Kaunas (; Lithuanian: [ˈkɐʊˑnɐs] ; previously known in English as Kovno, also see other names) is the second-largest city in Lithuania after Vilnius, the fourth largest city in the Baltic States and an important centre of Lithuanian economic, academic, and cultural life. Kaunas was the largest city and the centre of a countyin the Duchy of Trakai of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Trakai Palatinate since 1413. In the Russian Empire, it was the capital of the Kaunas Governorate from 1843 to 1915.

During the interwar period, it served as the temporary capital of Lithuania, when Vilnius was seized and controlled by Poland between 1920 and 1939. During that period Kaunas was celebrated for its rich cultural and academic life, fashion, construction of countless Art Deco and Lithuanian National Revival architectural-style buildings as well as popular furniture, in...Read more

Kaunas (; Lithuanian: [ˈkɐʊˑnɐs] ; previously known in English as Kovno, also see other names) is the second-largest city in Lithuania after Vilnius, the fourth largest city in the Baltic States and an important centre of Lithuanian economic, academic, and cultural life. Kaunas was the largest city and the centre of a countyin the Duchy of Trakai of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Trakai Palatinate since 1413. In the Russian Empire, it was the capital of the Kaunas Governorate from 1843 to 1915.

During the interwar period, it served as the temporary capital of Lithuania, when Vilnius was seized and controlled by Poland between 1920 and 1939. During that period Kaunas was celebrated for its rich cultural and academic life, fashion, construction of countless Art Deco and Lithuanian National Revival architectural-style buildings as well as popular furniture, interior design of the time, and a widespread café culture. The city interwar architecture is regarded as among the finest examples of European Art Deco and has received the European Heritage Label. It contributed to Kaunas being designated as the first city in Central and Eastern Europe as a UNESCO City of Design, and also to becoming a World Heritage Site in 2023 as the only European city representing large scale urbanization during the interwar period and versatile modernism architecture.

Kaunas was selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2022, together with Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg and Novi Sad.

The city is the capital of Kaunas County, and the seat of the Kaunas city municipality and the Kaunas District Municipality. It is also the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kaunas. Kaunas is located at the confluence of the two largest Lithuanian rivers, the Nemunas and the Neris, and is near the Kaunas Reservoir, the largest body of water in the whole of Lithuania.

As defined by Eurostat, the population of Kaunas functional urban area, is estimated at 391,153 (as of 2021), while according to statistics of Kaunas territorial health insurance fund, there are 447,946 permanent inhabitants (as of 2022) in Kaunas and Kaunas district municipalities combined.

Early history

According to the archeological excavations, the richest collections of ceramics and other artifacts found at the confluence of the Nemunas and the Neris rivers are from the second and first millennium BC. During that time, people settled in some territories of the present Kaunas: the confluence of the two longest rivers of Lithuania area, Eiguliai, Lampėdžiai, Linkuva, Kaniūkai, Marvelė, Pajiesys, Romainiai, Petrašiūnai, Sargėnai, and Veršvai sites.[1]

Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Panorama of Kaunas in 1600 by Tomasz Makowski
 The Teutonic Order storms Kaunas in 1362 (19th century depiction)

A settlement was established on the site of the current Kaunas Old Town, at the confluence of two large rivers, by at latest the 10th century AD and more settlements developed in the 11th century AD.[2] Kaunas was first mentioned in written sources in 1361 and at the end of the 13th century the brick Kaunas Castle was constructed to defend the residents from attacks by the Teutonic Order.[3] At the time only two brick castles stood near the Nemunas River (in Kaunas and Grodno), which was the main front line of fights between the Crusaders and Lithuanians.[4] Consequently, Kaunas Castle had a strategic importance, as it prevented the Crusaders from intruding deeper into Lithuania and its capital, Vilnius.[5]

In 1362, the castle was captured after a siege of several weeks and destroyed by the Teutonic Order.[6][7] Lithuanian rulers Kęstutis and Grand Duke Algirdas arrived to hep defend athe castle's defenders, but the castle was already surrounded by the fortifications of the Crusaders, and they could only watch the collapse of the castle.[4] Most of the 400 castle's defenders were killed in action, and commander Vaidotas of the Kaunas Castle garrison tried to break through with 36 men, but was taken and made a prisoner.[4] It was one of the largest and most important military victory of the Teutonic Knights in the 14th century against the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.[8]

