My Seven Long Years with Jonas Noreika (“General Storm”)




OPINION  |  GLORIFICATION OF COLLABORATORS  |  POLITICS OF MEMORY

by Evaldas Balčiūnas

Editor’s note: Seven years ago,  journalist, researcher and ethicist Evaldas Balčiūnas, who was born, raised and continues to live in Lithuania, began his remarkable series of articles on state “heroes” who were alleged Holocaust collaborators (or perpetrators) with his 2012 essay on Jonas Noreika (“General Storm”), published in Lithuanian and the same year, in English in Defending History. As a result, Mr.  Balčiūnas (bal-CHOO-nass) was subjected to years of legal harassment and persecution by prosecutors, police, and assorted far-right “plaintiffs” (please scroll down to 22 May 2014 in the Balčiūnas section to follow the saga). The Defending History community is proud to have stood by Evaldas at each of the kangaroo trial hearings in Vilnius, and is delighted that all these years later, talented American campaigners with wherewithal have taken up the cause to major good effect, and have now brought the Noreika matter to the Vilnius courts (see report on 15th January  hearing). We hope that our American friends and colleagues will see their way clear to fully crediting Evaldas Balčiūnas’s work (and noting its consequences for him) on the various new websites and blogs established, including, for starters, the excellent online Captain Jonas Noreika Museum.

The first time I heard of Jonas Noreika was back in 1993. I was chatting with Petras Dargis in the editorial room of the newspaper where I worked, here in Šiauliai, northwestern Lithuania, when a man of short stature came in. He started to scold one of the reporters for his article on Jonas Noreika. These were the times — right after the Soviet system’s collapse — when various colleagues and friends were going through the deepest corners of their memory, looking for all sorts of bits and pieces of their past struggles and sufferings.

This was particularly the case when that which was perceived by some as “their battles” or perhaps even their “glorious episodes” amounted to extraordinary suffering for others. First, Noreika’s comrades came to the editorial office and told of glorious episodes of the (so-called) Uprising of June 1941, incarceration in Stutthof, and the post-war legend of General Vėtra (Noreika’s famous nom-de-guerre which translates: General Storm). The journalist published the story, referring to respectable historical sources.

Evaldas Balčiūnas’s work and life over the last seven years

Report on the 15 January 2019 Vilnius trial

But this was some while after that, when the other side of the story “came and visited” our editorial office: The shortish fellow who walked in to our office was the late Leybe Lipshitz (Leiba Lipšicas),  who had been confined in the Šiauliai (Shavl) Ghetto and the aforementioned Stutthof. In Leiba’s opinion, Noreika was responsible for the massacre of the Jews of Šiauliai County. The newspaper wrote about this other side and even tried to find some evidence of that in the archives. All they found out, however, was that no one wants to talk about the contents of the archives. Sometimes one heard also an  unofficial reason for that: “so as to not anger the Jews” (in other words if the truth came out “the Jews” would know that our state uses taxpayer-funds to glorify Holocaust criminals).

Back then, I was interested in and wrote on social topics and tried my hand at various forms of journalism. The Holocaust was not a topic that interested me much at the time, so I forgot the whole story. Finally, as my life changed, I left the world of journalism for about a decade. When I came back to it, it was more of a hobby to me. But this time, together with other topics, understanding of the Holocaust came to me in a very serious way. I started reporting when all sorts of neo-Nazis became active in Lithuania. Some of them I would encounter regularly. In Šiauliai, Mindaugas Murza (who later changed his last name to Gervaldas) and his sympathizers were politically active. Soon, I came to the conclusion that neo-Nazism in Lithuania is somehow encouraged by the official state policy of historical memory, which uses heroification of Nazi collaborators and war criminals for the purposes of “patriotic education”. These were the circumstances under which I wrote my 2012 article on Jonas Noreika, which would soon appear also in English translation on the pages of Defending History.

