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Silvia Foti
The Storm Door, portal to General Storm

Stormy Ingredients for Myth Creation of Jonas Noreika

By JOhannes Plenio used with permission
Photo by Johannes Plenio used with permission

Palimpsest is a word I came across while reading a novel called The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab, and I couldn’t help but think about Holocaust distortion in Lithuania.  A palimpsest is a concept to blot out the past by replacing it with another version in the present.

We create palimpsests for a variety of reasons, but mostly to provide a rosier picture of what really happened. A fisherman might exaggerate the size of fish caught, and after the 10th retelling, the fish has grown by a yard.  A woman might shrink the size of her waist in a refashioned telling of her glowing youth.

Storm in the Land of Rain: How A Mother’s Dying Wish Turns Into Her Daughter’s Nightmare is a memoir, a literary narrative of Lithuania’s role in the Holocaust through the lens of one perpetrator. It is a study of Lithuania’s palimpsest.

Storm in the Land of Rain author photo

Palimpsest

Other palimpsests have more serious consequences, resulting in a rewriting of history. In my grandfather Jonas Noreika’s case, he fought bravely against the Soviets, but he also played a role in murdering Jews.

Lithuania’s palimpsest blots out Noreika’s role in the Holocaust and narrowly focuses on how he valiantly defended Lithuania from the Communists. To explain how 97 percent of Lithuania’s Jews died—the nation says it was all the German Nazis and barely a single Lithuanian.

Fog and Mist

I remember old atlases that used to have plastic sheets of geographical regions. Each new sheet would show the country’s newest border and by flipping through those plastic sheets, one could see how the shape of a nation had changed over the centuries.

It’s like Lithuania positioned a plastic sheet that showed only how they fought against the Communists over what really happened during the Holocaust.

We do something similar on a psychological level. Instead of plastic sheets, we use psychological fogs and mists. Fog and mist are common literary metaphors for a muddled state of mind.

A menace has crept in, like a fog, erasing the roles of Lithuanians in the Holocaust, leaving only the Nazis’ guilt jutting out through the mist.

Denial before Palimpsest

In order for a palimpsest to exist, a collective denial of a nation must occur. In this case, it is a denial that Lithuanians had been capable of murdering innocent neighbors because of hate. Once they murdered their neighbors, they acquired their property—homes, furniture, such as a chess table, kitchenware, art, decorations, jewelry, clothing. Because it is so horrible to face, they allowed a fog to creep into the memory of their atrocities.

Palimpsest breeds Myth

Once denial and palimpsest are in place, a myth can be easily created. Lithuanians love their partisans who fought against the Soviets, so much so that they are mythologized into legends who lived as saints for the love of their country. It is nearly inconceivable for a Lithuanian to believe that a beloved partisan was guilty of anything.

Betsy Graziani Fasbinder, a family therapist of 30 years in Northern California, and creator of the Morning Glory Project podcast, said in an interview for this article, “When talking about something as huge as the holocaust, there are holocaust deniers that pretend the whole thing doesn’t exist. It’s hard to believe the unbelievable thing. They can live in their safe bubble world.

“America is guilty of that too. We like our history painted with a certain kind of brush. We don’t want to talk about Columbus intruding on the natives. We have a different story we like to tell about ourselves.  It feels like we have to give up esteem for our country to admit this. People want a red, white, and blue way of loving at America—not shades of gray.”

Storm in the Land of Rain

Lithuanian flag (author photo)

Storm is another metaphor of a psychological state of mind, as is rain. Storm alludes to the anger and confusion over the Lithuanians’ role in the Holocaust. Rain alludes to their sadness and depression when they take glimpses at the reality of what they did.

When I finally faced the truth about my grandfather, my story transported me from a little family history to something much bigger and complex than anything I could have ever imagined. The story had turned into an illustration of government-sponsored holocaust distortion and a glaring example of Holocaust revisionism in Eastern Europe.

Like most Lithuanians, I want a yellow, green, and red way of loving Lithuania—not shades of gray.

