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How a Chicago Teacher Sparked a 'Memory War,' Forcing Lithuania to Confront its Nazi Past

Historians in the News
tags: Holocaust, nationalism, Lithuania, World War 2, Eastern Europe



VILNIUS, Lithuania — As her mother lay dying, Silvia Foti made a promise. She vowed to continue her plans to write a book about her mother's father, Foti's grandfather, a Lithuanian hero known as "General Storm."

He was among the young soldiers who fought the Soviet Union in its brief but brutal first occupation of Lithuania in 1940, and he was later shot in a KGB prison. He, like many of his comrades, is considered a national hero.

But Foti, a high school English teacher from Chicago, said that after years of researching the man, whose name was Jonas Noreika, she discovered that her grandfather collaborated with the Nazis by facilitating the extermination of thousands of Lithuanian Jews.

"He agreed with the Nazis on the elimination of the Jews," she said.

Foti's revelations ignited a firestorm in Lithuania when they emerged two years ago. Laid out in painstaking detail in a book published last month, they have contributed to an increasingly toxic public debate over Noreika's legacy and what role Lithuanians played alongside Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.

An estimated 95 percent of Lithuania's Jews, more than 200,000 people, were massacred as the Third Reich took hold — one of the highest proportions of any country affected by the Holocaust.

Yet the dominant narrative in Lithuania has long been one of resistance to both the Soviets and the Nazis, a hallmark of national identity that state officials have worked to reinforce. In January, a lawmaker and longstanding defender of Noreika's legacy sparked outrage by suggesting that local Jewish leaders may even have borne some responsibility for the Holocaust.

And on Thursday, the Lithuanian Parliament voted to dismiss the head of the country's genocide research center amid growing controversy surrounding the center's work.

It's a bitter dispute that, more than 75 years after the end of World War II, highlights the degree to which Lithuania is still struggling to come to terms with its own history.

Foti maintained that the official story has been a "cover-up."

Read entire article at NBC News

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