(JTA) — Following years of protests, the city council of Vilnius in Lithuania voted to rename a street honoring a Nazi collaborator accused of inspiring Holocaust-era murders.
During Wednesday’s vote, which passed 21-16, a handful nationalist protesters picketed city hall in defense of keeping the name Kazio Skirpos Street. Mayor Remigijus Simasius said he was pleased with the result.
In “a city that is open and respectful to all people, we can’t display extraordinary signs of respect to someone” like Kazys Skirpa, the mayor said.
During World War II, Skirpa served as the envoy to Berlin of the pro-Nazi Lithuanian movement. He said then: “Let’s take the opportunity to get rid of all Jews and create an oppressive atmosphere so that they wouldn’t even think they could have rights in Lithuania.”
The nonprofit and website Defending History, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center had lobbied for years to have the street renamed.
Lithuania’s Genocide and Resistance Research Center said that Skirpa “elevated anti-Semitism to a political level” that “could have encouraged a portion of Lithuania’s residents to get involved in the Holocaust.” But Skirpa favored expulsion, not genocide, the center said in a 2015 position paper. It ultimately defended Skirpa for the gravest allegations against him.
The center is currently defending in court another Nazi collaborator, Jonas Noreika. Grant Gochin, a Jewish-American citizen of Lithuanian descent, has petitioned the judiciary to order the removal of a plaque for Noreika from the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences.