“It Pays to Defend History”
Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius Orders Removal of Memorial Plaque for Holocaust Collaborator J. Noreika
Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius
Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius
This weekend, the new monument to 2,400 Biržai Jews, massacred on August 8, 1941, will be unveiled in Biržai, a town in northern Lithuania known in Yiddish as Birzh. On that fateful day in Pakamponys forest, German Gestapo officers and their Lithuanian accomplices murdered 900 children, because they were Jewish children, 780 women, because they were Jewish women, and 720 men, because they were Jewish, too. The locals call the site “the Biržai Jews’ grave”.
That day, more than one third of the inhabitants of that old historical city were massacred. A vibrant community was destroyed and trust in Biržai as a safe place to live was wholly undermined. This old wound had not been taken care of properly up until now. There is a memorial stone at the site of the massacre, the site itself is covered with tiles. There is a memorial inscription, too. However, all those people with their lives and their dreams remained but a number in stone. People behind the new memorial decided to fix this, and now we have more than five hundred names carved on a steel wall. This difficult task required a lot of effort. Alongside with the people, the murderers also destroyed the documents attesting to their lives.
What does the Town’s Official Museum Think?
Question: Is this city really ready to be the Capital of European Culture for 2022?
You just could not make this stuff up. A powerful government unit of an East European democracy that is a member of the EU and NATO wants nothing more than to plonk a monument in America for someone who was not only an alleged Holocaust collaborator (see Evaldas Balčiūnas’s articles of 2014, 2017 and 2019), but who is today a prime icon of the country’s neo-Nazis. Indeed, his visage is first on their banner of “national heroes” used to front torch-lit neo-Nazi parades in the nation’s capital. The monument is unveiled in Chicago on May 4, 2019.
High government officials from the Seimas and the Lithuanian consulate in New York jad fronted an effort to put the monument in New Britain, Connecticut, and charm that city’s mayor (2017) into going along with the plan, without mentioning the honoree’s having boasted in his own memoirs of leading a pro-Hitler militia in the days when the Lithuanian Holocaust was launched in late June of 1941. After many months of discussion (2018), the city council of New Britain overwhelmingly turns down the idea.
RAMANAUSKAS: A FIVE YEAR SAGA. BEYOND THE HISTORY: WHY A MONUMENT TO A PRIME ICON OF TODAY’S NEO-NAZIS IN EASTERN EUROPE?
From left to right on the neo-Nazis’ “We know our national heroes” banner (torchlit neo-Nazi parade of Feb. 2018): Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, Jonas Noreika, Povilas Plechavičius, Kazys Škirpa, Antanas Baltūsis-Žvejas, and Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis
In our country, there has for decades now been a ceaseless series of battles in the mass media, social media and other nooks and crannies of the public space.
A new surge has emerged. The subject of the various high-voltage disputes? The attitude of members of society, and particularly the cultural elite and the authorities to the collaboration of the Lithuanian population with the two adversarial branches of “socialism”: the so-called workers’ and peasants’ variety (Communist) and national socialism (Nazism). During the year before the entry of Nazi troops onto the territory of the Lithuanian Soviet republic in June of 1941, and after World War II ended here in July 1944, many local people cooperated with the Soviets. The cooperation of an overwhelming part of the country’s population with the Soviet occupational authorities became especially enthusiastic and active during the long, peaceful postwar period. To a certain extent, it was natural because one always wants to live, and not just to survive, but also to find oneself, to be able to create something. However, by the sharpest of contrasts, during the Nazi occupation,considerable numbers became not just willing and active accomplices of the “general” Nazi policies pursued by the occupiers, but also initiators and enthusiasts of repressions and mass murder directed against Jews and, selectively, against members of other sections of the civilian population.
Some naively believed that Hitler’s invasion would help the nation break free of the “friendly” embrace of the USSR and restore independence. Others were guided by more prosaic considerations, such as robbing and killing their neighbors and fellow citizens. Others still did not disdain either and combined the useful with the pleasing. And it never occurred to the many elites leading these activities that killing a peaceful unarmed people in their own country, a whole people declared an enemy by the nationalist propaganda, cannot bring a nation the good luck it years for, even if you somehow assume that they really all were your enemies.
