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Vaclovas Birziska (Vaclovas Biržiška)


Vaclovas BIRŽIŠKA (1884-1956), jurist and bibliographer, born in Viekšniai in the province of Samogitia on Dec. 2, 1884, son of Antanas Biržiška. In 1903 he began studying science and mathematics at the University of St. Petersburg, later changing to law, history, and ethnography. He graduated from the faculty of law at St. Petersburg in 1909 and until World War I practiced law in Vilnius and Šiauliai. From 1914-17 he served as an officer in the Russian army. After the Russian revolution, he worked in Moscow (1918) in the archives of the commissariat for Lithuanian affairs. During the Bolshevik occupation of Vilnius, from January to April, 1919, he was initially commissar for education and later deputy commissar for education in the Soviet government of V. Mickevičius-Kapsukas. While serving in these posts he defended Lithuanian and Polish activists from Bolshevik arrest, secretly maintaining contact with pa- triotic Lithuanian organizations. From the spring of 1920, while the Lithuanians, Poles, and Bolsheviks were fighting for Vilnius, he taught in Lithuanian schools. After the Polish seizure of Vilnius on Oct. 9, 1920, he withdrew to Kaunas where he lived until the Russian occupation in 1944.
In independent Lithuania from 1920-23 he served in the army as assistant to the commander of a battalion, as chairman of a regimental military court, and as head of the army's educational branch. Becoming progressively more involved in academic work, he resigned from the regular army and joined the reserves as a lieutenant colonel.
He began his academic career in Vilnius in 1919 as a lecturer in law at the Advanced School of Arts and Sciences. From 1920-22 he was lecturer at the School of Arts and Sciences in Kaunas. When this school became a university on Nov. 22, 1922, he was appointed assistant professor in the faculty of law; on June 1, 1924 he became an associate professor, and on Nov. 1, 1931, professor. He lectured on administrative law in the faculty of law, at the same time lecturing on Lithuanian bibliography in the faculty of humanities. He also held administrative posts at the university: from 1922-33 as secretary of the faculty of law, from 1933-35 as dean of the faculty of law, from 1923-44 as librarian of the University of Kaunas, from 1940-41 as dean of the faculty of law at the University of Vilnius as well as its librarian. During the German occupation from 1941-43 he lectured on bibliography at the University of Kaunas (faculty of philosophy), where he organized a separate department of library science. From 1946-49 he was a professor at the Baltic University in Hamburg and Pinneberg. In the United States during 1951-53 he was consultant to the Library of Congress in Washington. He died in Waterbury, Connecticut on Jan. 3, 1956.
Biržiška devoted most of his attention and efforts to Lithuanian bibliography. While still a student, he col lected material in the libraries of Vilnius and St. Petersburg and elsewhere on the history of Lithuanian books and manuscripts. Appointed in 1923 to organize the library of the University of Kaunas, he managed in 20 years to increase its size from 40 volumes to over 200,000, making it one of the largest libraries in independent Lithuania, with a comprehensive section on Lithuanian studies and an extensive collection of manuscripts. From 1924 the Lithuanian Institute of Bibliography, headed con tinuously by Birziska, was operated as part of the library. Thus he established suitable conditions for the systematic and scientific study of Lithuanian bibliography (see Bibliography).
He wrote much concerning bibliography and cultural history in periodical literature, in the Lithuanian Encyclopedia, of which he was editor in Kaunas from 1932-44 and in Boston from 1951-53, as well as in his own works dealing mainly with early Lithuanian literature. In his studies he brought to light many heretofore unknown works and authors, compiled about 400 biographies of early Lithuanian writers, and published numerous documents contributing to the understanding of Lithuanian culture from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Through' his scholarly studies and research he became known as one of the foremost Lithuanian cultural historians and bibliographers.
The writings of Biržiška consist of about 13,000 articles in periodicals and in the encyclopedia and over 50 separate publications. His more comprehensive articles on cultural history were published posthumously under the title Praeities Pabiros (Scatterings from the Past), Brooklyn, 1960. His largest bibliographical work, Aleksandrynas (3 vols., Chicago, 1960-65), was also published only after his death. It contains the biographies and lists the works of over 370 early (up to 1865) Lithuanian writers. The author devoted many years of effort to this work, using sources, which are now either reached only with great difficulty or entirely destroyed. Among other noteworthy works are bibliographic publications: Lietuvių bibliografija 1547-1910 (Lithuanian Bibliography 1547-1910), 5 vols., Kaunas, 1924-39; Lietuvių knygos istorijos bruožai (An Outline of the History of Lithuanian Books), Kaunas, 1930; Lietuviškieji slapyvardžiai ir slapyraidės (Lithuanian Pseudonyms and Cryptograms), 2 vols., Kaunas, 1943-44; Lietuvių rašytojų kalendorius (A Calendar of Lithuanian Writers), Tubingen, 1946; Senųjų lietuviškųjų: knygų istorija (A History of Early Lithuanian Books), 2 vols., Chicago, 1953-57; The American Lithuanian Press 1875-1910 (manuscript in the Library of Congress), 1950; Abraham Kulvietis (English), Pinneberg, 1947; and Martin Mažvydas und seine Mitarbeiter, Heidelberg, 1948. In addition he edited the following journals of bibliography and cultural history: Knygos (Books), 1922-26; Bibliografijos žinios (Bibliographic News), 1928-41; and Mūsų Senovė (Our Antiquity), 1937-1940.
Text from the ENCYCLOPEDIA LITUANICA I-VI.  Boston, 1970-1978