True Lithuania

Top 10 sites destroyed under occupation

In the 20th century, Lithuania suffered more than its fair share of misery and the 1940-1990 not only killed hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians but also ravaged the nation's cities. Some buildings have been lost during World War 2, but far more were demolished under the Soviet occupation. Soviets saw many architectural wonders (old towns, churches, monuments) as not compatible with socialist regime and destroyed them. Luckily Lithuanians managed to save more than was saved in Russian and Belarus and some of what was lost have been rebuilt after 1990 (mainly monuments). Still, some of the prettiest places of Lithuania exist only in old (pre-Soviet) images.

1.Churches of Klaipėda once dotted the entire city, built with massive towers in iconic German bricks. German and Lithuanian; Lutheran, Catholic, Reformed and even Anglican. The Old Town now lacks any towers in its skyline as the Soviets had all the large churches destroyed.

2.Vokiečių-Vilniaus street was one of the key thoroughfares of old Vilnius, clad with stately churches and palaces. But the Soviets deemed such old streets to be "unsocialist" and sought to replace them by a massive highway, bisecting the Old Town in two. One entire side was destroyed, including important historic buildings: the towered Vilnius municipality, "Europa" hotel (then the largest in Vilnius), Piarists college. Luckily the death of Stalin halted further destruction and other once-condemned buildings, including the Gate of Dawn, City Hall, and St. Catherine church, were saved. The highway was never built and Vilnius Old Town is instead full of scars, now overgrown with grass and trees.

3.Kėdainiai manor palace, built ~1850, embodied the romantic ideas of its owner - artist Marijanas Čapskis (Marian Czapski). The massive building has been destroyed under the Nazi German occupation and now only the foundations, a park, and a folly minaret remains.

4.Raduškevičius Palace in Vilnius. A massive gothic revival castle-like structure of a 19th-century businessman that dominated Neris bank had most of its facade and the entire interior destroyed by the Soviets.

5.Religious minority cemeteries of Vilnius hosted many lavish gravestones of the luminaries of gone-by eras, reminding that tolerant and multireligious Vilnius always had minorities among its elite. Soviets have destroyed all this, clearing the Lutheran cemetery, the Reformed Christian cemetery, the Muslim cemetery and two Jewish cemeteries ~1960-1980. Soviet buildings and propaganda monuments that replaced them reused gravestones as a building material. Similar cemetery destruction campaigns were repeated in other Lithuanian cities. By the way, Vilnius Russian Orthodox and Russian Old Believer cemeteries were spared.

6.Kardinalija palace of Vilnius was one of the prime urban palaces owned by the Radvila family where a separate set of laws even applied. While a project for post-war repairs has been already completed, the Soviets suddenly ordered its demolition in 1957. An urban legend says that this was done for a scene of a Soviet propaganda war movie (if you have any proof or disproof for this story, please share in comments).

7.Jesus Heart church in Vilnius was to be a masterpiece of a famous architect Anton Wiwulski, celebrated for his pretty use of monolith, combining Gaudi-esque expressionism with art deco. While never completed, the church had been constructed enough to have masses celebrated inside before Soviets invaded and demolished it. While another Soviet-destroyed Wiwulski's work - the Three Crosses monument - has been rebuilt by Lithuanians, Jesus Heart church proved to be a too massive undertaking.

8.Faculty of Physics and Chemistry of Kaunas University was among the top projects of Interwar Lithuania that had transformed Kaunas from a militarized outback into a modern European city. Completed in the 1930s the massive historicist building was destroyed in World War 2 soon afterward and never rebuilt.

9.The Great Synagogue of Vilnius once served as a major center of worldwide Jewish thought, having been continuously expanded and rebuilt since 15th or 16th century. The Synagogue survived the Nazi German occupation only to be torn down by Soviets in 1955-1957. It has been replaced by a kindergarten. After independence, a statue for Vilnius Gaon (the final commentator of Talmud) has been built there to remind the past.

10.Right bank of Danė River in Klaipėda today is dominated by decaying Soviet buildings, but once it boasted some of the nicest town buildings in Lithuania, such as the towered Klaipėda market. All these have been demolished by the Soviets.

19th century itinerary in Lithuania map

A map showing where the Lithuanian buildings destroyed during the occupation once stood. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. True Lithuania is a superb collection, but you should not be surprised that there was “even” an Anglican Church in Memel. My mother was a Mason, her father was born and brought up in Memel,as were the 2 generations before him,one of them paying for the rebuilding of the Theatre after the fire of 1854. I believe there was a sizeable Scottish community of timber merchants in the town throughout the 19th Century,and I wonder what happened to it in the 20th. They must be the only inhabitants of Klaipeda who have purely happy memories of their Lithuanian-Prussian past!

    • Thanks. Anglican church is unusual in the region. In fact, this was the only Anglican church of Lithuania and, given that it is destroyed, few people in Lithuania currently know there was ever an Anglican community in Lithuania. The nearest Anglican church is now in Riga, but even it is unusual as it is the only Anglican church in Latvia.

      As for the history of the community, the Anglican church was built in 1861-1863 (partly funded by the British crown). At that time there was a strong community of rich English merchants who would migrate to Klaipėda / Memel to reduce taxes on ship mooring (such taxes were not applied to Klaipėda residents). At that time the trade with Britain was strong, but it gradually fell under control of German merhcnats in late 19th century. The number of Brits in Klaipėda thus dwindled and the final English mass was held in church in the 1900. Later the former Anglican church was used by Lutherans; initially the mass was in German only, since 1933 also Lithuanian.

      If there were any Brits left by World War 2 they would have been either killed or forced to flee at that time, however actually most (if not all) have emigrated long before that.


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