General Storm: what is the worth of the Pakalniškis attestation about Noreika?

General Storm Jonas Noreika with his future wife Antanina Karpavičiūtė, Palanga circa 1936
General Storm Jonas Noreika with his future wife Antanina Karpavičiūtė, Palanga circa 1936

It wasn’t by chance that I spoke about my meeting with the daughter of Jonas Noreika – General Storm, Dalia Noreikaitė Kučėnienė, and the broad conversation that I had with her. I resolved to remember it after reading the article by General Storm’s grandchild, the journalist, and teacher, Silvia Foti, after the DELFI journalist, Vaidas Saldžiūnas raised the question: who hides the truth?

What sources?

There are cases where the truth is, indeed, deliberately hidden. However, when speaking about history, and especially – during difficult periods that raise discussions, people, I think, try not so much to “hide the truth”, as they do not know the details.

And the devil is said to lie in the details. Not everyone is able to notice that their generalizing conclusions are not based on whole facts, but on one-sidedly selected fragments of information, selectively orchestrated with real facts, and even with false facts.

A single fact removed from its historical context can have one meaning but can have a very different or even the opposite meaning when presented within the specific historical context together with other facts. Finally, the ability to critically evaluate the sources is important. Not every fact found in the sources is necessarily true.

I don’t think that because members of the same family Noreika’s daughter and grandchild, who was asked by her dying mother to complete the book about her grandfather that her mother had already started – have treated the same historical events and their assessments completely differently, that either one side or another has made an effort to “hide the truth”.

Grasping the meaning within complicated historical context

Rather, it is the different life experiences, different professional training, the drama of generational differences, the ability or incapacity to adequately evaluate the historical material when encountering a far-away past, to grasp the meaning within a complicated historical context, to evaluate the meaning of those facts during that time, and not base conclusions on current interpretations.

So, let’s look at some of the details in which “lies the devil”.

One of the Lithuanian historians to have delved deeply into the tragic period of the Second World War is Dr. Augustine Idzelis, who lived in Chicago, as does J. Noreika’s grandchild S. Foti. I don’t know if she had the opportunity to communicate with him. She doesn’t mention it in her article although she does indicate that she met with other sources in the diaspora and in Lithuania, some of whom have negligible value. A. Idzelis, among other things, was also an attorney, not only a historian, so that his opinion was worthy of attention in many aspects; even more in that he wrote not a small amount of material about those same questions.

“When I finished writing my material about the Jewish Holocaust in Lithuania, and I spoke with T. Remeikis, he immediately asked: “And what are your sources?”. Prof. Thomas Remeikis was one of the best-known émigré political scientists, a co-founder, and editor of the English language magazine “Lituanus”, who published significant books and weighty academic articles. The works of T. Remeikis, according to A. Idzelis, are characterized by typical Western scientific principles: calm, objective dissemination of facts, and mature analysis.

In other instances, A. Idzelis notes that “historians often do not use all sources”. So, it’s worth it to take a closer look at the sources which historians and journalists use to ground their charges against General Storm – J. Noreika.

Challenging the reliability

The most serious – is the accusation that General Storm J. Noreika personally participated in the killing of the Jews of Plungė. This accusation was disseminated by the German weekly “Der Spiegel”, in their April 23, 1984, issue in which the Leonid Olschwang article “Die Mörder werden noch gebraucht” (“Killers remain in demand” or “Killers are still needed”) was published.

In the introduction to the article, “Der Spiegel” writes: “Lithuanian émigré-anticommunists in America demand that the American agency established during President Carter’s term to prosecute war criminals be shut down (referring to the OSI – Office of Special Investigations – US Justice Department Special research section – V.V.); there are many criminals living in America today who carried out the execution of Jews in Lithuania during the German occupation.

Reported by Leonid Olschwang, 64 years old, who succeeded in escaping in 1941. Later – he was a Red Army officer, defecting to the West in 1949 and now living in Bonn.”

The identity of the author, as much as can be gleaned from a short presentation, attracts notice: Red Army Officer who “defected to the West”.

