US Jewish organisation Rambam Mesivta has called for a protest in front of the Lithuanian consulate in New York on May 2, the Holocaust Memorial Day.
Silvia Foti, granddaughter of Jonas Noreika, has also urged Lithuania “to remove all honors awarded to my Grandfather”, and called on Lithuanians to sign a petition.
The protest on May 2 is due to start at 13:00 local time (20:00 Lithuanian time), and according to a press release by Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman, around “200 students from Rambam Mesivta high school will be rallying outside the Lithuanian consulate” to protest “Lithuania's continued Holocaust distortion”.
Rambam organisation runs an accredited, religious Jewish school in the US, established in 1991.
Its headmaster, Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman, has previously staged protests with his students in front of Polish embassy in the US, and has also encouraged his students to enlist in the Israeli Defence Forces.
Silvia Foti, Jonas Noreika granddaughter, published a controversial article on an US-based outlet Salon.com in July, 2018, claiming “My grandfather wasn't a Nazi-fighting war hero – he was a brutal collaborator”.
The publication subsequently reignited the debate on Holocaust legacy in Lithuania, which continues to be a controversial topic in the country.
Jonas Noreika, otherwise known as General Storm (Generolas Vėtra) is a controversial figure both in Lithuania and abroad.
In the wake of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania 1940, Jonas 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.
As a partisan resistance leader, Noreika has been posthumously awarded state honours and memorialized, despite controversy surrounding his involvement in the Holocaust.
Most recently Stanislovas Tomas, a Lithuanian politician, smashed the plaque commemorating Jonas Noreika in Vilnius in April, 2019. The live-streamed action reignited the debate on Noreika, as well as landed more attention on the otherwise fringe politician’s campaign in the European elections.
This led to Lithuania’s presidential candidates discussing the issue in the run-up to the elections. Ingrida Šimonytė, one of the three front-runners, called for “an honest discussion [...] on what deserves to be evaluated differently”.
The other two leading candidates, Saulius Skvernelis and Gitanas Nausėda, confined their comments to condemning vandalism and calling for historians to issue their verdicts.
In 2015, the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania released a report, stating that “during the German occupation, Jonas Noreika did not take part in operations of mass murder of Jews” and that he was an active member of anti-Nazi resistance.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community condemned the report as “Holocaust revisionism”.
Meanwhile, defence-focused NGOs in Lithuania published a hawkish open-letter raising alarm over the perceived push to “increase tension in [Lithuanian] society” over the Jonas Noreika controversy on May 2.