Jonas Noreika – General Vėtra: a few questions and answers about him

Jonas Noreika - General Vėtra (Storm)
Jonas Noreika - General Vėtra (Storm)

Member of the Parliament Arvydas Anušauskas who also is a historian spent his life in researching the post-World War Two Lithuania under the Soviet and Nazi occupation. Mr Anušaukas has a few words to say about Jonas Noreika – General Vėtra (Storm).

1. You (the Mayor of Vilnius Remigijus Šimašius) ask about his (Jonas Noreika – General Vėtra) relationship with the Germans and the Soviets. Very briefly, he defined that relationship at a closed military tribunal hearing: “While in the Lithuanian Armed Forces, I swore that I would be loyal to a free, independent Lithuania. I firmly maintain my beliefs. I entered the fight against the Soviet Union against the Bolsheviks. All the facts clearly highlighted in the preliminary investigation and the judicial interrogation, confirm that I wanted to fight for an independent Lithuania with my participants. I couldn’t sit with my hands folded. I was aiming for a goal, but I didn’t do anything. I ask the court to acquit me under point 1 of the charge that I volunteered to serve the Germans, and under the other points, I ask for the sentence to be reduced.” Thus, he personally denied voluntary “allegiance” to the Germans.

2. Indrė Makaraitytė (Lithuanian journalist) asks, “Did Jonas Noreika – General Vėtra sign only a decree on Jewish property?”. Twenty-two years ago, as an academic editor, while reading the manuscript of Viktoras Ašmenskas’ book, who was sentenced together with J. Noreika, I asked to make sure to record all the facts, even the unfavourable ones. Everything was recorded and published.

In 1998. The documents signed by the Šiauliai County Governor J. Noreika at the request of German military commandant were published. In this way, the military and later the German civilian administration used the Lithuanian self-government in their affairs. Then, a decree was signed by the Germans that the Jews relocate to the places designated above from 25 July to 15 August.

And a statement that “Jews who own real estate in villages must liquidate it first by exchanging it with the residents into whose houses they will be moved. Both a prohibition on owning Jewish property and an order to write down and guard Jewish property “until after a separate decree” were declared. And, on behalf of the German Deputy General Counsel, he signed orders to “protect the property of communists and Jews who fled, their orchards and gardens. In moving to other places, the Jews are free to take movable property.”

Why speak only of maintenance of the property as a consequence of Jewish relocations? Because the county governor had such responsibilities, and the police or security authorities were not subordinate to him. Did the German special groups, Hamann’s “Flying Squad” (with the help of several paramilitary Lithuanian units), decide the fate of the displaced Jews? No doubt, yes. The Germans kept the process of massacres secret and did not discuss the “results” with the Lithuanian administration.

Are you interested in what happened to Jewish property? All the assets were taken over by a specialized German company (taken together with the Lithuanian property nationalized by the Soviets and the property of those exiled), which managed and administered tens of thousands of objects in Lithuania, pumping funds into Germany.

Here’s what was written in a newsletter on the situation in Lithuania prepared by Lithuanian diplomats in Bern on 6 July 1943: “Kauener Zeitung” provides an overview of the operation of the Grundstuckgesellschaft, which was formed by the occupiers. This company has taken possession of all the townhouses and plots expropriated during the Bolshevik times. According to this report, written by the company’s director Fr. Stein, the German company has taken over “tens of thousands” of objects. Its headquarters are in Kaunas, and there are 353 business units with several thousand employees throughout the country. The company also manages assets expropriated from Jews, in addition to wealth belonging to owners who have been deported. The company itself is said to be the executive body of the German Commissioner-General and the work itself is carried out with “German methods”.

3. Why was it important, not only to Lithuanians, that there should be people in the municipality, if not favourable to the local population, then at least neutral? Here’s the “Kauener Zeitung” (26.VI. 1943) attack on Lithuanians who were selling food to Jews. The newspaper, threatening that Jewish signs (Star of David) would be affixed to such Lithuanians, writes: “Five local women were sentenced to one month in prison for selling food to Jews …”.

I will not speculate on the witness S. Grunskis’ statement that Jonas Noreika – General Vėtra little daughter Dalia handed out buns baked by her mother to Jews passing by on the street. However, Noreika was the official who defended the locals even from the Lithuanian police, who had to control the food in the market during the war, from which black-market food was given to the Jews who were still being imprisoned in the ghettos.

On April 17, 1942, he defended Jonas Saliūnas, July 4 – Ulita Metlevaitė and others. I will not delve into his assistance to the Lithuanian anti-Nazi underground or his relationship with the anti-Nazi organization, the Lithuanian Front, but it was precisely the whole of J. Noreika’s activities as a county governor that were regarded by the German administration and the Gestapo as hostile activity. Jonas Noreika – General Vėtra is one of the fifty Lithuanians who on March 26, 1943, were already imprisoned in the Stutthof concentration camp.