Five years ago, I wrote about the alleged connections of Adolfas Ramanauskas to the persecution of Jews in Druskininkai. Following publication of the Lithuanian version, the English version appeared here in Defending History in 2014. The connections are based in the first instance on Ramanauskas’s own memoirs, published in post-Soviet independent Lithuania, where he boasts that he served as leader of “the rebels’ squad” during the precise days and weeks of June and July 1941 when these “rebels” of the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) were in fact unleashing humiliation, plunder, violence and indeed murder against Jewish neighbors (the Soviet army was escaping Hitler’s invasion, not these white-armbanded LAFers). Following upon Ramanauskas’s own memoir and boast came research into the actual police records of the summer of 1941, as well as the postwar Soviet war crimes trials’ transcripts.
When writing that first article in 2014, my goal was not to find or prove something directly compromising. I was simply disturbed by the obvious collision of this heroic myth and its historical circumstances. It was part of my series of articles in Defending History, starting in 2012, that was launched by my essay “Why does the State Commemorate Murderers?”.
But then, in late 2017, the Seimas (parliament) of the Republic of Lithuania declared 2018 to be the Year of Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas. Indignant at the uncritical worship, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s department of East European affairs, brought a copy of my article to the members of the Seimas and was condemned without them even attempting to read it. During that period, I published a second, follow-up article focused on the moral issues.
Successful resistance to the plans of the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania to erect a monument to Ramanauskas in his native city of New Britain, Conn., were enabled exactly by the facts mentioned in the 2014 piece (that saga can be followed in Defending History). One year ago, the City Council of New Britain “just said No.”
VILNIUS—LRT state television reported that an American religious Jewish school would held a polite protest outside the Lithuanian consulate in New York on Yom Hashoah, 2 May, to protest the Lithuanian government’s continued state-sponsored glorification of Holocaust collaborator Jonas Noreika and others. The protest was carried out by students of the Rambam Mesivta High School, under the guidance of its renowned principal, Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman. See Defending History’s report on the event.
Lithuanian Public Television’s Special Investigation of the controversy over Holocaust perpetrator Jonas Noreika was supposed to air on Thursday May 2 at 7:30 PM (19:30), including an interview with Dr. Andrius Kulikauskas. But the program did not air. Instead, the LRT website posted an “Open Letter Regarding the Increase of Tension in Society” signed by four leaders of Lithuanian (ultra)nationalist organizations. The letter specifically attacks Chicago resident Silvia Foti, Noreika’s granddaughter, California resident Grant Gochin, and other critics of the glorification of Holocaust collaborators, while claiming that Noreika, Škirpa, Brazaitis, Krikštaponis and Kraujelis are national heroes. LRT.lt added a remark clarifying that, according to the Genocide Center, Krikštaponis participated in the mass murder of Jews. The article claims that criticism of glorification of Holocaust collaborators is the work of “Moscow.”
NEW YORK CITY—Hundreds of Jewish high school students from the New York area, pupils at Rambam Mesivta High School, demonstrated peacefully and with dignity outside the Lithuanian Consulate in New York City yesterday, led by their renowned principal, Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman. The day was Yom Hashoah, a day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust, and the occasion was the Lithuanian government’s continued glorification of Jonas Noreika, a major Holocaust collaborator who participated in the destruction of thousands of the country’s citizens in 1941. The Noreika debate is now seven years old, and can be followed chronologically in Defending History (see most recent update).
Students chanted, “Your hero is a Nazi!”
VILNIUS—On Friday, April 26, 18:00-18:20, Dr. Andrius Kulikauskas, curator of the Captain Jonas Noreika Museum, Archive and Forum, will give the final talk at the conference “The Territories of Interaction of Aesthetics, Art Philosophy and Art History: Intercultural Fields of the Functions of Representation”, organized by Prof. Antanas Andrijauskas at the Lithuanian Cultural Studies Institute, at Saltoniškių St. 58, Vilnius.
Dr. Kulikauskas will be speaking in Lithuanian on “How to Forego, Through Dialogue, Monumental Images of Those Who Voiced the Will of the Lithuanian Nation in 1941 But Committed Crimes Against Humanity”.
His talk will be followed by an hour of open dialogue on two questions:
VILNIUS—In a shock both to human rights activists here and the small but vibrant Jewish community, the “Open House Vilnius” project of the NGO “Architektūros fondas”, in partnership with M. K. Čiurlionis House and Museum is organizing a major event this coming weekend to feature an “audio-visual installation by the composer Vytautas Paukštelis”. The event is being sponsored by European Union taxpayer euros via the EU’s “Creative Europe and European Music Paths” program.
