(photo credit: JEFF BARAK)
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has accused the Lithuanian Jewish community of a “shocking whitewash” after it posted an article on its official website proclaiming the innocence of a known Nazi collaborator.
The article, reposted from a local news website, cited research by the state-sponsored Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania, which indicated that Jonas Noreika, one of men responsible for the massacres of the Jews of Plunge and Telsiai, “didn’t participate in the mass murder of Jews in Lithuania during World War II.”
The Genocide Center, as it is known, has been harshly criticized by Jewish organizations in the past for its support of the Double Genocide theory, which equates Nazi and Soviet crimes.
“It’s a total scandal,” Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “There is no question that [Noreika] was connected to the commission of Holocaust crimes.”
In a statement to the press, Zuroff called the posting a “shocking example of its total lack of sensitivity to the Holocaust crimes committed by local Nazi collaborators.”
“Despite acknowledging that Jonas Noreika played an active role in isolating the Jews (by establishing a ghetto in Siauliai) which was an important step in their ultimate annihilation, the community trumpets Noreika’s supposed innocence.
Even worse, the Jewish community uncritically adopts the conclusions of Lithuania’s Genocide and Resistance Research Center, ignoring evidence that Noreika played a key role in the mass murder of the Jews of Plunge and Telsiai, as well as of the entire Siauliai region,” he said.
“It is indeed a shame and desecration of the memory of the Lithuanian Jews murdered in the Holocaust when the current community whitewashes the crimes of the perpetrators,” Zuroff added.
Lithuanian journalist Evaldas Baloiunas’s wrote on the Vilnius-based website Defending History: “Noreika’s involvement in the mass murder of civilians is not a secret to Lithuanians or to the world.
After restoration of Lithuanian independence, there has been uncritical glorification of this Holocaust collaborator and perpetrator. The hero was manufactured without regard to critical statements and even through suppression of information.”
Asked why the community would have posted such an article, Defending History’s editor, Prof. Dovid Katz, replied that he believed that the Lithuanian “revisionist establishment judges that the present titular leadership of the Jewish community and the present Israeli Embassy are not going to stand up publicly with even the most modest, gentlest responses, and that both can be manipulated like putty by a showering of public love-ins, medals and photo-ops.”
“And of course,” he added, “just now, the very last survivors and witnesses are on the threshold of becoming history themselves. Perfect timing for a revisionist here with lots of taxpayer money to waste on further downgrading the Holocaust and pushing an ultranationalist agenda.”
Zuroff was also highly critical of community leaders, especially Faina Kukliansky.
“This is all part of an effort by the chairwoman of the community to find favor in the eyes of the authorities even at the price of violating the memory of the Holocaust and glorifying killers of Jews. This is an absolute disgrace,” he told the Post
Zuroff further accused her of having an “obvious conflict of interest” between her role as a community representative and her job as a restitution attorney, saying she has an “obvious interest in accommodating the government and achieving close relations.”
Kukliansky did not respond to a written request for comment.
This is not the first time the pair have tangled over the issue of Holocaust remembrance. In January, Zuroff issued a scathing denunciation of the Jewish community’s decision to invite the director of the Genocide Center to a commemoration ceremony, calling it a “betrayal of the memory of the Jews murdered by Lithuanians.”
At the time, Kukliansky told the Post
she refused to discuss Zuroff’s “lies” and that she was consulting with legal counsel.
The two also have sparred over the community’s decision to support the construction of a convention center on the site of a Soviet-era sports palace on the grounds of the old Vilnius Jewish cemetery.