4. It would have been difficult to hide, but maybe J. Noreika hid his views or was otherwise cruel? Let’s see what another Stutthof concentration camp resident, Aleksandras Kantvilas, writes: “Jonas Noreika (…) in German times, the governor of Šiauliai county, very popular, much beloved and respected by the farmers of Šiauliai and the surrounding area, always an intercessor against the oppression of the occupiers, the persecution (…).

Noreika adopted all the intelligence, knowledge, abilities, and talents that evaporated from such Lithuanian celebrities among the four walls of the casemate. He wouldn’t leave the side of Professor Jurgutis, pumped his brains full, and studied English, improved his German, Russian, and Polish language skills. He studied everything, saw and heard everything, and loaded everything into his head. With such energy, dedication, and diligence, Noreika did everything (…). But Noreika was not dry; he was sentient, sensitive, sincere, helpful, a true gentleman, as well as hot as fire. He would become angry, his eyes would light up, but he loved being trampled on and would not let evil words or cries pass by.”

5. The Lithuanian anti-Nazi resistance also addressed the question of who should be considered a collaborator of the German occupation authorities? First, the anti-Nazi press identified those who consistently represented only the interests of the German authorities (e.g., General Counsel Gen. Kubiliūnas).

The question of who was responsible for the deaths of fellow Jewish and Lithuanian citizens, and to what extent, was left to individual judgment, selectively justifying repression of those who served the Soviet Union or were associated with the Communist Party (which were essentially the same). The anti-Nazi resistance in no way saw the brutal Soviet totalitarian regime as an ally.

The conditions of reality determined decisions one way or another, but most of the circumstances did not depend on Noreika or anyone else’s choices. Thus, after deciding to return to Lithuania, J.Noreika remained with a weakened Prof. V. Jurgutis, until he himself became ill with typhoid fever and was only mobilized into the Soviet Army on May 5, 1945, after he recovered.

No, Jonas Noreika – General Vėtra was not involved in wartime activities. Mobilized by force, he chose to serve as a regular soldier, although he had the military degree of Captain. He served in a regular rifle regiment somewhere near Holstein until mid-November when he was demobilized; he arrived in Lithuania on November 27th.

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

6. Jonas Noreika – General Vėtra was, at first, assisted by former prisoners of the Stutthof concentration camp: Prof. V. Jurgutis, Attorney Petras Kiškis, Lt. Col. Petras Masiulis, the writer Balys Sruoga. Within those surroundings, he also received help from people who knew him as the chief of the County of Šiauliai. This assistance does not directly confirm that while serving, as he emphasized – “not voluntarily” in the municipality during the German occupation, he was remembered for his good words.

While working at St. Jacob’s Hospital and the Academy of Sciences, Jonas Noreika – General Vėtra began collecting information about the situation in Lithuania. He could not have known at the time that the new occupation had begun to take away nearly 10,000 people in just one year, of which about 4,300 were killed by the brutal Gen. Vetrov, who led the NKVD 4th Division. After hearing about the partisans, he gathered information about them and tried to find channels of communication.

7. Did the National Council of Lithuania, formed by Jonas Noreika – General Vėtra, act briefly and do nothing significant? The underground organization formed by J. Noreika worked for a short period of only a couple of months. But under Soviet security, all underground organizations were short-lived, and ordinary armed partisans were able to survive such a fierce struggle for an average of a year or two.

At the core of the organization was the Lithuanian poet Ona Lukauskaitė-Poškienė (incidentally she became the founder of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group in the mid-1980s) and Stasys Gorodeckis-Radžiūnas, Deputy Director of the Fine Arts Foundation. Tactical issues took a slightly different approach than the ones already prevalent in armed resistance. The focus was on a “national uprising” when the time was right (to coincide with the start of the war between the West and the Soviet Union), while still planning to save their strength and avoid active resistance.

If we compare the strategy with K. Škirpa’s attitude towards the state, it was very clearly and unambiguously oriented towards the democratic, presidential, and sovereign state of Lithuania. Poor and short-term contacts with partisans prevented the development of a clear strategy of resistance, and the lack of accurate information (only in villages was the information good) about the Soviet terror did not make planning an inevitable partisan armed resistance possible.

Unfortunately, regardless of Noreika or his organization, Soviet security took advantage of one circumstance. For one of J. Noreika’s pre-war acquaintances was Juozas Albinas Markulis, who was already operating as a security agent at the time. Following the arrest of most members of the real organization, a rumour spread that the arrests had not touched some of the members of the organization and that J. Markulis – Eagle led this alleged group. This one had already been in contact with the real underground since the Spring of 1946 and began to develop the notion that armed resistance must be stopped for the sake of “saving one’s strength” (you can read more in my book “Betrayal. Markulis Diaries”).

8. Was J. Noreika’s organization large? No, it was not of any particularly large size – in February/March of 1946, the Soviet security arrested more than ten people with General Vėtra at the forefront, and in March/April, another two dozen youths affiliated with LTT were arrested. The total number of people arrested was 41.