Evaldas Balčiūnas in central Vilnius

The topic of the article was not news to Lithuania. The big guns had already been fired. The Supreme Court had issued a full rehabilitation certificate on May 27, 1991. In 1997, the state-sposored Genocide Center (formally “The Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania”) published Viktoras Ašmenskas’s book Generolas Vėtra (“General Storm””) which heroifies Noreika (the author had been tried by the Soviets along with his hero). The book attained supposed academic status via its “scientific editor” Arvydas Anušauskas, then a major employee at the Genocide Center (he would go on, in 2006, to instigate the prosecution against Jewish anti-Nazi partisan hero Yitzhak Arad). In 2002, the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum published an extremely valuable book Šiaulių getas, kalinių sąrašai 1942 (“Šiauliai Ghetto, List of Prisoners, 1942”). It included a facsimile of the August 22, 1941, decree, signed by Noreika, to relocate the Šiauliai County Jews to Žagarė (Zháger). Then a pattern of circular talk emerged.Those who talked of the massacre of the Plungė (Plungyán) Jews were told that during the time of the massacre, Noreika was in Telšiai (Telz). Those who talked of the Jews massacred in Rainiai were told that when the Telšiai Jews were being killed, Noreika was leading the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) unit which had already put down the weapons they had brandished during the so-called Uprising. As for Žagarė, it was explained that Noreika came to Šiauliai when the Žagarė Ghetto was already being established.

And, of course, the rehabilitation certificate was brought up at every possible occasion, without mentioning that the Soviets did not try Jonas Noreika for his role in the Holocaust, and that he therefore could not be rehabilitated from that for which he had never been accused in the first place. My article did not disturb this shameful silence on the contradictions in Jonas Noreika’s biography. In Lithuanian, it was published in a popular, but not influential leftist portal www.anarchija.lt. Noreika’s glorifiers in high government circles continued putting up plaques and naming streets and schools after him. Now we have quite a few of these signs of respect: a monument in Šukionys, Pakruojis municipality; commemorative plaques on the Library of the Academy of Sciences in Vilnius and the Šiauliai District Municipality building in Šiauliai. His name is also engraved in marble on the Genocide Center building in Vilnius on the capital’s central boulevard). A school (now a school branch) is named after him in Šukionys. Streets are named after Jonas Noreika in Šukionys, Radviliškis, and Kaunas.

My article did not make this house of cards collapse. Official institutions tried to stay silent about it. However, there was considerable interest in the article, in Lithuania as well as abroad, mostly in the West. Noreika’s granddaughter Silvia Foti also contacted me after my Defending History article was published. When she came to visit in Šiauliai, I think it was 2014, I told her what I knew about her grandfather and showed her the commemorative plaque. Although she did not agree with some of my interpretations, she did not express dissatisfaction with the article. This was an early inflection point in her long and inspiring personal journey.

I was busy with social activism. Together with some friends, we tried to protest various neo-Nazi marches. I remember how in 2011, when we went to Gedimino Boulevard in central Vilnius to do exactly that, we attracted some police “attention” and direct threats of physical violence. The Tolerant Youth Association’s (TYA) rainbow flag was the object of especially fiery reactions from the marchers. However, no violence took place during the march, although one of the protesters was beaten after it. Out of our wish to resist the rise of fascism, the non-formal anti-fascist organization Antifa Lietuva was born. Besides peaceful and legal action in the streets, it also ran a website. Some articles on it, such as those on neo-Nazi marches or neo-Nazis in the Lithuanian military, would receive feedback from wider society. Due to certain circumstances, the domain was registered under my name. Then, our social activism gathered some attention from the secret services of the Republic of Lithuania. In their summary of the threats (!) to the Republic of Lithuania in 2013, published in early 2014, the State Security Department wrote about us in the chapter “Extremism and Terrorism”. An excerpt in translation:

“In most European states, the phenomenon of radical anti-fascism is related to autonomist groups propagating ideologies of leftist extremism. In Lithuania and other Baltic States, this niche is taken by organizations that implement Russia’s foreign and information policy. Their members tend to use the term ‘right-wing extremism’ not only for expressions of state patriotism related to any country, but also for criticism towards Russia’s policies and for opposition to the concept of historical interpretation as suggested by Moscow.”

