A Lithuanian hero

Every good film needs a hero and I am fortunate that my film J’Accuse! has two.

One is Grant Gochin, the Jewish South African/American activist who for over three decades has been relentlessly fighting the Lithuanian government and its collaborationist judiciary. There is barely a day that passes without Grant striking a blow or two in this battle for historical justice. He has borne the scars – mental, physical and financial – alone. The Jewish people are lucky that there are still warriors like Grant Gochin who care enough about the Holocaust to take on this grim but necessary fight. 

But today I wish to write of the other hero. Her name is Silvia Foti

Silvia is a Catholic Lithuanian woman of breathtaking moral courage, an Eshet Chayil, whose name should be known and celebrated across the Jewish world. She is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met.

My film focuses on one of the many Lithuanian mass murderers who are today celebrated as heroes by the dishonest Lithuanian government. His name is Jonas Noreika. He was a thief, an antisemitic polemicist and the mass murderer of as many as 14,500 Jews in northern Lithuania in conditions of unbelievable cruelty.

And Silvia Foti is his granddaughter.

Silvia was born into the heart of the US expat Lithuanian community in Chicago. As the granddaughter of one of the country’s iconic heroes she grew up as a kind of diaspora princess. Noreika’s presence in many ways defined her life: he was the moral absolute, the example she had to live up to and her role, as she explains in the film, was to grow up in his image, a proud daughter of Lithuania and a warrior against the communists who had tortured and murdered him.

Not just that: a writer and journalist, Silvia also inherited a fateful task. On her mother’s deathbed she made a promise that she would complete the project that her mother had begun, the writing of her grandfather’s heroic biography. And Silvia Foti is a woman of her word.

In October 2000 Silvia returned to Lithuania with the ashes of both her mother and her grandmother, Noreika’s widow. It was a huge funeral, attended by many leading government officials including at least one past president. And it was on this trip that Silvia first encountered the rumors that her beloved grandfather was a mass murderer.  

Silvia was faced with a terrible choice. The easy solution would have been to ignore the rumors about her grandfather and accept what her community, her country and her family were saying: that the rumors were lies. Jewish lies. 

But Silvia Foti is incapable of living a lie. And so she probed, and researched, and fearlessly examined and re-examined the evidence of her grandfather’s life. The result is her magnificent, brilliantly-written book (now re-published under the title Storm in the Land of Rain). This book spares nothing. It tells the truth, the full truth and only the truth, because its heroic author cannot do otherwise.

In my film Silvia reveals many painful truths about Lithuania. She exposes the antisemitism at the highest levels of government. She reveals how it was the government’s Orwellian holocaust lie factory, the Genocide Centre, that took the decision to resurrect her grandfather as a national hero. And she pitilessly exposes the truth about her grandfather’s many crimes.

I ask you to imagine the consequences of such a decision. To go against your country. To go against your community. To go against your own family. To bring shame on your people. And why? Simply, to tell the truth. 

And how Silvia Foti has suffered! Threats, abuse, libels, slanders. Years of therapy and emotional pain that would sink a normal soul. A divorce, the searing pain of losing her only daughter to a drug overdose… and the furious rejection of her community and her people.

But Silvia Foti is a strong woman. Her deep Catholic faith and her unswerving dedication to the truth is what got her through. And made her even stronger.

The Jewish people have a huge debt to this magnificent woman. To date there has been little recognition but who knows, maybe one day the pragmatists of Yad Vashem and the ‘important Jews’ who seem to care so much for Lithuanian baubles, trinkets, awards and favors may take the trouble to thank her. And if they don’t it will be to their eternal shame.

But Silvia offers something even more important to the innocent people of Lithuania to whom she has dedicated her book. These innocent souls are today held hostage by their government’s lies. And Silvia is signposting a different path. One that leads to redemption and reconciliation. 

The people of Lithuania have a choice: the lies that make them complicit in murder, or the redemptive truth of Silvia Foti. One hopes they choose wisely. 

About the Author
Bulawayo born, a former travel writer for the Sunday Times and director/producer for the BBC and other once important media organisations, a keeper of chickens and grower of fruit and veg, a student of Torah, a Husband, Dad and Grandad of the greatest kid that was ever born...and a man determined to fight for justice in Lithuania.
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