 Church of Vytautas the Great, the oldest church in Kaunas, funded by the Grand Duke himself[9]

The Lithuanians constructed a new wooden castle on the island of Virgalė, which stood at the confluence of the Nemunas and Nevėžio rivers; however in 1363 the Crusaders burned the castle in 1363 by the Crusaders.[10] The wooden castle was rebuilt, but in 1368 the Crusaders attacked once again, destroyed the castle and, according to the chronicles, killed 600 pagan defenders, while they themselves suffered only three casualties.[10][11]

The Lithuanians attempted to rebuild the castle with masonry and higher, wider walls, four flanking towers, and surrounded by a moat, but before its completion the Crusaders attacked in the summer of 1369, expelled the Lithuanians from the island of Virgalė and with their masonry built Gotteswerder Castle.[10][12][6][11] Gotteswerder Castle was captured after a five-week siege by the Grand Ducal Lithuanian Army, led by Algirdas and Kęstutis, and two wooden castles were built close to it.[11][13] Nevertheless, the fighting between the Crusaders and the Lithuanians for the area went on until the Lithuanians eventually took control in 1404; it was an important point during the 1409 Samogitian Rebellion and the 1410 war with the Crusaders.[12][11]

Grand Duke Vytautas the Great funded Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Kaunas (the construction was completed in 1400) to show his gratitude to the Virgin Mary for saving him from almost drowning in the river, during the Battle of the Vorskla River, in 1399.[9] Following the Battle of Grunwald in 1410, Kaunas Castle became a residence of the elder of Kaunas, and its military significance decreased.[12]

"After leaving Poseur, I arrived in a large fortified city of Kaunas. It has a very beautiful large castle standing on a cliff of the Nemunas River. Kaunas is twelve miles from Poseur."

— Guillebert de Lannoy description of Kaunas during his trip between 1413–1414.[14]

 Vytautas the Great Monument in Kaunas

In 1408, the town was granted Magdeburg rights by Vytautas the Great and in 1413 became the centre of Kaunas Powiat, in Trakai Voivodeship.[15][1] Moreover, Vytautas ceded Kaunas the right to own the scales used for weighing the goods brought to the city or packed on the site, the wax processing, and woolen cloth-trimming facilities. The power of the self-governing Kaunas was shared by three interrelated major institutions: vaitas (the Mayor), the Magistrate (12 lay judges and 4 burgomasters), and the so-called Benchers' Court (12 persons). Kaunas began to gain prominence, since it was at the intersection of trade routes and a river port.[16] At the time, Kaunas became an important port and centre of trade with Western Europe, thus rapidly growing.[3] In 1441, Kaunas joined the Hanseatic League, and Hansa merchant office Kontor was opened – the only one in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.[17]

By the 16th century, Kaunas also had a public school and a hospital and was one of the most firmly established towns in the whole country.[3][1] Furthermore, in the 16th century Grand Duchess Bona Sforza achieved that the Kaunas Eldership should become a property of the Jagiellonian dynasty; starting in 1533, she carried out the Volok Reform.[18]

 Panorama of Kaunas in 1686 and one of the first descriptions of the city

The greatest economic boom of Kaunas was in the late 16th – early 17th century, which led to construction of many brick masonry buildings throughout the city.[1] In the early 17th century, the prosperity of Kaunas led to the beginning of the construction of the Wall of Kaunas, which, however, was not completed, due to later wars and economic reasons.[1][19] In 1665, the Russian army attacked the city several times, and in 1701 the city was occupied by the Swedish Army, during the Great Northern War.[1] The bubonic plague struck the area in 1657 and 1708, killing many residents.[1] Fires destroyed parts of the city in 1731 and 1732.[1]

In the first half of the 18th century, the northern wall and two towers of the Kaunas Castle collapsed, due to damage from river water, and this led to abandonment of the castle, and it turned into ruins.[12] Subsequently, a jail was established in one part of the castle, in the middle of the 18th century.[12] At the end of the 18th century, the castle was sometimes used to hold meetings of noble families of Kaunas Powiat.[12]

Russian Empire  Ruins of the Kaunas Castle with Church of St. George the Martyr in the distance, painted in the 19th century One of the Kaunas Fortress barracks