The organization’s plans can also be called exceptional: from plans to engage abroad by hijacking a “Po-2” airplane with V. Ašmenkas and the poet K. Jakubėnas (the same one who was attacked by poet P. Cvirka in the Writers’ Union) flying it to Sweden, to plans to unite all of the Underground Organizations in Lithuania and establish a central leadership.

In fact, none of the directives issued by the LTT was implemented by the existing National Council. The “Declaration to the Free Nations of the World” can be considered a more meaningful document because it testified to the information collected by the LTT about the situation in Lithuania.

Here, news of terror, torture, destruction by the burning of live human beings, deportations, stigmatization of dead bodies in market squares, armed resistance: “After the start of mass deportations, bloody battles are taking place all over Lithuania. The Russians mobilized special NKVD units and military units to suppress the resistance. The battles involved tanks and artillery. At this tragic moment of their lives, the Lithuanian people appeal to all of the honorable people of the world, to all nations that love freedom, asking for help against the repression of human dignity…”.

9. Was J. Noreika really arrested and tortured? Yes. I examined his interrogation protocols. Although the interrogations lasted several hours, the protocols were short. 113 interrogations and 31 protocols. Sometimes nothing is written at all. At that time, “active interrogation measures” were applied to “unrecognized enemies of the people”.

Since I was contacted a quarter of a century ago to collect torture data from the accused in this case, I can repeat some of this. First, the torturer was backed by the same deputy MGB minister Lt. Col. Leonardas Martavičius, who after a decade also participated in the torture of A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas. Eusiejus Rozauskas, head of the MGB Investigation Department, also interrogated without writing any protocols.

The subject of the interrogation took full responsibility and called himself the commander of all the partisan armed forces. The occupiers primarily wrote down in the protocols what they wanted to hear. If Noreika denied something, they came back to the same issue again. In the same case, the pilot V. Ašmenkas recalled that “According to Col. E.Rozauskas’ order, I leaned down crouched over a chair, my legs shook on one side of the chair, and my head dropped over the other. A whole hail of blows … “

10. From the outset, Noreika categorically denied at the military tribunal that he had “volunteered to serve the Germans”. All the testimonies about the years of German occupation testify one way or another that J. Noreika saw the Soviet terror from close range, regarded the deportations as genocide and opened an exhibition at the Red Terror Museum in Šiauliai.

So, he initially invited the Lithuanians to help fight Bolshevism, but later, taking into account the realities of the Nazi occupation, he became a commissioner of the Lithuanian Front in an anti-Nazi organization in Šiauliai and resisted the pressure of the occupation until the Gestapo finally arrested him. On November 20-22, 1946, he was not indicted in the military tribunal for his involvement, directly or indirectly, in the murder of “Soviet citizens” (which at that time identified the murdered Jews).

On the contrary, all the evidence and testimony showed Noreika’s determination, already mentioned by me, to seek to participate in anti-Soviet resistance. J. Noreika – General Vėtra and his fellow adjutant Zigmas Laukaitis-Šerkšnas, 22 years old, were sentenced to death and on February 26-27, shot in MGB cellars and buried in Tuskulėnai (that’s where the remains of nearly all victims are now stored in a columbarium). The Supreme Court of the Republic of Lithuania rehabilitated all participants in this case on May 27, 1991.

11. Who betrayed Noreika and his associates, and what is the fate of the traitor? After hearing from the agents about the Lithuanian National Council, the MGB launched a case called “Falanga”, which was provided by agents code-named Maple, Siberiabattle, and Air. A quarter of a century ago, Nijolė Gaškaitė-Žemaitienė, a researcher at the KGB archives, found that Agent no. 15764 under the code-name Oras – was the writer, a member of the Council of the City of Vilnius, Valerija Valsiūniėnė. This person is exactly to whom O. Lukauskaitė-Poškienė showed the declaration to the nations of the world, making a mistake. The arrests began shortly … The memorial plaque to Valeria Valsiūniėnė is still hanging.

12. General Vėtra is surrounded and will continue to be surrounded by a variety of myths. Fictional and true stories. For example, when S.Gorodeckis- Radžiūnas offered to write a cassation appeal to win time; the death sentence was suspended in May 1947 (until January 1950). Noreika’s response was fraught with the same thoughts as the speech in court: “No. I will not write. I categorically prohibit writing on my behalf. My trial is illegal. I’m a prisoner of war. I performed my soldier’s oath of war and duty. I have accepted the post of Chief of the Freedom Fighters, and I am only subordinate to the National Council … ‘

13. What about the grandaughter S. Foti’s assessments? I think everyone will value the assessments according to their own knowledge and understanding, and the incentives from friends that we are not aware of (although here I mean Foti and Grant Gochin’s tandem). Here is Noreika’s daughter, the opera soloist Dalia Noreikaitė-Kučėnienė, who once wrote a poem “Father’s Testament”:

Remember, my loving baby,
Force is twofold:
Destructive – is the power of hate,
And the power that sets sail – is love.”

I’m not idealizing. However, I do not accept assessments that are carried from a current “omniscient” position to the past and attempt to moralize tortured, imprisoned, and murdered people. I stress – tortured and murdered!

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