Silvia Foti: 'People Say I am Hurting Lithuania. In My Heart, I am Helping'

Silvia Foti in her house in Chicago, November 2021. ⒸKarolis Vyšniauskas

A teacher in Chicago found out that her grandfather signed documents bringing hundreds of Lithuanian Jews to the ghetto. She invites Lithuanians to research their own family histories, but not everyone is happy about it.

Silvia Foti grew up in a Lithuanian-American family thinking that her grandfather Jonas Noreika was a national hero. He fought against the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. He was killed by the soviets in 1947. In the center of Vilnius there’s a memorial plaque for Jonas Noreika. In the Northern Lithuania, there is also a school named after him.

But as Silvia dug deeper into the archives she found out that her grandfather colloborated with the Nazi government which occupied Lithuania from 1941 to 1945.

During that time almost 200,000 Lithuanian jews were killed. 95% of Lithuanian jews were gone. The community that existed here for almost 700 years was erased.

The common narrative in Lithuania is that the Nazis did that, and some bad locals helped them. Silvia argues that Lithuanian people’s participation – including her grandfather’s – was much more significant.

Last year, she published the book supporting her case. Silvia wrote op-eds in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. She gave a speech at the Harvard University.

The document ordering to bring Lithuanian Jews to a ghetto in Žagarė. Signed by Jonas Noreika, August 22, 1941. ©Lithuanian Central State Archive
The document ordering to bring Lithuanian Jews to a ghetto in Žagarė. Signed by Jonas Noreika, August 22, 1941. ©Lithuanian Central State Archive
"When selling something to a Jew or buying something from a Jew, you are hurting the nation." An excerpt from the Jonas Noreika writings from 1993. Ⓒ"Pakelk galvą, lietuvi!", Silvia Foti archive

Her critics are saying that she’s distorting the truth about Lithuania’s history. But many other people, including many members of the Jewish community, are embracing Foti as someone who is taking a self-critical look at the darkest chapter of our country’s history.

This November, journalist Karolis Vyšniauskas visited Silvia in her house in Chicago. This podcast episode is a result from that meeting. It is a part of the series Rethinking Lithuania focusing on people who initiate progressive changes in Lithuanian society, despite not living here physically.

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Rethinking Lithuania project was made during the class of professor Elizabeth Spiers at Studio 20, NYU.

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