After the third and final partition of the Polish–Lithuanian state in 1795, the city was taken over by the Russian Empire and became a part of Vilna Governorate.[1] During the French invasion of Russia in 1812, the Grand Army of Napoleon passed through Kaunas twice, devastating the city both times. A hill fort mound in Kaunas is named Napoleon's Hill.[1]

To prevent possible easy access through the city and protect the western borders of Russia, the Kovno Fortress was built. It is still visible throughout the town.[20]

Kovno Governorate, with a centre in Kovno (Kaunas), was formed in 1843. In 1862, a railway connecting the Russian Empire and Imperial Germany was built, making Kaunas a significant railway hub with one of the first railway tunnels in the Empire, completed in 1861. In 1898 the first power plant in Lithuania started operating.[21]

 Kaunas Priest Seminary was one of the centres of the Lithuanian National Revival during the Russification era

After the unsuccessful January Uprising in 1863 against the Russian Empire, the tsarist authority moved the Catholic Seminary of Varniai, prominent bishop Motiejus Valančius and Samogitian diocese institutions to Kaunas, where they were given the former Bernardine Monastery Palace and St. George the Martyr Church.[22] Only selected noblemen were permitted to study in the Seminary, with the only exception being peasant son Antanas Baranauskas, who illegally received the nobleman documents from Karolina Praniauskaitė. He began lectures using the Lithuanian language, rather than Russian, and greatly influenced the spirit of the seminarians by narrating about the ancient Lithuania and especially its earthwork mounds. Later, many of the Seminary students were active in Lithuanian book smuggling; its chief main objective was to resist the Russification policy. Kaunas Spiritual Seminary finally became completely Lithuanian when in 1909 professor Jonas Mačiulis-Maironis became the rector of the Seminary, and replaced use of the Polish language for teaching with the Lithuanian language.[23]

Prior to the Second World War, Kaunas, like many cities in Eastern Europe, had a significant Jewish population. According to the Russian census of 1897, Jews numbered 25,500, 35.3% of the total of 73,500. The population was recorded as 25.8% Russian, 22.7% Polish, 6.6% Lithuanian.[24] It established numerous schools and synagogues and were important for centuries to the culture and business of the city.

During the Imperial Russian Army's Great Retreat of World War I, Paul von Hindenburg's German Tenth Army occupied Kaunas in August 1915.[25]

Interwar Lithuania  Presidium of the Constituent Assembly of Lithuania in the Seimas Meeting Hall in Kaunas in 1920 The Historical Presidential Palace Kaunas in the early years of the interwar period with horse-drawn trams

After Vilnius was occupied by the Red Army in 1919, the Government of the Republic of Lithuania established its main base in Kaunas during the Lithuanian Wars of Independence. Later, after the capital, Vilnius, had been annexed by the Second Polish Republic, Kaunas became the temporary capital of Lithuania.[26] It would hold this position until 28 October 1939, when the Red Army handed Vilnius over to Lithuania after its invasion of Poland.[27] The Constituent Assembly of Lithuania first met in Kaunas on 15 May 1920. It passed some important laws, particularly on land reform, on the national currency, and adopted a new constitution. The military coup d'état took place in Kaunas on 17 December 1926. It was largely organized by the military, especially general Povilas Plechavičius, and resulted in the replacement of the democratically elected Government and President Kazys Grinius with a conservative nationalist authoritarian Government led by Antanas Smetona.[28] Shortly afterwards, tension between Antanas Smetona and Augustinas Voldemaras, supported by the Iron Wolf Association, arose seeking to gain authority. After the unsuccessful coup attempt in June 1934, Voldemaras was imprisoned for four years and received an amnesty on condition that he leave the country.[29]

 Kaunas Garrison Officers' Club Funeral procession of Lithuanian national heroes – Lituanica pilots Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas

During the interwar period, Kaunas was nicknamed the Little Paris because of its rich cultural and academic life, fashion, Art Deco architecture, Lithuanian National Romanticism architectural style buildings as well as popular furniture, interior design of the time and widespread café culture.[30][31] The interim capital and the country itself also had a Western standard of living with sufficiently high salaries and low prices. At the time, qualified workers there were earning very similar real wages to workers in Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France, the country also had a high natural increase in population of 9.7 and the industrial production of Lithuania increased by 160% from 1913 to 1940.[32] The population of Kaunas increased 8,6 times during the interwar period from ~18,000 to ~154,000 residents.[31]