When? While Stalin was still alive. Hence, extradited from the Soviet Union, escaping to the West, succeeding in establishing himself there too…

The historian Zenonas Ivinskis provides more information about
him. From Volume XXI of the Lithuanian Encyclopedia: “Olshwang Leonas (b. 1905.XI.3 in Plungė) – a writer of Jewish heritage, a journalist. From 1919, he attended the Saulė high school in Plungė and a technical secondary school in Kaunas; he studied in Germany during the years of 1924-27.

He served in the Ministry of Finance. During the Bolshevik occupation of Lithuania, he worked in Kaunas as a senior auditor. He departed to the Caucasus on 1941.VI.6 and could not return due to the German-Russian War. Having served in the Soviet Lithuanian Division XVI, he completed military officers’ training in 1943 and served in a Russian division.

Olschwang was injured 3 times on various fronts against the Germans (awarded 2 orders and 4 medals). As finance workers were needed in Lithuania, he was released from military service; he chose to work as a correspondent in the Soviet information bureau, in the Soviet-occupied area of Germany (Berlin, Leipzig) and 1947-49, was the supervisor of such an information bureau in Postdam.

Disappointed in Soviet “freedom”, Olshwang defected to the West. Until 1954, after working in the press section of the USA diplomatic mission, he later completely devoted himself to freelance writing and journalism. <…> In 1938, he married Juzė Asauskaitė, a Lithuanian, and continues to speak Lithuanian at home. <…> Olschwang’s mother, who was Jewish, was murdered by the Nazis in Plungė in 1941.” (pp. 102-103)

Despite the fact that L. Olschwang not only wasn’t in Plungė when the Jewish persecution started but also not in Lithuania (he lived in Soviet Russia during those years), he claims in his article in “Der Spiegel” that in 1941, the Lithuanians massacred the Jews of Plungė on their own initiative without German help. He grounded his claim on the memoirs of Alexander Pakalniškis, titled “Plungė”, published in Chicago in 1980.

I won’t speak about the fact that L. Olschwang’s article is full of factual errors and links to Soviet propaganda falsifications, which he attempts to present as “facts”.

The monthly journal “Akiračiai” correctly drew attention to this falsification immediately after the publication of the article in “Der Spiegel”. (“The History of One Vicious Article”, 1984 June, No.6 (160)). At that time, the Soviets were persistently trying to deny the massive killings, in June 1941, in Rainiai, Panevėžys, Pravieniškės, the Budavonės forest and many others locations in Lithuania, as well as in Latvia and Estonia; they falsely claimed that photographs of tortured people and Red Army led execution sites provided by “Soviet officials” were nothing other than images of the Jewish pogrom at the “Lietūkis” garage.

But let’s set aside these falsifications, they are secondary to our subject matter. Let’s look at the specific charges against General Storm J. Noreika as presented by A. Pakalniškis and L. Olschwang.

“Akiračiai”, familiarized itself with the memoirs of A. Pakalniškis, and reasonably questioned their reliability as regards to acts attributed to
General Storm Jonas Noreika. They then asked the author to clarify the questionable issues. A. Pakalniškis agreed, and the monthly journal published its conversation with him (“About the Killings in Plungė”, “Akiračiai”, 1984. July No.7 (161)). The answers given by the author of the book show how “reliable” those memories are and to what extent they can be used as “historical sources”. Here are several excerpts.

Didn’t know the name, only the surname

Addressing A. Pakalniškis, the monthly journal notes that the book was written as if the author was everywhere and saw everything. “Is the book based only on facts or is it a literary work?” – asks “Akiračiai”.

Pakalniškis: I only write there what I saw and what I heard talking with people.

“Akiračiai”: Did you write the book from memory?

P: From memory.

A: Then how can you remember, after all, that time, who said what words and on what day that happened?

P: I have a diary. It was sent to me from Lithuania.

A: But it had to be a thick diary. How did it pass through censorship?

P: It got through. I received two or three letters every week. There was one arkužas in each letter (arkužas – two large formatted paper pages – editor). It took maybe a year, but I received all my diaries. Only one year is missing.

A: When you quote other people word-for-word in “Plungė”, are you quoting from memory?

