Jonas Žemaitis

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Jonas Žemaitis
President of Lithuania
(Posthumously recognized in March 2009; then Chairman of the Union of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters)
In office
February 16, 1949 – November 26, 1954
Preceded byAntanas Merkys
(last head of state before the Soviet annexation in 1940)
Succeeded byVytautas Landsbergis
(first head of state of independent Lithuania in 1991)
Personal details
BornMarch 15, 1909
Palanga, Courland Governorate, Russian Empire
DiedNovember 26, 1954 (aged 45)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Military service
Allegiance Lithuania
Years of service1926–1941 (Lithuanian Army)
1944 (Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force)
1945–1953 (Lithuanian partisans)
Rank19-Lithuania Army-BG.svg Brigade General
CommandsUnion of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters

Jonas Žemaitis (also known under his nom de guerre Vytautas; March 15, 1909 in Palanga – November 26, 1954 in Moscow)[1] was one of the leaders of the Lithuanian partisans, armed resistance against the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, and acknowledged as the head of state by independent Lithuania.


Žemaitis was born to Jonas Žemaitis and Petronėlė Daukšaitė. Despite the fact that his father was non-religious, Žemaitis was christened in Palanga's church. From 1910 to 1917, he lived with his parents in Łomża, Poland, where his uncle A. Daukša owned a large dairy farm. In Łomża, Žemaitis attended a primary school while his parents were working. In 1917, Žemaitis returned to Lithuania and settled down in the village of Kiaulininkai, near Šiluva, where his grandparents lived. In 1921, he finished first class at the Raseiniai Gymnasium. In 1926, started studying at the War School of Kaunas. In 1929, he finished this school and became a lieutenant.[2] Žemaitis started his military service with the 2nd Artillery Battery as a commander. In 1936–1938, Žemaitis studied at the School of Applied Artillery in Fontainebleu, France. After the studies, Žemaitis was promoted to captain and commanded artillery units of the Lithuania military forces.

After the Soviet occupation of Lithuania in June 1940, Žemaitis continued his active service in the 617th Artillery Regiment, where he was the head of the regiment's school. At the beginning of the war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Žemaitis was at the proving ground of Varėna. After receiving the order to retreat to the east, Žemaitis and a group of soldiers consciously fell behind and surrendered to the Germans. He did not want to serve the Nazis, and therefore he retired and settled down in Kaunas. He worked as a technician of peat extraction.

Jonas Žemaitis Monument in front of the Ministry of National Defence, Vilnius.

In 1944, he joined the Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force, organized by Povilas Plechavičius.[3] After the force was disbanded by the Nazis, Žemaitis went into hiding. When the Red Army returned to Lithuania, Žemaitis joined the Lithuanian Freedom Army and the Lithuanian partisans, steadily rising to a position of leadership. In February 1949, he established the Union of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters and became its chairman; he worked to continue partisan resistance to Soviet occupation and legitimize the actions of the partisans. In December 1951, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and became paralyzed. In May 1953, his place of hiding was discovered by Soviet agents and he was arrested. After being transported to Moscow, he was interrogated by Lavrentiy Beria and was executed in the Butyrka prison in 1954.

Jonas Žemaitis is the namesake of the General Jonas Žemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania. In 1995 a documentary Ketvirtasis Prezidentas (The Fourth President) was released about his life. Posthumously Jonas Žemaitis-Vytautas was awarded the rank of Brigadier General and was officially named as the fourth President of Lithuania in March 2009.[4][5]


  1. ^ "Jonas Zemaitis". Samogitian Museum ALKA. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  2. ^ "Jonas Zemaitis-Vytautas". Memorial Department of the Lithuanian Genocide and Resistance Research Center (in Lithuanian). 12 March 2004. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  3. ^ "Lietuvos vietinė rinktinė" (PDF). Retrieved 20 October 2019.
  4. ^ "Partizanų vadas J.Žemaitis pripažintas Lietuvos valstybės vadovu" (in Lithuanian). Lietuvos rytas. 2009-03-12. Retrieved 2009-03-14.
  5. ^ "Concerning the Recognition of Jonas Zemacius". Office of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania (in Lithuanian). 12 March 2009. Retrieved 29 July 2018.