2019.07.29 11:01

Vilnius removes plaque for anti-Soviet partisan and accused Nazi collaborator Jonas Noreika

LRT.lt2019.07.29 11:01

A memorial plaque to Jonas Noreika, a controversial WW2 anti-Soviet resistance fighter and accused Nazi collaborator, was removed from a building in central Vilnius over the weekend. The move was greeted by the Lithuanian Jewish Community, but also provoked a protest from Noreika's supporters.

The stone plate was removed from the façade of the Academy of Science Library in the early hours of Saturday on the orders of Vilnius City Municipality.

Earlier in the week, the city decided to rename a street named after another controversial figure, Lithuanian interwar diplomat Kazys Škirpa, due to his anti-Semitic views.

Read more: Despite protests, Vilnius renames street dedicated to Škirpa 'who promoted Holocaust'

Jonas Noreika, also known by his nom de guerre General Storm (Generolas Vėtra), has been accused of collaborating with the Nazis and playing a role in ghettoizing Lithuania's Jewish citizens. Meanwhile his defenders maintain that he contributed to the fight for Lithuania's independence and later joined the anti-Nazi resistance.

“Vilnius, an open city, must not have signs of respect for collaborators of totalitarian regimes,” Aleksandras Zubriakovas, an adviser to Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius, has explained the decision. “We know that General Noreika played a role in the so-called expulsion of Jews from Lithuania strategy, confiscation of their property.”

The leader of the Lithuanian Jewish Community has called the move “historic justice”.

“I personally and our entire Jewish community see this as an achievement of historic justice, I am proud of my country Lithuania for getting rid of some of the dark stains in its history,” Faina Kukliansky told LRT TV.

About a dozen people protested the removal of the memorial plaque on Saturday evening. One of the protesters, Sakalas Gorodeckis, told BNS that “the current mayor of Vilnius once again spit in the face of the historical memory of Vilnius. He got emboldened after the decision to rename Kazys Škirpa Alley which has not even come into force yet".

He also criticized the fact that the plate was taken down at night, saying it was done in order to avoid public reaction.

Jonas Noreika was a military officer in interwar Lithuania. In the wake of the Soviet occupation in 1940, Noreika joined the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) which organized an anti-Soviet uprising and sought to establish a provisional government when the Nazis pushed out the Russians in 1941.

Noreika was appointed chief of Šiauliai District, where he signed documents under Nazi orders establishing a Jewish ghetto in Žagarė, where 2,236 people were later killed.

Noreika was subsequently arrested by the Nazis and sent to Stutthof concentration camp, but when the Soviets recaptured Lithuania, he joined the anti-Soviet resistance, was arrested in 1946 and executed the following year.

Read more: National hero and Nazi collaborator: WW2 leader divides opinion

Read more: Why does Lithuanian post-war partisan leader remain a global controversy?

The plaque on the Academy of Science Library was smashed earlier this year by an activist-politician Stanislovas Tomas. He received a fine for his action. The city authorities restored the plate, saying its future would be decided in consultation with historians.

After the latest removal, the Noreika plaque has been placed in storage next to Soviet-era statues that were taken down by Mayor Šimašius from the Green Bridge in central Vilnius several years ago.