P: You probably care most about Captain Noreika’s (Commandant) statement: “I gave the order to shoot everyone individually”. That really struck me. I didn’t know Noreika. He would sit in the adjacent room. I never conversed with him. I was an employee of the commandant. My desk was adjacent to his room. I would see those who came to see him; I would hear them talking.

A: Documents that the Bolsheviks published show that Noreika was the Šiauliai District Supervisor from the very beginning of the war…

P: What can I do that they show… When I looked at Noreika’s picture in the Encyclopedia, he isn’t familiar to me. <…>

A: But you are not sure if it was the same, Noreika…

P: What’s the same? I don’t know. I only know his surname. I don’t even know if he was named Jonas. <…>

A: If Captain Noreika’s relatives bring you to court for defamation…

P: If I were to go to court, I would say: – what Noreika? Can it be that there is only one Noreika in the world? Noreika was a popular surname in Lithuania. J. Girnius wrote to me that Noreika was not in Plungė at that time. Okay. Why then should Noreika’s relatives care?…”

“Generally known facts”

I don’t know if it was a concern to General Storm Jonas Noreika’s relatives. But clearly, L. Olschwang was not very scrupulous.

He attributed the name of Jonas to this unnamed “Pakalniškis Noreika” and announced to the world that General Storm gave the order to kill the Jews in Plungė.

“Western journalists would consider such “supplementation” of information to be fake”, – writes “Akiračiai” (“The Fate of the Jews in Plungė”, 1984 September, No.8 (162)), and adds that “there are many such Olschwang fantasies in the aforementioned literary work”.

For example, he writes that “in 1944, with the Soviet army approaching Lithuania, General Storm Noreika’s wife fled to Germany with her daughter”. That information is correct, as the journal states, and is taken from the book by Stasys Yla, “Humans and Beasts”. However, that wasn’t enough for Olschwang.

Having mentioned that the Bolsheviks shot Captain Noreika upon his return to Lithuania, he argues that “Noreika’s wife, Marija Noreikienė, as is known, assumed the responsibilities of the Secretary of the Lithuanian National Foundation in New York, worth millions of dollars”.

“That is a lie – reacted “Akiračiai”. – Not because he refers to the millions that fund the activities of VLIK (Vyriausias Lietuvos Išlaisvinimo Komitetas – Supreme Committee for the Liberation of Lithuania), but because the Secretary of the Fund, Marija Noreikienė, is not and never has been the wife of Captain Noreika. Captain Noreika’s wife lives in Chicago and does not participate in the activities of the Lithuanian National Foundation.”

Overall, why did Olschwang need to write about General Storm Noreika’s wife? She is, after all, in no way related to the events in Plungė.

“One possible motive would be revenge – contemplates “Akiračiai”. – Not being able to exact revenge on Captain Noreika, whom he believed was responsible for the fate of the Jews of Plungė, Olshwang tried to hurt his loved ones in the article. <…> However, there may be another interpretation. Soviets often tried to explain that Baltic refugees who raised the issue of their country’s independence were Nazi collaborators or sympathizers.

The Olschwang fiction that VLIK – an émigré political institution – supposedly helped the wife of Captain Noreika, who supposedly issued orders to kill Jews, is very compatible with Soviet propaganda.”

The American historian Timothy Snyder is similarly mistaken when, in his book “Bloodlands”, he wrote about Kazys Škirpa: “The Soviets deportations had taken place that very month, and the NKVD had shot Lithuanians in prisons just a few days before the Germans arrived.

The Lithuanian diplomat Kazys Škirpa used this suffering in his radio broadcasts to spur mobs to murder.”

But the truth is the following: neither did Škirpa speak on the radio, nor did he call “mobs to murder”, nor was he in Kaunas at the time. The Germans interred him in Berlin and put him under house arrest immediately after the Germans learned that an uprising had started in Lithuania and that the rebels had announced a Provisional Lithuanian government without German authorization.

However, Lithuanian historians didn’t respond to this, even though two editions of T. Snyder’s book were published in Lithuania.