Suffice it to say I am a lifelong opponent of Soviet rule, Satlinist crimes, and indeed, any autocratic, dictatorial regime that stifles freedom. Protesting against the glorification of Holocaust collaborators has not the slightest connection to being “pro-Russia” in any 21st century sense. The security services are abusing current geopolitics to stifle free discussion about state policy of making heroes out of Holocaust collaborators and perpetrators. As if such glorification of Nazi accomplices represents some kind of struggle against communism, the Soviet Union, or Putin’s dictatorial Russia.

Words soon turned into actions. Various state-favored personages started suing and courts would take their claims seriously and start trials, even when claims clearly had no basis or contradicted official codes of procedure. Due to police and court persecutions, the website Antifa.lt was closed down. The persecution lasted a long time and was a struggle to endure. Because of it, I lost my job and had to look for another.

Four judges of the District Court of Vilnius City investigated — and rejected as lacking basis or contradicting the procedural requirements — claims submitted by a person who was later convicted in a case of what could be called, in my humble opinion, political murder: the original conflict that led to the killing started when a group of bar patrons, closely associated with neo-Nazis, decided that another patron was a Putin supporter. The fight was uneven: The wolfpack attacked two people, of whom one died as a result.

My trials were interesting as experience. They reminded me of the Soviet years, when the verdict would be known in advance. One judge made a verdict without my participation, without even asking me for any arguments or informing me about her decision. Another judge investigated the case for half a year, then was forced to admit that the claim contradicts the requirements of the Civil Code of Procedures and dismissed the case. The process was slowed down by failing to deliver court documents to other participants and by waiting for additional evidence, while I had to regularly travel to court hearings that would be cancelled more often than not. Every time, it was 450 kilometers there and back, and another wasted day in life. My spirits were improved by the determination of the small Defending History writers’ group to attend each hearing as moral support. Moreover, during the entire period of the court cases against me (not directly on Noreika but in generalized retribution for my series of articles on collaborators heroified by our state), Defending History issued a series of reports on the proceedings which kept the outside world informed, and most probably kept things here from getting worse (see 22 May 20144 July 20149 July 20141 Aug. 201428 April 201512 June 201415 Nov. 201517 Jan. 20169 June 201622 July 2016).

The system demonstrated its soft (or actually not that soft) powers and abilities of persecution. That was probably the actual goal. As a side effect of this adventure, Antifa movement in Lithuania went underground. Lithuanian websites which would publish my articles are not active anymore. Now I publish my Lithuanian articles on my blog and sometimes they are republished by various independent portals.

However, I keep on writing and I am glad that part of my articles on historical topics are published in English translation by Defending History. This website’s support was important to me during the period of persecutions and also as means of spreading accurate information about the gross distortions of history which are, in reality, quite independent of today’s politics and who is “left” or “right”.

Mainstream society is still interested in these topics. For example, such issues as a monument to Krištaponis — who took part in massacres of Jews and POWs in Belarus — in Ukmergė (Vilkomir), are now being discussed widely. The Genocide Center even wrote to the Prosecutor’s Office asking that an investigation be started, but this was a nonstarter: the Genocide Center is not an institution that can “deliver tasks” to the Prosecutor’s Office, and the Prosecutor’s Office, for its part, does not usually investigate dead people. It seems that the issue was just dropped. The Genocide Center is of course perfectly capable of solving it on its own the merits of glorification of Krištaponis based on his military volunteer’s status which was awarded by a commission established by the selfsame Center. The Genocide Center exercised some flawed judgment and it is its own responsibility to fix that. In Vilnius, discussions about a street named for Škirpa are underway, too. Defending History has reported on them extensively.

