<< The Lithuanian Word     << History     << Back    

Lithuanians in Konigsberg



It is estimated that at the^end of the 16th century 20% of the inhabitants of Konigsberg were Lithuanians. There is a
scarcity of earlier information, but it is known that in 1531 Lithuanian Protestant services were being held in the hospital church. The first minister was John Tortilavicius, who had been the pastor of the Silale parish in Lithuania. Subsequent pastors of the Lithuanian Protestant parish in Konigsberg were Bartholomew Vilentas, a religious writer, from 1550-1587, John Bretkūnas, the first translator of the Bible into Lithuanian, from 1587-1602, and others. At the beginning of the 17th century the Jesuits established a Catholic mission, to which one or two Lithuanian priests were regularly assigned. Serving in the mission from 1651-1655 was the Jesuit John Juknevičius, whose Lithuanian sermons drew large crowds of listeners. Other Jesuits continued to deliver sermons in the Lithuanian language until the first quarter of the 18th century. After the Great Plague of 1709-1711 the Jesuit mission ceased its work, and the number of Lithuanian-speaking inhabitants began to decrease. The official census of 1860 listed only 469 Lithuanians in Konigsberg. Nevertheless, Lithuanian Protestant services continued to be held until after World War I.
The first Lithuanian book, the Catechism of Martynas Mažvydas (q.v.), was published in Konigsberg in 1547 by the Hans Weinreich press. It was later followed by a number of religious books, hymnals, dictionaries, collections of songs, and literary works. In 1833 Konigsberg became the home of the first Lithuanian periodical, Nusidavimai apie Evangelijos Prasiplatinimą (News about the Propagation of the Gospel), edited by Frederick Kelkis (the newspaper -had its beginnings in Klaipeda and Tilžė in 1832). Keleivis (The Traveler), another Lithuanian newspaper, began to be published in 1849. During the 18th century various books in the German language dealing with Lithuania Minor, its inhabitants, traditions, folklore, and the Lithuanian language began to appear in the publishing houses of Konigsberg.
The printing of Lithuanian works was encouraged by Duke Albrecht of Prussia (1525-1568). In 1541 he founded a school of higher academic learning called the Paedagogium or Particular. The school's first director was Abraham Kulvietis of Vilnius. In 1544 the school began to function as an university with 11 professors and 200 students. Abraham Kulvietis became the first professor of the Greek and the Hebrew languages, while Stanislas Rapolionis, another Lithuanian, headed the university's most important chair, that of theology. Duke Albrecht provided several scholarships for Lithuanian students who were preparing for the ministry in the parishes of Lithuania Minor (East Prussia) and Lithuania Major. At the university from 1544-46 there were 23 students from Lithuania Major alone; in 1744 there were 62. Among them there were many who later distinguished themselves as Lithuanian educators and writers, such as Mažvydas, Bretkūnas, Kleinas, Rugys, Vaisnoras, Donelaitis, and others. Also to be mentioned among those who studied at the university and later engaged in scholarly research are Ludwig Rhesa (Rėza), professor at the university from 1807, and Friedrich Kurschat (Kuršaitis), director of the Lithuanian Seminar from 1841. The Seminar for the study of the Lithuanian language was established in 1718 and existed for more than a century. It was attended not only by Lithuanians, but also by Germans who wished to work in Lithuanian parishes and schools and thus required a knowledge of the language. In 1727 the seminar was attended by 30 students. There were Lithuanians studying at the University of Konigsberg until World War II.

Text from the ENCYCLOPEDIA LITUANICA I-VI.  Boston, 1970-1978