At the time, “Bloodlands” was translated into 35 languages, solely from 2010 to 2014, and the mistakes in foreign historiography, fatal for Lithuania, are still being massively reproduced. The L. Olschwang article about General Storm J. Noreika is part of that disinformation.

“Who will repair the damage? – asked a reader of “Akiračiai”, Kazys Jankūnas, from Lodi, New Jersey. – The article published by “Der Spiegel” has greatly hurt the Lithuanians and sometimes wrongly accused them.

It is self-evident that the article will do great harm not only to émigré Lithuanians but also to the entire Lithuanian nation; therefore, it is necessary that authoritative organizations correct unfounded accusations against Lithuanians.” (“Akiračiai”, 1984 September, No.8 (162))

Unfortunately, there is no such “authoritative organization” so far. “Beating back” harmful fake news is done “in the way of the partisans”, efforts by uncoordinated appointed individuals, and at the same time coordinated information campaigns by powers unfriendly to Lithuania systematically distribute fake rumors, which are constantly repeated and become established over time in public consciousness as “universally known facts”.

It could have been “another Noreika”

“Akiračiai” reasonably criticized the L. Olschwang article. But it was a message to a limited circle of Lithuanian émigré readers. None of the errors in the article were refuted in the Western press and so far have remained a “source of knowledge” for a broad layer of Western society and uncritical researchers of history.

Silvia Foti – is a good example. “Wasn’t my grandfather involved in the murder of Jews (in Plungė – V.V.)?” – asked the grandchild of Jonas Noreika of General Storm’s companion Damijonas Riauka. – “He wasn’t here, – she heard the answer – he was in no way related to that. The Germans did that”. However, S. Foti didn’t believe it: “At that moment, I suspected that he wasn’t truthful, but I needed evidence.”

Where does S. Foti look for evidence? She goes to her aunt: “At first, Aunt Aldona construed the events one by one, as I did, and shaking her head cried out: “I simply can’t believe it. Maybe he had no choice. He needed to maintain order. I don’t know what to think. I think, maybe it’s possible.”

That was “proof” for the grandchild of J. Noreika: her aunt cried out, appeared to be stricken, and by her perception, “tried to come to terms with Uncle Jonas becoming involved in the killing of Jews”.

Let’s compare the journalist’s and her aunt’s mindsets in the conversation, and altogether the resulting assumptions, with the statements of A. Pakalniškis and L. Olschwang.

“There is no doubt – writes “Akiračiai” – that almost all of the Jews living in Plungė were killed in the summer of 1941. Pakalniškis states that the massacre occurred on July 12-13. In Vilnius, in 1973, the documents released by “Mintis”, “Mass Murder in Lithuania, 1941–1944, Part 2 “(MML-II) indicates different dates for the massacre – July 15-16, 1941.”

How does A. Pakalniškis reply to this?

“Akiračiai”: Soviet sources state that the massacre of the Jews in Plungė, where 1,800 Jews were killed, was July 15-16. That would be Tuesday and Wednesday.

P: The massacre was from Saturday into Sunday…

A .: This is according to your account…

P: Not, “according to your account”, but it was that way. See my book, my diary.”

A. Pakalniškis further states that about 3,000 Jews were killed in Plungė. However, in our conversation, he had no arguments to justify that number. When asked for the basis of his claims, he replied: “that there were many Jews trapped in the synagogue, and he wrote down three thousand.”

At the time, Olschwang refers to 1,800 killed. That is the same number indicated in the set of documents mentioned above, MML-II. Keeping in mind that around 2,000 Jews lived in Plungė at the time, it appears that the number indicated by L. Olschwang is closer to the truth, although he does not specify the dates of the massacre.

In his conversation with “Akiračiai”, A. Pakalniškis explains that the Commandant could have been another Noreika. However, there are two documents published in the book MML-II showing that in July 1941, the Plungė Commandant was not Noreika, but Alimas. Pakalniškis said that he knew Lieutenant Alimas and asserted that Alimas was the Commandant later, after Noreika and after the shooting of the Jews.

