A new exhibition opens on July 6th to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the opening of the Historical Presidential Palace to visitors. Confided memories: People, Things and their Stories – thus entitled exhibition presents the most valuable artifacts donated by people and various organizations during those 15 years.
The exhibition poses questions and tries to answer them from both the museum and donators’ points of view. What is usually considered to represent a Family Relic? Why do we donate to the Museum? Do we still need authentic items-exhibits? Where do the most valuable exhibits come from? Why do we care about the ‘everyday’ history? What constitutes the value of an exhibit?
The material value of donated things may vary substantially: from an expensive gold ring or watch to a tiny prayer book, a carved wooden cross or a religious image. However, their emotional value is immeasurable. The stories of our narrators prove that these items turned into relics not because of their material equivalent but due to their immense emotional-spiritual value related with exceptional memories, events and people. Frequently, these relics go far beyond the family story – they tell about a city, country, or even the entire world.
The geography of the returning relics is wide: the restoration of independence after five decades of Soviet occupation encouraged Lithuanian diasporas to entrust the long-preserved memories to the Homeland. The experts of our museum also cooperate with various individual and institutions which can help retrieve the dispersed property of Lithuanian Presidents and their palace. Journalist and diplomat Kazys Lozoraitis was the first to donate a sizable collection of manuscripts and photos of President Antanas Smetona in 2005–2006. Kazys Lozoraitis resided in Rome (Italy). He was a son of the leader of Lithuanian diplomatic service.
In 2016, the museum received an elaborate towel of President Antanas Smetona with a woven text of the National Anthem. This decorative towel adorned the home of the President in Cleveland (Ohio, USA) and was rescued during the fire of January 9, 1944 which claimed the president’s life. The towel was guarded by Antanas Smetona (1939–2012), a grandson of the President, and, after his death, the towel passed to the Palace of Lithuanians in Cleveland together with other personal items of the President which were in possession of the grandson. Lukas Laniauskas and Rūta Degutienė, the leader of the Palace of Lithuanians in Cleveland, expressed desire that the towel should be donated to the Historical Presidential Palace.
In 2018, Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius had an opportunity to contribute to the return of presidential relics from the distant Australia. During the centennial festivities of the Independence of Lithuania, the community of Lithuanians of Adelaide donated the most valuable exhibits of their museum-archive which had found their way to Australia when Vladas Dumčius, a community member, visited the USA in 1968 and met close relatives of the former Presidents. From Sofija, wife of Antanas Smetona and their son Julius, he received the manuscript of Pro memoria and his walking stick which was being used from the time of signing the act of Independence in 1918 until death. From Aldona Juozevičienė, a daughter of President Aleksandras Stulginskis, he received a silver-clad family ladle with the monogram AS and a thermometer-barometer.
In 2019, when celebrating the year of President Smetona, American Lithuanian Cultural Archives based in Putnam, Connecticut, USA, donated a special numismatic relic of historical value – a decorative box containing two souvenir coins minted on the 20-year anniversary of Independence: a silver 10 Litas coin and a unique gold coin-souvenir featuring the portrait of President Smetona. These coins were gifted to the Archives by Marija Valušienė, a daughter of the President, in 1984.
In 2012–2013, more valuable gifts were received from Aldona Juozevičienė, a daughter of President Aleksandras Stulginskis, his granddaughter Jūratė Norvilienė and grand-granddaughter Rita Bieliauskienė. The modest in size but great by value archive of the family of the long-term Prime Minister Juozas Tūbelis was donated in 2017 by his grandson Peter Kuhlmann. The cutlery of the President Smetona family from the times when they lived in Cleveland (part of a coffee set and dessert cups) were donated in 2019 by Andris Jonas Dunduras, director of Cleveland Lithuanian Culture and Documentation Centre.
Other local donators are mostly offspring of Lithuanian interwar intellectual families whose ancestors were politicians, scientists, teachers, therapists, military officers or state officials residing and working in Kaunas. All of them were tragically affected by the Soviet occupation. They lost their homes, positions and dear people, they suffered from imprisonment or exile. Even though Soviets mercilessly destroyed the heritage of Independent Lithuania, however, dear items were preserved as relics of the past.
The museum is proud to accept and cherish these relics and the memories they carry along.