Between the World Wars, industry prospered in Kaunas, which was the largest city in Lithuania. Under the direction of Mayor Jonas Vileišis (1921–1931) Kaunas grew rapidly and was extensively modernised. A water and waste water system, costing more than 15 million Lithuanian litas, was put in place, the city expanded from 18 to 40 square kilometres (6.9 to 15.4 sq mi), more than 2,500 buildings were built, plus three modern bridges over the Neris and Nemunas rivers. All of the city's streets were paved, horse-drawn transportation was replaced with modern bus lines, new suburbs were planned and built (Žaliakalnis neighbourhood in particular), and new parks and squares were established.[1] The foundations of a social security system were laid, three new schools were built, and new public libraries, including the Vincas Kudirka library, were established. Vileišis maintained many contacts in other European cities, and as a result, Kaunas was an active participant in European urban life.[33]

 President Antanas Smetona inspects the Lithuanian Army soldiers Lithuanian Air Force pilots with their ANBO 41 in Linksmadvaris aerodrome

The city also was a particularly important centre for the Lithuanian Armed Forces. In January 1919, during the Lithuanian Wars of Independence, the War School of Kaunas was established and started to train soldiers who were soon sent to the front to strengthen the fighting Lithuanian Armed Forces.[34] Part of the Lithuanian armoured vehicles military unit was moved to Žaliakalnis, armed with advanced and brand new tanks, including the famous Renault FT, Vickers-Armstrong Model 1933 and Model 1936.[35] In May 1919, the Lithuanian Aircraft State Factory was founded in Freda to repair and to supply the army with military aircraft. It was considerably modernized by Antanas Gustaitis and started to build Lithuanian ANBO military aircraft. The exceptional discipline and regularity caused the Lithuanian Air Force to be an example for other military units. The ANBO 41 was far ahead of the most modern foreign reconnaissance aircraft of that time in structural features, and most importantly in speed and in rate of climb.[36]

At the time, Kaunas had a Jewish population of 35,000–40,000, about one quarter of the city's total population.[37] Jews made up much of the city's commercial, artisan, and professional sectors. Kaunas was a centre of Jewish learning, and the yeshiva in Slobodka (Vilijampolė) was one of Europe's most prestigious institutes of higher Jewish learning. Kaunas had a rich and varied Jewish culture. There were almost 100 Jewish organizations, 40 synagogues, many Yiddish schools, 4 Hebrew high schools, a Jewish hospital, and scores of Jewish-owned businesses.[37] It was also an important Zionist centre.[38]

Initially prior to World War II, Lithuania declared neutrality.[39] However, on 7 October 1939, the Lithuanian delegation departed to Moscow, where it later had to sign the Soviet–Lithuanian Mutual Assistance Treaty because of the unfavorable situation. The treaty resulted in five Soviet military bases with 20,000 troops established across Lithuania in exchange for Lithuania's historical capital Vilnius. According to the Lithuanian Minister of National Defence Kazys Musteikis, Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Juozas Urbšys initially told that Lithuanians refused Vilnius Region as well as the Russian garrisons, but the nervous Joseph Stalin replied, "No matter if you take Vilnius or not, the Russian garrisons will enter Lithuania anyway".[40] He also informed Juozas Urbšys about the Soviet–German secret protocols and showed maps of the spheres of influence.[41] Two of the military bases with thousands of Soviet soldiers were established close to Kaunas in Prienai and Gaižiūnai.[42] Despite regaining the beloved historical capital, the Presidency and the Government remained in Kaunas.[43]

 Soviet political leader (without military shoulder straps) and the People's Seimas member (with red rose in his jacket lapel) announces to the Lithuanian People's Army non-commissioned officers that "soon you will become members of the Red Army" in Kaunas, 1940

