Rambam Mesivta High School continued its history of protesting as students and teachers gathered outside the Lithuanian Consulate, in New York City on March 15 to protest what they believe is Lithuania’s honoring of a murderer.
Four years ago, Rambam officials learned that Lithuania was honoring Jonas Noreika, a Lithuanian general who collaborated with the Nazis and signed orders to have thousands of Lithuanian Jews executed. Lithuania disagrees about the role of Noreika in the Holocaust and says he was a righteous gentile.
When World War II began there were 220,000 Lithuanian Jews, 95 percent of them had died when the war ended.
The school discovered that Noreika’s daughter Dalia Kuceniene was writing a book about him. After she became ill, Noreika’s granddaughter, Silvia Foti was asked to complete the book. Foti went to Lithuania, where Noreika is remembered with plaques and schools and streets named after him. Foti learned that her grandfather had ordered Jews in his region of Lithuania to be murdered and published the book “The Nazi’s Granddaughter: How I Learned My Grandfather Was a War Criminal.”
Despite the facts, the Lithuanian government and its courts do not recognize what was done by Noreika. Grant Gochin, a Lithuanian Jewish American, whose family members were killed sued the Lithuanian government. It was dismissed.
Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman, dean of Rambam Mesivta, stated that after meeting with Lithuania representatives at the consulate during the protests, that they were unable to come to a mutual agreement.
“The consulate said he didn’t kill anybody,” said Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman, Rambam’s dean. “We said he signed death warrants, and his own granddaughter said he killed people. They are denying that denying history. We can’t bring back the people that died, but at the very least, Lithuania should not honor a guy that killed Lithuanians.”
The rally was the first for the school in four years and aimed to publicize its issue with Lithuania. Activism has been part of Rambam’s educational program for years. The Lawrence-based school took part in protests outside the Queens home of noted Nazi war criminal, Jakiw Palij. As head of a police force he was responsible for killing 60,000 Jewish people in the Panerai woods.
The protests led to a meeting between Friedman and the Polish consul general. Palij was deported to Germany in 2018.
“As part of an educational program, it’s great to teach theory and facts but is extremely important to teach students about what they should do,” Friedman said.
Foti’s book had been discussed by Rambam students since last school year. School officials decided to protest this school year on the week of Lithuania’s Independence Day.
“It was a very enlightening experience,” said Rambam student Michael Gordon, 16. “It’s an important right to protest and stand up for our beliefs so it was nice to exercise that right. We need to inform people about this and hopefully spark change.”
“Obviously, we hope that this one will turn out to be enough, but it would not be surprising if we needed another rally,” Gordon added. “They’re honoring a Nazi. We’re not going to forget, and we’ll be back if we need to.”