For the past eight years I have been fighting a protracted legal battle to remove honors awarded to Lithuania’s Nazi collaborators like Jonas Noreika and prevent their glorification. I consider it my moral responsibility to be a voice – sometimes a lonely one – for truth in Lithuania with regard to the Holocaust, which devastated my family along with the families of the 200,000+ Jews that were murdered at the hands of Lithuanians like Noreika and their Nazi enablers.
As head of the country’s Šiauliai district during the Nazi occupation, after his predecessor resigned for “humanitarian reasons,” Noreika signed off on the ghettoization and dispossession of the district’s Jews. Hundreds were murdered during the round-up for no other reason than their Jewishness, making clear the ultimate intention of being placed into a ghetto. Almost all of the rest were slaughtered subsequently by Lithuanians and a small number of Nazis. Vast numbers of Lithuanians celebrated the sharing of Jewish plunder.
Lithuania has an official, government-funded Genocide and Resistance Research Center whose task, as far as I can tell, is to come up with every possible justification, excuse and exculpatory evidence, however flimsy, for Nazi sympathizers and collaborators like Noreika, especially if they were anti-Soviet activists at some point. The Center has long been trying to deny voluminous evidence that Noreika was aware of the role he was playing as a Nazi collaborator, given the monster was awarded Lithuania’s highest honor – the Vytis Cross – by Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas in 1997.
Under pressure from historians, his own granddaughter, and myself, to revise its favorable evaluation of Noreika, the Center recently doubled down and published a declaration that went even further. Based on the statement of a sole witness – a priest who was an intimate family friend and a defender of Noreika – the Center declared that Noreika, while working for Lithuania’s pro-Nazi Provisional Government and Nazi occupying authorities, had been secretly rescuing Jews.
While some such cases are known, they require extensive research to establish. None of the rescued have identified themselves and there are abundant reasons to doubt the priest’s testimony. For the government-appointed head of an official, government-funded research center whose job is to thoroughly investigate such matters to run to the media and declare Noreika to be a rescuer, as the Center’s long-serving director Terese Burauskaite recently did, is irresponsible, to say the least. It also reveals the massive bias as well as blatant disregard for historical methodology at the heart of the Center’s work, as multiple Lithuanian scholars have pointed out.
The ordinary way to address such improprieties is by appeal to the system of courts designed to address administrative malpractice. So I had my lawyer file such a case in 2018 with the Lithuanian Administrative Court. The case made its way up the chain of courts – each of them finding one technicality or another on the basis of which to refuse to investigate the matter. Burauskaite, meanwhile, blatantly lied to the media, claiming the courts had determined that the Center’s conclusions were perfectly in line with historical methodology. Eventually the case made its way to the Supreme Administrative Court. There the farcical nature of Lithuania’s legal system when it comes to addressing topics like Nazi collaboration was on full and appalling display.
The Supreme Administrative Court turned the case into a mockery. Requesting that arguments and evidence be submitted by April 1, the Court had a decision on the very same day, dismissing the case and declaring that the topic of the lawsuit was “legally irrelevant”. As should be obvious to any sensible person, there was no way the Court could have given any consideration to the arguments and evidence so quickly (Lithuanian courts are notoriously slow). In fact, a decision was due only in August. But it turns out Lithuanian courts can move with remarkable speed when they see a cynical opportunity to take advantage of a global pandemic and, while people are distracted, issue a Supreme Court legal determination that murder of Jews, for them, is “legally irrelevant”.
Right on cue, the Genocide Center declared the Court to have sided with its interpretation of Noreika’s biography (though it did no such thing), allowing Lithuania to bandy the decision about as if the Administrative Court had done what historical researchers could not – prove that Noreika is a hero even to the Jews he robbed, imprisoned and murdered.
Perhaps these minor “victories” are what Lithuania’s powers think they need to maintain their facade. But internationally, Lithuania now finds itself in an increasingly awkward and untenable position. An official government agency that is supposed to research Soviet- and Nazi-era crimes now has a court decision that basically declares its research and historical evidence “legally irrelevant”. What this spells for the Lithuanian government’s attempts to obtain compensation from Russia for Soviet-era crimes and damages is an interesting question. Is such historical evidence also “legally irrelevant”? Has the Lithuanian government given the implications of this any serious thought? If so, why would it allow its own agency to weaken its moral and legal case about the devastation caused by Nazi and Soviet occupations? What is so critically important about Noreika that would justify such absurd contortions and self-harm?
Just one week after declaring historical accuracy to be “legally irrelevant”, other departments of the Lithuanian government and the Lithuanian Parliament were declaring the opposite. Clearly, it is only the murder of Jews by Lithuanians that they find “legally irrelevant”.
All of these proceedings were completely predictable in a country where truth about history is a political tool and truth about Holocaust perpetrators is considered a National Threat.
The proceedings are however really only a prelude. The main event will be a case I intend to file in the European Court of Human Rights. Before doing so, my plan is to exhaust every available legal avenue in Lithuania. I am giving the Lithuanian government every chance to change course and, for once, do the right thing. So far, it has only clung to its increasingly absurd and untenable position. In the end, all of the lies, legal evasions, cherry-picked evidence and twisted interpretations will be gathered up into one case and submitted for review by an outside judicial body, independent of Lithuanian interests.
My sincere hope is that all of this, in due course, will result in an outcome that will put an end to these absurdities and the mockery of truth and justice that the Lithuanian government has perpetrated.
As we enter the eight days of Passover, we remember the Jewish slaves of Pharaoh 3,500 years ago, where Pharaoh had an economic interest in keeping the slaves alive. In Lithuania, they just slaughtered, and now the entirety of the State, Parliament, Government and Courts have joined together to define the murder of over 200,000 Jews 75 years ago as “legally irrelevant”.
In the end, the truth will win out…and all of us, including Lithuania, will be better for it.