Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan addressed the Lithuanian Seimas on September 21, 2023, three days before the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. He took the opportunity to proclaim loudly and clearly the widespread knowledge of Lithuanian participation in the Holocaust, urging Seimas members to stop glorifying Holocaust perpetrators.
Excerpt of Dayan’s speech
“Hundreds of thousands of Lithuanian Jews were murdered in this country by the Germans and by their Lithuanian collaborators,” Mr. Dayan said, addressing a full chamber. “And to a significant extent by the local population, characteristically distinct to Lithuania.
“(A)n antisemite, especially a murderer of Jews, cannot be considered otherwise a good person. … For sure he cannot be considered a hero. In addition to refraining from attributing public honor to such butchers, Lithuania must consistently acknowledge that many of the Lithuanian Jews massacred in the Holocaust, died at the hands of their Lithuanian co-nationals, and that Lithuanians also took part in the extermination of Jews in neighboring countries.
“The zero-tolerance policy must apply also towards glorification of war criminals associated with the massacre of Jews. Such names as Noreika, Skirpa, Krikstaponis do not add to the honor of your nation, nor to its adherence to international norms of appropriate national remembrance.”
For me, the speech was electrifying because it was a vindication of so much hard work by so many people who have been beating the drum of Lithuania’s Holocaust distortion—including Ruta Vanagaite, Efraim Zuroff, Dovid Katz, Evaldas Balciunas, Andrius Kulikauskas, Arkadijus Vinokuras, and the three of us who are mostly focused on my grandfather Jonas Noreika, namely Grant Gochin, Michael Kretzmer, and myself.
It was also electrifying because Mr. Dayan named my grandfather first in his list, countering the Genocide Center’s stance in defending his good name, and justifying my position, which I have described in my memoir Storm in the Land of Rain: A Mother’s Dying Wish Becomes Her Daughter’s Nightmare. It is as if Chairman Dayan had read my book and studied my findings, in direct opposition to too many Lithuanian historians working for the government who have called me “misguided,” “uninformed,” and even “ridiculous” for my historical approach to describing the Holocaust in Lithuania.
Authentic or fake claps?
At the end of Mr. Dayan’s speech, Seimas members clapped, although I also noticed that several Seimas members had grim expressions and looked uncomfortable as they put their hands together in a slow, forced clap. I fear that Lithuanians applauded only out of politeness because everyone else around them was clapping, not out of agreement with Mr. Dayan’s words.
Nevertheless, this is a breakthrough speech because a leader of the most important Holocaust organization in the world scolded Seimas for allowing Holocaust distortion to flourish in its country. It is perhaps the first time such a speech was given so publicly in such an official capacity. In private conversations with Jews involved in this issue, I noticed how they were overjoyed, glowing with pride over Yad Vashem stepping forward, saying this is a monumental and pivotal turning point.
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
However, I know Lithuanians because I was raised by them. As a teacher, I also know the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. This speech, for too many Lithuanians, will fall in the extrinsic motivation category.
I have often said that Lithuanians will respond to shaming by the international community when it comes to its role in Holocaust distortion, and it may change some outward appearances to avoid such public shaming.
For example, they managed to take down my grandfather’s plaque from the Wroblewsky Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences in Vilnius while NATO had its summit. Yet, problematically, they used the excuse to take it down so that the building could be cleaned—not because they were intrinsically horrified at themselves for glorifying a Holocaust perpetrator.
The building’s cleaning will be finished by the end of the year, and the director of the building has publicly stated that the plaque will return to its position of pride. The country avoided public shaming by NATO last July. Six months later, I fear that it will be as if nothing has changed at all.
When I see Lithuanians do the right thing in stopping the glorification of Holocaust perpetrators—those Lithuanians with blood on their hands and those who had administrative roles, like my grandfather–because of an intrinsic motivation, then I will know that the country has taken a big step forward in acknowledging its own role in the Holocaust.
The problem is I honestly don’t know if I will see this in my lifetime. I started this project at the age of 38, and now I am 62 years old. Sometimes I despair and lose hope over Lithuania accepting its role in the Holocaust.
Lone wolves banding together
Most of us on the subject of Lithuania’s Holocaust distortion have been lone wolves intent on addressing Lithuanian perpetrators by naming them and their involvement in murdering Jews. In my grandfather’s case, this included providing as much evidence as possible that could be found in the archives wrapped in a gripping story. This was especially possible because Dr. Andrius Kulikauskas and Evaldas Balciunas provided their expertise, grit and determination in finding those documents. Without their help I could not have provided as much historically documented support for my memoir.
In writing my book, I had to decide on exposing the facts, and after 20 years of careful research and painful soul searching, I have concluded that my grandfather participated in the Holocaust willingly and zealously. He knew what he was doing every step of the way. He also showed no sadness or remorse for the murder of the Jews in his prolific writings.
Meeting Grant Gochin
In 2018, I met Grant Gochin, a miraculous meeting in which the two of us could not believe that the other existed. We each were climbing the same mountain from opposite sides, and only met when we were near the top—each of us independently arriving at the same conclusion about my grandfather, and each of us trying to let the Lithuanian population know that it was wrong in heroizing my grandfather. Grant was doing it through the courts, while I was doing it through my book.
