OPINION | J. NOREIKA | COLLABORATOR GLORIFICATION | VILNIUS: 700 YEARS CELEBRATION
by Mark Blumberg (Tel Aviv)
Lithuanian media has recently reported on the “temporary removal for repairs” of one of the numerous public-space state-sanctioned memorials glorifying local Holocaust collaborators in Vilnius, the nation’s capital. It is the notorious Noreika plaque, affixed to the Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences. It is situated a few minutes walk from Cathedral Square in the very heart of the EU member capital city that was once known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania for its extraordinary Jewish cultural and scholarly creativity.
The plaque, with its incorporated bas-relief sculpture glorifies Jonas Noreika, a brutal Hitler collaborator implicated in the incarceration, humiliation and genocide of many thousands of Jews in northwestern Lithuania during the Holocaust. Noreika is subject of the truth-telling book of the war criminal’s own granddaughter, American educator and author Silvia Foti, recent documentary films, and over a decade of campaigning by the Defending History team based in Vilnius. In Lithuania, 96.4% of Jewish citizens perished in the Holocaust, in the top league, along with neighboring Latvia, of Holocaust era Europe.
While so many other Vilnius monuments glorifying other Holocaust criminals remain untouched (and often unmentioned), even during this year’s 700th Anniversary celebrations of the 1323 establishment of Vilna, as does “the other Noreika tablet ” (a marble slab marring the central boulevard, Gedimino Prospect), the plaque on the National Library of Sciences (with the explicit agreement of the library’s directors) has become a cause celebre. The earlier, more modestly produced Noreika plaque was, in 2019, smashed in protest by dissident Stanislovas Tomas, then glued together and put back, then removed by the then mayor in the dead of night. Shortly thereafter, a much “bigger and better” new one was affixed by far-right campaigners in a ceremony tinged with neo-Nazism and antisemitism that led to closure of the Jewish Community for some days (all in 2019; scroll to 2019 in the Noreika section).
It appears to many that the plaque is now temporarily down “for repairs” that “coincidentally” coincide with the NATO summit scheduled for Vilnius this July. In the meantime, the major news portal Delfi.lt. reported on May 2nd that for duration of the “repairs” the plaque was handed over “for safekeeping” not to the library’s storage facilities, but to Pro Patria, one of the country’s far-right ultranationalist groups that regularly idolizes Lithuanian Holocaust collaborators as “national heroes” and “freedom fighters” and causes so much pain to all the country’s minorities.
On public-space monuments to other Holocaust collaborators in Vilnius:
Lev Golinkin in the Forward
Defending History’s 2023 selection
But do the powers that be think that NATO summit visitors and media will not notice all the other shrines to Holocaust collaborators in town? Or, that they will, like idiots, think that it’s all okay because the plaque honoring a participant in the annihilation of the nation’s Jewish citizens during the Holocaust, is down for repairs coinciding with their visit, but heck, coming right back on as soon as the visitors leave and the “repairs are complete”?
Incidentally, what repairs on a solid old brick building would necessitate a plaque to a (true) national hero (like one of the amazing, inspirational Lithuanian Rescuers of 1941?) being placed for safekeeping with a modern neo-nazi aligned group rather than proudly mounted on a nearby wall not currently “under repair”?