The City Council has approved a resolution to revoke approval of the placement of a monument to Adolfas Ramanauskas on city parkland, but all five Council Republicans present voted in opposition of the revocation resolution.
Concern was sparked about the planned monument to Ramanauskas when news about it began filtering into New Britain in 2018 from Lithuania, along with information, as the Simon Wiesenthal Center has said that,
Adolfas Ramanauskas (“Vanagas”) was the leader of the local Nazi collaborators in the town of Druskininkiai in southern Lithuania, who persecuted the Jews of that community during the initial weeks following the Nazi invasion of June 22, 1941.
The legislation approved by the City Council on May 5th resolved that, “that any agreement between the mayor of the City of New Britain and the Lithuanian government regarding the monument for [Adolfas] Ramanauskas and the vote by the Parks and Recreation Commission from December 15, 2017, approving this monument, be rescinded.”
Ald. Aram Ayalon (D-3) appealed, “Mayor Stewart, we have a great opportunity to sign onto this resolution and join our legislature in sending a message to Lithuania that we, in New Britain, will not participate in the campaign of hiding the Holocaust, and the role played by locals in exterminating Jews.”
Though it was approved, Ald Robert Smedley (R-4), Ald. Daniel Salerno (R-AL), Ald. Don Naples (R-4), Ald. Wilfredo Pabon (R-1) and Ald. Kristian Rosado (R-2) all voted against the resolution revoking the Ramanauskas monument.
In June of 2017, Republican Mayor Erin Stewart had met with the Speaker of the Lithuanian parliament and the Lithuanian Consul General to New York, who, she said, after visiting U.S. officials in Washington, DC, “wanted to stop by New Britain to discuss the construction of a monument in New Britain to honor,” Ramanauskas. On December 15, 2017, the Parks and Recreation Commission approved allowing the government of Lithuania to, “install a Lithuanian Monument in Walnut Hall Park.”
In January, 2018, the website, “Defending History,” edited by Vilnius, Lithuania-based Professor Dovid Katz, questioned the planned New Britain monument to Ramanauskas, saying it sent a letter to Stewart, “to ask if her team was aware of the alleged pro-Nazi and Holocaust collaborator background of a Lithuanian militant, Adolfas Ramanauskas.” The website said,
Ramanauskas boasted in his own memoirs of leading a “partisan group” in late June 1941, and there is certainly nothing in that memoir expressing any regret over what those “partisan groups” did. They murdered and humiliated Jewish neighbors while blocking roads and circling towns to ensure that Jewish citizens could not escape the Nazi choke-hold.
In April, shortly after learning about the planned monument, Ayalon introduced a City Council petition, requesting a halt to it, pending further investigation.
After Ayalon pressed the city Parks and Recreation Commission to reverse its December, 2017 decision to allow the monument and to put a halt to it, Ayalon received word from Stewart ‘s office that Ramanauskas will not be honored with a monument. Stewart later called Ayalon to relate that the monument was not to proceed.
However, on April 24th, Ayalon received a message through the City Council’s office that Parks and Recreation Director Erik Barbieri, “was told by the Mayor’s office that it was verbally conveyed”, that the Ramanauskas monument would not proceed, but that, “he will not be sending any written response to [Ayalon’s] petition, per instruction by the mayor’s office.”
In response, Ayalon pressed Stewart in an email, saying,
Dear Mayor Stewart,
First I want to reiterate my thanks to your decision to halt the memorial for [Adolfas] Ramanauskas. However, in order to get an official document of your decision, there needs to be a written response to my petition as well as a vote in the Parks and Recreation Commission which voted in December to approve this monument. Absence of this official paper about your decision leaves the possibility that the monument might still be implemented.
I respectfully awaiting your written response.
Alderman Aram Ayalon
On April 25th, Stewart responded,
Dear Alderman Ayalon;
As we discussed on the phone, this project to honor Ramanauskas has been cancelled.
This email should suffice your request.
Mayor Erin E. Stewart
At the April 25th City Council meeting Ayalon pressed for Stewart to:
1. Have a vote by Parks and Rec to revoke its monument approval decision from December 15 and have it reflected in the minutes
2. The mayor should submit a written letter explaining how this monument decision came about and publicly revoke this decision for good.
Ayalon then introduced the resolution for the Council’s May 9, 2018 agenda.
Ramanauskas was born in New Britain to a Lithuanian family in 1918, which is apparently the reason why New Britain was selected as the site of the proposed monument. He is widely considered a national hero in Lithuania because of his leadership in partisan fighting against the Soviet Union after World War II. He was known by the code name Vanagas or “Hawk.” Chicago-based Draguas News referred to Ramanauskas as, “One of the last and best known commanders of Lithuanian armed resistance to Russian occupation.” He was captured by the KGB, was tortured and was executed in 1957. Ramanauskas was given numerous official honors after Lithuania became independent from the Soviet Union in 1990, and the Lithuanian parliament, called the Seimas, dedicated 2018 in his honor.
In opposing the resolution revoking the monument, Salerno quoted a statement that had been made by the organization, Lithuanian Jewish Community, in 2017, saying that it, “knows of no reliable information based on extant historical documents confirming the accusations made against Ramanauskas implicating him in the Holocaust or the murder of Jews of Lithuania.”
However, Katz said that, “there are deep divisions within the small Jewish community here (total of about 3000 in all of Lithuania). There is the ‘official’ Jewish community, lavishly sponsored by the government that tends to take government positions on major issues against the sensibilities of the surviving Jewish people here.” He added that, “there is the Vilnius Jewish Community, actually representing by democratic vote the 2,200 Jews of the capital, whose 21 member council was democratically elected last year.”
Katz has said that Ramanauskas,
was the LEADER of one of these marauding bands of Hitlerist murderers who were killing Jews up and down the country in the days BEFORE the Germans got there. If there was any evidence of what he “personally did” that week it is gone, but the view of all good men and women here is that anyone who volunteered to LEAD one of those murderous groups in June 1941, and then bragged about it in his memoirs, without the slightest word of regret about what happened to his town’s Jewish minority is not necessarily a criminal but is certainly NOT a hero! Indeed, the particular unit Ramanauskas led was responsible for dozens of murders of “Jews and Communists” during the early weeks.
Salerno argued that the process of considering the Ramanauskas monument was an as-yet incomplete process, with no final decision. Smedley questioned Barbieri, who said that there are no current written contracts concerning the construction of the monument but that there was a decision by the Parks and Recreation Commission on it.
However, Ald. Brian Keith Albert (D-2) said that, “We should have had more facts before any steps were taken forward.”
City Corporation Counsel Gennaro Bizzarro, an appointee of Stewart, argued that the City Charter restricts the Council’s powers in a way that made the resolution revoking the monument without effect and only advisory. This was a similar argument made by Bizzarro in opposition to the Council’s resolution to institute a city hiring freeze, which later became the core of Stewart’s own arguments in vetoing the hiring freeze resolution.
Monuments express, celebrate, and advocate for public values. In the case of the Borinqueneers, the monument does not just celebrate their heroics but also the contribution of Puerto Ricans to United States. In the case of the Ramanauskas monument proposal, it represents a lack of sensitivity and disregard of public participation and ownership over its own monuments. The Borinqueneers monument is a great source of pride to New Britain but having a monument to Ramanauskas in New Britain would have been a source of shame.