The journey of Julius Norwilla (Norvila) comprises the dynamic persona of: a child in Soviet-era Kaunas; a young intellectual dissident (of religious persuasion) in the waning days of the Soviet Union; theology student at Tallinn and Oxford; Protestant pastor in Vilnius; champion of all the minority people and cultures in Lithuania; love of the Lithuanian Jewish heritage and standing up against state efforts to manipulate that heritage and its history; intense study of Yiddish; combating Holocaust obfuscation and public worship of Holocaust participants (including peaceful, dignified protest at, and photo documentation of, each neo-Nazi march over many years); central figure in the movement to preserve Jewish cemeteries and mass graves; beloved teacher; and — through it all a rare paragon of personal steadfastness, loyalty, and integrity, equally unshakeable by offers of largesse, mammon, and career glories from one side or — by threats of personal and career destruction from the other. Such incentives sometimes come into play in the context of campaigns of defamation and personal destruction of colleagues; here is a human being who would never touch such tactics with a bargepole. Verily, such steadfastness and integrity is a rarefied trait when it comes to painful Jewish issues and history in the Baltics. All in the face of major powers and forces in a part of the world where respect for free speech and diversity of views continues to be a work in progress or, not infrequently, a public relations illusion. For close to a decade: author at Defending History.
In the decade since Evaldas Balčiūnas began informing the English-speaking world, in a series of articles in Defending History, of the details, scope, and pain of his own country pursuing a state policy of glorifying Holocaust collaborators and perpetrators, the phenomenon has moved from local shadows to the bright lights of open and free debate across the democratic world. His 2012 exposé of Holocaust perpetrator Jonas Noreika ultimately led to the publication in America of a bold new book, The Nazi’s Granddaughter by Sylvia Foti. But back here in Lithuania, Evaldas was lugged into court for years and years on kangaroo charges and harassed extensively. The Defending History team was there at each hearing to provide moral support. The day will surely come when Evaldas Balčiūnas — journalist, educator, rebel, author, and historian — will be honored by Jewish and Holocaust history and remembrance groups internationally, by humanists everywhere, and last but not least, by his own country, as its fearless grand ethicist of the earlier twenty-first century.
In 2011, when our small Defending History team headed out (as we did each year) to Kaunas to monitor and document the 2011 neo-nazi city center march, an event that glorified Holocaust collaborators, we went for a coffee after the event. There, our mentor who never missed a march before his final illness, Milan Chersonski (1937–2021), the longtime Vilnius Yiddish theatre director and editor for some dozen years of the Lithuanian Jewish community’s quadrilingual newspaper, Jerusalem of Lithuania, told us (in Yiddish, of course): “Look, there is one young Lithuanian who has more courage than the rest of the country combined. He has been writing articles on the tragedy of his country’s government organs glorifying Holocaust collaborators in the public space. And unlike others, he’ll be happy for Defending History to publish them in English translation. Trust me, his articles are more important that all of ours that come from Jewish pens.”
Posted in Bold Citizens Speak Out, Collaborators Glorified, Defending History's Person of the Year, Evaldas Balčiūnas, Free Speech & Democracy, History, Lithuania, Litvak Affairs, News & Views
Tagged Defending History Person of the Year, Evaldas Balciunas, Holocaust in Lithuania, Lithuanian Holocaust