VILNIUS—Coronavirus or not, Vilnius’s Supreme Administrative Court yesterday issued its dismissal of the appeal against an earlier court ruling that effectively codified in Lithuanian law the conclusion that Holocaust collaborator Jonas Noreika is indeed a national hero. The Noreika saga reached the English speaking world in 2012, when Evaldas Balčiūnas’s article appeared in Defending History. Mr. Balčiūnas followed up with articles on other perpetrators glorified by the state, and was harassed by years of kangaroo prosecutions (scroll down to May 2014, further articles following). Thereafter, challenges were mounted both here and abroad to state-sponsored glorification, in a NATO/EU state, of a proven Holocaust collaborator. These have included Californian-resident wealth adviser Grant Gochin, Vilnius-resident Lithuanian-American scholar Dr. Andrius Kulikauskas, who curates a website on the subject, and, most sensationally, Noreika’s own American-born grandsaughter, the Chicago-based author and educator Silvia Foti, whose 2018 article in Salon led to international media coverage and work on a feature film project.
The current court ruling was in response to the case brought by Mr. Gochin, many of whose relatives perished in the part of Lithuania where Noreika operated, and for which the research was done by Dr. Kulikauskas and Mr. Balčiūnas. Last spring, the case resulted in the government-sponsored Genocide Center issuing a far-right Holocaust revisionist manifesto.
After a central Vilnius plaque on the prestigious Library of Sciences Building, glorifying Noreika, was smashed by a maverick politician a year ago, on 8 April 2019, it was pieced together and replaced, then taken down by the mayor of Vilnius in a bold move against his country’s Nazi-glorifiers. But before long a new “and better” plaque was put up and stands today.
Defending History issued a brief statement: “Coming, as it does, contemporaneously with the Defense Ministry’s online adulation of Holocaust advocate K. Škirpa, and the state bank’s renewed determination to site a national convention center in the heart of the old Vilna Jewich cemetery, the appeal court’s decision on Holocaust collaborator J. Noreika makes for a chilling low point in modern Lithuania’s history. The fine people of Lithuania deserve much better than for their state institutions to be abusing hard-earned taxpayer euros to glorify collaborators in a pathetic attempt to rewrite the Holocaust into part of a bizarre new far-right model of Double Genocide.”
Yesterday’s court decision has been widely flaunted, without substantive counterarguments, on Lithuania’s major news portals, including Alkas.lt, Diena.lt, Delfi.lt, Lrt.lt (in English), among others. The Genocide Center itself features a gloating front-page victory lap but, it seems, only in the Lithuanian language version (as PDF); would it be bad for PR to the outside world on the English version? Most of these reports carry a “handsome portrait” of Noreika as the lead image, but the traditionally antisemitic Respublika goes triumphantly with the scales of justice and a judge’s gavel.
Observers here see the appeal court’s decision in favor of glorification of a Holocaust perpetrator as part of a new drive by government and academic elites in Lithuania. Last autumn, the nation’s new elected president called for a moratorium on discussion after the new Noreika plaque was affixed. And, early this year, the Ministry of Defense’s official magazine Karys (The Warrior) carried a front page photo and article glorifying Kazys Škirpa, one of the major advocates of the ethnic cleansing of Lithuania’s Jewish citizens in 1941. Remarkably, for some, the Defense Ministry’s website still carries the page advertising the issue, with no comment or disclaimer from the defense minister or others.
Meanwhile, the international debate on the siting of a new national convention center in the heart of the old Vilna Jewish cemetery continues to rage.