Historic figures

Historic figures related to Kaunas
CHIUNE SUGIHARA (jap. 杉原千畝)
Property of Sugihara House Museum

CHIUNE SUGIHARA (jap. 杉原千畝)

DIPLOMAT WHO HAS SAVED THE WORLD THOUSANDS OF TIMES

Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat, who served in 1939-1940 in Kaunas as vice consul for the Japanese Empire. During the Second World War, he saved about 6,000 lives of Lithuanian, Polish and German Jews by issuing ‘Visas for Life’ to Japan without official approval of the Japanese government. Many of the Jews called the gates that were earlier at the house, the ‘Gates of Hope’ to Japan. The diplomat was still writing the so-called ‘Visas for Life’ even after the closure of the consulate, and continued this work until the very last moment, till his train left Kaunas station. The last visas signed by him were thrown out of the departing train window.

GEORGE MACIUNAS
Self-Portrait / Property of Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Centre

GEORGE MACIUNAS

A LITHUANIAN WHO HAS CHANGED THE WORLD HISTORY OF ART

George Maciunas (1931-1978) is known worldwide as the founder and leader of the experimental Fluxus art movement, which emerged in the 1960s. This was a movement of creators from various fields of arts, so it encompassed wide spectrum of creative activities – from photography and street art to poetry and drama.

Maciunas was born in Kaunas. At the end of the war, he fled to Germany and later emigrated to the USA. Encouraged by his mother, former ballet dancer of the State Theatre, he studied architecture, graphic design and musicology. Maciunas was distinguished as a versatile and inventive artist, he never lacked new plans and ideas.

In Kaunas, there is a George Maciunas square, the only square in the world that cannot be accessed. The idea of the square is based on the manifesto and philosophy of Fluxus movement, the godfather of which George Maciunas is.

WLADYSLAW STAREWICZ

WLADYSLAW STAREWICZ

PIONEER OF STOP-MOTION ANIMATION

It was in Kaunas where the ‘European Disney’ Vladislovas Starevičius (Wladyslaw Starewicz) (1882-1965) started his film-making career.

Starewicz became world-famous as the pioneer of stop-motion animation and a wonder- worker who was well ahead of his time. In his films, he created the magical world of puppets, in which animals, birds, insects and other living creatures tell human stories like real actors. They ‘acted’ so convincingly that the audiences of his first films were convinced that Starewicz was taming live insects. Filmmakers of the time named Starewicz the Alchemist of the cinema. Among his fans was the Russian tsar and Walt Disney himself.

Starewicz’s techniques of animation are still a mystery even for contemporary world-class animation professionals. Just like the creator’s personality – cosmopolitan, mysterious and provocative.

JAN ZWARTENDIJK

JAN ZWARTENDIJK

THE RIGHTEOUS DIPLOMAT

In 1939-1940, Jan Zwartendijk, Dutch Honorary Consul in Kaunas, working together with the Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, saved about 10,000 Lithuanian and Polish Jews. Jan Zwartendijk issued visas for them to Curaçao, which belonged to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and Chijun Sugihara was able to issue Japanese transit visas to the holders of these documents.

In early August 1940, Soviet authorities closed foreign diplomatic missions, and Jan Zwartendijk with his family – his wife and two children – had to leave Lithuania and returned to the Netherlands. In 1997, Jan Zwartendijk was recognised as Righteous Among the Nations.