by Jurate Kazickas
When my father told me he had been asked to write his memoirs, I was not surprised that there would be interest in his life story. He was, after all, a man from humble beginnings who had accomplished much against a backdrop of World War II and Lithuania’s tragic history. And I knew there was drama in the Kazickas saga. While growing up I had, of course, heard the many stories that made our family special: my father’s origins in Russia, the dramatic escape from Lithuania when the Soviets invaded, those first years of struggle in America, and most importantly, his deep commitment to the liberation of his homeland.
But when I read the book, published in 2001 in Lithuanian as Vilties Kelias (The Road of Hope) I was unprepared for my own reaction. I thought I had heard it all but there was so much in my father’s life journey that I did not know – his underground anti-communist activism during the war, the difficult years in the displaced persons camps in Germany, the amazing role of fate and luck in his business success. But more importantly, his dynamic story held me captive as if I had never even heard of Joseph Kazickas. The book had it all -romance: my father’s relentless courtship of the beautiful, elusive Alexandra; intrigue: communist spies in his workplace; drama: the frenzy to catch the last train out of Dresden; humor: Joe as a door-to-door insurance salesman; tragedy: the loss of a young son; history: Lithuania as instigator of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Who wouldn’t want to read such a thriller!
I have my mother to thank for insisting that this story should be published in English. Her first impulse was to make sure that her eleven grandchildren would understand and appreciate their grandfather’s extraordinary accomplishments in the face of many hardships. And then she wanted to satisfy all those friends who, upon hearing snippets of the family’s experiences in Lithuania during the war and as immigrants to America, always said, “Joe should write a book about his life.” But I saw that my father’s story could have universal appeal in its message: the triumph of hope over adversity, the force of a strong faith, and the power of man’s innate yearning to be free. It deserved to be made available in English.
We were lucky to find the talented Vijole Arbas who undertook the arduous task of translating Vilties Kelias to Odyssey of Hope, a title she suggested as more befitting the complicated path of my father’s life. She was born in Lithuania but raised in Los Angeles and now lives in Kaunas. Vijole has translated many scholarly works but this book was dear to her heart because our parents have been friends since their youth in Lithuania. (Her mother, Ale Ruta, was one of Lithuania’s most celebrated writers.) Occasionally we quibbled over the nuances of the Lithuanian language and the placement of commas drove both us mad but we somehow managed to survive and I count her now as a dear friend. I have her to thank for insisting that many words and proper names be spelled in proper Lithuanian. “When the Russians occupied Lithuania, the first thing they did was take our language away from us,” Vijole argued. “Let’s now preserve as much of it in this book as we can.”
The Lithuanian version of the book was launched in Vilnius in 2001 on the occasion of my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. My parents celebrated with a solemn Mass in the church where they were married followed by a splendid party. Five years later, the first copies of Odyssey of Hope were delivered to the Kazickas children and grandchildren when Joseph and Alexandra were able to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary with the entire family in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where my husband and I have a home. The book was a gift – not only to them and all of us but to all of you who have the opportunity to read it. I hope in Odyssey of Hope you’ll learn a little bit more about Lithuania and are motivated to visit one day. I hope you enjoy the story. But most of all, I hope you are inspired to pursue your own dreams, aim high and never give up. That would please me and my family very much and validate this humble effort.
About The Editor
Jurate Kazickas was born in Lithuania and came to America in 1947. A graduate of Trinity College in Washington, D.C. she is a former newspaper reporter. She has covered the war in Vietnam as a freelancer and the Middle East, and the Carter White House for the Associated Press. She is also the co-author of books on women’s history, including Susan B. Anthony Slept Here and War Torn : Stories of war from the women reporters who covered Vietnam. Kazickas has been active in refugee relief work, traveling to Bosnia, Rwanda and Afghanistan and sits on several non-profit boards, including the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. She is the president of the Kazickas Family Foundation with offices in Vilnius and New York where she lives with her husband, Roger Altman and their three children.