy. The Nansen Award is given to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. It was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian polar explorer, scientist and the first global High Commissioner for Refugees.

Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

A Photo Profile of Nansen Award Winner Edward Kennedy

In recognition of his achievements as a life-long advocate on behalf of the world's most vulnerable people, the recipient of the 2009 Nansen Refugee Award is the late Edward Kennedy. The Senator was a champion for those who suddenly found themselves with no voice and no rights. Year after year, he put the plight of refugees on the agenda and drove through policies that saved and shaped countless lives.

A Photo Profile of Nansen Award Winner Edward Kennedy

Lebanon: Refugees Brave Winter in Unfinished BuildingPlay video

Lebanon: Refugees Brave Winter in Unfinished Building

More than half of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in precarious shelters such as unfinished buildings, garages and shops. Their already difficult conditions are made worse by the winter weather.
Lebanon: US Dream keeps Hopes Alive for Syrian Family 
Play video

Lebanon: US Dream keeps Hopes Alive for Syrian Family

When Syrian refugee Yaser, his wife Amani, and family heard media reports of anti-refugee sentiment among some quarters in the United States, they feared their 18-month wait to find refuge in the country that resettles more refugees than any other could go on indefinitely. But putting their hopes on a new life in the United States, away from the horrors of Syria's war is the refugee family's only way to escape the fear of the past and struggles of the present in Lebanon.
Starting a a new life in Atlanta, GeorgiaPlay video

Starting a a new life in Atlanta, Georgia

UNHCR and the International Rescue Committee help resettled refugees begin life anew in the United States.