OPINION | LITHUANIAN JEWISH AFFAIRS | CHRISTIAN-JEWISH RELATIONS | COLLABORATORS GLORIFIED | GENOCIDE CENTER
by Andrius Kulikauskas
On February 14, BBC World Service Outlook presented a 23 minute conversation with Silvia Foti and Grant Gochin about Lithuanian Holocaust perpetrator Jonas Noreika. Silvia Foti, born in Chicago, is the granddaughter of Noreika, and Grant Gochin, born in South Africa, and resident in California, is related to a hundred of his victims in the Šiauliai region. The radio show, “The truth about my ‘hero’ grandfather”, reached about 75 million listeners, a well-informed 1% of humanity.
Global interest is growing as Lithuania’s Genocide Center chooses to defend in court its refusal to reconsider its estimation of Jonas Noreika. In a similar spirit, on February 5, the State Security Department together with the Defense Ministry’s Intelligence and Counterintelligence Department warned in their 2019 National Threat Assessment Report to the Seimas: “Russian officials and subordinate propagandists seek to shape the attitude that only Nazi collaborators and Holocaust-complicit criminals supported the resistance against the Soviet occupation. To compromise the Lithuanian resistance the Kremlin cynically manipulates the Holocaust tragedy to achieve the goals of its history policy.”
See also: Defending History’s take. Evaldas Balčiūnas’s series of articles which brought this issue to the English speaking world starting in 2012. Prof. Pinchos Fridberg’s position that the Noreika issue cannot be about one single plaque in the sea of national glorification. DH’s section on Collaborators Glorified. Illustrations of a number of street names and state plaques that glorify alleged Holocaust collaborators. 2012 reburial with full honors of the 1941 Holocaust collaborator prime minister. More. DH Editor’s academic papers on the wider historical and intellectual background.
The BBC made no mention of the ongoing trial, Gochin vs. Lithuanian Genocide and Resistance Research Centre. The radio show spoke with Silvia (in Chicago) and Grant (in California) as if they were Ambassadors of a truthful, just, brave and loving Lithuania.
Grant Gochin: The sins of the grandfather are not the sins of the granddaughter. And it’s only if she would have supported and encouraged and validated her grandfather that I would even contemplate that there would be any generational guilt. Silvia is her own person and she’s not responsible for what her grandfather did.
Silvia Foti: How many of us know who we are and where we came from? Once you dig into it, you really have to decide, what side of history you want to stand on? And I would like this story to come out so that the truth would come out. What my grandfather did was horrible and he was not the only one.
BBC: And what do you hope to achieve in the future with Grant?
Silvia Foti: I hope that a new reconciliation can occur. I think Lithuania is where Germany was maybe in the 1970s. It is just coming out of the shock of what happened. And so it will take time. But I hope that once it understands what it did, it can recover and move forward. You know, everybody who committed those horrible crimes – they are gone. We are just the descendants now.
BBC: Silvia Foti and Grant Gochin. The Lithuanian government has said that they are committed to raising awareness about this horrible crime against humanity. They said the public’s understanding about the Holocaust has been growing considerably, and they have unequivocally condemned Lithuanians who have participated in the atrocities of the Holocaust.
We share below the full statement, which the Lithuanian Embassy provided to the BBC. It makes a sharp distinction between the Genocide Centre’s policy of exonerating and honoring Noreika, and the Foreign Minister’s call for an end to public commemoration of Noreika. The Lithuanian Embassy also shares Grant Gochin’s desire for historical truth, and provides news about his lawsuit against the Genocide Center.
Indeed, Ambassador for Special Affairs Dainius Junevičius attended the first hearing on January 15. The trial has been reported on the front pages of leading newspapers, the Chicago Tribune and Israel’s Haaretz. The only Lithuanian media to have mentioned the trial are Žemaičių saulutė (in Lithuanian), Obzor (in Russian), the Lithuanian Jewish Community (in English and Russian), and Defending History (in English). Of these, only Defending History sent a team to observe and report on the proceedings, which comprised Evaldas Balčiūnas, Ruta Bloshtein, and Prof. Dovid Katz. It was Mr. Balčiūnas who first brought the Noreika case to the English speaking world in a Defending History piece in 2012. He was subject to years of legal harassment for his articles on a whole series of alleged Holocaust collaborators who are honored by street names, plaques, school and military academies (scroll down to May 2014 to follow the case against him that dragged on for years).
