When the Soviet army invaded Lithuania in June 1940, President Antanas Smetona fled into exile. Two years later, the Cleveland Press found him living in an upstairs flat in Glenville. “Of all the towns I visited since I came to America, I like Cleveland best,” said Smetona. The 68-year-old set up a study in the attic, where he wrote articles for Lithuanian-language newspapers and corresponded with friends in the U.S. “I hear nothing at all from my native country,” he said. Nazi Germany had taken over his Baltic nation of 3 million in summer 1941.
Smetona lived in Cleveland for a year and a half with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons. In speeches and interviews, he promoted his aspirations for his nation’s postwar independence and lamented its oppression by Joseph Stalin’s and Adolf Hitler’s armies. “Lithuania is between the anvil and the hammer,” he told an audience of more than 300 at the Lakewood Community Center.
Smetona died in a house fire in January 1944. He is buried in All Souls Cemetery in Chardon. Annexed to the Soviet Union, Lithuania waited 51 years for freedom. It won its independence in 1991. Smetona’s grandson, Anthony, a concert pianist, often flew from Cleveland to Lithuania in the 1990s to perform.