Tuesday, June 19, 2018
News Roundup

Dr. Kazys Bobelis was dedicated to an independent Lithuania

ST. PETERSBURG — Like hundreds of thousands of his fellow former citizens, all Dr. Kazys Bobelis wanted was a free Lithuania. He wanted to walk the narrow streets, take a dip in the Baltic Sea and see the castles lit up at night. But as long as Soviet communism gripped his home country, even those simple pleasures would be unattainable.

He had sailed through school, graduating maxima cum laude from the University of Tübingen, a doctor by 22. He treated concentration camp survivors at a camp for displaced persons near Backnang, Germany, feeling at least as uprooted as his patients.

He started all over at Ellis Island with $6 in his pocket, but found a home in Chicago's Lithuanian community. For the next several decades Dr. Bobelis juggled alternating roles of urologist and national leader of the Lithuanian expats, head of the Lithuanian American Council whose members considered themselves a de facto country in exile.

As president of the Supreme Committee for the Liberation of Lithuania starting in 1979, he met with world leaders in an effort to convince the world that the Soviet occupation of Lithuania was illegal.

Dr. Bobelis, a persistent and persuasive force for freedom in Lithuania who lived and worked in St. Petersburg for years, died Monday of heart failure. He was 90.

"He was a true democrat (who) brought in the spirit of the Western culture," Vydas Gedvilas, speaker of the Lithuanian parliament, told the Baltic News Service. "Perfectly aware of the modern Western world, diplomatic peculiarities and human psychology, he successfully strengthened our country's ties with other countries."

Dalia Grybauskaite, Lithuania's president, said that in several parliamentary terms Dr. Bobelis had "earned the respect and trust of the Lithuanian people."

C. Kazys Bobelis was born in 1923 in Kaunas, which was then the capitol of Lithuania. The country had declared independence in 1918. Freedom lasted just 22 years, ending with the first Soviet occupation. In June 1941, Dr. Bobelis and his brother participated in an uprising with the Lithuanian Activist Front.

"They broke into a warehouse and stole a bunch of guns so people could fight, then took over a radio station to announce that there was a resistance," said Jonas Bobelis, 57, Dr. Bobelis' son. "They played the national anthem."

The rebels retook Kaunas and Vilnius, Lithuania's two largest cities. They hoped the invading German army would help liberate them, before the Germans disarmed them, relieved them of their duty and took over all of Lithuania.

Soviet forces reclaimed the country at the end of World War II.

Dr. Bobelis arrived in the United States in 1949. He trained at Johns Hopkins University and married the Lithuanian-born Dalia Devenis. He taught surgery for a decade at Loyola University in Chicago, then began relocating to St. Petersburg. He practiced urology at several hospitals, serving as chief of staff at St. Anthony's Hospital.

He was involved with St. Petersburg's Lithuanian American Club, which has more than 500 dues-paying members. He contented himself with incremental gains: the Helsinki Accords in the 1975; and a resolution by the European Parliament in the early 1980s declaring the Soviet occupation illegitimate.

On March 11, 1990, the Lithuanian parliament declared renewed independence. Latvia and Estonia soon followed suit. Dr. Bobelis returned to Lithuania in 1992 and was elected to its Seimas, or parliament, that same year. He lost a bid for president of Lithuania in 1997, winning 4 percent of the vote.

Dr. Bobelis stepped down from the parliament in 2006, at age 83. He was slowing down, and he missed his grandchildren in the United States. "I would call it a marathon," said Jonas Bobelis. "Once he had reached the finish line, he knew there was nothing more he was going to achieve."

At long last, it was time to come home.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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