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Lithuania, admit it, my grandfather was a monster

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The woman I thought I was prior to beginning my research for The Nazi’s Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather Was a War Criminal no longer exists.

That woman was proud to be a Lithuanian, basking in the can-do attitude of the people who overcame so much to be who they are today – a free and independent nation that’s part of the European Union and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation).

While growing up in Chicago in a Lithuanian community, I was raised to love Lithuania and to do all I could to help the country that was then occupied by the Soviet Union. It’s one of the reasons I decided to become a journalist – it fed my fantasy of writing about this small country so the rest of the world could hear about it.

I started out as the granddaughter of Jonas Noreika, a Lithuanian hero who fought against the Communists in 1941 and won, and who fought again against the Communists in 1946, and lost.

He was arrested by the KGB, taken to their prison, tortured, and then shot twice in the back of the skull. Having died a martyr for Lithuania’s freedom, he has a school and streets named after him as well as the Cross of the Vytis, the highest honour anyone can receive posthumously.

As a young girl, I believed my grandfather to be one of the most splendid heroes of all time. As an adolescent, I was proud to be connected to his glorious name. But then, as an adult, the unspeakable truth of my grandfather’s role in Lithuania’s Holocaust was revealed to me.

It started out as just a whisper of a rumour that Jonas Noreika was involved in killing Jews, and eventually, I reluctantly confirmed that it was much more than hearsay.

I looked at countless documents, spoke to his colleagues and family members, and pieced his life together, careful to take note of what was going on around him while he was in charge. To my dismay, I concluded that everywhere he was in charge during the Nazi occupation, thousands of Jews were murdered.

A monster

The woman I have become after diligently conducting an investigation into my grandfather’s life is radically different. Today, I have come to accept that I’m the granddaughter of a Lithuanian monster, one who participated in the murder of 8 000 to 15 000 Jews in Plungė, Telšiai, and the district of Šiauliai.

While in Plungė, he was the komandantas (commander), and ordered the killing of 2 000 Jews. He was also in charge in Telšiai, and sanctioned the killing of 2 000 Jews there. While governor of the Šiauliai district, he facilitated the murder of 4 000 Jews as well as working to distribute their property.

The government of Lithuania is engaged in Holocaust denial and revisionism, and heralds him as a national hero. He enjoys mythological status in the country. An intricate web of lies has been written about him while totally negating his horrendous deeds. What the government of Lithuania has done regarding my own grandfather is one of the greatest criminal cover-ups in history.

Truth and reconciliation

As a practicing Catholic, I simply had to do the right thing – write the truth no matter how painful and shameful it was. My greatest hope is that this book will light the flame of truth for Lithuania to recognise the terrible history of the Shoah as it unfolded in 1941.

Once this is truly recognised, and it will take time, it will allow the crucial healing process to begin for all Lithuanians. True reconciliation between Lithuanians and Jews can be based only on truth.

I know that I’m not responsible for my family and national guilt. Nonetheless, I feel humiliation, guilt, remorse, and overwhelming sadness.

I promise I’ll do everything I can to make certain that the truth about my grandfather will be the only story of his life. The little girl that never met her grandfather but was raised to idolise him is now grown up and willing to tell the truth.

I implore the Lithuanian government to do the same. The cover-up and rewriting of history must be brought to an end.

United Nations report on Holocaust denial

In a related development, The United Nations General Assembly released a report on Holocaust denial on 13 January 2022. Lithuania signed this report, thus agreeing to the following points:

  • To reaffirm its resolution 60/7 of 1 November 2005 that remembrance of the Holocaust is a key component of the prevention of further acts of genocide, and to recall that ignoring the historical facts of those terrible events increases the risk that they will be repeated;
  • To note that distortion and/or denial of the Holocaust refers, inter alia, to intentional efforts to excuse or minimise the impact of the Holocaust or its principal elements, including collaborators and allies of Nazi Germany; and
  • To urge all member states to reject without any reservation any denial or distortion of the Holocaust as a historical event, either in full or in part, or any activities to this end.

My hope is that Lithuania will stop excusing and minimising my grandfather’s role in the Holocaust as a collaborator of Nazi Germany who worked enthusiastically to murder thousands of Jews under his watch.

  • Silvia Foti is author of the memoir, The Nazi’s Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather Was a War Criminal, released by Regnery History in March 2021. The paperback is coming out with a new title in June 2022: Storm in the Land of Rain: A Mother’s Dying Wish Becomes Her Daughter’s Nightmare. The book is also being released in Lithuanian in February 2022 during the Vilnius Book Fair, titled Vėtra Lietaus šalyje: Jono Noreikos anukės pasakojimai.

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1 Comment

  1. Ernest

    Jan 27, 2022 at 12:44 pm

    I shed tears after reading this. What a brave woman. Praying that this book brings closure and healing and help humans to love more and hurt/harm less.

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