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Memorial plaque at the Library of Academy of Science in Vilnius, vandalized April 2019
|Died||26 February 1947 (aged 36)|
|Resting place||Tuskulėnai Manor|
|Alma mater||Vytautas Magnus University|
|Occupation||Lawyer, jurist, soldier|
|Awards||Order of the Cross of Vytis|
Jonas Noreika (8 October 1910 – 26 February 1947), also known by his post-war nom de guerre Generolas Vėtra (General Storm), was a Lithuanian army officer, anti-Soviet rebel, Nazi collaborator, Nazi hostage, and anti-Soviet partisan.
In July 1941, he was the leader of the Lithuanian Activist Front in Telšiai District. Noreika was one of 46 Lithuanian authority and intellectual figures who were imprisoned by the Nazis at Stutthof concentration camp from March 1943 until the camp's dissolution on 25 January 1945. Noreika was mobilized into the Soviet army, and then worked as a jurist in Vilnius, where he was an organizer of the anti-Soviet Lithuanian National Council. He was arrested by the Soviets in March 1946, and executed on 26 February 1947.
Noreika was born in the small village of Šukioniai in Northern Lithuania in 1910. Noreika studied law, served in the military, wrote for the military, and served on a military tribunal. In 1933, Noreika published an antisemitic booklet titled Hold Your Head High, Lithuanian which called for a total economic boycott of Lithuanian Jews on nationalistic grounds. In 1939, in the military magazine Kardas, he published an essay, "The Fruitfulness of Authoritarian Politics", about the exemplary leadership of Hitler and Mussolini. During Soviet rule, Noreika was promoted to captain.
World War II
Soviet forces occupied Lithuania on 15 June 1940. Noreika was released into the reserves on 28 October 1940. He lived with his wife Antanina in the village of Mardosai, near Plungė. She taught in the village school, and he gave lessons in Russian. He is credited as the leading organizer in Samogitia of the underground, anti-Soviet Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF). LAF was conceived by Kazys Škirpa, based in Berlin, Germany, in documents first presented to Nazi strategist Peter Kleist in July 1940. Škirpa motivated Lithuanian rebels with calls for independence intertwined with calls for ethnic cleansing of Jews from Lithuania. Noreika made several trips back and forth to Germany with the help of former police officer Kazys Šilgalis. He acquired two radios and had contacts with Pilypas Narutis of LAF Kaunas and Juozas Kilius of LAF Vilnius. However, his best ties seem to have been with Voldemarists Klemensas Brunius and Stasys Puodžius of LAF Koenigsberg, who were the liaisons with the German army's high command OKW, military intelligence Abwehr, and LAF's network of messengers. Noreika was a prominent publisher in Plungė of underground leaflets, which LAF Kaunas advised against. Such leaflets led the Soviets to arrest in Samogitia key organizers of the rebellion. The leaflet "Dear Slaving Brothers" (Brangūs vergaujantys broliai), which called for ethnic cleansing, is known to have been printed in the Telšiai region.
At the start of the June Uprising in Lithuania, on 22 June 1941, Noreika led a band of 12 farmers and youths in Mardosai village. German scouts brought him to Memel, where he was given instructions and armbands for carrying weapons. On 24 June, he traveled onward to Telšiai to meet the commandant there, Alfonsas Svilas. Permits to bear weapons in the name of the Lithuanian National Socialist Police were signed by the Telšiai Commandant. Noreika was included in a committee of 12 local leaders which subsequently became the "Land of Samogitia" delegation. LAF published an anti-semitic newspaper with the same name (Žemaičių žemė).
Noreika returned to Plungė where Lithuanian rebels had forced its 1,800 Jews into a synagogue. Noreika's family moved into a home nearby on Vaižganto 9, which had belonged to the Orlianskis family. Captain Noreika was the highest authority, followed by Captain Stanislovas Lipčius, Lieutenant Povilas Alimas, Sergeant Pranas Šapalas, and Arnoldas Pabrėža.
