Story-ideas-1011172

SA-born Litvak accuses Lithuania of insincerity on Holocaust

  • GrantGochin
Port Elizabeth-born Grant Gochin is suing the Lithuanian government to take down a plaque outside a library in the capital city, Vilnius. The memorial honours Lithuanian nationalist hero Jonas Noreika, who was also responsible for the murder of 14 500 Lithuanian Jews in 1941, including one hundred of Gochin’s relatives. The court case resumes in March.
by STEVEN GRUZD | Feb 07, 2019

A financial planner now living in Los Angeles, California, Gochin left South Africa in 1986 after being arrested by the security police for anti-apartheid activities.

Like most of South Africa’s approximately 70 000 Jews, Gochin is a “Litvak”, tracing his ancestry to Lithuania. More than three times as many were murdered in Lithuania. Hearing stories of the “old country” from his grandfather piqued his obsession with this history.

In 1989 – with Lithuania still part of the Soviet Union – Gochin started enquiring about reclaiming his family’s citizenship. Soon thereafter, he was among the first tourists when the country regained independence.

But, he says, he soon realised that the Lithuanians had huge blind spots about their role in the Shoah. This included glorifying anyone anti-Soviet, ignoring that many had killed thousands of Jews, or aided in their deaths, or simply stood by.

“I applied for Lithuanian citizenship, and met with a wall of Jew hate,” Gochin told the SA Jewish Report. “There was one standard applied to ethnic Lithuanian applicants, and a different standard applied to Jewish applicants.” After five lawsuits, he was finally granted citizenship, proving that his grandfather could be both Jewish and Lithuanian.

Gochin said, “They were so dishonest and so racist against Jews, that I took it on as a personal mission to expose them.” His doggedness means that today, thousands of South African Litvaks hold a Lithuanian (and therefore European Union) passport. Hundreds more are applying.

He asserts that Lithuanians have not confronted their dark past like the Germans or like South Africans who engaged in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The standard response to the public slaughter of 220 000 Lithuanian Jews in 1941 was that “nobody knew who committed the murders, nobody apparently saw anything, nobody knew anything, but everyone had tried to save a dozen Jews”.

Gochin contends that “the responses were clearly dishonest, and the dishonesty was taught as a national narrative”. He is determined to expose the truth.

He says, “Their government efforts were insincere, and designed only to increase investment and tourism. Live Jews were inconvenient before the Holocaust, and the murdered Jews are inconvenient to them now. So, they obfuscate.”

When his research unearthed the fact that Noreika was behind the deaths of his family, he says, “I requested that history be recorded truthfully… but I met a wall of fraud. When I realised that it was the very same agenda as denying Jewish citizenship, and had no other recourse but the legal system, I sued… Lithuania has many murderers they have converted into their national heroes.”

He knows he won’t win. “For them to rule for me – that Noreika was a genocidal monster – is to admit that… the government has engaged in Holocaust denial and distortion, and that it has taught the population a false national narrative… To rule against me, they have to commit massive additional fraud and negate huge amounts of evidence that is not deniable. They will therefore throw the case out on a technicality, and avoid ruling.” He plans to appeal all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, where he believes he will win eventually.

Gochin sees Lithuania’s outreach to South Africa’s Litvaks as insincere and self-serving.

“They admit Jews were murdered, but they will not acknowledge those that committed the crimes, nor will they remove the honours they awarded to the murderers of our families. They cannot have it both ways – they cannot spit on the memory of our families, and ask us to support them.” He calls it an insult to our intellect, our families, and history.

So, should South African Jews apply for sought-after EU passports through Lithuania? Gochin says yes. “It is… a statement to Lithuania that they did not murder all of us, we are still here, and we will not go away. We are the guardians of the memory of our families. We will not forget, and we cannot move forward until they tell the truth.”

A statement by the Lithuanian Embassy in Pretoria reads: “The position of the ministry of foreign affairs is clear – there should be no monuments in Lithuania to the people who participated in wartime atrocities. We condemn all forms of collaboration with the Nazi regime during Lithuania’s occupation.

“Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius personally has called upon Lithuanian institutions to remove a plaque honouring Jonas Noreika recently. He said an honest assessment of history will aid in countering propaganda against the small Baltic country, and attempts to blacken the reputation of Lithuanian freedom fighters. ‘We shouldn’t be helping the propagandists. We should respond in principle when undisputed facts are raised about immoral behaviour and Nazi collaboration by separate individuals… Specific individuals who have committed criminal acts need to be judged accordingly. If we don’t do this, we are contributing to the propaganda machine which seeks to ruin the reputation of all,’ Linkevičius said.

“We would like to draw your attention [to the fact] that the memory of the Holocaust is one of the key topics of Lithuania’s state policy in education and heritage protection.

“Due to declared neutrality in 1939 and three occupations (1940 – Soviet, 1941 – Nazi, 1944 – Soviet) the Lithuanian state didn‘t participate in World War II, and was just a victim. During the Holocaust, approximately 95% of Lithuanian Jews perished. It was a catastrophe for the state and society of Lithuania, and it is very distressing that Lithuanian citizens also directly participated in the mass murder of Jews organised by the Nazis.

“The government of Lithuania condemns in the strongest possible terms those Lithuanian citizens who collaborated with the Nazi regime, and were involved in this horrible crime against humanity – atrocities of the Holocaust.”

It also mentions that Israel has honoured more than 900 Lithuanians as “righteous among the nations” for saving Jews; that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports Lithuania’s position; and that the Lithuanian president apologised for Lithuania’s role in the Shoah back in 1995.

“[The Lithuanian president] also recognised the need to tell words of truth about the Holocaust in Lithuania.”

Perhaps the trial will bring us closer to the truth in this situation.

Pictured: Grant Gochin

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