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2018-05-04 Back to list

Latvians in Interwar Kaunas (Happy Restoration of Independence day, Brothers!)

The most famous Latvian in the history of Kaunas is, of course, the architect Kārlis Reisons (1894-1981), or Karolis Reisonas, as we call him in Lithuania.

As May 4th is the Restoration of Independence day (proclaimed in 1990) in Latvia, Lithuania’s closest neighbour, we’ve decided to put together a few historical facts mentioning Latvians in interwar Kaunas. Yet another reason to celebrate! So, did you know that…

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The Latvian diplomatic mission in Kaunas used to be located in a building on the intersection of Vytauto and Kęstučio streets between 1923 and 1940. The building was demolished but there’s a small memorial! Today, the Latvian embassy is in Vilnius.

Roberts Hiršs (1895-1972) contributed significantly to the textile industry of Kaunas in the interwar period. His company “Kauno audiniai” employed more than 2500 people and even had its football team. Interestingly enough, walls of his factory have been preserved and integrated to the interior of “Akropolis” mall.

The most famous Latvian in the history of Kaunas is, of course, the architect Kārlis Reisons (1894-1981), or Karolis Reisonas, as we call him in Lithuania. In 1930, Reisons moved to Kaunas from another Lithuanian city Šiauliai where he had worked for eight years.

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Designed by Reisons: Christ's Resurrection Basilica. Photo by Yustas/mapio.net

The most famous work of Reisons is the Christ Resurrection Church (he did convert to Catholicism while designing it), but he also designed the Evangelical and Reformed church on E. Ožeškienės street, the base for the Freedom monument and took part in the design process of „Pienocentras“ building, Vytautas the Great War museum and a handful of other buildings now considered heritage. In 1944, Reisons moved to Germany and later to Australia, where he continued his practice and was active in the Lithuanian diaspora. Reison’s legacy in Kaunas makes our Latvian visitors feel very much at home!

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Designed by Reisons: Land bank (today Kaunas University of Technology)

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Designed by Reisons: Evangelical and Reformed church. Photo by J. Skeivys, 1956

Scientist Eduards Volters (1856-1941), a son of German pastor who considered himself Latvian, moved to Kaunas from Vilnius in 1919, when the Lithuanian capital was occupied. In Kaunas, Volters contributed a great deal to establish the Lithuanian university in 1922. He taught ethnography, Latvian, German and Bulgarian philology and other subjects. He died and was buried in Kaunas, but in 1959, when the old city cemetery was closed, his grave was demolished.

In 1933, there were 14 Latvian students in the Lithuanian university in Kaunas, and 127 could speak Latvian. A bronze plaque with an inscription “Mūs vieno kopējs gars un vienas asinis” [We’re united by a collective spirit and one blood] was installed in the university; sadly, it was lost during the war.

Lithuanians and Latvians remained great friends during the Soviet occupation. Both republics (Estonia, too!) are celebrating their centennials in 2018, and, after standing together in the Baltic Way in 1989 and soon after restoring our independences, the brotherhood is as strong as ever. Laimīgu neatkarības dienu, brāļi!

P.S. Did you know that most Latvian road signs showing the way to Lithuania mention Kaunas and not Vilnius..?

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This blog post was inspired by an article "Latviškasis Kaunas" [Latvian Kaunas] in Nemunas magazine (February 2017).

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