On 14 June 1940, just before midnight, the last meeting of the Lithuanian government was held in Kaunas. During it, the ultimatum presented by the Soviet Union was debated.[44] President Antanas Smetona categorically declined to accept most of the ultimatum's demands, argued for military resistance and was supported by Kazys Musteikis, Konstantinas Šakenis, Kazimieras Jokantas, however the Commander of the Armed Forces Vincas Vitkauskas, Divisional General Stasys Raštikis, Kazys Bizauskas, Antanas Merkys and most of the Lithuanian government members decided that it would be impossible, especially the previously-stationed Soviet soldiers, and accepted the ultimatum.[45] On that night before officially accepting the ultimatum, the Soviet forces executed the Lithuanian border guard Aleksandras Barauskas [lt] near the Byelorussian SSR border.[46] In the morning, the Lithuanian Government resigned, and the president left the country to avoid the fate of the Soviets' puppets and in the hope of forming a government-in-exile.[47] Soon the Red Army flooded Lithuania through the Belarus–Lithuania border with more than 200,000 soldiers and took control of the most important cities, including Kaunas where the heads of state resided. The Lithuanian Armed Forces were ordered not to resist, and the Lithuanian Air Force remained on the ground.[48][49] At the time, the Lithuanian Armed Forces had 26,084 soldiers (of which 1,728 officers) and 2,031 civil servants.[50] While the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union, subordinate to the army commander, had over 62,000 members, of which about 70% were farmers and agricultural workers.[51]

After the occupation, the Soviets immediately took brutal action against the high-ranking officials of the state. Both targets of the ultimatum, Minister of the Interior Kazys Skučas and the Director of the State Security Department of Lithuania Augustinas Povilaitis, were transported to Moscow and later executed. Antanas Gustaitis, Kazys Bizauskas, Vytautas Petrulis, Kazimieras Jokantas, Jonas Masiliūnas, Antanas Tamošaitis also faced that fate, and President Aleksandras Stulginskis, Juozas Urbšys, Leonas Bistras, Antanas Merkys, Pranas Dovydaitis, Petras Klimas, Donatas Malinauskas and thousands of others were deported.[47] Stasys Raštikis, persuaded by his wife, secretly crossed the German border. After realizing this, NKVD started terror against the Raštikis family. His wife was separated from their one-year-old daughter and brutally interrogated at Kaunas Prison, his old father Bernardas Raštikis, three daughters, two brothers and sister were deported to Siberia.[52] Soldiers, officers, senior officers and generals of the Lithuanian Army and LRU members, who were seen as a threat to the occupiers, were quickly arrested, interrogated and released to the reserve, deported to the concentration camps or executed, which made many, trying to avoid that fate, join the Lithuanian partisan forces. The army itself was initially renamed the Lithuanian People's Army but was later reorganised into the 29th Rifle Corps of the Soviet Union.[51]

Soviet occupation and June Uprising  Delegation of the army attending the session of the People's Seimas in Kaunas following the rigged election

In June 1940, the Soviet Union occupied and annexed Lithuania in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.[53][54] Vladimir Dekanozov, a Soviet emissary from Moscow, gained effective power in Lithuania. Shortly afterwards, on 17 June 1940 the puppet People's Government of Lithuania was formed, which consistently destroyed Lithuanian society and political institutions and opened the way for the Communist Party to establish itself. To establish the legitimacy of the government and design the plans of Lithuania's "legal accession to the USSR", on 1 July, the Seimas of Lithuania was dismissed, and elections to the puppet People's Seimas were announced. The controlled (passports had imprints) and falsified elections to the People's Seimas were won by the Lithuanian Labour People's Union, which obeyed the occupiers' proposal to "ask" the Soviet authorities to have Lithuania admitted to the Soviet Union.[55]

 Lithuanian insurgents (LAF) lead the disarmed soldiers of the Red Army in the Vilniaus Street in Kaunas LAF insurgents lead the arrested Commissar of the Red Army in Kaunas Session of the Provisional Government of Lithuania in Kaunas

After the occupation, the Lithuanian Diplomatic Service did not recognize the new occupiers' authority and started the diplomatic liberation campaign of Lithuania.[55] In 1941, Kazys Škirpa, Leonas Prapuolenis, Juozas Ambrazevičius and their supporters, including the former Commander of the Lithuanian Army General Stasys Raštikis, whose whole family was deported to Siberia, began organizing an uprising.[52][56] After realizing the reality of the repressive and brutal Soviet rule, in the early morning of 22 June 1941 (the first day when the Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union), Lithuanians began the June Uprising, which was organized by the Lithuanian Activist Front, in Kaunas, where its main forces were concentrated. The uprising soon expanded to Vilnius and other locations. Its main goal was not to fight the Soviets but to secure the city from the inside (secure organizations, institutions, enterprises) and declare independence. By the evening of 22 June, the Lithuanians had controlled the Presidential Palace, post office, telephone and telegraph, and radio station. Control of Vilnius and most of the rest of Lithuanian territory was also shortly taken over by the rebels.[57]

