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Vladas Petronaitis (born November 2, 1888 - murdered June 25, 1941), was a Lithuanian patriot, soldier and martyr. He was tortured and killed during the infamous Rainiai massacre by members of the NKVD, and the Red Army.[1]

Early life and education[edit | edit source]

Vladas Petronaitis was born on November 2, 1888, the son of a well to do farmer, Petras Petronaitis, in Plauciškiai, Rozalimas Volost, now Kaunas County (Lithuanian: Kauno apskritis), Lithuania was at that time, part of the Russian Empire, as a result of the earlier partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The family's circumstances were good, and after attending the prestigious Jelgava's High School Gymnasium of Mitava, he went to the Saint-Petersburg State University, Russia and studied mathematics and science. He shared a house with his cousin, Ignas Končius. In those days, many prominent Lithuanians studied in St. Petersburg, then the capital of the Russian Empire, including the future Lithuanian President Antanas Smetona and Prime Minister Augustinas Voldemaras.

After graduating in 1913, he remained in St Petersburg, and at the outbreak of World War I, was teaching mathematics.

Like many young Lithuanians, he was drafted into the Russian Army. In 1915, he was stationed in Jaroslavl near Moscow. Heavy Russian casualties in the war forced[2] the Russian Army to set aside long-standing discrimination against Catholic Lithuanian soldiers. In 1916, Vladas was promoted to officer rank and became a teaching fellow at a Moscow military officers' school. At the same time he studied law at Moscow University.

Army service[edit | edit source]

Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, he made his way back to Lithuania, which had regained its independence in 1918. He became an officer in the Lithuanian Army with an infantry battalion and later with an electricity technical battalion in Vilnius.

In 1920 he was promoted to Commandant in Vilnius and played a significant role in securing Vilnius against the Poles and the Soviet Union. For his military and organisational service in securing the city, the President of Lithuania, Antanas Smetona, conferred on him the medal of the Order of the Cross of Vytis for the "establishment of Vilnius City and County Commandant Institution".

Following the Polish seizure of the Vilnius region, he was appointed Commandant in Kretinga. He married Bronislava Kentraite in a ceremony at Palanga in 1922. Bronislava's Father, Jonas Kentra, was the public notary in Palanga, and very passionate about Lithuanian language and culture.

A lawyer and advocate[edit | edit source]

In 1923, Vladas was discharged to the army reserve and settled down in Kretinga working as a lawyer and advocate and supporting various Lithuanian patriotic activities. Like many other Lithuanians, he received the The Independence Medal

Pursuant to the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union, on September 19, 1939, Vilnius was seized and occupied by the Soviet Union. On October 10, 1939, under a Soviet ultimatum, the Lithuanian government accepted the presence of Soviet military bases in the country in exchange for restoring the city to Lithuania. The whole of Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in June 1940, and a puppet Communist government was installed in the newly created Lithuanian SSR.

Arrest[edit | edit source]

Within days, Vladas was arrested by the NKVD and imprisoned in the cellar of Telšiai prison. In spite of his imprisonment, and long interrogation over many months, he protested his innocence and denied any wrongdoing.

On June 22, 1941, Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union, commenced. With the Soviet troops in a rout, the NKVD decided to execute its Lithuanian political prisoners as they retreated.

Rainiai massacre[edit | edit source]

On the night of 24/25 June 1941, Vladas was taken to a forest at Rainiai and, together with 77 other political prisoners, tortured to death and buried in a mass grave. On exhumation three days later, his body was difficult to identify as it had been disfigured by the tortures applied to it.[3]

A memorial is built on the place with graphic photographs of the exhumation and the exhumed body of Vladas Petronaitis.

References[edit | edit source]

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