Amid the turmoil of the early 20th century, the Venclauskai family adopted, raised, and educated over 100 children in Šiauliai, a town in northern Lithuania.
“They were extraordinary people that left a deep mark in Šiauliai. It is impossible to talk about Šiauliai history without mentioning the Venclauskai family,” said Vilma Karinauskienė from the History Department of Šiauliai Aušra Museum.
The husband Kazimieras Venclauskis was a famous lawyer. He loved his job and even provided free legal consultancy to people that could not pay his fees. In 1918, Kazimieras became the first mayor of Šiauliai in independent Lithuania. Two years later, he was elected member of the Constituent Assembly of Lithuania and helped write the country’s constitution.
A hundred-strong family
According to Karinauskienė, a big family was an ideal cultivated by Kazimieras’ wife Stanislava. Her husband supported her and provided for the children financially.
“Her parents also raised foster children, so it was important to Stanislava. She was a person who wanted to share with others,” the historian said.
Without any selection, the woman adopted all children that needed a home. In Šiauliai, people knew that the Venclauskai were fostering children and often left babies they could not care for outside the family’s house. Stanislava also often brought back poor children that she encountered during her travels.
A few foster kids had disabilities and could not walk. But the Venclauskai cared for them and paid for their treatment.
The family not only housed and fed the children, but also provided them with the best possible education. Stanislava’s father had donated land for a boys’ school in Šiauliai in exchange for free education for two generations of the family.
“Stanislava used this deal. Nobody could have predicted that the family would have so many offspring,” Karinauskienė explained.
Many children also had musical education and went on to study in universities. In addition, Stanislava was one of the first Lithuanian actors. She was part of the first public Lithuanian play Amerika Pirtyje (America in the Bathhouse). The woman involved her children in cultural activities as well.
Venclauskai had two biological daughters, Danutė and Gražbylė. The latter once said that she was not treated differently in the family and did not even know that Stanislava was her biological mother until she turned 10 or 12.
According to Karinauskienė, the big family functioned well because all children had their duties. Venclauskai employed a cook, but children took care of other chores around the house.
Stanislava maintained contact with her grown-up foster children that no longer lived in the Venclauskai house. All children called her their mother.
The biological daughters of Venclauskai also followed in their parents’ footsteps. During the Second World War, Danutė Venclauskaitė contributed to saving Jews, as she founded a sewing shop to employ them.
“During the Holocaust, the job provided hope for Jews. If they worked, they were deemed ‘useful’ and had a right to live,” Karinauskienė explained.