(JTA) — Leaders of Lithuania’s Jewish community have asked authorities in Vilnius to remove a plaque honoring an anti-Soviet fighter whose granddaughter said killed Jews.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community last week posted on its website a statement calling for the removal of the plaque for Jonas Noreika that is displayed prominently on a central wall of the library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences in central Vilnius.
“We are asking for the plaque to Noreika to be taken down before the Lithuanian Day of Remembrance of Jewish Victims of Genocide on September 23,” the statement read. It said “information has come to our attention demonstrating Noreika was a direct and enthusiastic participant in perpetrating the Holocaust in Lithuania.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center for years has maintained that Noreika, who died in 1947 while he was held prisoner by Russian authorities, was a war criminal. But he has enjoyed a hero status in Lithuania, where a school has been named for him and where then-President Vytautas Landsbergis attended his funeral in 2000.
The community statement follows the publication last month of an investigation by Noreika’s Chicago-born granddaughter, Silvia Foti, who is a writer and journalist.
Foti researched her grandfather’s history for a biography that her mother, Noreika’s daughter, asked her to write about him. She published her conclusions on July 14 on the website Salon in an article titled “My grandfather wasn’t a Nazi-fighting war hero — he was a brutal collaborator.”
She traces her discovery that her grandfather, who in 1941 became the head of Siauliai County under the German Nazi occupation, moved into the home of a Jewish family after its members had been killed, presumably at his order.
Simon Dovidavičius, a local historian specializing in the study of the Holocaust, told Foti that her grandfather, as captain, taught his Lithuanian soldiers how to exterminate Jews efficiently: How to sequester them, march them into the woods, force them to dig their own graves and shove them into pits after shooting them.
“My grandfather was a master educator,” she wrote.
Within three weeks, 2,000 Jews had been killed in Plungė, half the town’s population, “and where my grandfather led the uprising,” she wrote. “By the end of the trip I came to believe that my grandfather must have sanctioned the murders of 2,000 Jews in Plungė, 5,500 Jews in Šiauliai and 7,000 in Telšiai.”