On 20 July, Telšiai District LAF leader Jonas Noreika led a "Manifestation of Freedom and Friendship with Germany", where a crowd of thousands approved a resolution that he had written in support of Lithuania's Provisional Government and complete independence, as well as the German Army, the Reich and Hitler, and the Lithuanian Activist Front. He handed out medals at a water sports festival.
On 25 July, Noreika, in the name of LAF, and Augustas Ramanaukas, as Telšiai District Chief, issued an order prohibiting local initiative in condemning and executing those detained. On 27 July, Noreika gave a speech in Plungė at a "Manifestation of Joy", where the locals approved his resolution. On 29 July, a group of 18 Samogitian local leaders chose LAF Telšiai leader Noreika to head the seven-member "Land of Samogitia" delegation, which also included Juodikis, Ramanauskas, Svilas, Plungė LAF leader Povilas Alimas (an organizer of the Plungė genocide), Dr Leonardas Plechavičius (who led the autopsies in Rainiai), and Jurkus (director of the Telšiai chapter of the Bank of Lithuania). The group drafted a letter voicing affinity with the "Iron Wolf", a fascist clique which on 23–24 July had failed to overthrow the Provisional Government, but had succeeded in taking over Lithuania's battalion and police forces, had established the Kaunas ghetto on 25 July and was organizing the Lithuanian Nationalist Party. The Samogitian group charged their delegation with negotiating unity between the Provisional Government, the Lithuanian Activist Front and the Lithuanian Nationalist Party. On 30 July, Noreika participated in a committee in Telšiai which sentenced Jurgis Endriuška to three months of a labor camp for leading a Communist Youth choir.
In Kaunas, on 31 July, the Samogitians proposed that Noreika represent them in a troika which would merge the Lithuanian Activist Front and the Iron Wolf into the Lithuanian Nationalist Party. The Lithuanian Activist Front rejected this plan. The Provisional Government decided to appoint Noreika as Šiauliai District Chief as a way of getting him out of Kaunas. Interior Minister Jonas Šlepetys, who was being held hostage by the Iron Wolf, made the appointment on 3 August 1941.
On 4 August 1941, Noreika replaced Šiauliai District Chief Ignas Urbaitis, who had asked the Provisional Government to accept his resignation, as he did not want to commit atrocities. The Provisional Government, which Nazi Germany had never acknowledged, disbanded on 5 August 1941. On 9 August 1941, Šiauliai Gebietskommissar Hans Gewecke announced himself in the Šiauliai newspaper Tėvynė. He asserted German control over Jewish property.
Noreika aspired to a higher post, but Gewecke did not support him. Thus Noreika was not responsible for the City of Šiauliai, nor the ghettos there. However, about 100 documents relate Noreika to the management of Jewish matters in Šiauliai District, outside of the city, such as managing the ghetto at Žagarė. On 9 August, he commanded that the Jews of Tryškiai be moved to the town of Gruzdžiai. On 22 August 1941 Noreika informed local authorities and mayors that on the orders of the Šiauliai Gebietskommissar, all half-Jews and Jews in the district were to be moved to Žagarė ghetto, the Jews were allowed only to take clothing and at most 200 Reichsmark. Many Jews were shot on the spot instead of being sent to the ghetto.
Noreika also took the initiative to send a proposal on 23 August to Lithuania's General Counselors that they permit the construction of a forced labor camp at Skaistgiris to make rational use of 200 Lithuanian undesirables. The Lithuanians rejected his proposal as they already had three forced labor camps. He was very popular with the farmers, and Noreika had the farmers supply food to students, so he was popular with them as well.
