Momentmag.com — January 31, 2022
By Dina Gold, senior editor
Imagine growing up as the granddaughter of a legendary hero, a man whose memory was venerated by his country, with streets and schools named after him as well as monuments and plaques installed in his honor. Jonas Noreika, aka “General Storm,” was such a man—a Lithuanian who fought against the German and Soviet occupiers during the Second World War; he was incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp and then finally shot by the KGB in 1947.
Silvia Foti was raised in Chicago, where local Lithuanians treated her as if she were descended from a royal family. But when she went on a trip to Lithuania in 2000, Foti discovered that the reality was very different—and she devoted the next 20 years to peeling back the layers of deceits, obfuscations and denials she had been told all her life by her mother, grandmother and fellow Lithuanians.
Foti’s brave and intrepid journey led her to heartbreaking discoveries. Her book reads like a detective story. Shockingly, Noreika continues to be revered in Lithuania, despite Foti’s revelations that he effectively did the Nazis’ dirty work for them—rounding up Jews, imprisoning them, stealing their property and signing orders for the murder of at least 14,500 of his compatriots.
Reading this book confirmed to me that there really are champions among us, and Silvia Foti is one of them. Reviled by her own community for shining a light on her grandfather’s appalling history, she nonetheless soldiered on. And what she exposes made me realize, to my horror, how Lithuania has obscured, distorted and lied about its own citizens’ complicity in genocide, and that the cover-up continues to this day. It is surely well past time for the country, a member of the European Union no less, to come clean and acknowledge its terrible legacy of antisemitism and involvement with the ideology, and actions, of Nazism. If Foti could find the strength to lay bare the truth, surely it is incumbent on the Lithuanian government and people to now follow in her admirable footsteps—come clean and admit their forebears’ guilt.
By Bettina Berch – December 6, 2021
Some Holocaust books start with questions: what happened to my great-aunt’s family? How did my relatives reach Brazil? Silvia Foti takes a different approach. The very title she devised for her book tells everyone her conclusions about what happened: yes, her grandfather was a Nazi and a war criminal. She’s also emphasizing that this book is about herself, the granddaughter, and her process of accepting these terrible truths.
Foti opens by introducing herself — she’s a middle-aged woman deeply embedded in the Chicago Lithuanian community. On her deathbed, her mother made her promise to finish the book she had spent a lifetime writing on Silvia’s grandfather, Jonas Noreika, a larger-than-life hero of the Lithuanian resistance in WWII, executed by the Bolsheviks. Foti feels inadequate for the task in so many ways. Noreika is a highly revered freedom fighter in her family, in Lithuania, and in the Lithuanian diaspora. She has no experience writing a biography, much less the hagiography this figure demands. The inevitable avoidance sets in. She takes writing courses, changes jobs, goes on a dry run to Lithuania to bury funeral ashes…and then finally commits to making a dedicated research trip to discover the real story of her grandfather.
In Lithuania, she finds markers of her grandfather’s heroism (plaques on street corners, buildings named in his honor) plastered everywhere. Lithuanian officials read her the official accounts of his heroism. Dying war buddies sing his praises. She interviews his surviving associates and family members, before meeting with Holocaust researchers and historians. Very slowly, she begins to notice inconsistencies, details that tell a different story. Yes, the Nazis imprisoned Noreika and other Lithuanians in the Stutthof camp, but then he was made a ‘prisoner of honor,’ and accorded unusual luxuries. Was it a coincidence that Noreika acquired a grand house and furnishings the day after the mass murder of Jews in the town he directed? And then, even more damning — she saw Noreika’s own signature on the orders removing Lithuanian Jews to the ghettos for extermination.
As Foti doggedly continues her interviews, readers begin to wonder how much evidence she really needs to accept that Jonas Noreika was an antisemite who used anti-Bolshevik rhetoric to annihilate Jews. Eventually, Foti does realize that her grandfather was wiping out thousands of Jews even before the Nazis invaded Lithuania. But this process she goes through, moving from idolizing her grandfather to accepting that he was a war criminal, might be the real value of this narrative. Realizing his guilt also means realizing that ‘good’ Lithuanians were — and are—willing to deny that they hated and resented their Jewish neighbors, that they were willing to march them into the woods and shoot them by the thousands, that they were willing to wear these dead Jews’ clothes and move into their homes. For Foti, it’s a search for the story of her grandfather; for her readers, it’s a deep dive into the mindset of Holocaust denial, and the difficulty of accepting ugly truths.
This book is a struggle, but a worthwhile struggle.
