A Lithuanian human rights activist who last year destroyed a plaque in honor of a Nazi war criminal, was sentenced to three months in prison and a fine – and fled the country.
“Let them look for me,” Stanislav Tomas told Haaretz by email on Wednesday, adding that he thinks he committed an act of heroism, not a crime,
In April 2019, Tomas smashed a memorial plaque for Jonas Noreika, an infamous Nazi war criminal and Lithuanian national hero. The plaque in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, was put up in 1997 near the Jewish cemetery. In a video taken of the event, Tomas can be seen smashing the stone plaque with a sledgehammer.
He then waited for the police to arrive, and in front of the camera spoke to condemn the man whose memory he shattered – telling of his crimes and his antisemitic activities. “Even though he murdered 14,000 Jews, in Lithuania he is a national hero and has commemorative monuments,” said Tomas at the time. He criticized Lithuania for “glorifying its Nazi past.”
Tomas made his protest after a court in Lithuania dismissed a lawsuit from a Jew from California and the son of Lithuanian Holocaust survivors, Grant Gochin, asking to remove the plaque and stop a state museum’s glorification of Noreika. Gochin was helped by Noreika’s granddaughter, Silvia Foti, who has researched and documented her grandfather’s crimes.
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Noreika is considered to be a national hero by many Lithuanians, because he fought the repressive Communist regime that ruled the country until the summer of 1941, after the Soviet army occupied Lithuania in June 1940 – and then again after the communists took over again in 1944.
But for the Jews, Noreika is a Holocaust era war criminal and Nazi collaborator. During the Nazi occupation in World War II, he was a senior commander in three cities: Siauliai, Plunge and Telsiai, where 14,500 Jews were murdered. Noreika signed the orders deporting the Jews to the ghettoes and confiscating their property.
This week, a Lithuanian court sentenced Tomas to three months in prison and a fine of about $2,600. The judges convicted him of “damaging the feelings of the Lithuanian people,” in addition to destroying the plaque.
There are about 100 more monuments to former Nazis around Lithuania, Tomas told Haaretz. After his conviction, he appealed to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, but his appeal could take quite a long time.