In conversations with Lithuanians about my grandfather, I have heard his defenders claim that Lithuanian courts have found Jonas Noreika innocent of any involvement in the Holocaust, that the matter has already been settled, and there is no need for any further discussion.
Unfortunately, this is not true, and this blog is an attempt to set the record straight.
Lithuanian courts have skirted the entire issue by dismissing evidence showing Noreika’s involvement in the Holocaust, stating that it was not their role to make a ruling for or against the Genocide Center’s views. This leaves the entire matter wide open for further discussion.
Rokas Rudzinskas is the lawyer from Vilnius who litigated all nine rounds during a period of five years on behalf of Grant Gochin, a Litvak from California who lost more than 100 relatives in the Holocaust, many of them under the jurisdiction of Jonas Noreika.
“The courts never analyzed the historical data on Noreika,” Rudzinskas said. “They never declared him innocent.”
It all started when the Genocide Resistance and Research Center issued a formal finding of fact, known as a memorandum, on Noreika in 2016, declaring him innocent of Holocaust crimes and affirming his hero status in historiography.
Gochin sought to have the Genocide Center review its memorandum in June 2018, saying that it minimized and distorted Noreika’s participation in Nazi crimes against Lithuanians, particularly Lithuanian Jews.
The Genocide Center refused to review its memorandum.
Undeterred, in August 2018, Gochin asked the Vilnius regional administrative court to oblige the Genocide Center to review and change its position on Noreika because its favorable position, declaring him a hero of the nation, constituted Holocaust denial.
The administrative court dismissed the complaint.
Undiscouraged, Gochin appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court.
The Supreme Administrative Court said the Genocide Center’s memorandum on Noreika is not subject to the jurisdiction of the administrative courts.
“To say the courts exonerated Noreika is absolutely untrue,” Rudzinskas said. “It tried to avoid the sensitive questions. They are afraid to take a stand against the Genocide Center, which is a general administrative problem in Lithuania.”
While Gochin was still in court fighting the Genocide Center’s first memorandum on Noreika, the Genocide Center issued a second memorandum in December 2019, alleging that Noreika led a network that rescued Jews in his district.
These findings were based on the testimony of Father Jonas Borevičius, a priest who lived in Šiauliai during the Holocaust years of 1941-1944, and who was a close friend of the Noreika family. Father Borevičius was called as a witness in the case United States vs. Antanas Virkutis, who worked as a prison warden of the Šiauliai prison during the Holocaust years.
Father Borevičius appeared in an Illinois district court in Chicago in 1986 to help defend Virkutis, who, it must be noted, lost the case.
Lithuanians commonly testified for each other’s innocence on Holocaust crimes, and so Father Borevičius randomly brought up my grandfather as part of his testimony on Virkutis. (Lithuanians resort to using this tactic in defending other Lithuanians. If a friend is innocent, then the accused must be innocent as well.)
The transcript is 153 pages long and is overwhelmingly focused on Virkutis, but three pages are allotted to Father Borevičius’s recollection of Jonas Noreika. It is upon this scant and unbidden testimony, 45 years after the fact, that the Genocide Center based its second memorandum. No other sources confirm Father Borevičius’s testimony.
It should be noted that Yad Vashem has not recognized Father Jonas Borevičius as a Righteous Gentile, presumably because he could not be linked to any names of rescued Jews.
“In the case of this second memorandum, even Lithuanian historians said the methodology was so bad they wouldn’t accept it from one of their students,” Rudzinskas said. “This second memorandum was absolutely unprofessional.”
In January 2020, Gochin asked the Genocide Center to revoke the second memorandum.
The Genocide Center dismissed Gochin’s request.
Digging his heels in, Gochin brought his complaint to the Vilnius regional administrative court in March 2020.
The Vilnius Regional Administrative court dismissed it, concluding it didn’t impact Gochin’s rights or responsibilities.
More resolute than ever, in May 2020, Gochin appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court.
The Supreme Administrative Court skirted the entire issue by claiming the Genocide Center’s memorandums are outside its jurisdiction.
Gochin searched far and wide throughout Lithuania to find a court that might include the Genocide Center in its jurisdiction. With some hope, Gochin brought the case to the Lithuanian civil court, alleging the Genocide Center caused him psychological damage by publishing the two memorandums, and that they were in breach of Lithuanian law on public information.
The Regional Court said it was outside of its jurisdiction.
Now fully understanding how Lithuania’s courts work and not expecting a positive outcome, Gochin appealed, stating that this was a denial of the Holocaust and it breached the rights of the Jewish community and its members.
The Appeals court dismissed the claim, stating that Gochin failed to identify which of his rights were violated.
By this point, Gochin’s strategy was to put on public record how Lithuanian courts have consistently fumbled this case from start to finish. Gochin brought it to the Supreme Court on August 18, 2020.
The Supreme Court denied review.
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“It was linguistic acrobatics,” Rudzinskas said. “The courts did not analyze the content of the primary documents, the memorandums. The courts never said they were correct or incorrect. They never went into any details. The problem is the Genocide Center has the last word in Lithuania. Not even the courts dared to dig into the Genocide Center’s findings.”
Gochin took the case against the Genocide Center’s memorandums that declared Jonas Noreika a hero, to every imaginable court in Lithuania. To avoid a confrontation with the Genocide Center, each court passed the case like a nuclear hot potato, demonstrating a lack of will and courage to settle the matter once and for all.
As a result, the Lithuanian public has grossly mistaken these nine rounds of litigation as an exoneration of Noreika.
The reason is that the rest of Lithuania bows to the feet of the Genocide Center, which apparently has been given the only word on history and memory.
Outside of Lithuania, Noreika is not seen as a hero, and his role in the Holocaust continues to provide plenty of material for a heated discussion.
Gochin did all this without the assistance of any organization and entirely at his own expense. He said he this because apparently nobody else in the world was willing to fight Lithuania’s Holocaust deceptions, and because he could not abide the insult to the victims of the Holocaust, nor to his own family.
In related news . . .
- J’Accuse, the film based on my book Storm in the Land of Rain, has been translated into Lithuanian and will stream in Lithuania for one day on Monday, April 17, through 15min.lt
- J’Accuse will be featured in Israel during Yom Hashoah.
- Baltic Truth will be broadcast on public Israel television on Yom Hashoah.
- I have been invited to speak to Lithuanian teachers through the Olga Lengyal Institute the week of June 19, 2023.
- I will spend a week in Warsaw and Krakow discussing my book translated in Polish the week of June 26, 2023.
- Michael Kretzmer, Grant Gochin, and I will be touring Australia to answer questions and discuss Holocaust denial and prevention to audiences interested in seeing J’Accuse and reading Storm in the Land of Rain July 10-26, 2023.
Wishing you truth and peace in the storms of your life,
Silvia Foti, granddaughter of Jonas Noreika, General Storm