Posted on May 20, 2020
On Tuesday evening the City Council of Beverly Hills, California, a community with a long and proud record of fighting anti-Semitism, unanimously passed a declaration condemning the glorification by the government of Lithuania of individuals who were responsible for the ghettoisation of subsequent massacre of 95% of the country's more than 200,000 Jews in 1941.
In January of this year a parliamentary committee set to work drafting legislation declaring that neither the Baltic nation nor its leaders participated in the Holocaust.
As part of this revision of history the government is actively engaged in justification of the acts of Nazi collaborators, thus cleansing the past of embarrassing and inconvenient truths.
In particular, Jonas Noreika (1910-47), is, and indeed has been for some time, selectively presented as an, "anti-Soviet" partisan: a man executed by the much loathed Soviet occupiers. In Lithuania there are currently numerous memorials to him.
The full story of Jonas Noreika, however, is somewhat different to the official version of events. He was to serve as Head of Šiauliai District of Lithuania, where he was to oversee mass murder and theft, and the virtual liquidation of the Jewish population.
Instrumental in the ghettoisation of Lithuania's Jews, he was also responsible for the "administration" of seized property. On September 10th 1941 he issued a letter titled “Orders for the Liquidation of Tangible Property of Jews and Communists” which was sent to district aldermen and burgermeisters.
Noreika and his family were to personally benefit from this, as they moved into property owned by the prominent Orlianskis family.
Noreika's anti-Semitism pre-dates the Nazi occupation. As a young man in 1933 he published a pamphlet titled Hold Your Head High, Lithuanian, which called for a total economic boycott of Lithuanian Jews on nationalistic grounds. This was not an isolated case: in 1939 he was openly praising the leadership style of Adolf Hitler.
Noreika may have been just one of many, but he was certainly the most prominent of Lithuania's Nazi collaborators.
The state-sponsored Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Lithuania is currently active in the rehabilitation of Noreika's reputation.
At a time of rising antisemitism across the globe, and growing popularity of neo-Nazi movements – including in Lithuania and among its Baltic neighbors – it is more important than ever that we maintain a clear-minded awareness and memory of the Holocaust, and to educate the younger generation about the horrors of xenophobia, antisemitism, and blind hatred. By diluting and misconstruing the facts to fit a certain narrative, the door remains open for atrocities such as the Holocaust to happen again.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has described Lithuania's proposed legislation as being the "final stage of a long attempt to whitewash massive complicity by Lithuanians" in the mass murder of the country’s Jews
Today, the country is home to a Jewish population believed to number around just 5,000. Last year, coincidental with the Center-led debate about the honouring of the country's Nazi-collaborators, the one remaining synagogue Vilnius was temporarily closed along with the Jewish community headquarters.
Amongst those leading the call for the Lithuanian government - which in in 1997 awarded to Noreika Lithuania’s highest honour – the Vytis Cross - to reconsider its position regarding the glorification of its war criminals is Grant Gochin, a South-African born Jew of Lithuanian descent, currently living in the USA who has initiated a lawsuit against the Center.
Having learned of the facts from his grandfather, he set out to hold the government to account, and to put the record straight. In this, a man whose own family lost around 100 souls during the Holocaust has found a seemingly unlikely ally - Silvia Foti, the granddaughter of Jonas Noreika himself. "After almost two decades of personal research, I have arrived at the same conclusion as Grant Arthur Gochin concerning my grandfather Jonas Noreika’s actions during World War II. I found incontrovertible evidence by way of historical documents and witnesses who have told me that Jonas Noreika ordered the slaughter of Jewish Lithuanian citizens. It is painful for me, but I am prepared to talk about my findings."
On Tuesday the City Council of Beverly Hills acknowledged Gochin's efforts, saying "This resolution aligns with the City’s history of condemning anti-Semitic behaviour and with the recent support of Mr. Gochin’s work in fighting Holocaust revisionism."
Speaking to EU Today immediately after the vote, he said "Lithuania remains one of the last countries to promulgate holocaust distortion; however today, we reach a milestone. The worlds capital of media and business has officially condemned Lithuania’s continual revisionism. Perhaps this will finally alert the world to the truth. I ask for nothing more".
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