Noreika's loyalty was first to the Lithuanian nation rather than the Nazi regime. He was an organizer for the underground Lithuanian Front, and distributed their underground newspaper. The Lithuanian Front collected weapons, however, for use not against the Germans but rather against other Lithuanian factions such as the Iron Wolf. He was loyal enough to the Nazis to be sent on a propaganda trip to Germany in 1943 from 31 January to 16 February as part of a group of 14 Lithuanian officials, including Šiauliai mayor P.Linkevičius and Dr Sipavičius, all led by Baron von der Ropp.
Noreika refused to execute mobilization of Lithuanian population to Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS. The Nazis grew furious that Lithuanian leaders had succeeded in discouraging the youth from signing up for a Waffen SS "Lithuanian Legion". On 17 March, the Nazis arrested Noreika as one of 46 Lithuanian political, intellectual and religious authorities as a revenge to failed mobilization. On 26–27 March they were brought to Stutthof concentration camp, where they were held as hostages. In 1944, when the Germans retreated, Noreika was evacuated with other prisoners. Noreika nursed his friend, professor Vladas Jurgutis, and saved his life. The Soviets moved Noreika with other former concentration camp inmates to barracks in Slupsk, Poland. There, in early May 1945, he was mobilized into the Soviet army.
In November 1945, Noreika returned to Vilnius. With Jurgutis's help, he got a job as a jurist for the Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences. Noreika, Ona Lukauskaitė-Poškienė and Stasys Gorodeckis were the three organizers of a self-proclaimed National Council of Lithuania, which recruited suicide squads. Noreika assumed the rank of general and the nom de guerre General Storm (Generolas Vėtra). The Council worked to centralize partisan forces throughout the country, which helped Soviets locate partisan leaders, such as Jonas Šemaška. The Council engaged Lithuanian intellectuals as potential ministers, which led to the arrest and conviction of writer Kazys Boruta, who admitted to reading one of the Council's documents. Soviet authorities arrested Noreika and other leaders of the Council on 16 March 1946. When first interrogated, Noreika claimed that he worked for Soviet military counter-intelligence SMERSH, but three weeks later, he asserted that he had lied. Noreika was sentenced to death on 27 November 1946. He was executed on 26 February 1947, and buried in a mass grave in Tuskulėnai Manor.
Legacy and controversy
The memoir of Stutthof hostage Rev. Stasys Yla established Noreika as a hero amongst the Lithuanian community in exile. Noreika was portrayed as a member of the select group of Nazi hostages, which was living proof of Lithuania's anti-Nazi stance, and that exemplary individual who ventured back into Soviet-occupied Lithuania to fight for freedom. Noreika also cut a dashing image to the young people who knew him, such as Julius Šalkauskas.
In 1997, the Lithuanian state awarded Noreika with the Order of the Cross of Vytis, first degree. A memorial plaque was placed at the entrance of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences. A plaque in honor of Noreika is also at the front of the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights. A village school, as well as numerous streets in Lithuania are named for Noreika.
In 2018, Grant Gochin, an American Jew, filed a lawsuit against the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania for the charge of Holocaust Denial, for erecting a plaque commemorating Noreika in front of the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights. The lawsuit was dismissed as having no legal standing or merit. Silvia Foti, Noreika's granddaughter who researched and wrote on Noreika, filed an affidavit of support of the lawsuit.
On 7 April 2019, the plaque was destroyed by Prof. Dr. Stanislovas Tomas, a human rights lawyer, who planned to participate in the 2019 European Parliament election. Remigijus Šimašius, the mayor of Vilnius, stated that there were no plans to restore the destroyed plaque, however, on 9 April, he announced that the plaque would be restored after documents confirming its initial placing in 1998 were found.
Recently he was accused by several persons and organisations for taking part in organisation of the Holocaust in Lithuania, however these claims were not confirmed by the documental evidence, as the investigation conducted by the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania revealed, and which was confirmed by the decision of Regional Administrative Court of Vilnius Region. A subcommission of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania found the Centre's findings unacceptable and offensive, and objected to the commemoration of Jonas Noreika.
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