The Wolter Family: Ways and Contexts of Emigration to Lithuania

  • Aurelijus Gieda
Keywords: emigration, biography, Eduard Wolter, Alexandra Wolter, Augustinas Voldemaras


It has been emphasised on several occasions that Professor Eduard Wolter was a prominent figure and a broad-profile humanitarian in the history of Lithuanian humanities, who for many decades was actively interested in Lithuanian studies, among other things. The revolutionary changes in Russia divided Wolter’s academic career into two unequal parts: nearly forty years of academic work in Tsarist Russia and thirteen years in Kaunas. Bearing in mind the status of academic Lithuanian studies at the beginning of the twentieth century, his was an unprecedented case in Lithuania until 1940. We can claim that before 1940, no other Lithuanian humanitarian had such a long academic career of several decades devoted to Lithuanian studies. However, we still do not have an academic biography of Wolter, and Stasė Bušmienė’s work Eduardas Volteris, published almost 50 years ago, remains the most comprehensive publication in the field. Because of these circumstances, we must search for new problematic aspects, updated interpretations, and new material-based approaches. The article analyses the context of the revolutionary changes in Russia, the role of Augustinas Voldemaras in the history of the Wolters’ emigration, and Prof. Wolter’s recurrent concern about the academic possessions he had left in St. Petersburg when he was already in Lithuania. This article seeks new solutions: the emigration of the Wolter family to Lithuania is viewed as a potentially crucial knot in the professor’s biography. It allows understanding and linking two seemingly very different stages in his biography (Tsarist Russia and independent Lithuania). Lithuanian research interests and the related circle of like-minded people that had evolved in the course of many decades form a consistent deep-rooted epicentre of Prof. Wolter’s biography. The research method chosen imparts inner integrity to the biography of Prof. Wolter and an opportunity to look into the path of this scholar, who was also a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in the long term perspective. This text develops and substantiates the thesis that scholars’ emigration from Bolshevik Russia took place under dire circumstances: they had to leave not only their homes but also their libraries behind, their manuscripts and much of the material accumulated over many decades of academic work. Also, from the point of view of a collective biography, the context of the loss of the old University of St. Petersburg after the Bolshevik takeover in Russia is shown. While in Lithuania, Prof. Wolter made great efforts to recover the manuscripts, the library, and the collections he had left behind in St. Petersburg. This moment justifies the emigration of the Wolter family to Lithuania as a relevant key to the whole biography of Prof. Wolter. For the first time in historiography, the article gives a detailed analysis of Augustinas Voldemaras’ 53 letters to Alexandra Wolter (translated and published by Gediminas Rudis). The letters offer an interesting and characteristic description of the actual circumstances of the emigration of the Wolter family to Lithuania. This correspondence reveals a special connection between Voldemaras and the Wolter family. Voldemaras, who had lived in the Wolters’ house in St. Petersburg for over a decade, became a true family member, and their communication in the process of the emigration of the Wolter family was best described as close familial relations. In this way, the article sheds light on the role of Prof. Voldemaras in the relocation of the Wolter family to Lithuania, which did not find reflection either in Wolter’s biography or in general historiography.