Justice for Lithuanian Jews

Pushing against systemic Holocaust denial

A new film speaks on behalf of the murdered. It is a demand for honour and historical truth. It invites an honest, redemptive conversation with Lithuania.

Grant Gochin's family were murdered by Noreika.
Grant Gochin's family were murdered by Noreika.

As the shroud fell, my journey back to Jewish Lithuania began. There they were, their names etched into steel, my lost family. The scores of missing uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins who were marched to this spot outside the town of Birzai, murdered and thrown into a pit on August 8, 1941.

Our family never talked much about it but 80 years after the slaughter I felt compelled to investigate. And it didn’t take long to uncover the barely believable truth that to this day the Lithuanian government hero worships our mass murderers, honours them publicly and, worst of all, makes up lies to defend them.

Which is why I have spent the last three years making the documentary film J’Accuse! The film had its sold-out world premiere earlier this month at JIFF showings in Melbourne and Sydney.

My film attempts to tell the truth and this involves the duty to reveal the inexplicably deranged horror. The little town of Plunge was typical: Jewish girls raped and dismembered; bearded rabbis and scholars dragged by horses to their deaths; old men burned to death in a drinking game; the town’s Jews imprisoned and starved in their own synagogue for three weeks in the summer heat; the survivors murdered and thrown into pits.

The man in charge was Jonas Noreika. Nobody denies it. And today Noreika is a public hero of Lithuania, an example for the nation’s youth to look up to.

But now an astonishingly brave Lithuanian woman called Silvia Foti is driving a horse and carriage through the government’s lies. And Lithuania cannot ignore her because she is Jonas Noreika’s granddaughter.

Silvia Foti, Noreika’s granddaughter.

Foti, a teacher, writer and journalist, has forensically exposed her grandfather’s guilt in her excellent and meticulous book, Storm in the Land of Rain. She has fought this battle for truth alone for 20 years. It has obliged her to go against her community, her country and her family. She has suffered enormously and it is my privilege to tell her heroic story in my film.

But of course the Lithuanian government knows the truth: they know Noreika was in charge; that he signed the imprisonment and deportation orders; that he literally saw the Jews dying; that he thieved Jewish property; that he wrote Lithuania’s own “little” Mein Kampf; that he celebrated the slaughter just two weeks after the event.

They know all this but they just don’t care. And they are counting on the fact that the Jewish and non-Jewish world don’t care that much either, that in no time at all, everyone will forget, and that their corrupted version of history will survive as truth.

And they may be right. It’s up to us.

My film includes a list of Lithuanian Jews who changed the world. There are so many writers, doctors, scientists, intellectuals, Nobel winners, activists, artists and Torah geniuses that it takes over three minutes to roll the names and even then, at some speed (and these were only a selection – just this week I learned that I’d missed the late great Rabbi Jonathan Sacks).

We are a people of extraordinary courage, intelligence and achievement, yet we accept Lithuanian insults with barely a murmur of protest. Worse still, we gobble up their trinkets, gongs and favours, even as they carry on Holocaust-lying to our faces. I simply cannot understand it. Perhaps someone can explain?

My film speaks on behalf of the murdered. It is a demand for honour and historical truth. It invites an honest, redemptive conversation with Lithuania. But we, the Jews, must insist on this conversation.

If we do not respect ourselves, no one will, and who can blame them?

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