Bettina Berch, author of the recent biography, From Hester Street to Hollywood: The Life and Work of Anzia Yezierska, teaches part-time at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
The Nazi’s Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather Was a War Criminal by Silvia Foti (Regnery History)
On her deathbed, Foti’s mother asked her daughter to take over a book project on her own mythologized father, who led Lithuania’s 1945-46 revolt against the Soviets and was celebrated for decades in Chicago’s tightly knit Lithuanian neighborhoods after his execution by the KGB. Foti came across a 1941 document connecting her grandfather, Jonas Noreika, with sending Jews and half-Jews to a ghetto, and she went on an investigative mission to Lithuania, where she heard Noreika described as a “Jew killer.” Working with the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania, Foti uncovered a trove of incriminating evidence, including thousands of pages of KGB transcripts and a collection of letters. Determined and resourceful, Foti pieced together the facts with sensitivity, conviction, and a sense of narrative that revealed the ugly truth: Her grandfather did not rescue Jews; he perpetuated their elimination as they were starved, beaten, raped, and killed in ghettos in an effort to eliminate Jews from Lithuania.
North Texas Catholic
May 17, 2021For the soul of Lithuania: an author's research reveals
her grandfather's deplorable secret past
The tone of The Nazi’s Granddaughter can be extraordinarily suspenseful, which continued to reel me in chapter after chapter. Foti’s effortlessly intimate and highly emotive style makes each line a delight to read, transporting the reader into her thoughts and feelings throughout each and every step of her journey into one of history’s darkest moments. Foti does not shy away from including vivid descriptions of the sheer brutality that is part and parcel of the Holocaust. These intensely painful sections serve not as mere galleries of gore to shock the reader, but as blunt reminders of how far humans can fall, and that there are some places that we must never return to again.
A phenomenal and haunting account of a nation trapped in the inferno of WWII, of the trauma and triumph of immigration and of the search for truth and meaning beneath whitewash and lies that families and nations plaster over their past. Silvia Foti’s story is both thriller and memoir. It’s especially timely today, with anti-Semitism, including Holocaust denial, on the rise and media misinformation threatening the very concept of truth. A must-read. — Lev Golinkin, author of A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka.
The Nazi’s Granddaughter is an introspective and sensitive account of Silvia Foti’s search for the truth about her “heroic” grandfather, who had been incarcerated by the Nazis in 1943 as a Lithuanian nationalist and executed by the Soviet regime as an anti-communist resister in 1947. Despite systematic prevarication by Lithuanian officials, friends, and family, she gradually assembles the contrasting portrait of a man who was also an anti-Semitic pamphleteer in the 1930s and a Nazi collaborator and Jew-killer in 1941. — Christopher R. Browning, Frank Porter Graham Professor of History Emeritus, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Silvia Foti’s Nazi’s Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather was a War Criminal is an anguished, but honest book. Charged by her dying mother to write a biography of her adored, heroic, martyred grandfather, the patriotic Lithuania leader Jonas Noreika, she comes to confront the truth of his wartime record and his role in the annihilation of Lithuanian Jews, two out of three of whom were murdered by Lithuanians, not by Germans. Foti’s research is meticulous, her writing is crisp, her journey searing; her quest for the truth uncompromising. This was not an easy book to write, but it is an essential book to read and it pulls back the curtain on Holocaust denial and self-exoneration in Lithuania and among Lithuanians who were told and retold a preferred narrative, which bears little resemblance to truth. One is left to wonder whether Lithuanian historians and the Lithuanian public are prepared to follow Foti’s lead. —Michael Berenbaum, Professor of Jewish Studies, Director of the Sigi Ziering Institute, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, California
“A mesmerizing account of personal culpability told with brutal honesty, raw emotion, and meticulous recall. Foti’s keen insight and elegant writing have the power to change the way we view family secrets and historic revisionism.” — Marylin E. Kingston Ph.D, former Vice President International Network of Adult Children of Jewish Holocaust survivors. Former Co President Second Generation Los Angeles
“Not of Lithuanian descent, a child in the Canadian bush during WWII, I was nonetheless fascinated by Silvia Foti’s exhaustively researched journey to get to the bottom of a family – indeed, a Lithuanian – fairy tale with her beloved grandfather, known as General Storm, at its centre. This testimony, gathered at much personal cost to herself, is hugely instructive of how the weight of unacknowledged history grows heavier over the years, not lighter, and cannot be lightened or lifted until the truth has been revealed and proclaimed. Her tenacity as shown in her book is beyond admirable. It is also suspenseful, filled with insight, and eminently readable.” — Sharon Butala, author of twenty books, including Season of Fury and Wonder (Freehand Books, 2020: Coteau Books, 2019), shortlisted for the Rogers’ Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and winner of the City of Calgary/W.O. Mitchell Literary Award; Where I Live Now (Simon and Schuster, Canada, 2017), shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award; Officer of the Order of Canada with three Honorary Doctorates.
