Though Noreika was suspected by some of collaboration with the Nazis, those suspicions were largely discounted in Lithuania as Russian propaganda seeking to smear his memory.
Yet Noreika’s granddaughter, a Chicago journalist, has uncovered evidence that shows his complicity.
As sociologists studying Central and Eastern Europe, we created the term “ghost hero,” to frame what we had come to recognize as a common practice in postcommunist societies.
“Ghost heroes,” are historical figures whose past has been cleansed of significant transgressions.
So also, if it suggests to American or British students that the academic study of this region could be more than footnotes to Sovietology.
But of course the voices from Prague and Budapest that initiated this discussion mean something far larger and deeper when they talk of “Central Europe.” The publication in English of the most important political essays of three outstanding writers, Václav Havel, George Konrád, and Adam…In Romania, there have been efforts to rehabilitate the memory of Marshal Ion Antonescu, the country’s Nazi-allied leader during World War II.Antonescu oversaw the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews and Roma to ghettoes in Transnistria, where many perished from violence, disease, and hunger.And Kurt Waldheim’s Vienna recently hosted a symposium with the electrifying title “Heimat Mitteleuropa.” A backhanded tribute to the new actuality of the Central European idea comes even from the central organ of the Polish United Workers’ Party, Trybuna Ludu, which earlier this year published a splenetic attack on what it called “The Myth of ‘Central Europe.”‘ There is a basic sense in which the term “Central Europe” (or “East Central Europe”) is obviously useful.If it merely reminds an American or British newspaper reader that East Berlin, Prague, and Budapest are not quite in the same position as Kiev or Vladivostok—that Siberia does not begin at Checkpoint Charlie—then it serves a good purpose. For three decades after 1945 nobody spoke of Central Europe in the present tense: the thing was one with Nineveh and Tyre.In German-speaking lands, the very word “Mitteleuropa” seemed to have died with Adolf Hitler, surviving only as a ghostly “Mitropa” on the dining cars of the Deutsche Reichsbahn.At the end of World War I, aviator Cukurs fought alongside other Latvians for independence from the Russian Empire.He earned fame after building a single-engine plane, flying it to Gambia in the 1930s, and winning an international aviation prize.And it gives rise to another question: Why would post-communist societies that in recent decades embraced democratic institutions and free market capitalism in their quest to “return to Europe” choose to elevate countrymen implicated in Holocaust atrocities ?In fact, Herberts Cukurs sits among a pantheon of Nazi collaborators revealed and revived in the postcommunist period.