Prof. Alfred E. Senn to Introduce His New Book at VMU


On 16 April, Monday, 5 p.m., famous historian, VMU Honorary Doctor Prof. Alfred Erich Senn will introduce his new book, Lithuania In My Life, at VMU Aula Magna (Gimnazijos Str. 7). The author will discuss his book with Prof. Alfonsas Eidintas, Prof. Egidijus Aleksandravičius and other guests.

Lithuania In My Life is Alfred E. Senn’s detailed account of how Lithuania came to be an important part of his and his father’s lives. The latter, Alfred Senn, was a Swiss linguist who authored five volumes of a German-Lithuanian dictionary. In Kaunas, the provisional capital of Lithuania, he met Marija Eva, a Lithuanian woman who later became his wife and Alfred E. Senn’s mother.

Alfred E. Senn, who has Swiss and American citizenship, followed in his father’s footsteps and showed interest in Lithuania early in his life. He started looking into the country’s history and contributed significantly to its better understanding in the English-speaking world, eventually gaining prominence as one of the greatest historians of the Baltic state in the 20th century.

"I turned to the study of history in graduate school.  I then turned to Lithuanian history first of all because I discovered that my familiarity with the language – combined with the fact that I had already been studying German and Russian – gave me an advantage in finding unique materials. When I decided not to pursue work in any government service, I rather naturally turned toward university work with history as my discipline", Senn recalled the career choice he made in his youth.

According to Alfred E. Senn, he wrote Lithuania In My Life seeking to reveal not just his own but also his father’s connection to the Lithuanian language. "Lithuanians have repeatedly encouraged me to write about my father – a German publication even asked for my father’s biography – and so I finally decided to take up the specific subject of the significance of the Lithuanian language in both my father’s life and my own life", the scientist explained.

Alfred Senn, the father, was already deeply intrigued by Lithuania and its language when he met his future wife there: the country had come to the linguist’s attention for being one of the Eastern European nations suffering from oppression. After arriving to Lithuania in 1921, he soon found a job at a news agency in Kaunas. Not long afterwards, Senn was invited to work at the just-opened University of Lithuania (now known as VMU) and quickly won everyone over with his enthusiasm and excellent command of the Lithuanian language. The President Antanas Smetona was one of the many local intellectuals in Lithuania who praised the Swiss researcher.

In his life, Alfred Senn studied over 40 languages. His son says that multilingualism remains highly beneficial today. "Even in an age when computers are forcing people to study English, I continue to believe that it is an advantage to know more than one language.  I demanded that my children each study a foreign language in school – they could choose which one they wanted.  Nowadays a traveler, whether for business or pleasure, still has to deal with “other” languages.  Even at home in the US, I have been called upon to translate a text, to communicate with visitors, even to translate in court. Every “other language” that a person studies broadens one’s perspective of the world", Alfred E. Senn noted.

Soon after the university’s re-establishment in 1989, Prof. Egidijus Aleksandravičius, the Dean of the VMU Faculty of Humanities at the time, invited Alfred Erich Senn to hold lectures at the same university where his father once worked. The historian himself admits that working in Kaunas has been "something of a sentimental journey": this is where his parents met, his father taught and his two older sisters were born. For this reason, he calls Lithuania In My Life a memoir instead of a scientific publication, even though it does contain commentary on a lot of the research done by A. E. Senn and his father.

Commenting on the significance of history, the discipline he has been researching for many years, Alfred E. Senn stressed that a person has to have at least some knowledge of it. "History is social memory.  Knowledge of one’s past, and of the society’s past, are essential.  I hesitate to use the word “mistakes,” because there are constant differences of opinions in historical judgments.  But knowledge and understanding of past judgments and actions are vitally important in planning for the future, regardless of differences of opinion", the professor said.

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