The Jewish New Year begins on the evening of Monday, September 6. This begins a period of deep introspection for Jews, an examination of personal conduct, and even of thoughts. It culminates in the somber traditions of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on Thursday, September 16.
Jews are required to ask those they have wronged for forgiveness and repent for all misdeeds. This process is called teshuva, and while rabbis advise to do it immediately, it is said that G-d is most open to forgiveness during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This ancient tradition laid the path for every twelve-step program, the Catholic rites of Confession and the paths of human repentance. Truth and repentance lead to reconciliation and recovery, the very basis of the Christian religion.
During the past three years, the story of Silvia Foti has exploded across the world’s media. In her book “The Nazis Granddaughter,” she identifies her own grandfather, Jonas Noreika, the Lithuanian leader who Lithuania celebrates as a national hero, as the murderer of the Jews in Northwestern Lithuania during the Holocaust. The Lithuanian government has falsified his record and even preposterously declared him a secret rescuer of Jews. Their fraud has since been affirmed by the Lithuanian Government, Lithuanian Courts and the Lithuanian criminal authorities. Even Lithuania’s current Minister of Defense weighed in and declares these blatant fabrications of Holocaust history to be truth.
Foti has persevered against the full weight and force of the Lithuanian government, and offered her personal apology for the deeds of her family. Jewish tradition reminds us that the sins we commit are our own, and that the sins of others do not transmit by heredity. But the sinner who murders one life is responsible not only for that one sin, but also for all the lives that would have descended from them. In the tradition of Foti’s Catholic religion, she has confessed, atoned and received absolution. According to the Jewish tradition of repentance, Foti has similarly repented and achieved a state of forgiveness.
The Lithuanian government that lauds Noreika’s conduct as the epitome of their national heroism and falsifies the national record commits an original sin. They are responsible for the values they consciously and subconsciously transmit to their population by falsely representing Foti’s grandfather and many other murderers of Jews as heroes of the nation and the ideal of their national conduct. This mocks Holocaust education. It is an insult to every living Jew and every victim of the Holocaust. Likewise, acting as if Lithuanians are too childlike to comprehend and take responsibility for the deeds of their grandparents is an affront to their own citizens.
Lithuania provides the exact model for ethical countries not to follow. Future generations deserve to know the truth.
In sharp contrast to the case of the Lithuanian government, Foti is a shining example of admission, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. Her example is one we should uphold on Yom Kippur as the essence of the atonement and reflection required from Jews during this somber period.
California was the first American state to mandate Holocaust education. For the first time in almost 30 years, that law is in the process of being updated. While we in America and especially in California are working to strengthen Holocaust education, governments such as Lithuania are actively working to rewrite, undermine and erase Holocaust history. Winston Churchill said in 1948, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” This is one of the greatest threats leading to a repetition of history.
Rather than allowing blatant re-writings of history to persist, there must be a vigorous campaign to preserve an accurate account of crimes against humanity such as the Holocaust and other genocides. Lithuania cannot be allowed to succeed in its Holocaust fraud. Only truth and accountability can take us to a place of repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness and peace.
On Yom Kippur, we have a stark choice. We can emulate Foti, or we can follow in the steps of the government of Lithuania. It is our deliberate choice to make, and will impact us for generations to come. L’Shanah Tovah.