Cov­er of A Nazi’s Grand­daugh­ter: How I Dis­cov­ered My Grand­fa­ther Was a War Crim­i­nal from Reg­n­ery History

After the release of my mem­oir, A Nazi’s Grand­daugh­ter: How I Dis­cov­ered My Grand­fa­ther Was a War Crim­i­nal, I have been repeat­ed­ly accused of air­ing my family’s dirty laun­dry” by Lithua­ni­ans who point out the obvi­ous: I wasn’t alive dur­ing World War II and the Nazi occu­pa­tion, so how could I pos­si­bly under­stand the dif­fi­cult choic­es some Lithua­ni­ans, like my grand­fa­ther, had to make?

I knew why they had this reac­tion. As I researched my grandfather’s life dur­ing the Nazi occu­pa­tion in Lithua­nia, I was also uncov­er­ing an entire nation’s com­plic­i­ty in mur­der that still has not been con­front­ed. Lithua­nia has the dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing mur­dered nine­ty-six per­cent of its Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion dur­ing the Holo­caust, the high­est per­cent­age in all of Europe.

If it weren’t for my sto­ry, I believe Lithua­nia could have got­ten away with it — the tenth stage of geno­cide, or denial that it ever happened.


I grew up proud to be the grand­daugh­ter of a Lithuan­ian war hero who had fought against Com­mu­nists. My grand­fa­ther Jonas Nor­ei­ka, known as Gen­er­al Storm, is the name­sake for a school in Sukon­ai and a street in Kau­nas. When my moth­er, on her deathbed, asked me to write a book about him, I enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly agreed. As I dug deep­er, how­ev­er, I dis­cov­ered facts about him that left me hor­ri­fied. Jonas Nor­ei­ka had been a Holo­caust per­pe­tra­tor involved in mur­der­ing at least 8,000 Jews.

I had the sen­sa­tion of falling through a trap­door. It just can’t be true, I kept think­ing. Not my won­der­ful grand­fa­ther! I con­ferred with fam­i­ly mem­bers, and they said what I’d heard was just Com­mu­nist pro­pa­gan­da. That is the belief I clung to for years.

But as a jour­nal­ist, I ulti­mate­ly couldn’t just ignore the accu­sa­tion. I decid­ed to per­se­vere with my research in the hope of exon­er­at­ing my grandfather.

Once I start­ed look­ing for evi­dence, I kept find­ing signs that he had been involved in mur­der­ing Jews. He signed near­ly one hun­dred doc­u­ments con­cern­ing the Holo­caust when he was chair of the Šiau­li­ai region from August 1941 to March 1943. The most dam­ag­ing one ordered all Jews and half-Jews in Šiau­li­ai to be sent to a ghet­to in Žagarė. About 2,000 Jews were slaugh­tered on Yom Kip­pur. This doc­u­ment turned my life upside down. I didn’t know who I was any­more. Cer­tain­ly not a proud Lithuan­ian. I felt shame, embar­rass­ment, and a sense of betray­al. This was the lega­cy my grand­fa­ther had left me?

Even­tu­al­ly, I dug myself out of my depres­sion and embraced anger with a vengeance. I vowed to get to the bot­tom of the sto­ry, no mat­ter the cost.

In 2018, when I thought my work was fin­ished, I cre­at­ed a web­site. With­in days, a researcher from Lithua­nia con­tact­ed me, telling me he was work­ing for Grant Gochin, a man who had launched a law­suit against the Lithuan­ian Geno­cide Research and Resis­tance Cen­tre because of its denial of my grandfather’s crimes.

I would like to see Lithua­nia become the first East­ern Euro­pean coun­try to ful­ly admit its role in the Holocaust.

Once I con­nect­ed with Gochin, and once I under­stood what the Geno­cide Cen­tre was doing by ignor­ing the paper trail of evi­dence against my grand­fa­ther and his role in the Holo­caust — and still declar­ing him a hero — I real­ized this inver­sion of truth extend­ed far beyond my fam­i­ly. It involved the gov­ern­ment of Lithuania.

I became ter­ri­fied, tru­ly ter­ri­fied. How was I going to stand up to the gov­ern­ment machine? I braced myself.

Jonas Nor­ei­ka, Image cour­tesy of the author.

Then my sto­ry began to receive atten­tion from the media. Because of this response, I am begin­ning to hope there might be a change in Lithuania’s atti­tude. The coun­try is a new democ­ra­cy and it cares deeply about the West­ern world’s per­cep­tion of it.

I hope my book cre­ates a path to quelling our inter­twined inter­nal pain and even­tu­al­ly to mutu­al under­stand­ing. This book is my confession.

We still have a long road ahead. But I would like to see Lithua­nia become the first East­ern Euro­pean coun­try to ful­ly admit its role in the Holo­caust, to take the lead in accept­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for what hap­pened dur­ing the Holo­caust and not just shift all the blame onto the Ger­man Nazis. While it’s true the Holo­caust would not have start­ed with­out the Nazis, it’s also true it would not have been as dev­as­tat­ing if Lithua­ni­ans them­selves didn’t join in so willingly.


Since my sto­ry became pub­lic, I have met sev­er­al rab­bis, many of them Lit­vaks who lost rel­a­tives in the Holo­caust. One helped me with the guilt I have been car­ry­ing because of my grandfather’s lega­cy. He recit­ed two pas­sages in the Torah about chil­dren repent­ing for the sins of their fathers, and told me that those who are in will­ful denial over the role their grand­par­ents played in the Holo­caust may be pun­ished up to the fourth gen­er­a­tion. But those who accept the hor­ri­ble real­i­ty will break the curse. And then he blessed me.

I wish I could say all the guilt mag­i­cal­ly dis­ap­peared. But I can say that I will con­tin­ue to be sor­ry for the sins of my grand­fa­ther until the day I die, because once I learned the truth, I feel oblig­at­ed to bear witness.

My gen­er­a­tion did not per­pe­trate these crimes. But it is our respon­si­bil­i­ty to relate them with hon­esty. It is our only path to inter­nal­iz­ing the lessons of the past and to cre­at­ing a future in which our chil­dren will not repeat the crimes of our ancestors.

Lithuania’s Holo­caust denial is a con­tin­u­a­tion of my grandfather’s crimes, and con­tin­ued silence by descen­dants of per­pe­tra­tors is the death knell of truth in an envi­ron­ment where a nation­al gov­ern­ment is intent on rewrit­ing his­to­ry. Once Lithua­ni­ans tru­ly under­stand how hor­rif­i­cal­ly they act­ed against their Jew­ish neigh­bors, there will be a chance for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. But that rec­on­cil­i­a­tion must be based on real­i­ty, and not on deception.

A for­mer jour­nal­ist of twen­ty years in Chica­go and now a high school lit­er­a­ture teacher at Pro­vi­so Math­e­mat­ics and Sci­ence Acad­e­my in For­est Park, Illi­nois, Sil­via Foti is the author of The Nazi’s Grand­daugh­ter: How I Learned My Grand­fa­ther was a War Crim­i­nal, pub­lished in March 2021 by Reg­n­ery His­to­ry. The book has been trans­lat­ed into Span­ish, and is cur­rent­ly being trans­lat­ed into Lithuan­ian, Pol­ish, and Hun­gar­i­an. The paper­back edi­tion is com­ing in June 2022 with a new title: Storm in the Land of Rain: A Mother’s Dying Wish Becomes A Daughter’s Night­mare.