Multiple Red Army divisions stationed around Kaunas, including the brutal 1st Motor Rifle Division NKVD responsible for the June deportation, and the puppet Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic regime commanders were forced to flee into the Latvian SSR through the Daugava River. The commander of the Red Army's 188th Rifle Division colonel Piotr Ivanov reported to the 11th Army Staff that during the retreat of his division through Kaunas "local counterrevolutionaries from the shelters deliberately fired on the Red Army, the detachments suffering heavy losses of soldiers and military equipment".[58][59] About 5,000 occupants were killed in Lithuania.[60]

On 23 June 1941 at 9:28 am Tautiška giesmė, the national anthem of Lithuania, was played on the radio in Kaunas. Many people listened to the Lithuanian national anthem with tears in their eyes.[61] From Kaunas radio broadcasts, Lithuania learned that the rebellion was taking place in the country, the insurgents took Kaunas and the Proclamation of the Independence Restoration of Lithuania and the list of the Provisional Government were announced by Leonas Prapuolenis. The message was being repeated several times in different languages. The Provisional Government hoped that Nazi Germany would re-establish Lithuanian independence or at least allow some degree of autonomy (similar to the Slovak Republic), was seeking the protection of its citizens and did not support the Nazis' Holocaust policy.[57] However, the Provisional Government did little to stop the anti-Jewish violence encouraged by the Nazis and the anti-Semitic leadership of the Lithuanian Activist Front.[62]

Minister of National Defence General Stasys Raštikis met personally with the Wehrmacht generals to discuss the situation.[57] He approached the Kaunas War Field Commandant General Oswald Pohl and the Military Command Representative General Karl von Roques by trying to plead for him to spare the Jews, but they replied that the Gestapo is handling those issues and that they could not help. Furthermore, in the beginning of the occupation, the prime minister of the Provisional Government of Lithuania, Juozas Ambrazevičius, convened the meeting in which the ministers participated together with the former President Kazys Grinius, Bishop Vincentas Brizgys and others. Ministers expressed distress at the atrocities being committed against the Jews but advised only that "despite all the measures which must be taken against the Jews for their Communist activity and harm done to the German Army, partisans and individuals should avoid public executions of Jews".[62] According to the Lithuanian-American Holocaust historian Saulius Sužiedėlis, "none of this amounted to a public scolding which alone could have persuaded at least some of the Lithuanians who had volunteered or been co-opted into participating in the killings to rethink their behavior." Lithuanian police battalions formed by the Provisional Government were eventually enlisted by the Nazis to help carry out the Holocaust.[62]

In the first issue of the daily Į laisvę (Towards Freedom) newspaper, the Independence Restoration Declaration was published, which had been previously announced on the radio. It stated that "The established Provisional Government of revived Lithuania declares the restoration of the Free and Independent State of Lithuania. The young Lithuanian state enthusiastically pledges to contribute to the organization of Europe on a new basis in front of the whole world innocent conscience. The Lithuanian Nation, exhausted from the terror of the brutal Bolsheviks, decided to build its future on the basis of national unity and social justice." and signatures.[57]

On 24 June 1941, tank units of the Red Army in Jonava were ordered to retake Kaunas. The rebels radioed the Germans for assistance. The units were bombed by the Luftwaffe and did not reach the city. It was the first coordinated Lithuanian–German action.[63] The first German scouts, lieutenant Flohret and four privates, entered Kaunas on 24 June and found it in friendly hands.[64] A day later the main forces marched into the city without obstruction and almost as if they were on parade.[65]

Nazi occupation  Wehrmacht soldiers marching through the Liberty Avenue in Kaunas