On February 15th, the Vilnius City’s Department of Urban Development responded to this author’s request to Council Member Darius Kuolys that the City foster a public discussion of how Noreika should be viewed. The matter will be taken up by the Commission on Names, Monuments and Plaques, led by Council Member Audronis Imbrasas, a former Vice-Minister of Culture.
In Lithuania, voices for truth and reconciliation include the Vilnius Jewish Community, which organized a discussion on January 14, on the eve of the trial. A subsequent meeting at the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum by the volunteer network Lithuania’s Conscience led to consensus on a draft of 33 demands for Responsibility for Lithuanian Crimes Against Humanity that would represent a 100% change in Lithuanian state policy. These demands include the abandonment of plans to further desecrate Vilnius’s oldest Jewish cemetery with a convention center. Further discussion of how to take responsibility for these crimes will take place in the city of Plungė, the sites of Noreika’s most horrid deeds, on Friday, February 22, 16:15 at the Public Library.
Global interest in this subject is expected to grow even after the ongoing trial is finally completed. Silvia Foti’s book, General Storm: A Memoir of Unmasking a War Criminal will be coming out. The prospects of a movie raise the question of who will play Noreika, Foti, Gochin and the Genocide Center’s steadfast director, Ms. Birutė Teresė Burauskaitė.
The following is the full text of the statement provided on February 14, 2019 by the Lithuanian Embassy to BBC World Service; Mr. Gochin replied to the statement in his Times of Israel blog.
Since the restoration of Lithuania’s independence in 1990, a great deal of academic research has been conducted and public debate held to facilitate an open discussion and to raise better awareness about the Holocaust in Lithuania. The Government of Lithuania attaches great importance to the issue by promoting historical studies, through education, and commemorating the victims of this horrible crime against humanity. Nowadays, the understanding among the general public about the Holocaust in Lithuania has been growing considerably, including the role of the local collaborators with the Nazi regime. The Lithuanian Government has unequivocally condemned those Lithuanians who participated in the atrocities of the Holocaust in the strongest possible terms.
As regards Jonas Noreika, the Lithuanian Genocide and Resistance Research Center, after thorough research by historians, has so far concluded that there is no evidence of his direct involvement in the extermination of Lithuanian Jews. Notably, in 1943 Jonas Noreika was arrested for his disobedience to Nazi orders to create a SS legion in Lithuania, and was imprisoned in Stutthof concentration camp. After its liberation, he returned to Soviet-occupied Lithuania and led the anti-Soviet resistance. Arrested by the Soviets in 1946, he was tried and executed in 1947.
In view of the claims by the Lithuanian Jewish community about Noreika’s involvement in the creation of ghettos, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius has recently called for the removal of the plaque in honour of Jonas Noreika from the Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, where Noreika worked before his arrest by the Soviets. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania believes that until doubts about Noreika’s role during the period of Nazi occupation persist, his public commemoration is not appropriate.
In the meantime, a legal process is taking place in the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court, after a lawsuit against the Genocide and Resistance Research Center was filed by Mr. Gochin. The Lithuanian Government shares Mr. Gochin’s desire to establish the historical truth; however, while awaiting the conclusions of the ongoing legal process, one should refrain from further comments. The first Court hearing of the lawsuit took place on 15 January 2019, the next Court hearing is scheduled for 5 March 2019.
Andrius Kulikauskas is Curator of the online Captain Jonas Noreika Museum and Archive. He appeared in the Vilnius court on January 15th as Mr. Gochin’s personal representative, but will not appear in that role at the upcoming hearing on March 5th. Defending History will be on hand to monitor the proceedings. Dr. Kulikauskas’s writings on these subjects in Defending History can be rapidly accessed on his DH page.