West Hollywood Council Member Lauren Meister pulled Item 5c from the March 6th City Council agenda because she knew it lacked support from her colleagues. The item proposed co-sponsoring a film screening and panel discussion of the documentary “J’Accuse!” with the Israeli-American Civic Education Institute, to be held on April 18, 2023, in the City Council Chambers.
Dillon Hosier, Chairman and CEO of the Israel-American Civic Action Network (ICAN), made the proposal to the City Council. ICAN had previously co-sponsored the Anti-Semitism Summit with Kol Ami during the last election cycle. During the summit, West Hollywood resident Grant Gochin asked a question to then-candidate Chelsea Byers about her support for Hamas. It was reported that Byers left the summit in tears, and ICAN later came out against her in the election. Byers declined to comment on the current situation.
“J’Accuse,” a documentary about Holocaust history, was originally planned to be shown in the Council Chambers on April 18th to honor Holocaust Remembrance Day. However, the city council withdrew its co-sponsorship, and the film will now be screened on April 18th at Congregation Kol Ami. There will also be a showing on March 20th at the Museum of Tolerance.
The documentary highlights ongoing efforts by some European governments to rewrite Holocaust history. It tells the story of Grant Gochin, an expert on Holocaust denial and distortion in Lithuania, and his friendship with Silvia Foti, the granddaughter of the Lithuanian captain who murdered Gochin’s family during the Holocaust. The film sheds light on the efforts by some European governments to rehabilitate their reputations for the crimes they committed.
Dillon Hosier, Chair of ICAN, issued a statement expressing disappointment that the film would not be shown in the Council Chambers but was pleased that it would be shown at other venues throughout the city.
The use of Council Chambers for other movies and screenings has often been approved on the consent calendar. For example, this week the screening of Motherland, which focuses on the invasion of the Republic of Artsakh by Azerbaijan and Turkey and the massacre of more than 5,000 indigenous Armenians, was approved. Last year, an event hosted by Ashlei Shyne, the ex-wife of Mayor Shyne, was also approved for use in city facilities with waived fees. “Sacred Space,” a wellness-themed Zoom conference featured meditation and breathing exercises. Several events have been approved for use inside Council Chambers with waived fees.
In the end, city staff informed Dillion Hosier, Chair of ICAN was told ‘J’Accuse’ would not be allowed to play in the council chambers and that he may ‘find another movie’.
BEHIND THE FILM
The Lithuanian Jewish community was decimated in the Holocaust: over 220,000 Jews, more than 95% of the population, were murdered. A key player in the massacre was Lithuanian nationalist Jonas Noreika.
Jonas Noreika, also known as General Vėtra, was a Lithuanian military officer and a member of the Lithuanian Activist Front, an organization that collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II. Noreika is a controversial figure in Lithuania, as some view him as a hero for his role in the Lithuanian resistance against the Soviet Union, while others view him as a collaborator for his actions during the Holocaust.
Noreika is accused of playing a role in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust while serving as the head of the Šiauliai district under Nazi occupation. According to Holocaust historians, Noreika signed documents authorizing the establishment of a Jewish ghetto in Šiauliai and ordered the confiscation of Jewish property. He also allegedly played a role in the deportation of Jews to concentration camps.
In recent years, there have been debates and protests in Lithuania over whether or not to remove monuments and street names dedicated to Noreika. Some Lithuanians argue that Noreika was a patriot who fought for Lithuania’s independence, while others argue that he was complicit in Nazi war crimes and should not be celebrated. Noreika is protected by the contemporary government’s official policy and infamous Lithuanian Genocide and Resistance Research Centre, which has been accused of engaging in historical revisionism, particularly with regards to Lithuania’s role in the Holocaust. Some critics have claimed that the LGGRTC downplays the extent of Lithuanian collaboration with the Nazi regime and the role of Lithuanian nationalists in the persecution and murder of Jews.
‘J”Accuse!’ follows the experiences of two dissident campaigners: Grant Gochin, whose family was murdered by Noreika; and Silvia Foti, a brave Lithuanian woman fighting for the truth and whose grandfather was Jonas Noreika. Together, the two push against Lithuania’s systemic Holocaust denial in an attempt to bring justice to victims and the truth to account.