On 26 June 1941 the German Oberkommando der Wehrmacht ordered the rebel groups to disband and disarm.[66] Two days later Lithuanian guards and patrols were also relieved of their duties. Already in July, in a conversation the Tilsit Nazi Gestapo agent Heinz Gräfe [de] clearly stated to Stasys Raštikis that the Provisional Government was formed without German knowledge. Such a form, although not having anything against individuals, is unacceptable to the Germans. The current Provisional Government should be transformed into a National Committee or Council under the German military authority.[67] The Nazi Germans did not recognize the new Provisional Government, but they did not take any action to dissolve it. The Provisional Government, not agreeing to continue to be an instrument of the German occupiers, disbanded itself on 5 August 1941 after signing a protest for the Germans action of suspending the Lithuanian Government powers. Members of the Provisional Government then went as a body to the Garden of the Vytautas the Great War Museum, where they laid a wreath near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the presence of numerous audience. The Sicherheitsdienst confiscated the pictures of the wreath-laying ceremony, thinking that it could be dangerous for the German occupation policy in Lithuania.[68]

On 17 July 1941 the German civil administration was established. The government's powers were taken over by the new occupants.[69] Nazi Germany established the Reichskommissariat Ostland in the Baltic states and much of Belarus, and the administrative centre for Lithuania (Generalbezirk Litauen) was in Kaunas ruled by a Generalkommissar Adrian von Renteln.[70]

Jewish community of Kaunas  Façade of the Kaunas Choral Synagogue

Jews began settling in Kaunas in the second half of the 17th century. They were not allowed to live in the city, so most of them stayed in the Vilijampolė settlement on the right bank of the Neris river. Jewish life in Kaunas was first disrupted when the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania in June 1940. The occupation was accompanied by arrests, confiscations, and the elimination of all free institutions. Jewish community organizations disappeared almost overnight. Soviet authorities confiscated the property of many Jews, while hundreds were exiled to Siberia.[37]

 Chiune Sugihara House in Kaunas

As the Second World War began, there were 30,000 Jews living in Kaunas, comprising about 25% of the city's population.[71] When the Soviet Union took over Lithuania in 1940, some Jewish Dutch residents in Lithuania approached the Dutch consul Jan Zwartendijk to get a visa to the Dutch West Indies. Zwartendijk agreed to help them and Jews who had fled from German-occupied Poland also sought his assistance. In a few days, with the help of aides, Zwartendijk produced over 2,200 visas for Jews to Curaçao.[72] Then refugees approached Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese consul, who gave them a transit visa through the USSR to Japan, against the disapproval of his government. This gave many refugees an opportunity to leave Lithuania for the Russian Far East via the Trans-Siberian Railway.[73] The fleeing Jews were refugees from German-occupied Western Poland and Soviet-occupied Eastern Poland, as well as residents of Kaunas and other Lithuania territories.[74] The Sugihara House, where he was previously issuing transit visas, currently is a museum and the Centre For Asian Studies of Vytautas Magnus University.[75][76]

Following Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, Soviet forces fled from Kaunas. Both before and during the German occupation starting 25 June, the anti-Communists, encouraged by the anti-Semitic leadership of the Berlin-based Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF), began to attack Jews, blaming them for the Soviet repressions, especially along Jurbarko and Kriščiukaičio streets.[37] The LAF's manifesto-type essay "What Are the Activists Fighting for?" states: "The Lithuanian Activist Front, by restoring the new Lithuania, is determined to carry out an immediate and fundamental purging of the Lithuanian nation and its land of Jews ...".[77] Nazi authorities took advantage of the Lithuanian TDA Battalions and established a concentration camp at the Seventh Fort, one of the city's ten historic forts, and 4,000 Jews were rounded up and murdered there.[78] The Kaunas pogrom was a massacre of Jewish people living in Kaunas that took place on 25–29 June 1941; the first days of the Operation Barbarossa and of Nazi occupation of Lithuania. Prior to the construction of the Ninth Fort museum on the site, archaeologists unearthed a mass grave and personal belongings of the Jewish victims.[79] The Ninth Fortress has been renovated into a memorial for the wars and is the site where nearly 50,000 Lithuanians were killed during Nazi occupation. Of these deaths, over 30,000 were Jews.[80]

Soviet administration  Soldiers of the Red Army in the Liberty Avenue during the World War II

