Rebellious Count. 140th Anniversary of Prof. Antanas Gravrogkas

 140th Anniversary of Prof. Antanas Gravrogkas

18 May 2020 marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of count, engineer, rifleman, Burmaster (Mayor) of Kaunas City, professor Antanas Julijonas Gravrogkas.  On this occasion, KTU Museum organised a virtual exhibition so that people could learn about this extraordinary person who actively participated in the creation of the state of Lithuania and defence of its independence. The exhibition comprises 3 parts reflecting different periods of the life of prof. A. Gravrogkas. The first part “Origin, Family, Studies” reveal his aristocratic origin, shows the family of his parents, the period of studies and work activities before his return to Lithuania. The second part “Rifleman, Teacher, Burmaster” introduces the activities and achievements of A. Gravrogkas in independent Lithuania. The third part “In Occupied Lithuania” reveals the difficult life of the professor in occupied Lithuania. The exhibition displays the photographs and documents from KTU Museum and archive and the archive of the Gravrogkas Family. KTU Museum expresses its sincere gratitude to the grandson of A. Gravrogkas Anton von Gravrock for the copies of documents and photographs from their family archive.

Origin, Family, Studies

Antanas Julijonas Gravrogkas was born on 18 May 1880 in Šeduva, in the family of Count Kristupas Juozapas Karolis Gravrogkas and Baroness Julijona Goes. His ancestors owned lands in Germany since the 11th century (several of their castles remain standing to this day). In the 17th century, almost the entire northern part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania belonged to the ancestors of A. Gravrogkas; however, later, they lost their wealth and became more Polish. The father of A. Gravrogkas had 20 ha of land at Lieporai Manor; afterwards, he lived and worked as a hired white-collar worker in Telšiai and later, in Šiauliai. A. Gravrogkas studied at Telšiai School, later at Mintauja and Šiauliai Gymnasiums. As a pupil of the gymnasium, Antanas was a member of the secret Lithuanian circle, read and distributed the forbidden Lithuanian press. In 1990, he was admitted to the Mathematics Faculty at the Petersburg University; however, he was expelled in 1901 for the participation in student demonstrations and riots. The rebellious character of the young count was already evident then. Upon the return to his father in Lieporai, he helped with farming and prepared for the entrance examinations. In 1902, he was admitted to the Mechanical Department at Peterburg Institute of Technology. On 9 January 1905, during the suppression of a big demonstration in Peterburg because of the failure at the Japanese-Russian war, A. Gravrogkas had his finger injured by the Cossack sword. The institute was closed due to disturbances  but Antanas remained in Peterburg where he participated in the activities of the Lithuanian Student Society, gave lectures to the Lithuanian workers. In December 1905, he participated in the Great Seimas of Vilnius and later distributed its decrees. He and other like-minded people gathered an armed squad in Kriaunai town, removed the teacher appointed by the Tzar rule and began teaching himself. He organised public rallies in Obeliai and Kamajai market places and parish assemblies. People called him Neznaika (Know-Nothing). Upon the arrival at the father’s manor, he was arrested by the Tzar gendarme but soon released for a bribe. In 1906, he cooperated in the newspapers published by the Social-Democrats in Vilnius. In 1910, after graduation from Peterburg Institute of Technology, he married Baroness Stefanija Gruzdytė and started living in Ekaterinoslav where he worked in the areas of mill construction and later, in metallurgy. In 1916, he moved to Smolensk where he worked as a senior engineer of the relocated Lithuanian “Vilija” and participated in the activities of the committee for support of the Lithuanian exiles.

Rifleman, Teacher, Burmaster

In 1920, A. Gravrogkas returned to Lithuania and was arrested by the Lithuanian intelligence because he was transporting a bundle of communistic literature handed over by Vincas Mickevičius Kapsukas. With support by the Prime Minister Ernestas Galvanauskas, he avoided the inconveniences and was employed as the head of the narrow gauge railway workshop, later, he became the director of the narrow gauge railway. In 1921, he joined the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union, was elected to the central board and was the editor of the “Trimitas” for some time. His son Vytautas Kristupas told that his father A. Gravrogkas admitted that he participated in the organisation of the assassination attempt against E. Galvanauskas on 25 November 1922 aiming for the Lithuanian Government not to accept the Hymans project (i.e., confederation with Poland). The authorities did not find the persons responsible for the attempt; however, it contributed to the rejection of this project. In January 1923, A. Gravrogkas was one of the organisers of the Uprising of Klaipėda, participated in the uprising as a regular rifleman and was awarded the Klaipėda Liberation Silver Shield which he particularly valued and considered equally valuable to his family crests. When he was building a house, he requested the bas-relief of this image to be embedded in the centre over the main entrance and the family crests – on the sides. On 2 February 1923, A. Gravrogkas started teaching mechanical technology at the Technical Faculty of the University of Lithuania. Simultaneously, he was teaching at Kaunas Post-Secondary Technical School led by his brother Julijonas Gravrogkas, and in 1925–1927, he was teaching at Dotnuva Agricultural Academy.

As the editor of “Trimitas”, A. Gravrogkas was fighting for the Riflemen’s Union to remain a public organisation instead of becoming a tool for authorities; therefore, by the order of the Prime Minister Juozas Tūbelis, he was dismissed from the position of the editor and it was forbidden to publish his articles in this publication. On 1 February 1932, A. Gravrogkas was elected as the Burmaster (Mayor) of Kaunas City; however, he was dismissed on 20 December 1933. The reason for his dismissal, as he wrote in his autobiography in 1940, was the legal proceedings instituted against the electricity company, 30 flats built for workers in Vileišis Square and his refusal to dismiss the head of the Social Department  Petras Ruseckas who had an argument with Jadvyga Tūbelienė. While working as a Burmaster (Mayor), he was teaching at Vytautas Magnus University free of charge and when he lost the position of the Burmaster, he continued working at the university and was re-employed at the Railway Board. His title of professor was approved in 1939.

In Occupied Lithuania

During the first Soviet occupation, A. Gravrogkas was working at the university. Since he was left-leaning, he managed to avoid the repressions but his house was nationalised. During the year of the Nazi occupation, he continued working at the University and together with the families of his relatives Daugėlos and Poliakai was hiding a land surveyor Jokūbas Barilka who was of Jewish descent at the Medvilioniai Manor; for this, he was awarded (posthumously) the Life Saving Cross in 2016. After the war, he was the head of the Department of Wood technology at the Technical Faculty of the university and professor but his degree as an associate professor was approved in the spring of 1947 by the decision of the SSRS Attestation Commission because he did not defend a dissertation. On 27 March 1948, he was dismissed from his position for withholding the profile data although the real reason was the arrest of his son. When the accusation was not confirmed and his son was released from prison, A. Gravrogkas returned to his work at the university. At the end of 1950, Kaunas National Vytautas Magnus University was reorganised into Kaunas Polytechnical Institute where he worked until his death on 1 April 1958. He is buried in Petrašiūnai Cemetery.