Two important events of significance to the cause of historical justice took place in Lithuania last week: the alley named after Nazi ideologue Kazys Škirpa was renamed Tricolor Alley and a plaque commemorating Jonas Noreika was taken down.
The Vilnius city council voted to rename Škirpa Alley Tricolor Alley July 24. The Lithuanian Jewish Community has been calling for this change for many years.
Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky personally thanked Vilnius mayor Remigijui Šimašius and members of the city council for supporting the measure to change the name of Škirpa Alley to Tricolor Alley. The mayor delivered a compelling and inspiring speech before the vote which led to the favorable outcome. The Lithuanian Jewish Community also thanks all the many politicians and historians who showed leadership and adopted the reasonable position which doesn’t offend Jews domestically and abroad.
Dyed-in-the-wool nationalists opposed the decision, picketed city hall and tried to disrupt the proceedings.
In the early morning of Saturday, July 27, a plaque commemorating Jonas Noreika was removed from the outer wall of the library of the Academy of Sciences in Vilnius. This removal was of special significance to a number of Lithuanian Jews, including chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community Faina Kukliansky, who remarked: “My family was imprisoned in the ghetto Jonas Noreika established.” Jonas Noreika held the rank of captain and helped implement the Nazis’ final solution as the head of the Šiauliai region in northwest Lithuania and in the Lithuanian town of Telšiai. He lived in a house there seized from Jews who were murdered, according to his granddaughter Silvia Foti and surviving historical records. The official state-funded Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania has consistently defended Noreika despite his documented role as Holocaust perpetrator and has claimed he didn’t personally shoot any Jews, he only seized their property and imprisoned them in ghettos.
Although Lithuania has been a member of NATO and the EU for some 15 years now, courage was required to make these decisions, as well as a knowledge of history. A year ago Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius also called for the removal of the plaque commemorating Noreika, saying undisputed documents demonstrated he had collaborated with the Nazis.
While the protests of recalcitrant ultra-nationalists don’t surprise the Jewish community, it was surprising to see young leader of the Lithuanian Conservative Party Gabrielius Landsbergis also criticizing the removal of the Noreika plaque.
LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky expressed strong support for the move by the mayor of Vilnius, saying that in light of the amount of damage Noreika had caused the Jews of Lithuania “common sense, ethics and historical justice do not allow this sort of person to be honored with a commemorative plaque. I judge this decision positively, but it would have been much better if it didn’t have to be taken down at night, that it could be done openly without fear of people who don’t understand what happened in World War II, who don’t understand why [Noreika] shouldn’t be honored by building monuments to him, despite his struggle for Lithuanian independence, which we have never disputed.”
Mayor Šimašius said he made the decision because, despite Noreika’s efforts in the struggle against Lithuania’s enemies, “he acted unjustifiably, accepting the responsibility placed upon him by the occupation regime for isolating Jews and confiscating their property, thus contributing to conditions for the occupational regime to murder them later.”
The Holocaust wasn’t discussed in Soviet Lithuania for many decades. Now that Lithuania is an EU and NATO member there is a more open discussion of Holocaust crimes, but in many cases the role of Lithuanian perpetrators is being justified and whitewashed.
The Lithuanian parliament adopted a resolution naming 2020 the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak History to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Gaon, Elijah ben Solomon Zalman.
Following the recent moves in Vilnius, the LJC has been monitoring comments by readers on websites carrying these stories. After reading hundreds of ignorant and rude comments where readers share their opinion of Jews and the Holocaust, the Jewish community is beginning to wonder whether the Lithuanian public is mature enough to celebrate a Year of Jewish History.
Honoring people who indisputably did play a role in the genocide of Lithuanian citizens with commemorative plaques and so on makes no sense to the Lithuanian Jewish Community and appears to us to be nothing more than taunting those who suffered the most in Lithuania during World War II, namely, the Jewish people.
Three years ago on March 19, 2016, the International Commission to Assess the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes in Lithuania and that organization’s Holocaust Research Subcommittee adopted a statement on those who collaborated in Holocaust crimes and other crimes instigated by the Nazis, saying: “The subcommittee condemns the honoring in public spaces of people for whom there is reliable historical evidence that they participated in Nazi-occupied Lithuania in the persecution and/or murder of Jews and other people, without regard to other activities by these people at that time or later.” Also condemned was the state-funded Center for the Research of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania which has been granted a monopoly on deciding officially who was or is an enemy and who was or is a hero, which documents are reliable and true and which documents are false. This Center appears to be led by no one in particular and there is no rotation in its post of nominal director. This Center has attempted numerous times to defend Noreika’s actions, presenting arguments intended to justify him and vaguely explaining how his actions were not of significance in the Holocaust in Lithuania, often times insulting the memory of the victims and those few who survived the extermination of Lithuanian Jewry.
Noreika issued orders to send the Jews of the region to ghettos and to steal their property on August 22 and September 10, 1941, in line with orders he seems to have received from Šiauliai military district commander Hans Gewecke. Noreika went further and issued additional and more detailed orders. Almost all of those seized under these orders by Noreika were murdered in the summer and fall of 1941 in mass murder operations, the bloodiest page in the history of Lithuania. This is the reality and this history is based on undisputed, documented evidence. If this is not collaboration in the genocide of Lithuanian citizens, then what is?