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2021.11.06 10:00

Granddaughter of Lithuanian Nazi collaborator: ‘I love his soul but not his sins’

Domantė Platūkytė, LRT.lt2021.11.06 10:00

Silvia Foti is the granddaughter of Jonas Noreika, aka General Vėtra, a Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisan who was accused of collaboration with Nazis. For most of her life, Foti believed that her grandfather was a hero. She described her journey to discovering the truth in a book, soon to be published in Lithuanian.

In the wake of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania in 1940, Jonas Noreika joined the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF), which organised an anti-Soviet uprising and sought to establish a provisional government when the Nazis pushed out the Russians in 1941.

Read more: A glimmer of hope or prelude to Holocaust? Lithuania's June 1941 uprising remains controversial eight decades on

Lithuanians' ambitions for complete self-government were frustrated, but Noreika was appointed the chief of Šiauliai District. Under Nazi orders, he signed documents to establish a Jewish ghetto in Žagarė, where 2,236 people were killed.

For 20 years, Foti has been researching her grandfather’s biography, published in the book The Nazi's Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather Was a War Criminal. Next year, the book will be translated into Lithuanian.

Foti heard many stories about her grandfather’s heroism while growing up.

“My mother and grandmother often talked about him. They said that he was a hero in Lithuania, that he had been tortured in a KGB prison, and died for Lithuania’s independence,” she told LRT.lt.

Read more: ‘Lithuanians still regarded as a Jew-killing nation’: book in US throws spotlight on Holocaust controversy

“The grandfather’s photo hung on the dining room wall […]. Although he'd died 14 years before I was born, his soul was always alive in our house,” Foti added.

Foti was born and grew up in the United States. In American schools, she learned about Nazism in Germany and “had no clue that Lithuania had anything to do with the Holocaust”, she said.

The woman found out about the other side of her grandfather’s story when she visited a school in Lithuania named after Jonas Noreika. The headmaster told Foti that he was facing trouble because of the school’s name.

When Foti inquired about the source of the trouble, the headmaster mentioned the Lithuanian Jewish community. Seeing the woman’s confusion, he told her about General Vėtra’s involvement in the Holocaust.

“At first, I could not believe it, I felt ashamed. And Lithuanians in Chicago could not believe it either – they said it was communist propaganda,” Foti said.

But ten years later, the women finally decided to find out the truth and publish a book.

“I am a journalist […]. The search for truth was very important for me,” Foti said. “If it hurts, it hurts, but I still want to know what happened.”

Asked about how her opinion about her grandfather has changed while researching for the book, Foti said that “he was a nationalist. He loved Lithuania more than the Jews. He thought that the Jews were Lithuania’s enemies and that killing them was good.”

“I still love his soul, I love him as my grandfather, but I don’t love his sins,” she added.

According to her, not only were her preconceptions about Jonas Noreika challenged while she was writing the book, but also what she thought she knew about Lithuania.

“I grew up being proud of my Lithuanian roots. My mother and grandmother always described Lithuania as a paradise,” Foti said. “I was shocked to find out that Lithuanians have such a dark [historical] side.”

In her words, it was also surprising to find out that Lithuanians still deny this part of their history.

“When I started writing this book, I noticed that there are two versions of history. There are Lithuanian and Jewish versions of World War II, and they are completely different,” the woman said.

According to Foti, it took her 20 years to come to terms with her family’s history.

“When I found out about it, I experienced a crisis […]. I tried to forget this story, but I couldn’t. It was like a magnet that attracted me,” she said.

All things considered, Jonas Noreika “should not be called a hero”, his granddaughter said.

“I think all memorials should be removed and moved to museums, where context could be added – yes, he fought the Soviets, but he also killed Jews.”

Read more: National hero and Nazi collaborator: WW2 leader divides opinion

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