True Lithuania

Famous people of the interwar Lithuania

History ensured that many of the famous people of the interwar era are still not properly commemorated. In the 1930s they were still alive while when they passed away Lithuania was not independent and the Soviet regime regarded most of them as ideological enemies.

The one exception are Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas (39 urban streets), always mentioned together and so depicted on 10 litas banknote. They were the first Lithuanians to cross the Atlantic ocean piloting an aircraft, their journey from New York to Kaunas cut short by a tragic accident in Germany. They instantly became regarded as martyrs and symbols of Lithuanian heroism. Many streets were renamed for them and there is a statue for them as far away as in Chicago, erected by the local Lithuanian community.

Famous politicians of the era were presidents Kazys Grinius, Aleksandras Stulginskis and, of course, authoritarian Antanas Smetona, who ruled from the 1926 coup to 1940 occupation.

Lawyer Mykolas Romeris, beatified bishop of Vilnius Jurgis Matulaitis, military officer Povilas Plechavičius, known for successfully disrupting the German plans to establish a Lithuanian SS legion, are other famous people of the era.

Partisan general Jonas Žemaitis led the guerilla warfare against the Soviet occupation in the late 1940s. At the time entire Lithuanian state existed underground in a way continuing the existence of interwar Lithuania.

A large share of the interwar elite is not even buried in Lithuania as they were forced to flee by the invading Soviets. Hence their graves are in places like Chicago or Cleveland. In the USA the interwar Lithuanian culture continued in 1950s-1980s. Many famous Lithuanian writers and artists, such as poet Bernardas Brazdžionis, novelist Antanas Škėma and others, lived and published there (their publications were banned in the Soviet Union). The tragedy of homeland loss was always among the dominant themes.

Famous interwar Lithuanians (left to right): president A. Smetona, polymath pilots S. Darius and S. Girėnas, blessed J. Matulaitis.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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