The issue of Jonas Noreika’s state-sponsored glorification continues to smolder on. It is brought back to public attention every time a new prominent personality joins the fray. That 2012 article of mine suddenly became much more “relevant” when a group of public figures demanded in 2015 that the plaque for Noreika be taken off of the Wroblewski Library facade in central Vilnius. I do not know the full details of the campaign, but one of its key elements was an article by Rimvydas Valatka, whose title translates: “Whom Did Lithuania Honor: Partisan Leader General Vėtra or a Jew Killer?”

I was surprised that the part of the article that told of Noreika’s wrongdoings was simply taken from my article (that had appeared in Lithuanian on Anarchija.lt and in English in Defending History). Neither Valatka nor those who provided material for his article mentioned any new details. However, the matter was by 2015 being pursued by a group of influential persons. The Genocide Center was forced to react and wrote several variations of its official certificate of Jonas Noreika’s activities. The issue became public. Some of the active public figures went silent, but some of them, particularly among those not living here, including Grant Gochin, a financial planner and wealth advisor in California, continued the struggle without letting up. Not only did he send out formal requests on Jonas Noreika, he also tried to start an investigation in order to actually have the commemorative plaque for Noreika removed from the Wroblewski Library facade in central Vilnius. Finally, having had enough of the tendentious and untenable interpretations of the Genocide Center, he hired researcher Dr. Andrius Kulikauskas to investigate archival documents on Noreika’s activities. Andrius asked for my help to translate a part of the files from Russian. Neither Grant nor Andrius knew the real scope of the research — or how many documents would have to be reviewed — when they set out on the project. My role in the research was to amount to more than providing translations from Russian.

I was truly amazed at the number of documents on Noreika’s activities preserved at the Lithuanian Central State Archives (LCSA). For example, the Office of Šiauliai County registered around 7,000 documents from August 5, 1941, when Jonas Noreika took office, to December 1, 1941. Actually, there were even more than 7,000, for several documents of certain correspondences would be registered under the same numbers. Several thousand of them survived, and more than a hundred documents record events concerning Lithuania’s Jewish citizens, including transfers of Jewish propertyand other kinds of persecution. I cannot help but feel ashamed for the historians of the Genocide Center who continue talking about “only several documents”. Especially when the record of reader registration in the archives shows clearly see that the historians of the Center have indeed gone through those files. One sample document, Noreka’s order for the removal of all regional Jews to the ghetto, mentioning already plans for the disbursement of their belongings (in other words he knew exactly what was going to happen to them), was recently published on these pages. Another sample contains the allocations for Noreika himself from his murdered neighbors’ belongings, including the formerly Jewish-owned bed, tables and shoes he rapidly came to enjoy. These are our “national heroes”…

Noreika, Jonas (Wilnr.st. 260)

[prices in Reichsmarks]

0.16  —  1 Kl. Schrank  [small cabinet]

1.20 — 1 Paar warme Schuhe  [pair of warm shoes]

12.00  — 1 Schreibtisch  [desk]

18.00  — 1 Buecherschrank  [book case]

30.00  —  2 Holz Betten mit [M]atratze  [2 wooden beds with mattresses]

25  —  1 Schrank  [cabinet]

18 — 1 Buefett [buffet]

11 — 1 Toileten Spiegel [bathroom mirror]

3 — 2 Nachtschraenckchen  [nightcaps]

[Editor’s note: The photograph of the original previously in this space has been withdrawn after a party reported danger of a lawsuit [?] on the grounds that it was purchased by a party from the  Lithuanian Academy of Sciences Library on condition that only four specified persons would receive a copy. Presumably it will be published by the online Captain Jonas Noreika Museum. Hopefully, all documents relevant to Holocaust history will be made available by the Library, which continues to flaunt a plaque glorifying the Holocaust perpetrator at its central Vilnius building, causing grave and ongoing damage to Lithuania.]

