The Vytautas the Great War Museum is one of the oldest museums in Lithuania; it is located in K. Donelaičio Str. 64, Kaunas.
After the Act of Lithuania’s independence was declared on February 16, 1918 and the establishment of the Lithuanian Armed Forces started by the Order from November 23, the Command of the Armed Forces decided to establish a Military Museum in Kaunas, the provisional capital, understanding the importance of military history and the commemoration of the merits of each officer and soldier to their homeland. However, the ongoing fights for independence stopped the process of the Museum establishment, which continued only after the struggles had ended. Nevertheless, on February 16, 1921, the War Museum was inaugurated and consecrated by priest Jonas Mačiulis-Maironis in Kaunas. In 1922, an Order was issued to the Armed Forces, which declared that the establishment of the War Museum was a matter and concern of all Armed Forces. The representatives from the parts of the Armed Forces were instructed to come to the War Museum and discuss further cooperation in the collection of exhibits on the Fights for Independence and the history of the Armed Forces; the commissions of regiments were obliged to strengthen work in this area. The material collection on the history of weapons was of primary importance. The Order indicated that the paintings and photographs, drawings, official letters, orders on the establishment, development, and recruitment of the part of the Armed Forces (as much as the military secret allows), awards, signs distinction should be brought to the Museum. The Minister of National Defense addressed all Lithuanian soldiers and asked to collect the remnants of the old history in the places where they lived and served. Particular attention was paid to the activities of book-carriers and the occupation of Lithuania during World War I, revealing the extent of Lithuania’s destruction and collecting the photographs, uniforms, and weapons of the officers occupants as this material may not remain. The Order was signed by the Minister of National Defence Prof. Jonas Šimkus, the Chief of Military Science Division Gen. Leonas Radus-Zenkavičius, and the organizer of the War Museum Gen. Lieut. Vladas Nagevičius.
The museum started operating in a wooden building constructed at the end of the 19th century, while on February 16, 1936, it was solemnly transferred to the new Palace of the Museum. On that occasion, the Monument to Freedom, the Monument to those who Died for the Freedom of Lithuania, and the Freedom Bell were illuminated with thousands of lamps. President Antanas Smetona, Prime Minister Juozas Tūbelis, Archbishop Juozas Skvireckas, Commander-in-Chief Gen. St. Col. Stasys Raštikis, and other distinguished guests attended the ceremony. In this architectural heritage building designed by architects Vladimiras Dubeneckis, Karolis Reisonas, and Kazys Krikščiukaitis, the Vytautas the Great War Museum is located today.
Not only the history of the Museum is interesting, but also its yard is special. One of the most famous objects is the lions, who came to Kaunas from the Astravas Manor and who guard the entrance to the Museum. They were commissioned by Count Jonas Tiškevičius and cast from cast-iron in St. Petersburg in the middle of the 19th century. After the construction of the new Vytautas the Great War Museum building, Jonas Tiškevičius, the son of Count Tiškevičius, donated the lions to the Museum.
The period of the first and second Soviet and Nazi occupations is also important in the history of the Museum. It was forced to destroy the exhibits and historical monuments unfavourable to the ideology and propaganda of the occupant regimes. The name of the Museum also changed during the occupation years: during 1940 – 1941 and 1944 – 1956, the Museum was called Military-Historical, while during 1956-1990 – Kaunas State History Museum; the name of Vytautas the Great War Museum was preserved only during the Nazi occupation. Despite the destruction of historical relics and ideological propaganda, which continued during the second Soviet occupation, the museum remained a symbol of independent Lithuania in the eyes of the public. In 1988, when the Lithuanian Reform Movement started, public efforts were devoted to recreate the garden of the Museum; the employees of the Museum dismantled ideological and propaganda expositions and replaced them with the ones testifying the tragedy of the Lithuanian nation and the Armed Forces during World War II and the reality of the Soviet occupation. On January 30, 1990, the old name of the Vytautas the Great War Museum was restored. On January 1, 2006, the Museum returned to its founder and became an institution subordinate to the Ministry of National Defense.