Kėdainiai (in Polish Kiejdany) is a 35,000-strong town gathering Poles from Lauda who are descendants of the Polish Laudanian gentry. Only few Polish families of that gentry have survived and are now dispersed in the area between Kėdainiai, Panevėžys, and Šiauliai.
The land on the Lauda River making up the triangle between Kėdainiai,Panevėžys and Šiauliai is known to the lovers of Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novels. In his The Deluge he presented the Polish Laudanian gentry whose traces are today looked for by tourists. In the early 20th century that area was inhabited by 200,000 people of Polish nationality who accounted for 55 percent of the local population. The impoverished Laudanian gentry lived a fairly modest life and its living standards were not much different from those of peasantry. Bilingualism has been a characteristic feature of Lauda. This has been greatly influenced by a high percentage of mixed Polish-Lithuanian marriages which added to the fairly fast Lithuanization of the peasant population after 1920. Soviet deportations in the early 1940s were a serious blow to the Polish population. One and a half thousand representatives of the Polish intelligentsia living in that area were displaced then. After the end of World War II, villages inhabited by the impoverished gentry were destroyed on a large scale and people resettled to kolkhozes. The tightest Polish centres ceased to exist in Lauda exactly in that way. According to statistics, the Kėdainiairegion is now inhabited by some 700 Poles (one percent of the population). The town of Kėdainiai, located on the Nevėžis River in the very centre of Lithuania, may be considered a contemporary Polish centre. The first mention of this town dates back to the 14th century, and legend has it that a few centuries before, a rich merchant, Keidangenas arrived in that place and founded a small fishing village on the NevėžisRiver. The name of the town is believed to be derived from the name of that merchant. In the late 16th century, Kėdainiai was under the rule of the Radziwiłł family and became their family residence and a symbol of their power. Kėdainiai was the apple of Janusz Radziwiłł’s eye. He used to invite craftsmen from the West: Jews, Scots, and Germans to the town. It was undoubtedly the best time in the town’s history, as Kėdainiai was the second major town of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at that time. Since the Radziwiłłs were also promoters of Calvinism, Kėdainiai became the most important centre of that faith in Lithuania. In the later centuries, due to wars and the decline in the significance of the family of the town’s patrons, Kėdainiai lost its greatness which is now reflected in the Lutheran Church, Carmelites monastery, Gothic St. George’s Church – one of the oldest churches in Lithuania – and baroque St. Joseph’s Church. There is the Radziwiłł crypt in the Calvinist Church where Great Lithuanian Hetman Krzysztof Radziwiłł “The Thunderbolt” and Janusz Radziwiłł are buried in metal sarcophaguses. The synagogues situated by the Jewish Market Square remind us of the group of Kėdainiai Jews that no longer exists. The activity of the Polish community is flourishing in Kėdainiai. Since Polish families are dispersed all over Lauda, Poles often need to cover tens of kilometres to get to meetings with their compatriots. In the early 1990s, circles of the Union of Poles were established in Kėdainiai and its vicinity. In 1996, those circles established the “Lauda” Branch of the Union of Poles in Lithuania. There is the “Isa” Polish Song and Dance Group, and the Association of Kėdainiai Poles. These organizations prepare the Polish Culture Festival “From the Isa River”, poetry soirees, and celebrations of Polish national holidays. Since there is no school with Polish as a teaching language in the town the children attend Polish classes at the Sunday school.