Beginning in 1944, the Red Army began offensives that eventually led to the reconquest of all three of the Baltic states. Kaunas was captured on 1 August 1944 and this led to the continuation of Soviet repressions.[81] Kaunas again became the major centre of resistance against the Soviet Union.[81] From the very start of the Lithuanian partisans war, the most important partisan districts were based around Kaunas.[1] Although guerrilla warfare ended by 1953, Lithuanian opposition to Soviet rule did not. In 1956 people in the Kaunas region supported the uprising in Hungary by rioting.[81]

On All Souls' Day in 1956, the first public anti-Soviet protest rally took place in Kaunas: citizens burned candles in the Kaunas military cemetery and sang national songs, resulting in clashes with the Militsiya.[1]

 Romas Kalanta self-immolated close to Kaunas State Musical Theatre protesting against the Soviet regime

On 14 May 1972, 19-year-old Romas Kalanta, having proclaimed "Freedom for Lithuania!", immolated himself in the garden of the Musical Theatre, after making a speech denouncing the Soviet suppression of national and religious rights.[82] The event broke into a politically-charged riot, which was forcibly dispersed by the KGB and Militsiya. It led to new forms of resistance: passive resistance all around Lithuania. The continuous oppression of the Catholic Church and its resistance caused the appearance of the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania. In strict conspiracy, Catholic priest Sigitas Tamkevičius (now the Archbishop Metropolitan of Kaunas) implemented this idea and its first issue was published in the Alytus district on 19 March 1972. The Kronika started a new phase of resistance in the life of Lithuania's Catholic Church and of all Lithuania fighting against the occupation by making known to the world the violation of the human rights and freedoms in Lithuania for almost two decades.[83]

 Monument in the Vienybės aikštė (Unity Square) with an eternal flame, dedicated to those who died for Lithuania's freedom

On 1 November 1987, a non-sanctioned rally took place near the Kaunas Cathedral Basilica, where people gathered to mark famous Lithuanian poet Maironis' 125th-birthday anniversary. On 10 June 1988, the initiating group of the Kaunas movement of Sąjūdis was formed. On 9 October 1988, the Flag of Lithuania was raised above the tower of the Military Museum.[1] Kaunas, along with Vilnius, became the scene of nearly constant demonstrations as the Lithuanians, embarked on a process of self-discovery. The bodies of Lithuanians who died in Siberian exile were brought back to their homeland for reburial, and the anniversaries of deportations as well as the important dates in Lithuanian history began to be noted with speeches and demonstrations.

On 16 February 1989 Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevičius, for the first time, called for the independence of Lithuania in his sermon at the Kaunas Cathedral. After the services, 200,000 persons gathered in the centre of Kaunas to participate in the dedication of a new monument to freedom to replace the monument that had been torn down by the Soviet authorities after World War II.[84]

Restored independence  Cafés in the Kaunas Old Town

After World War II Kaunas became the main industrial city of Lithuania; it produced about a quarter of Lithuania's industrial output.

After the proclamation of Lithuanian independence in 1990, Soviet attempts to suppress the rebellion focused on the Sitkūnai Radio Station.[85] They were defended by the citizenry of Kaunas.[86] Pope John Paul II said Holy Mass for the faithful of the Archdiocese of Kaunas at the Kaunas Cathedral Basilica and held a meeting with the young people of Lithuania at the S. Darius and S. Girėnas Stadium, during his visit to Lithuania in 1993.[87] Kaunas natives Vytautas Landsbergis and Valdas Adamkus became the Head of state in 1990, and, respectively, in 1998 and 2004. Since the restoration of independence, substantially improving air and land transport links with Western Europe have made Kaunas easily accessible to foreign tourists.

Kaunas is famous for its basketball club, Žalgiris, which was founded in 1944 and was one of the most popular nonviolent expressions of resistance during its struggle with the CSKA Moscow. In 2011, the largest indoor arena in the Baltic states was built and was named Žalgiris Arena. Kaunas hosted finals of the EuroBasket 2011.

In March 2015, Kaunas's interwar buildings received the European Heritage Label.[88][89]

On 29 March 2017, Kaunas was named European Capital of Culture of 2022.[90]

On 28 September 2017, the winner of the M. K. Čiurlionis Concert Centre architectural competition was announced and the centre was planned to be completed by 2022, close to the Vytautas the Great Bridge.[91]

On 18 September 2023, Kaunas's interwar modern architecture was included in the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.[92]

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