Kaunas(in Polish Kowno) is the second largest city in Lithuania. It is located at the confluence of the Neman and Neris rivers and is the largest industrial centre in Lithuania. In 1919, Poles accounted for nearly 50 percent of the city’s population, and, today, there are slightly more than 1,000 of them.
The first mentions of Kaunas appeared around the mid-14th century when it was referred to as a fortified town expected to defend the Lithuanians against the invasions of Teutonic Knights. German merchants, who came to Kaunas together with the Teutonic Knights, made a remarkable contribution to the growth of the town. In 1408, Duke Vytautas granted the town charter to Kaunas, where administrative, economic and judicial self-government was formed. Not quite 200 years later, the town was granted the right of storage, which remarkably speeded up its development. As a result of the third partition of Poland Kaunas was given to Russia, but its inhabitants did not remain passive — they took an active part in the November and January uprisings. In 1915, the town passed into the German hands and got into the Soviet hands only three years later. The interwar period contributed to Kaunas growth, as scientific, economic and cultural centres appeared in the town then. The Vytautas the Great University, conservatoire, and the School of the Arts were founded. The first radio broadcasting station in Lithuania was launched. In 1940, the “people’s parliament” proclaimed self-abolition of the town and its incorporation into the USSR. The Ninth Fort in Kaunas was turned into a German concentration camp where mass murders of the Jews and Gypsies took place. Another dramatic episode in the city’s history happened on 15 May 1972 when a student, Romas Kalanta, burnt himself to death in public in the market square in protest against the occupation of Lithuania by the USSR. Major monuments in Kaunas include the ruins of the Kaunas castle from the 13th-14th century, architectural complex of the Monastery of Požaislis, House of Pērkunas, and Choral Synagogue.