Practicing Catholic Silvia Foti, an American journalist, writer, and teacher, on Thursday posted on EU Today: “I enter the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur full of guilt, remorse, and repentance over the sins of my grandfather. I call on the country of Lithuania to do the same.”
Foti, who was born in 1961 in the Chicago south side neighborhood of Little Lithuania, has published research on the crimes of her grandfather, Jonas Noreika, who was a Nazi during the Holocaust in Lithuania.
“While I was not alive in 1941 and could not have committed the war crimes against innocent Jews in my parents’ homeland, I have become aware of my own grandfather’s role in these atrocities, and have taken on the role of denouncing his sins by facing what he did,” Foti wrote (I am sorry for the sins of my grandfather, writes Silvia Foti).
Through my research during the past twenty years, I have learned that he knew what he was doing. He wasn’t just following orders. He wasn’t just translating German ideas. He was writing them himself because he fully believed in the notion of ethnic cleansing of Jews and keeping Lithuania “pure” for Lithuanians. While he was chair of the Šiauliai region during the Nazi occupation, he wrote about 1,000 orders, and of these, about 100 concerned the Holocaust.
Very few of these were translations of German orders. In fact, we could only find less than a handful of original German orders written by my grandfather’s boss Gebitskomissar Hans Gewecke. In my grandfather’s orders concerning the Holocaust, there is a level of detail that only a local Lithuanian could discern—such as which individuals, schools, or businesses should get plundered Jewish property.
I have been asked by some Lithuanians why I focused on just my grandfather. They tell me my grandfather was not the only Lithuanian involved in the Holocaust. My response is that he may have left the longest paper trail with his signature on several primary source documents. He was thirty years old in 1941. Perhaps older men were wiser about leaving their signature. His predecessor who was in his 50s stepped down from the post, most likely realizing what he would have to do with Jews in the region. The Nazis did not punish him.
Some Lithuanians bristle that Jonas Noreika was not even the worst Holocaust perpetrator in Lithuania, or the highest ranking. Why does he get a book about him? My response is that unfortunately, Jonas Noreika was my grandfather. My mother on her deathbed asked me to write about her father who she thought was a hero. I call on the descendants of other Lithuanian perpetrators to investigate the lives of their own grandfathers because he certainly did not act alone.
Finally, Noreika’s granddaughter is angry with the Lithuanian government, which declared him a hero for fighting against Communists. “Jonas Noreika received the Cross of the Vytis, the highest honor a Lithuanian could receive posthumously. The order was given at the behest of the Genocide Centre of Lithuania, which officially declared my grandfather a hero,” Foti writes, adding, “The Lithuanian government also has the audacity to say that he saved Jews, although no names or details of how this occurred have been revealed.”
She concludes: “Facing the truth of my grandfather’s role in the Holocaust is my form of atonement for being a descendant of a man responsible for the deaths of at least 8,000 Jews, and perhaps as many as 15,000. I call on the country of Lithuania to do the same.”