(JTA) — Lithuania’s state historical institute on the Soviet domination of the country defended in court a deceased collaborator with Nazi Germany who is accused of murdering Jews.
The Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania defended Jonas Noreika against the allegations by numerous historians last month in a document submitted to the Vilnius District Administrative Court. The defense was a response to an American activist’s lawsuit against the center for its refusal to facilitate the removal of a plaque honoring Noreika in Vilnius.
“The Center, based on existing historical sources, has numerous times come to the conclusion Noreika had not participated in the mass murder operations against the Jews during the period of German occupation, and not in the Telsiai or Šiauliai districts,” the Center’s lawyer, Kristina Cerednickenkaite, told the court in the defense against the lawsuit filed this year by activist Grant Gochin from Los Angeles.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center for years has argued that Noreika, whom many consider a hero in Lithuania because he was killed while being held by Soviet authorities, became a mass murderer after his appointment in 1941 as head of Siauliai County under the German Nazi occupation.
Silvia Foti, a granddaughter of Noreika who lives in Chicago, has written a soon-to-be-published book based on years of independent research that she says confirms the allegations.
In August, the Jewish Community of Lithuania said in a statement that the plaque honoring him on a central wall of the library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences in central Vilnius must be removed because “Noreika was a direct and enthusiastic participant in perpetrating the Holocaust in Lithuania,” the community said.
Vilnius officials have declined to remove the plaque, saying they will defer to the state museum’s decision.
In September, amid growing international attention for Foti’s findings, Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius urged authorities to remove the plaque – the first such call by a senior Lithuanian official on any of the country’s numerous monuments celebrating killers of Jews.
Gochin, a South Africa native whose relative perished in the Holocaust in Lithuania and who has mounted multiple lawsuits against the glorification of their killers, said the defense is “shocking.”
“I had never heard of an EU government going to court to defend a Nazi,” he told JTA.
The center in its defense said that Noreika fell from grace with the Germans. It also suggested that Noreika helped save Jews from the Holocaust rather than help kill them. It called Foti’s research and that of Gochin unsubstantiated. The center asked the court to compel Gochin to pay the center’s legal costs.