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Author Sylvia Foti grew up believing that her grandfather, Jonas Noreika, was a war hero. She heard tales of his bravery – that he rescued Jews and fought communism before being arrested, tortured and eventually killed by the Soviets during World War II at the age of 36.
A Lithuanian, Noreika was chief of the second largest region in the country, which eventually fell under Nazi control. His service and sacrifice was celebrated throughout Lithuania, as evidenced by a grammar school and other monuments named in his honor.
“I only knew what a wonderful man my grandfather was,” Foti said.
Grant Arthur Gochin, the honorary consul for the Republic of Togo, grew up believing that approximately 100 of his family members in Lithuania were killed by Nazis during the Holocaust.
That was until Gochin, a historical justice advocate, began visiting the country in the 1990s, after Lithuania had declared itself a sovereign state. During one trip, he learned that his family had been killed by one man: Jonas Noreika.
“I was the last one [to] know who murdered my family,” Gochin said, adding that his online research confirmed what he’d learned in Lithuania. “I still look at myself and say, ‘How could I have been so stupid and innocent at that time?’”
Foti operated under the impression that her grandfather was a war hero until her mother and grandmother died months apart in 2000. Her mother had been working on a book about Noreika, and Foti promised to finish it at her mother’s request.
While attending her grandmother’s burial in Lithuania, Foti visited the grammar school that bears her grandfather’s name. There, the school’s director pulled Foti aside and explained that the school had received a lot of “grief” over their decision to use Noreika’s name.
“And I said, ‘Grief from who?’ And he said, ‘The Jews.’ And I said, ‘What could the Jews possibly say about my wonderful, magnificent, legendary grandfather who is a hero, who I love so much?’ And he looked at me like I was the idiot,” Foti said. “I didn’t know what I was talking about, and, really, I was very unprepared. And he said, ‘He was accused of killing Jews.’ That was my last moment of innocence about my grandfather. I felt like somebody punched me in the gut.”
Eighteen years later, she finished the book about her grandfather, “The Nazi’s Granddaughter,” and created a website to promote it. Within days, Foti was contacted by one of Gochin’s associates, who said Gochin would like to speak to her about her grandfather. Gochin was filing a lawsuit against the Genocide Resistance and Research Centre of Lithuania for its role in Holocaust distortion, she said.
“After about six weeks,” Foti added, “I finally said, ‘Who did I write this book for if it wasn’t for someone like Grant?”
She said she had read all of his research in his fight against Holocaust distortion in Lithuania, and when they spoke, she informed him that he had made a “huge” error: Gochin had omitted approximately 10,000 of her grandfather’s victims.
Since that interaction, the two have been working together to combat Holocaust distortion by the Lithuanian government, which has systemically scrubbed the record of at least another dozen war criminals, Gochin said.
In 2018, a bill was introduced in the Lithuanian parliament that would criminalize Holocaust research, so Gochin called a meeting with Israeli-American Civic Action Network chief executive officer Dillon Hosier to discuss a plan of action. The ICAN board advised Hosier to “use the power of American diplomacy and American government,” he said.
They reached out to the city of Beverly Hills, and the City Council passed a resolution condemning Lithuania. The West Hollywood City Council and Los Angeles City Council soon followed suit.
The resolutions garnered a lot of interest, and several international organizations joined the protest. Eventually, the bill was pulled, Gochin said.
However, the fight against state-sponsored Holocaust distortion continues, and it was the subject of a Holocaust Remembrance ceremony on April 25 in Neman Hall at the Iranian American Jewish Federation in West Hollywood.
Foti and Gochin told their stories at the event, and ICAN honored the city of Beverly Hills and Israeli Consul General Hillel Newman. Vice Mayor Julian Gold and Councilmen John Mirisch and Robert Wunderlich accepted the honor on behalf of the city.
“Holocaust denial seeks to erase the history of the Holocaust,” Gold said. “In doing so, it seeks to legitimize Nazism and antisemitism. Truly, the genocide [that] happened in Germany is probably one of the best-documented atrocities in human history, and some people say it never happen. Holocaust distortion is more complicated. It’s not that the Holocaust never happened; it’s just not as bad as people say. It’s an effort to minimize the impact of the Holocaust.”
Mirisch said it is imperative for the Jewish community to remember the Holocaust and fight back against those who deny or suppress its impact on the world.
“It is a sacred responsibility for all of us, just in the same way that I believe it is the sacred responsibility of all of us to support and love Israel,” he added. “That doesn’t mean we always agree with all the policies and the individual politics; we don’t do that here either. But that is home and is a central part of our memory as a Jewish people.”
“I’m proud to be here to remember the Holocaust and to say that we will be always vigilant in fighting distortion or denial of the Holocaust,” Wunderlich added.
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