This was further confirmation of my conclusion that Lithuanian society is being purposefully misinformed about the Noreika issue. The perpetrators should be named by an independent investigation, for such activities as glorifying Holocaust perpetrators seriously harm the reputation of the Republic of Lithuania.  The investigation should be carried out by the institution that controls the Genocide Center: the Seimas (parliament). I do not believe it will be done, however. For example, the “scientific editor” of the aforementioned book by Ašmenskas, when discussing the issue on TV, said this about Noreika, (now on Youtube, timecode 3-3:52). In translation:

“I have to admit that I researched General Vėtra’s story only partly, starting from the point where he comes back from […] in 1945, to Lithuania after the Stutthof camp and after forced service in the Soviet army. Up to the point when he was arrested and shot, it is the period that I reviewed, including interrogations and torture of him and his comrades. They happened and they were intensive. I know his general story, too, of course, just like everyone else sitting here…”

This confession of the scientific editor of Ašmenskas’s book seems even stranger when one knows that some documents of the Office of the Šiauliai County are referred to in that book. However, Anušauskas is a politician now, and perhaps different criteria of research and evidence apply to politicians.

Let us come back to our research results. A request based on the research was sent to the Genocide Center (it can be found at Grant Gochin’s website). After sending out the request, I spent quite a lot of time presenting the documents I had gone through to various people: politicians, members of parliament, people from the Jewish community, even US journalists. People in the US were interested in the Noreika issue as much as people in Lithuania, especially after Noreika’s granddaughter Silvia Foti published her famous piece in Salon in the summer of 2018. Lithuanian media showed much less interest. Well, one news portal did present the Genocide Center’s position on the issue and made some clumsy attempts at “exposing” someone or something, including some malicious libel against myself. When I contacted the Inspector of Journalistic Ethics about this libel, the portal admitted that they plagiarized this info from another portal which, in turn, had done the same, and finally it turned out that their original source was blogger “Zeppelinus” who has been described by Defending History as Lithuania’s major neo-Nazi blogger, infamous for his racist, antisemitic, misogynist, and homophobic views (see DH’s selection of Zeppelinus’s “art” on DH staff, and more generally his racism, antisemitism, misogyny and homophobia). Incidentally, “Zeppelinus” is thought to be still a high official in the Economy Ministry.

There were other legitimate and important opinions the represent breakaway from prior positions held. The official Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius finally expressed their public opinion that Noreika should not be glorified by our state. As a result, the foreign minister recently, and for the first time, found himself in a  Zeppelinus photoshop hit-job together with DH editor Dovid Katz.

In October and November, 2018, I published ten articles on my blog on Jonas Noreika’s activities covering the period when he was Governor of Šiauliai County. The last one provides the links to the previous ones. There is enough historical material on Noreika’s participation in the Holocaust for several books; however, I am not an author whom anyone in Lithuania would dare to publish.

Grant Gochin decided to appeal to the court in order to have the Genocide Center change its official position. His appeal can be found on Silvia Foti’s website, which now also includes a significant part of the original documents related to Noreika under the heading “Captain Jonas Noreika Virtual Museum”.

There is hope that the Republic of Lithuania will take a stance and order the Genocide Center to stop denying the Holocaust crimes of various of its “national heroes” (at the moment we’re often in the “circular position” of high officials like the mayor of Vilnius saying he’ll abide by the Genocide Center’s conclusions when it comes to rethinking a deeply offensive street name).

The court hearing will take place on Tuesday January 15, at 10 AM, at the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court, on Zygimantu Street 2 in central Vilnius. see Defending History’s report for more information and DH’s own take.

I will take part. I invite all those who care to do the same.

This entry was posted in Collaborators Glorified, Evaldas Balčiūnas, Free Speech & Democracy, History, Human Rights, Lithuania, Litvak Affairs, Memoirs, News & Views, State Glorification of Holocaust Collaborator J. Noreika and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
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