Urban Development in Vilnius during the Second World War (summary)

Rasa Antanavičiūtė (PDF)

This article attempts to reconstruct the history of urban development in Vilnius during the Second World War.

All major urban changes and designs during the war passed through the Vilnius City Construction Directorate. Different political regimes have incorporated it into their administrative system without changing the staff or the head, chief engineer, Vytautas Landsbergis-Žemkalnis. Due to a shortage of professional architects and urban planners, in 1939, the new Construction Directorate took over the Bureau for Urban Development staff, which had been established in 1936. Most of the staff were graduates of the Warsaw University of Technology.

The work of the same team of architects has led to the continuity of the most significant urban projects in Vilnius. The master plan of Vilnius and the reconstruction of the Cathedral Square were started before the war and completed during the Nazi period. The history of the rearrangement of the most important representative urban objects, which took place under different political regimes, transformed the urban planning of Vilnius during the Second World War into a subpolitical phenomenon.

Due to the difficult political and economic situation, the change of governance and the stability of the Construction Directorate staff during the Second World War, the projects financed by the Vilnius authorities did not have an ideological charge. The reconstructed central square was left without a monument, and the new master plan did not include an ideologically significant city centre. Urban-architectural changes in the shape of the city remained politically neutral. Politicised interventions, such as flags, street names, temporary monuments and festival decorations, were small and short-lived.

Between 1939 and 1944, the city witnessed a constant change of symbolic signs of power. Flags were changed in the tower of Gediminas Castle, street names were translated and changed, temporary monuments were erected, and commemorative plaques were affixed. The dynamics of these arrangements reflect the attitudes of different political regimes toward the city and its inhabitants. It was very important for the Republic of Lithuania to Lithuanianise the city, for the Soviets to demonstrate the power of the Soviet Union, and for the Nazis to adapt the city to the Germans.

Keywords: political ideology, planning, projects, construction board, Vytautas Landsbergis-Žemkalnis