For years, I have been saying that Lithuania’s distortion of its own role in the Holocaust is more psychological than historical. In Jonas Noreika’s — my grandfather’s — case, nearly 70 documents bearing his signature involve rounding up Jews, sending Jews to a ghetto, or distributing their property, yet he is considered a hero in Lithuania because he fought so bravely against the Communists.
His connection to the slaughter of Jews could not be stronger, as the primary sources bear witness. The most damaging document carries his signature at the bottom of an order to send all Jews in the Šiauliai district to Žagarė, where he demanded a ghetto be created. Within weeks, nearly 2,000 Jews were murdered on Yom Kippur.
Jonas Noreika may be the perpetrator with the longest paper trail connected to the Holocaust in Lithuanian history, yet still be considered a hero in that country. This is an imposter hero. My memoir Storm in the Land of Rain: A Mother’s Dying Wish Becomes Her Daughter’s Nightmare recreates his life, showing the choices he made during World War Two. While he was an anti-Communist and an anti-Nazi, he was also an anti-Semite.
With so much evidence available, I’ve concluded that it’s not the lack of historical proof that stops Lithuanians from taking responsibility for their own role in the Holocaust. It’s something else, rather a deep-rooted psychological trauma. In my own case, it took nearly ten years to get over my own denial of my grandfather’s role in the Holocaust, so I understand how difficult it is to face the truth on this.
Recently, I had the fortune of meeting Jerrold Zoloto, PhD, president of the World Litvak Organization in the United States. With his background in clinical psychology, he has thought about Lithuania’s role in the Holocaust for years, especially since he has heard stories of Jewish relatives who were killed by their ethnic Lithuanian neighbors.
Dr. Zoloto grew up on the South Side of Chicago in Hyde Park, about eight miles east of Marquette Park, the neighborhood I grew up in, known as Little Lithuania. His father was born in a shtetl in Russia, while his mother’s family was from Kaunas, Lithuania, for centuries. Both of his parents arrived to the United States before the Holocaust.
Shortly after he received his PhD in psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Dr. Zoloto was the CEO of three health care organizations, after which he started a business consulting firm.
At 79 years old, he says one of his remaining goals is to help Lithuania come to terms with its dark past.
Tenuous and insecure identity
Dr. Zoloto believes that one reason Lithuania may be reluctant to take responsibility for its own role in the Holocaust is that its own identity on the world stage is new and perhaps feels tenuous.
Lithuania was a democratic nation from 1918 to 1940, and most recently since 1990. In all, Lithuania has had about 50 years of democratic independence in its 1,000 year history. In previous centuries, it has been occupied by Russia, Germany, or Poland.
“I believe that the tremendous insecurity of the country and its people, based on the number of times its sovereignty has been robbed, drives this denial of its role in the Holocaust,” said Dr. Zoloto. “Being unsure of oneself leads to a great fear of being exposed as a failure. This is known as the Imposter Syndrome.”
Lithuania is a proud country
“What Lithuania has accomplished in the past 30 years is nearly miraculous on an economic level,” continued Dr. Zoloto who has consulted with a number of businesses in Lithuania. He has worked continuously for the last 20 years to support the growth of its democracy. “They went from a Third World country to a First World country in two decades, which is amazing. But when a country has been overrun as many times as Lithuania and has been independent as few times, it has an effect on its level of security. Lithuanians had to hide their identity when occupied, yet still try to keep their uniqueness alive. That creates a certain level of insecurity.”
The problem is that Lithuania has not been willing to recognize what its people did against the Jews during the Holocaust. They don’t want to take any personal responsibility for their own role. They blame the Holocaust entirely on German Nazis and believe they had nothing to do with killing Jews, that they were just helpless victims caught between the Communists and the Nazis. By the same token, fewer than 1,000 Nazis were in Lithuania during World War Two, and it would have been impossible for so few Nazis to murder 220,000 Jews, nearly 97 percent of the Jewish population, the highest murder rate in all of Europe.
“Their attitude is mistakes were made, but not by us,” said Dr. Zoloto. “There is a psychological cognitive dissonance among Lithuanians when it comes to the Holocaust. Anything that threatens their worldview will be rejected, especially if they are not secure as a nation. They want to deny anything that shakes the underpinnings of their uncertain base.”
In addition, with the war in Ukraine, there is a palpable fear that Putin will come across the Lithuanian border, making them feel even more insecure.
Another aspect to this distortion comes from the politicians of Lithuania who are failing to lead its citizens on this issue.
“There is a psychopolitical aspect to this,” said Dr. Zoloto. “Political leaders are reluctant to go too far because they’ll lose their base.”
Storm Door Blog
“As a psychologist, I know that the only true healing that can occur is for Lithuanians to finally own their complicity in the Holocaust,” said Dr. Zoloto. “They need to face what happened. It will only make them healthier and stronger. Facing the facts will help the nation move forward. The alternative is denial and opposition, which will perpetuate a national pathology. Denial leads to further damage in the national psyche.”
Dr. Zoloto believes that the generation that is younger than 40 years will be primed to face what happened during the Holocaust once they are in power.
Although this could take another 20 years, his hope that there will be a true reconciliation between Lithuanians and Jews that will be based on the truth of what really happened.
In related news….
- The award-winning film J’Accuse! is about the unlikely alliance between Grant Gochin, a Jewish activist for Lithuanian Holocaust truth, and Silvia Foti, the author of Storm in the Land of Rain, which reveals that Silvia’s grandfather—Jonas Noreika—operated as a Nazi collaborator who ordered the massacre of thousands of Lithuania’s Jews. However, Lithuania continues to view him as a celebrated freedom fighter because he fought against the Communists. The 2022 film, J’Accuse!, by filmmaker Michael Kretzmer, a Litvak residing in Birmingham, England, has exceeded all viewer expectations by winning more than 80 awards at film festivals around the world and is rapidly gaining global attention. People are outraged at learning the truth concerning Lithuania’s long history of lies, cover-ups, and distortions about the Holocaust.
- Another film, Baltic Truth, by filmmaker Eugene Levin, a Litvak residing in New Jersey, focuses primarily on the Holocaust in Latvia, but it also touches on the Holocaust in Lithuania and includes interviews with Grant Gochin and Silvia Foti. Baltic Truth is also winning several awards and making the rounds at film festivals. Hosted by award-winning Israeli performer Dudu Fisher (Les Misérables), Baltic Truth exposes the tragic events of the first months of WW2 in the Baltic States and how almost the entire Jewish community of the occupied Baltic Nations was eliminated by face to face executions, one bullet at a time with assistance of local population, before the Final Solution, before Auschwitz, and before gas chambers.
- A song Children Sing Again in the Land of Rain is about the Holocaust in Lithuania, and was recently composed by Daniel Singer, the cantor of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue on New York City’s Upper West Side.
Wishing you truth and peace in the storms of your life,
Silvia Foti, granddaughter of General Storm, Jonas Noreika