The problem? It is being staged right smack in the middle of the Old Vilna Jewish at Piramónt (in today’s Šnipiškės district, Shnípeshok in Yiddish). In fact, the staging could not be some kind of clerical error resulting from lack of being informed. For years now, there has been an international (and local!) movement beseeching the Lithuanian government and its state-owned Turto bankas, and the City of Vilnius, to move the convention center project away from the old Jewish cemetery, so that it might be lovingly restored, as, for example, per the Frankfurt model, and become an international site that will attract people from around the world, instead of a mark of racism and antisemitism in the city that was once the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” and even today uses that phrase for marketing and PR.
The twentieth century was drenched in upheavals, blood and tears. New states were founded, others were destroyed and above all, it cost so many people a huge price: to suffer broken lives and fates or to be senselessly killed. If not for the world wars, how much more would humankind have reached in science, art, literature, technology, economy and more.
Over seventy years have passed since the end of the Holocaust, and, as in the legend of Till Eulenspiegel the ashes of our people‘s annihilation during the Holocaust is still in our hearts. We do not forget them, every year we come to Ponár (Paneriai), to the fortresses of Kaunas. In my case, also to the Pivonijos forest where in the period from July to September of 1941 so many of my relatives, all simple peaceful civilians, perished, they of the Reitenbort and Kahan families. We also visit other places of mass killings.
On March 27, 2019, the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court ruled against Grant Gochin as to his complaint against the Lithuanian Genocide and Resistance Research Center. He will have to pay the Center’s legal fees. The Genocide Center proceeded to triumphantly depict Jonas Noreika as a flawless hero, yet in places the contrary view is breaking through the one-sided, subservient reporting by most of the Lithuanian press.
The essence of Grant Gochin’s complaint was that the Center had been unobjective, incomplete, and abused its power in replying to his “Query Regarding Jonas Noreika’s Criminal Gang” and in refusing to change its certificate about Jonas Noreika. Holocaust perpetrator Captain Jonas Noreika is celebrated in Lithuania with honors, statues, plaques, and street names.
The Court ruled that “…the Court cannot take on the Center’s prescribed functions nor its powers…”
The Center’s main argument had been that Gochin had no material interest in the certificate about Jonas Noreika. This was most callous, given that Gochin counts 100 relatives as victims of the Holocaust, with quite a number of them in Šiauliai District, where Jonas Noreika was District Chief. Government agencies refer to the certificate as the basis for honoring Noreika.
VILNIUS—On March 27, Wednesday, at 1 PM here in Vilnius, the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court will be reading its verdict on the case filed by California resident Grant Gochin calling on the state-sponsored Lithuanian Genocide and Resistance Research Center, widely known as the Genocide Center, to revise its evaluation of Holocaust perpetrator Jonas Noreika as a hero who is worthy of state honors. Hundreds of documents have been produced demonstrating beyond all doubt his participation in the Lithuanian Holocaust (see sample document). One of the case’s sensations was the powerful and historic statement condemning Noreik’a crimes produced by his granddaughter, the American educator and author Silvia Foti.
The public and the press are welcome to attend the conclusion of this historic trial at Žygimantų Street 2 in central Vilnius.
DH’s take. Report on 15 Jan. hearing. Report on 5 March hearing. Evaldas Balčiūnas’s 2012 article that brought Noreika to the attention of the English speaking world. Balčiūnas’s DH section.
Last Tuesday, 5 March 2019, a Vilnius court sat in judgment over an appeal to the state-sponsored “Genocide Center” by Grant Arthur Gochin, a financial advisor in California who is of Litvak heritage and was himself born in South Africa (he did not come in for the trial but was represented by attorney Rokas Rudzinskas and academic specialist Dr. Andrius Kulikauskas). The request in effect asked the Genocide Center (formally “The Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania” or LGGRTC) to revisit their refusal to re-examine the historical certificate they issued whitewashing Holocaust collaborator Jonas Noreika. In support, the plaintiff submitted a big stack of documents from Lithuania’s own archives, and claimed that the Center’s conclusions ignore or misinterpret a whole series of documents and that they are biased in their justification of Noreika and taking into account only “positive aspects” of his activities. The Center explained away some documents signed by Noreika by using other documents that were signed by the German administration much later, but failed to properly name the criteria according to which some witnesses and documents are deemed important and others are rejected. Gochin’s lawyer noted that responsibility for crimes to humanity is not canceled out by the fact that the perpetrator held office and was following orders.