Bridges of National Unity between Lithuania Major and Lithuania Minor (1920-1921)
Unique photographs from the personal archives of Professor Tadas Ivanauskas (1882-1970) and Honorata Ivanauskienė (1891-1949), educator and activist, are published for the first time in this stand. Images represent national and cultural ties the Riflemen’s Union and the Lithuanian Art Creators’ Association had established between the Klaipėda Region and Lithuania in 1920-1921.
The problem of the Klaipėda Region was very complicated and politically sensitive issue for Lithuania up until the takeover of the territory during the "Klaipėda Revolt" in 1923. Region was at the epicentre of various conflicting political interests of neighbouring countries. Under the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 it was decided to put the most northern part of the German province of East Prussia (the Memel/Klaipėda Territory) under the temporary administration of the Entente powers.
On June 21, 1920, several members of the Riflemen’s Union in Kaunas and the Lithuanian Art Creators’ Association went on the first excursion to Klaipėda. Only few short messages in newspaper "Lietuva" were printed about this journey. However, unique and never published photographs from this trip made by unknown photographer were preserved in private collections. These images depict commencement of this important collaboration.
The Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union was established in Kaunas on June 27, 1919, on the initiative of traveller Matas Šalčius and his brother Petras Šalčius. When Vladas Putvinskis-Putvis (1873-1929), nobleman, activist, and former book-smuggler at the time of the Lithuanian press ban, became the head of the Riflemen’s Union, the movement broadened. Activities of the organisation covered such areas as military training, physical and cultural education, firefighting etc.
Interesting moments from the excursion to Klaipėda which started on June 21, 1920, were captured in photographs. Visitors were travelling by the steamship "Nemunas". The first stop of the expedition came about 5 PM at the Rambynas Hill. Here approximately 1000 Lithuanians from Lithuania Minor and Kretinga welcomed guests. Festive celebratory event was held with patriotic speeches delivered and ideas of national unity shared. Later such events became traditional. Juozas Tumas-Vaižgantas and Vydūnas were among those who delivered speeches. Several representatives from the Constituent Assembly of Lithuania were also present. Choirs from Klaipėda, Tilžė, and Kaunas sang during the event. The Oak of Youth was planted. In one of them A. Žmuidzinavičius, M. Žmuidzinavičienė (?), H. Ivanauskienė, T. Ivanauskas, S. Šilingas, and several other prominent activists of that time can be seen.
In the evening excursionists left for Klaipėda. They arrived at 4 AM and were warmly welcomed and officially greeted. There is a photograph from their lunch at the Riflemen’s centre in Klaipėda. Concert was held here in the evening, with choir from Kaunas and Klaipėda’s singers singing.
Cultural collaboration continued afterwards. In 1921 group of Lithuanians from Klaipėda came to Kaunas for the first time. Newspaper "Lietuva" printed the message that over 100 excursionists from Lithuania Minor are coming on May 15, 1921 by train. Citizens and organizations of Kaunas were invited to greet them. Grand welcoming was planned and people were asked to accommodate visitors.
It was a nice weather on May 15, 1921, in Kaunas. Festive atmosphere prevailed. The railway station was full of people waiting for travellers. There were around 40 cars dedicated for carrying visitors, which is pretty impressive having in mind the high cost of cars and at that time. The train arrived at 11.10 AM, the orchestra was playing on the platform, and welcoming speeches were delivered. 106 excursionists came. Most of them were members of Lithuanian Cultural Society "Aida" in Klaipėda, established in 1919. Many prominent figures of Lithuania Minor were present. A. Brakas (1886-1952), the head of "Aida" society for many years, J. Stikliorius (1871-1942) and others were among those who came. From railway station visitors went for breakfast on Vytautas’ Hill. Afterwards military parade was observed. The lunch was held at the Lithuanians’ Club. During lunch, patriotic ideas were shared and desire for unification of Lithuania Minor and Lithuania Major into a single Lithuanian State were expressed. E. Galvanauskas, the Prime Minister of Lithuania, Gen. P. Liatukas, the Minister of National Defence, and few other government officials also attended event at the Club. Later that day visitors from Klaipėda went to the War Museum and to the concert organised by the Lithuanian Art Creators’ Association.
Next day guests were sightseeing Kaunas, visited art exhibition and Kaunas airfield and listened for songs of the soldiers. Later in the evening the dancing event was held at the Lithuanians’ Club. It was numerously attended by locals.