“Had it been the work of a student, it would not withstand criticism and would receive a very low grade“, – this is how historian Nerijus Šepetys judged the acknowledgement of the Genocide Research Center regarding the anti-Nazi activities of Jonas Noreika and the testimony of the Reverend Father Jonas Borevičius. As if the Center had concluded “that “Noreika should be held as a participant of the anti-Nazi underground movement and having actively contributed to the saving of Jews, without any proof whatsoever,” Dalius Stancikas from the Lithuanian Genocide and Resistance Research Center wrote
Historian Alvydas Nikžentaitis spoke similarly, judging the certification even though he had not seen it (!): “if Jonas Noreika had participated in anti-Nazi activities, he had to work so well that no one suspected his activities. The reasons given at that time for his firing from the position of chief of the district were completely different. There was nothing there about his anti-Nazi activities.”
There is no information regarding J. Noreika’s anti-Nazi activities?
Then what was he imprisoned for in the terrible Stutthof concentration camp? Within three of the Center’s research certifications regarding Jonas Noreika, the reason shown for J. Noreika’s arrest by the chief organizer of the extermination of Jews, the chief of the German Security Police and SD in the territory of Lithuania, Karl Jager, is “led the Lithuanian resistance movement, instigating particularly against the mobilization of the Lithuanian nation mandated by the Reich Commissioner “. This is shown on the prisoner’s card of the Stutthof concentration camp (Archiwum Muzeum Stutthof, Sygn., I-III-11224).
If this source is not proof, then perhaps J. Noreika was never imprisoned in the Stutthof concentration camp at all?
The Center’s document indicates many more testimonials regarding the very active anti-Nazi activities of J. Noreika. Let us mention some of the witnesses: Karl Jager, SD chief for the territory of Lithuania; Stepas Kontrimas, leader of the Lithuanian Freedom Army (LLA) of Šiauliai; Vytautas Stonys, one of the organizers of the Lithuanian Kęstutis Front Army unit; Damijonas Riauka, 1941 insurgent; Doctor Domas Jasaitis, leader of the Šiauliai unit of the anti-Nazi Resistance Front [Organization]; Jonas Noreika himself (interrogation protocols of the KGB prison) and, finally, the most recent proof – Father Jonas Borevičius. Mindaugas Bložnelis, the researcher of the Lithuanian anti-Nazi organization/front activities, included J. Noreika’s name among the 53 most important members of the organization.
Knowing about the secrecy of activities of the underground, the number of witnesses is truly quite large (usually, there are fewer such sources about partisans, or those traitors or NKVD agents sent to the underground to infiltrate it).
All these sources are indicated in the Center’s certifications. So why are N. Šepetys and A.Nikžentaitis disseminating the untruth that the Center does not have any proof to support its conclusions? Perhaps because of earlier, irresponsible comments regarding J. Noreika? According to earlier publicly stated judgements of N. Šepetys, Jonas Noreika “was only a “careerist” who, for the opportunity to work as chief of the district “cooperated with the occupiers, persecuted Jews, plundered their private and community property and, by doing it, was indirectly involved in their massive extermination process”, that is, “he behaved shamelessly and reprehensibly.”
We will not evaluate these types of accusations regarding J. Noreika (according to the Constitution, only the Courts can declare this kind of a verdict. Aside from the fact that it is known that H. Geweke, the Nazi commissar whose orders J. Noreika transmitted, was acquitted by the German court of allegations of Holocaust involvement). However, it is clear that whatever proof is found in favor of J., Noreika, it will be null and void for N. Šepetys.
And now about rescuing Jews. Based on the information given above, and other historical sources (they are indicated in an earlier certification of the Center), the Center announced the following conclusion on March 27th in its explanations regarding J. Noreika: “J. Noreika belonged to the Šiauliai anti-Nazi underground that rescued Jews. J. Noreika helped rescuers of Jews.”
The matter is this: the Šiauliai anti-Nazi front, whose organizer was Dr Domas Jasaitis, had created a powerful, wide and active net of rescuers in Šiauliai.