In this meticulously researched and powerfully-written book Silvia Foti unveils her search for the truth about her Lithuanian hero grandfather, General Jonas Noreika. What she discovers in the course of this coruscating personal journey are two profound evils. The first is that her iconic grandfather was a mass-murderer. The second, even worse, is that the Lithuanian Government, a member state of the EU and NATO, is deliberately whitewashing his crimes as part of their ongoing campaign of virulent Holocaust denial. Does the holocaust matter any more? This book is essential reading for anyone who believes that it does. Movingly, the book is dedicated to Lithuania, and rightly so. – Michael Kretzmer, Producer / Director of the documentary movie: The Lost Names of Birz.
In The Nazi’s Granddaughter, author Silvia Foti unravels her family’s darkest secrets. In many ways this journalist’s tale of intrigue, deception, and revelation reads more like a suspense novel than a Second World War documentary of her grandfather, Jonas Noreika and his Nazi exploits directed against Lithuania’s Jewish community. This detailed accounting of life in Eastern Europe, as Nazi and Soviet operatives seek to take advantage of nationalistic aspirations, anti-Semitic beliefs and personal ambition, brings to light how “villains” can be turned into heroes, even victims. – Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Studies at the Jack H. Skirball Center of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
The Nazi’s Granddaughter is a remarkable true story about family and loyalty. Ms. Foti’s exceptional courage in confronting a dark truth in the face of familial and nationalistic pressure is especially relevant in these turbulent times. – –Dave Davis, former senior film executive at 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures
“The Nazi’s Granddaughter is a magnificent piece of investigative journalism. It reads as a fast-paced novel. I could not put this down.” — Steve Linde: Former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and currently serves as editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Report.
The Jewish community had struggled for years to make its case — without success. But “once Silvia stepped forward, the narrative started to unravel. Here was one of their own, related to one of the perpetrators. They could no longer sit silent.”– Politico.eu, August 12, 2019
Noreika, also known as General Storm. was eventually outed as a Nazi collaborator who had done “monstrous things” by his granddaughter, Silvia Foti. — BBC News, May 8, 2019
Her case brought unprecedented attention to Noreika and the issue of Holocaust collaboration in Lithuania. — Jerusalem Post, April 25, 2019
Blaming Russian propaganda has suddenly become a lot more difficult thanks to Mr. Noreika’s own granddaughter Silvia Foti. —New York Times, September 11, 2019
A granddaughter steps forward . . . For Foti, the terrible truth was patent. For a while she despaired of being up to the task her mother had set her. —Chicago Tribune, January 14, 2019
A Chicago teacher showed her grandfather was a Nazi collaborator. Now Lithuania is paying attention. —Jewish Telegraphic Agency, October 4, 2018
Silvia Foti has written a brave book at great personal cost, that looks at how nationalism destroys historical truth, and personal truth as well. — Michael Goldfarb, host, First Rough Draft of History podcast; author, Emancipation: How Liberating Europe’s Jews From the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance
I couldn’t put this book down. The Nazi’s Granddaughter is part detective story, part family saga, part the morality tale we so desperately need to hear today, especially those of us unwilling to examine the past because it’s emotionally easier to continue living in ignorance. It takes a courageous and deeply moral person to go to that frightening place: Silvia Foti is that person. She combines the research skills of an historian with the ethical concerns and instincts of the best investigative journalists to arrive at a very difficult truth, one that throughout her personally wrenching journey she does not want to believe. This is an important book: honest, brave, and superbly researched and written. Daiva Markelis, author of White Field, Black Sheep: A Lithuanian-American Life (University of Chicago Press); Professor Emerita at Eastern Illinois University
Silvia Foti has blown away the cobwebs of history to expose her own grandfather as a rabid anti-Semite, complicit in mass murder. This book should force Lithuanians to confront their self-serving mythology of resistance during World War 2 – a delusion which persists to this day. Dina Gold author of Stolen Legacy – Nazi Theft and the Quest for Justice at Krausenstrasse 17/18, Berlin
I think the book is a true revelation and a significant personal journey by a very brave, good person. What struck me the most is the complicity of silence by so many including her Mother and Grandmother. The unanswered question is did her Mother expect her to reveal the truth or continue with the cover up. This book is much more than uncovering another “Jew Killer”. – Patricia L. Glaser, trial lawyer and chairwoman of her firm’s litigation department; described as “Legal Legend” by Hollywood Reporter; recognized by LawDragon as one of 500 leading lawyers in America; serves on Board of Governors for Hebrew University in Jerusalem
Silvia Foti’s book is an inspiring tale of civic courage, of a difficult struggle for historical truth. All the odds were stacked against her, but she bravely fought on, even though she found herself pitted against her family, her community and practically an entire nation. A thrilling tale of personal redemption, I heartily recommend it – Efraim Zuroff, Chief Nazi Hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Director of the Center’s Israel office and East European affairs