Not a Singular Family Problem

The Lithuanian government awarded the highest honors to my grandfather. Source: Personal archive

I thought this was a singular family problem that belonged to me alone, only to eventually find myself connected to an international scandal stretching from Lithuania to the Ukraine. Jonas Noreika is not the only one who fought against the Soviets and participated in the Holocaust. But he is the only one who is my grandfather.

The defense of my grandfather as a myth in Lithuania is not from a one-off politician who went rogue. It’s institutional—top down, from the provisional government in 1941 to today’s Genocide Resistance and Research Center, a government-sponsored institution with nearly 100 salaried historians. This in turn influences all the Lithuanian politicians in all its regions, cities, towns, and villages. If the Genocide Center says so, it must be true.

Fooled into Believing

Ms. Fasbinder said, “Sometimes they are faced with irrefutable facts, but even so, it’s far easier to fool somebody than to tell somebody they’ve been fooled. People can be fooled into something. But if you tell them they’ve been fooled they’re more resistant to facing that.”

Lithuanians have been fooled into believing they had little to do with the Holocaust, that they were just innocent bystanders wringing their hands while the Nazis did all the terrible deeds. And yet, there were only abpit 600 Nazis during the Nazi occupation, while more than 200,000 Jews were murdered. During the same time period, not a single Nazi was killed by a Lithuanian.

Denial vs. Delusion

“In your book Storm in the Land of Rain, you uncovered material that shows a different story and it pierced the veil of denial,” said Ms. Fasbinder. “But if somebody is delusional and wedded to their opinion, it’s hard to pierce that veil. If it’s just denial, the irrefutable facts become a wake-up call. If it’s delusion, the irrefutable facts will be twisted to reinforce the delusion.”

My grandfather signed a document on August 22, 1941, sending more than 2,000 Jews to a ghetto in Žagarė to be murdered within six weeks. The Genocide Resistance and Research Center said my grandfather had no idea he was sending the Jews to their death, even though the same document called for the distribution of Jewish property before they had been murdered. Why would he call for distributing their property if he thought all the Jews would come back to their homes safely? Obviously there was no intention of any Jew returning alive.

The Genocide Center twisted the irrefutable fact, a primary source document with my grandfather’s signature, to fit their delusion that he must be innocent.

Storm Door Blog

Photo by Virginia Allain

Cost to Lithuania—If We Don’t Complete, We Repeat

Ms. Fasbinder said, “If a country protects the killer, it creates the possibility for the next one to kill. Denial on a cultural level empowers it to happen again. That which we don’t complete, we get to repeat. If you refuse to learn from history, you repeat it. So the cost to a nation for failing to tell the truth is that it continues to perpetuate the delusion. The danger for Lithuania is that it’s set up for another holocaust. If antisemitism is still denied, if criminals are still protected and enshrined as heroes, you create the atmosphere for the thing to happen again. That’s the tragedy.”

What do Lithuanians need to do?

To get past the denial, to tear down the palimpsest, Lithuanians need to:

  • Face the truth without the mythology
  • Express a sincere expression of anguish
  • Take responsibility for what our ancestors did
  • Ensure this can never happen again

In related news….

·    The journalist who revealed that her grandfather,a national hero in Lithuania, collaborated with the Nazis – working to end his commemoration — Israel Hayom (Israel Today) by Eldad Beck

·    LRT.lt. Stilius. 2022.5.21
Jono Noreikos anūkė Silvija Foti: buvo sunku suvokti tiesą apie holokaustą·    Delfi. 2022.4.24
Jono Noreikos anūkė: patriotu gali būti ir nesutikdamas
su nacionaliniu naratyvu

Wishing you truth and peace in the storms of your life,

Silvia Foti

 

About the Author
Silvia Foti, MSJ, MAT, MFA, is a journalist, creative writer, teacher, and mother. She is author of the book Storm in the Land of Rain: How a Mother's Dying Wish Becomes Her Daughter's Nighmare. The book is also known as The Nazi's Granddaughter: How I Learned My Grandfather was a War Criminal, Regnery History; Vėtra Lietaus Šalyje, Kitos Knygos; Mi Abuelo: El General Storm ¿Héroe o criminal nazi? Harper Collins Mexico. The book is also being translated into Hungarian, and Polish.
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