It is a strange thing in Lithuanian culture, the understanding of heroes… There are individuals, ideals, and beliefs that are passed down from generation to generation and never questioned, even in the face of actual facts. No matter what the preponderance of evidence may suggest, some of us stick to beliefs rather than facts. Why don’t we challenge ourselves as a culture to seek, to question, and then hopefully, to grow and learn?
I have spent months reading various Lithuanian forums. At the mere mention of Jonas Noreika’s name, based on your personal opinion, you are a communist if you don’t support him, or a true patriot if you do.
What about us, those who do want to question, learn and grow, where do we fit in? I abhor the Soviet regime, and I love my culture. I have devoted a large portion of my time and energy to protecting and sharing our culture in the most positive fashion possible.
Before I could even walk, I was heavily influenced by my parents who worked diligently towards helping Lithuania achieve freedom. After freedom was achieved, with my parent’s encouragement, I became involved in every Lithuanian organization where I felt I could meaningfully contribute.
I have been a Lithuanian schoolteacher for several years. I most recently taught history in Orange County and the fundamentals of Lithuanian language. I also serve as the BAFL Baltic American Freedom League Secretary. I have also written for Draugas and Dirva newspapers for almost four years.
I abhor the Soviet system, I abhor the Soviet mindset and love almost everything about Lietuva and our Lithuanian culture. I get goosebumps and my stomach flips from excitement every single time, at the first glimpse of Lithuania’s soft yellow and green grasses becoming visible from my descending plane. When the voice comes over the louderspeaker to announce our decent into Lietuva, I feel that I am actually coming home.
I love our Lithuanian heroes, and we have multitudes, true, real, brave, loyal, great heroes, that epitomize the best that the world could offer.
However, Mr. Jonas Noreika is not a Lithuanian hero, his thoughts, values, and actions do not, in my opinion, exemplify the best of Lithuania, rather, the worst. Yes, Jonas Noreika fought the Russians. Did we not all fight Russians? Those of us who left because of the war, started schools, dance groups, newspapers, and social organizations that continued to share our language and culture with our next generations. We also protested and fought through endless letter writing for Lithuania’s freedom, at every opportunity until it finally occurred. Without our diaspora community, could Lithuania have transformed into the success story we have today?
Those of us who remained in Lietuva after WWII did our parts as well to continue the learning of our beloved language and the sharing of our customs and culture - all under the face and threat of jail and torture under the brutal Soviet regime.
Heroes come in every form, and heroes presented to the public should embody the best our society has to offer. Jonas Noreika did what many Lithuanians did, but he also created the ghetto that led to the murder of thousands of our Lithuanian citizens. He rounded up unsuspecting Lithuanian citizens in the course of normal day-to-day activities, ordered the plunder of their possessions and facilitated their murders. Stalin did similar. We do not make a hero of those that murder our people, why do we do it in Lithuania?
It is not only his actions but also Noreika’s mindset; one of segmenting out portions of our citizenry for persecution, his thinking that some Lithuanian citizens needed to eliminated. These are not honorable actions deserving of monuments, these are actions that should stand as the worst our history has offered.
Unfortunately, our community was not properly educated, we were taught a false narrative that many in our population still cling to as facts. But we as a people are better than that. We can learn from history and right the record. We can show our people that terrible deeds were done in our name, and we are a strong enough people and a mature enough people that we are able to confront our history with truth and dignity, and set the record straight.
Now as we move closer to the centennial of our original independence from Russia, perhaps we too can return to the ideals that were once cherished and protected under our original government, one that stood up to the Russian regime in unity, respect, human dignity and strength, while maintaining love and mutual respect for all of our citizenry. Should we not honor our streets, schools and municipal buildings with names that strike a cord of admiration, respect in the heart of every Lithuanian?
In 2016, Lithuanians have taken a giant leap forward in memorializing our losses, thousands of Lithuanians collectively participated in memory in Molėtai, Šeduva, Biržai and Vilnius.
We are a nation overflowing with unflawed heroes, from everyday citizens, to our poets, teachers and leaders, our libraries are seething with information on pure heroes, who celebrate the very best of Lithuanian values.
The posting of a name on an office building implies official agreement and even reverence for that person’s ideals and actions. Jonas Noreika is not a man that should be accorded respect or agreement, murder of our own citizens, or of any citizens, is not an act that should be commended. Our society talks about our history of tolerance and dignity, it is now time for our government and city leaders to display it.
I ask, in the spirit of unity that was fostered by the Molėtai commemoration, that we not only take down the plaques and memorials that divide us, but also equally importantly replace them with ones that honor true heroes that every Lithuanian can look up to with admiration and awe. Heroes whose ideals we can all hope to emulate. Propelling our shared Lithuanian culture forward to unlimited heights.