The author Silvia Foti argues that spending time in a Nazi concentration camp does not exonerate her grandfather from his role in the Holocaust in Lithuania.
As I was growing up in Chicago during the Cold War, I’d heard about how my grandfather Jonas Noreika was an honorary prisoner in the Stutthof concentration camp, how he was taken hostage with 45 other Lithuanian leaders for their anti-Nazi activity.
Read more: Granddaughter of Lithuanian Nazi collaborator: ‘I love his soul but not his sins’
To my shock, as I researched his life for my memoir The Nazi’s Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather Was a War Criminal, I realised his time in Stutthof had been used as a cover-up by Lithuanians to hide his role in the Holocaust.
Lithuanians were led to believe he was treated just as harshly as the Jews, that his anti-Nazi activity included saving Jews, and that he was victimised by the Nazis to the same extent as Jews. Thus the designation of honorary prisoner somehow conferred an increased sanctity to my grandfather, that he was even more special than “regular” prisoners.
I can recall how, at Lithuanian Saturday school in Chicago or summer camps in Michigan in the 1970s, I was patted on the back and looked upon with admiration for having a grandfather who was an honorary prisoner at Stutthof. By association, as his only granddaughter, I too was somehow blessed to have someone in my direct lineage who suffered in a concentration camp – the Holocaust halo effect.
That all changed when my mother, on her deathbed, asked me to write the story of her heroic father, known as General Storm, who fought so bravely against the communists for Lithuania’s freedom. With much trepidation and hesitation, I slowly learned that my beloved grandfather played a crucial role in murdering 8,000 to 15,000 Jews between 1941 and 1943 in Plungė, Telšiai, and Šiauliai, that Lithuania had the highest percentage of Jews murdered in all of Europe, and that this couldn’t have been accomplished without the enthusiastic help of local collaborators………. read more