From D. Jasaitis’ and J. Noreika’s testimonies, as well as from the positions they occupied in the anti-Nazi underground (D. Jasaitis was the leader of Lithuanian Front’s Šiauliai city front; J. Noreika – leader of the Lithuanian Front’s Šiauliai district. Both sections had created a mutual council), it is clear that the working relationship between D. Jasaitis (organizer of the rescuers of Jews) and J. Noreika was very close.
Inevitably, to anyone thinking logically, questions would have arisen: how could the rescuer of Jews (officially recognized as such) D. Jasaitis have trusted the individual who was “documented as collaborator of those executing the Holocaust” (that is how J. Noreika is called by E. Zingeris, leader of the International Commission) knowing that anyone saving a Jew was condemned to death?
Would D. Jasaitis, who was risking his life for the sake of rescuing Jews, have called an individual, who was persecuting Jews (as N. Šepetys call Noreika) “a great patriot and resister”, who was “strongly defending the country’s interests against the occupants”? Because, if we judge J. Noreika as N. Sepetys, A. Nikžentaitis and E. Zingeris’ Commission judge, he (J. Noreika) would have been deadly dangerous not only to D. Jasaitis, but also to his wife, Sofija Lukauskaitė-Jasaitienė, who was rescuing Jews as well, and his son and daughter (who worked as teen messengers), and to his wife’s sister Ona Lukauskaitė-Poškienė, with whom J. Noreika later, after the war, created an anti-Soviet organization (one more fact, showing a special relationship of trust between the Jasaitis and Noreika families) and two of her sons!
This entire historical context, as well as other sources, pointed out in the Center’s published explanations this spring, allowed the Center to reach the already conclusion mentioned above. And now, again, the recently discovered testimony of Father Jonas Borevičius (officially recognized as a Rescuer of Jews) that it was J. Noreika, who encouraged him to get involved in the rescuing of Jews, and who then joined the Šiauliai underground and rescue of Jews, thereby supplementing it.
Unfortunately, N. Šepetys is trying to negate this obvious and documented proof, saying: “Most Lithuanian expatriates testified in favor of their compatriots, for their countrymen, favoring the accused. It is understandable in and of itself – they were expressing their solidarity. We are not talking here about justice, about truth, not about law, and certainly not about history. And now, seeking here not only an answer to this question but the question itself as to what J. Noreika was doing, would be the greatest misunderstanding.”*
So there – whatever is right for Šepetys is history, whatever isn’t – is not history.
In the United States courts, there is no justice, regarding the testimony of a priest who rescued Jews – isn’t that so? What is especially painful is that after such reasoning by a university lecturer on social media, a flood (perhaps from his students?) of accusations appeared against the respected Father J. Borevičius, such as “the priest attempted to twist facts about the Nazi henchman Virkutis”, “the priest does not remember this, does not remember that”,- understand – he came to the United States court, gave an oath and then gave false testimony about what he did not remember or what never occurred.
This is how an individual is spoken about, who, risking his life, rescued more than several tens of Jews and called this particularly dangerous activity soul-satisfying work! It is said that everyone judges according to their grade of failure, but the entire course of that priest’s life’s work does not give any reason to doubt his honor or sincerity. Asked by the accused Virkutis to testify about what he knows, Jonas Borevičius, as a true priest, full of human compassion, could not refuse and did testify in the United States court.
Still, he testified only about what he knew, what he witnessed, what he remembered – and nothing more. Any individual who has deep faith, and Father J. Borevičius’ work and activities do not allow any doubt about his faith, knows that to lie is a sin. And here, additionally, an oath had been given. That is why Father J. Borevičius spoke about what he remembered. Some of his testimony was ironical to somehow could he not know or remember some of it, but to an attentive researcher this is an extraordinary proof of the witness’s trustworthiness: after 45 years, it would certainly be suspicious if the priest had had smooth answers to all the questions.
As to the facts connecting his activities with rescuing Jews, Father J. Borevičius narrates clearly and exactly (this narrative could not help the accused Virkutis in any way). These narrations were also confirmed by other priests that participated in the rescue operation group for the rescue of Jews: Father Petras Dziegoraitis and Father Adolfas Kleiba, who were both officially recognized as Rescuers of Jews.