“Akiračiai” writes: “Pakalniškis explains that he did not return to Plungė after the shooting of the Jews and therefore does not know when and where Noreika left Plungė. However, that explanation is contradicted… by Pakalniškis himself. In the “Seventh Volume”, he writes that he only left Plungė in mid-August. Thus, he was in Plungė for a month after the shooting of the Jews.”

“Except for Pakalniškis, – continues the monthly journal, – no other sources that are known to us mention that Captain Noreika was in Plungė in 1941.

Pakalniškis also contradicts himself. Pakalniškis surprisingly knows almost nothing about the person that we should hold accountable as the culprit in the largest massacre in the history of Plungė, not the name, nor the origin, whether married, where he later left to, etc.

Pakalniškis also doesn’t mention that there was any preparation in the commandant for the mass killings. Therefore, in light of all these contradictions, it seems to us, on the face of it, that there was no Captain Noreika in Plungė at that time.

It also seems that there were more Germans in Plungė than in the “Plungė” that Pakalniškis describes. By Pakalniškis’ testimony, a German would arrive at the Plungė police station and decide who from those arrested would be shot, and who would be released. The same Germans seem to have also decided to kill the Jews. From the Pakalniškis diaries, it seems that they did find people to assist in that criminal activity among Lithuanians.”

“Akiračiai” reaches the following conclusion: “The question of who is, in fact, responsible for the Jewish massacre in Plungė, is yet to be answered. We also have no explanation for how statements emerged in Pakalniškis’ diaries (e.g., about Captain Noreika ) which are negated by all other sources known to us. It is believed that here, the guilt lies with Pakalniškis’ manner of writing.

It is a narrative of the first person singular of someone who knows everything, saw everything, and was everywhere. This type of style is often used in fictional literature. In documentary or historical essays, especially writing about events learned from rumors and hearsay, gaps remain in the narrative, which an author does not have a right to fill in with his imagination.

It seems that Pakalniškis realized this truth too late. In no way does that mean that everything written about the tragedy of the Jews in “Plungė” is untrue. On the contrary, we would think that much that is written there, is the truth. It’s a pity that the author’s style and form do not allow us to know at what point the truth gives way to rumors and imagination.”

The truth must still be discovered

Did General Storm’s grandchild, S. Foti, not realize all of this, drawing her conclusions in a fairly naïve way – trusting her aunt’s guesswork, who was only 10 years old at the time, but rejecting the testimonies of her grandfather’s contemporaries and testimonies in other cases?

It would surprise me if there weren’t citations to my articles in the abundant material which her mother, Dalia Noreikaitė-Kučėnienė, collected and which S. Foti has strikingly photographed on her internet website, eloquently called “In Search of Truth”.

It is hardly likely that the daughter of General Storm J. Noreika, an academic in literature and a researcher of General Storm biographies, would not have known of important texts published by the diaspora about her father and would not have saved them in her archive?

In any case, the categorical arguments of S. Foti – pose a surprise. I understand that she is not a historian. But the usual standards of American professional ethics in journalism should not be foreign to an American journalist. There can be differing opinions about objectivity, but all journalists should consistently understand the concept of fairness. The “Washington Post” specifies very clear criteria for fairness:

“* No story is fair if it omits facts of major importance or significance. Fairness includes completeness.

* No story is fair if it includes essentially irrelevant information at the expense of significant facts. Fairness includes relevance.

* No story is fair if it consciously or unconsciously misleads or even deceives the reader. Fairness includes honesty–leveling with the reader.

* No story is fair if it covers individuals or organizations that have not been given the opportunity to address assertions or claims about them made by others. Fairness includes diligently seeking comment and taking that comment genuinely into account.”

I will not assess whether the S. Foti article is written fairly. However, that it omits important facts – is also a fact. The reason why this happened – is already a secondary issue.

I thought it would be important to mention the facts related to the alleged role of General Storm Jonas Noreika in the case of the massacre of the Jews in Plungė, as a reminder to seek to answer the question fairly.

The question of the authenticity concerning the facsimiles published on S. Foti’s website “In Search of Truth” also require a fair discussion. Documents featuring the name of General Storm J. Noreika, when he was a commander of the Šiauliai District Commandant, appear to be signed by different signatories.

But that’s already a topic for another article.

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