For my part, I was not expecting to find any institutional support because I knew Lithuanians would not want to hear my message. That is why I was intent on finding an American literary agent who could find an American publisher. If that plan succeeded, I knew that the book would have a better chance of getting noticed in the public arena through international support. Luckily, the plan worked.
The Olga Lengyal Institute
Perhaps this the first Jewish group to contact me was in 2018, just after the publication of my Salon article when I first went public with my grandfather’s story. The Olga Lengyal Institute teaches teachers around the globe how to instruct students on the Holocaust. This amazing group has been inviting me to Lithuania since 2021 to speak to Lithuanian teachers about my grandfather’s story, and the reception of Lithuanian teachers during these seminars has been extremely gratifying.
International Commission for the Evaluation of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania
The Olga Lengyal Institute has been working in tandem with the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania, which has created 152 Tolerance Education centers in secondary schools, NGOs, and museums of Lithuania. I have been involved with both of these groups in talking about my grandfather’s story with Lithuanian teachers.
This has given me some hope about the message reaching the Lithuanian educational system.
Simon Wiesenthal Center and ICAN
I was very surprised and thrilled when the Simon Wiesenthal Center approached me in 2019, offering its support. That same year, the Israeli Civic Action Network also offered its assistance. I never expected to receive so much backing from the Jewish community, and this also brought me much hope and joy. Reconciliation is possible when truth is told.
Yet, as a Catholic Lithuanian, I still felt a big empty hole in my soul without any institutional Lithuanian support. The story I told myself was that Lithuanians didn’t care, didn’t want to believe my story, and wanted to ignore the subject.
In 2020, Grant and I met Michael Kretzmer, another extraordinary encounter, in which the three of us could not believe that we would cohere so well in such a strong and powerful message. With Michael Kretzmer’s award-winning movie J’Accuse! about my grandfather based on the findings on my book and Grant’s lawsuits, our message spread even more widely. We had an amazing tour in Australia this past summer with its outstanding Jewish community. The movie was also embraced with great fanfare by the Jewish community in South Africa. The film has won 125 awards from so many countries around the world.
Sadly, but predictably, it was not embraced by Lithuanians.
In 2021, a Lithuanian publisher took the bold step of translating my book. Kitos Knygos took it as a mission because it felt it would be the right thing to do. It knew that the Lithuanian public might not embrace the story because of its difficult message, yet this publisher was intrinsically motivated to get on the right side of history. I am extremely grateful to Kitos Knygos.
Finally, Dani Dayan, the head of the world’s most important Holocaust museum—Yad Vashem–sounded the same call, and named my grandfather Jonas Noreika as a Holocaust perpetrator egregiously glorified by Lithuania as a national hero. This was longed for by so many in the Jewish community, and it is expected to motivate other Jewish groups to take a bolder stance in calling Lithuania out for its Holocaust distortion.
Storm Door Blog
But what about Lithuania?
Lithuania is long overdue for its period of atonement for its role in the Holocaust. To my knowledge, its most powerful step has been the creation of the International Commission mentioned above. They have gone a long way in bringing the subject of the Holocaust to Lithuanian schools, to remembering how Jews lived in Lithuania before the Holocaust, and recreating marches of how Jews were forced to walk to their death pits. They have also touched on the difficult subject of Lithuanians’ role in killing Jews.
Lithuania needs more major organizations involved in this effort, especially those involved in the educational community, the journalism community, and the Catholic community.
No Lithuanian organizations
Nearly all of my presentations before audiences have been organized by Jewish groups. I am still waiting to be invited by Lithuanian groups, not only in Lithuania, but also in Chicago. When that begins to happen, I will believe change on the topic of Holocaust distortion has intrinsically begun among Lithuanians.
Storm in the Land of Rain in schools?
I have met a generous Litvak who offered to purchase my book for schools who would be interested in providing it for their students. For those who don’t know, Storm in the Land of Rain is a personal story focused on one Holocaust perpetrator who is glorified as a hero, perhaps the only such book specifically focused on Holocaust distortion. Storm in the Land of Rain has two difficult messages: Lithuanians were involved in killing Jews and the Lithuanian government (led by its institutional historians at the Genocide Center) has covered this up by glorifying such individuals as heroes by focusing only on their fighting against the Soviets and ignoring their killing of Jews.
I would love to get some help in reaching Lithuanian schools with this message.
Back to Yad Vashem
So many of us are overjoyed by Dani Dayen’s message to Lithuania’s Seimas. I understand that for the Jewish community it was revolutionary for Yad Vashem to take a bold stand on Lithuania’s Holocaust distortion. I can only hope that for Lithuanians it will lead to a more heartfelt acceptance of what truly happened during the Holocaust.
In related news….
- The Canadian Press: House Speaker Anthony Rota resigns after inviting man who fought for Nazis to Parliament.
- The Jerusalem Post: Vilnius marks 700 years, but Lithuanian Jews reflect on darker era
- Grant, Michael and I will be in San Diego November 5. Please join us if you can.
- I will be part of a panel with third-generation Holocaust survivors at the Illinois Holocaust Museum on October 12. Please join us if you can.
- tv: Arkady Vinokur. Lithuania needs a separate law on denazification of history
Wishing you truth and peace in the storms of your life,
Silvia Foti, granddaughter of General Storm, Jonas Noreika
Author of Storm in the Land of Rain: A Mother’s Dying Wish Becomes Her Daughter’s Nightmare