So, we have uncontested facts: Father Jonas Borevičius participated in the Šiauliai anti-Nazi underground and rescued Jews. We only need to determine how he became involved.
That interested the Americans and the United States court: they persistently interrogated father J. Borevičius in the attempt to ascertain whether he was a member of the Šiauliai underground, by asking him many clarifying questions: how did the priest join the underground, how did he start to save Jews. “The leader of the underground met me” answered J. Borevičius. “What was the leader’s name?” “Jonas Noreika”.
Judging critically, why should we doubt this testimony, when all other statements of Father J. Borevičius regarding the rescuing of Jews correspond to reality [the truth], and this testimony does not contradict the entirety of what is already known in the context of the rescuing of Jews in Šiauliai?
N. Šepety’s argument that “wishing to talk about some person’s activity (rescuing Jews), one should first find those who were actually rescued and get their testimony” shows that the historian knows absolutely nothing about rescuing the Jews, and thus, it is advisable that he carefully read Father J. Borevičius testimony about the extraordinary conspiracy [secrecy], about the fact that the priest did not see part (or most) of the rescued Jews (they would come during the night to his unlocked porch, rest a few hours and then continue to Father Kleiba’s); or about Domas Jasaitis wife, Sofija Lukauskaitė-Jasaitienė’s testimony, (also officially recognized as a Rescuer of Jews), who knew exceptionally well how complicated it was for Jews to escape from the Šiauliai ghetto: “rescuing circumstances were so challenging and complicated, that wishing to rescue one Jewish person, it was necessary to involve 5-10 individuals in that work”.
That is why we must now, for once, answer this question for ourselves: do we consider as rescuers of Jews only those who, in the last rescue stage, sheltered them (for example, D. Jasaitis’ friend, Righteous Person Jackus Sondeckis), or also those who organized the entire Šiauliai rescuing network for Jews, those who forged documents for Jews at the administration offices of Šiauliai city government (because it was only with such documents that people usually agreed to accommodate the persecuted for a more extended period), those who sheltered them temporarily (Šiauliai hospital, parsonages, home of the Jasaitis family, and others), those who transported Jews during the night in cars belonging to J. Noreika’s led Šiauliai district or city, those who collected and contributed money for the maintenance of hidden Jews, those who warned in the underground press that whoever oppressed or killed Jews will be tried in independent Lithuania’s courts (this warning appeared in the underground newspaper “Lietuva”, published under the leadership of J. Noreika and D. Jasaitis).
Will we call these people rescuers of Jews, even though they may have never seen the faces of those they rescued, but equally risked their lives and the lives of their families?
Z. Jasaitienė, Father J. Borevičius and other rescuers of Jews, testified that every effort was made to know as little as possible because according to Z. Jasaitienė “if the Jews that were rescued were arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo, they said everything they knew in detail about their rescuers giving their last names, and this created the greatest danger for their rescuers”.
It is a shame that John Noreika himself today cannot deny the accusations made against him, as the Nazi commissar H. Gewecke, founder of the Šiauliai and Žagarė ghettos, could by defending himself in the court of Lubeck in 1969. It is a shame that J. Noreika’s comrade, Domas Jasaitis, in his testimony regarding rescuing Jews, written during the Soviet years, in an attempt to protect J. Noreika’s colleague who had remained in [Soviet] occupied Lithuania, Z. Jasaitienė sister, Ona Lukauskaitė-Poškienė, tried to mention as little as possible the name of J. Noreika, which was compromised in KGB publications, leaving to history only his essential appraisal of J. Noreika: “great patriot and resister.”
And there are some other devious testimonies from which an attentive researcher will understand the particular importance of J. Noreika’s role.
Domas Jasaitis, through whose family efforts many tens of Šiauliai Jews were saved, left the following insight to historians among other testimonies about rescuing Jews: “(work rescuing Jews) was done secretly, without the public knowing anything. It could only be successful by acting in this way since neither the occupiers’ SD and the Gestapo could not find out about it. It was only known to those who were doing the rescuing work and to those who were being rescued. Secrecy – the greatest help to successful underground activity, but the biggest enemy of history because it usually leaves no documented data.”