Silvia Foti grew up adoring the memory of her grandfather. Jonas Noreika was a national hero of Lithuania, a renowned resistance fighter who had battled both Nazis and Soviets and was executed for treason in 1947 in a Russian prison. Over time, his family had elevated him to near-saintly status, evoking his comforting presence at every family gathering and holidays. For decades, Silvia’s mother had in fact devoted herself to gathering materials for what was to be a glowing paean to her father’s memory. The book remained unwritten until, on her deathbed, she exacted a promise from Sylvia to complete the work she had begun. The next 18 years of Silvia’s life were consumed with fulfilling her promise, and would change her life irrevocably and in unexpected ways. As she embarked on her research, each answer seemed to yield a dozen more questions. Perhaps she wasn’t asking the right questions? Perhaps her premise was not correct? But whispers of a dark side to Jonas began to arise. They were faint at first, and later harder to dispel. Cracks began to appear in her pristine portrait of Jonas. Doubts paralyzed her. What if he wasn’t a perfect patriot after all? What if he wasn’t the man that family lore had burnished to a brilliant sheen so long ago? In the end, Silvia’s journalistic discipline won out over her cherished family history and love of Lithuania. She had discovered in herself a duty to the truth, no matter how painful. She had to find out definitively if Jonas Noreika, the Lithuanian hero, her beloved grandfather, was in fact a Nazi collaborator and responsible for the deaths of over 14,000 Jews in her ancestral home. While visiting a Holocaust site in Lithuania, she found herself unable to pray, but after accepting the reality of her grandfather’s life, she instead wrote, “I have no words. I do not know what to say. But I have come. Is it enough to bear witness? What else can I do? I cannot undo the past, or redress my grandfather’s actions, but I am willing to face what was done. I am sorry, so sorry, for the unimaginable loss.” Silvia’s search for the truth has finally ended. But her journey of atonement and giving witness has just begun. Noel M. Izon, an award-winning documentary filmmaker who has created some 100 programs for PBS, National Geographic, the US government, and is best known for his film An Untold Triumph about Filipino-American soldiers in WWII.
An amazing, moving, and meticulously researched work of far-reaching importance, particularly in our time when Holocaust denial is in the ascendant and the Shoah is being trivialized for political purposes. Foti’s monumental work is a bulwark against Holocaust revisionism and demonstrates the uniqueness of the catastrophe that led to the decimation of Lithuanian Jewry. — Marc Zell, Chairman, Republicans Overseas Israel Vice President/Gen. Counsel, Republicans Overseas, Inc. Counsel, Rep. of Hungary v. Simon, (U.S. Supreme Court 2021)
Every country has national heroes. For Lithuania these heroes are the partisans who defied two Soviet occupations at the start and the end of WWII. Many of these partisans lost their lives fighting for freedom, while their families were exiled to Siberia in desperate conditions for lengthy periods of incarceration. Silvia Foti had grown up in the shadow of the heroic stories of the struggle of her grandfather, Jonas Noreika, against the yoke of Soviet tyranny. Charged by the dying wish of her mother to author a memorial book about her grandfather, Foti set out on a journey of personal and national self-discovery, gradually learning that Noreika, while fighting the Soviets, had also been a convinced Nazi collaborator and had actively and willingly participated in the murder of thousands of his neighbors, the Jewish citizens of Lithuania. In 36 short chapters, ‘The Nazi’s Granddaughter’ leads us through Foti’s gradual exposure to the malicious actions of Noreika, and much to her own horror, learns how she has been misled throughout her life, both by her own family and acquaintances of Noreika who were fully aware of his culpability in the Holocaust. Equally disturbing for Foti was the realization that Lithuania’s continued national glorification of Noreika’s heroism was an instrumental part of the obfuscation of the role and responsibility of some Lithuanians, including Noreika himself, in the events of the Holocaust. As Foti recognizes, anti-Soviet activism and Lithuanian patriotism cannot erase crimes of genocide. By continuing to celebrate some of the perpetrators as national heroes Lithuania actually sullies those who genuinely fought Soviet domination and the many righteous Lithuanians who valiantly attempted to save their neighbors from the murderous clutches of murderers such as Noreika. This is a brave book, for the easiest solution for Silvia Foti would have been to simply step away and who could blame her. But, instead of letting it go, Foti describes the journey and brings honor to the true heroes of Lithuania. – Dr. Jon Seligman, Director of External Relations and Archaeological Licensing of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The Nazi’s Granddaughter is a daring, unsettling journey into the darkness of the Lithuanian Holocaust. Through extensive research and interviews, Silvia Foti unravels the image of a heroic grandfather revered by her family and her native country, piecing together the portrait of a war criminal responsible for the genocide of thousands of Jews. A necessary and illuminating read. – Elena Gorokhova, author of two memoirs published by Simon & Schuster: A Mountain of Crumbs and Russian Tattoo.