Strong testimony of Jesuit priest exonerates Jonas Noreika-General Storm of participation in the Holocaust

The fact that a document found in the Jesuit provincial archives (153 pages long), containing the testimony of Jonas Noreika (General Storm) and his relationship with the rescue of the Jews, is weighty. First of all, it is a transcription of the questioning of Jonas Borevičius, a Jesuit priest, conducted by Judge John A. Nordberg on January 8th, 1986, in Chicago, Member of the Parliament, Arvydas Anušauskas wrote.

Together with other Jesuit priests in Šiauliai, who were involved in the rescue of Jews, J.Borevičius (1906-1989) fled to Switzerland after the war, and from 1946 on, lived in the United States. In 2017, he was awarded the State Prize – the Life Saving Cross, having been recognized as personally saving the lives of Golda Perienė and her son, Amos.

The questioning was not a chance occurrence. The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Special Investigations (OSI) attorney, Alan Held, had the objective of questioning the witness about Antanas Virkutis, a former employee of the prison in Šiauliai during the years of the German occupation. At that time, the OSI investigated multiple biographies of Lithuanians and examined their relationships with the German occupation authorities, whether there was concealed participation in the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity. At the end of the hearing, Jean Korinko Sweeney, a notary, certified that the witness Jonas Borevičius was “properly sworn to testify only to the truth” for the entire document.

Questions by Alan Held

Judging by the questions asked by the OSI attorney, Alan Held, he was sufficiently knowledgeable about the events, which took place in the County of Šiauliai during the years of the war.  He had the right as well to express objections, if, in his opinion, a witness relied not on experience, but on hearsay. And he repeatedly exercised this right. Therefore, the protocol only included what the court accepted without reservation.

And John Borevičius testified about what he saw and knew 45 years prior. As a priest, he visited the Šiauliai prison and had a chance to tell what he saw. Firstly, about the job of Antanas Virkutis – in the Šiauliai prison, whether A.Virkutis had been seen in other places (e.g., the POW camp), whether the prisoners complained about him ( “they did not complain about the administration, only expressed the desire that the food would be better”). He also testified about the ghetto – in which part of the city was it located or had he visited it (not actually in the ghetto because no one was allowed even to approach it” ). J.Borevičius told about how the Germans executed two Lithuanian prisoners, who were reluctant to have their eyes tied: “Because we are innocent, we are not afraid to die.”

Questions about the underground activities

When A.Virkutis’ attorney Mary Kathryn Kelly said: “Do you know about the underground movement during the years of the Nazi Occupation of Lithuania?” the priest replied: ” Yes, I do know. He was active in the underground. And one day, the leader of the underground movement met with me … “. At this point, the OSI representative expressed a protest: “I object, that is not determined.” And the priest continued further: “… met with me and asked me to cooperate “. The priest referred to Jonas Noreika as “Jonas Noraika” and named him as the commander of the underground in Western Lithuanian. The OSI representative A.Held again objected, and the priest explained under what conditions he had contributed to the underground activity: “and he asked me to mobilize a small group of priests, to directly help the Jews of the Šiauliai ghetto.

General Storm offered his help

From this response, we can deduce that J.Noreika offered to help the Jews in the already existing ghetto, i.e., no earlier than late July 1941. Father Jonas Borevičius lived and worked in Šiauliai in the years 1941-1944, was the Rector of Saint Ignatius Loyola Church, and Chaplain of the Trade Institute. It was then that he recruited a group of priests to save the Jews – with Father Zigoraitis, the priest of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, and Father Kleiba of Kužis. During the testimony, he briefly described how they helped and that in August, a group of Jews already left the ghetto through their help, secretly reached Kužis, and about 30 people hid in the Rectory: “Father Kleiba, a priest, would find the people a place to stay in the villages, and then move them from the Rectory. And so it continued until the very end of the Occupation”.

Father J. Borevičius couldn’t even say how many people in total were rescued during the years of the Occupation. He further elaborated on why few know about other rescuers and their underground activities; it was a “triples system” of small groups: “if you lose your composure, and lose strength, then you can only tell about the other two groups,” “in the underground, each group has its task. Each group, as in ours, Father Zigoraitis, Father Kleiba, and I, had a goal to help the Jews of the Šiauliai ghetto”.

Contradictions in this testimony

Later, in Father J.Borevičius’ cross-examination, he was questioned about the same events, seeking to find contradictions in his testimony. Here, he included more detailed specifications as to when the rescue of the Jews, as requested by the underground, began (as previously mentioned, he heard the request namely from J.Noreika): ” I do not remember. I think that from the very beginning of the Nazi Occupation. Yes. As soon as the Germans appeared, the Jews were in danger, and most of them were my close friends, and I tried to find a way to help them. And I think as soon as the Germans arrived, almost at the same time, I agreed to work underground with those two colleagues to rescue or – yes, to rescue Jews, regardless of the risks I faced, Sir. ” Father J. Borevičius said nothing more about the underground or its name. He had only heard of the Activist Front and did not know the members. In answer to the question of whether he directed his sermons against the behavior of the Nazis to the Jews, he said that “privately, yes, and my approach was to do something rather than to talk about it.”

In court, Father J.Borevičius couldn’t answer questions about the activities of the “Einsatzkommand”, the Jewish massacre in the Kužis forest, i.e., he honestly told only about the facts that he saw and knew about himself. The OSI representative Held again asked about J. Noreika: whether he was the Siauliai District Commander (presumably, he had the district governor’s position in mind), or whether his authority established a ghetto (the answer – “no”), or whether his administration ordered the Jews to wear yellow stars (“No”).

Bringing food to the ghetto

Not being very well oriented to the wartime situation in Šiauliai (and perhaps having in mind the first three to four weeks of the beginning of the war), Held asked, whether the Jews were forbidden access to public institutions, to engage in commercial activities, to bring food into the ghetto. J.Borevičius answered that “it was impossible, they were all accommodated in the ghetto, and from the ghettos, they were one after another destroyed by the Nazis, and food was brought to the ghettos: “The Lithuanians nevertheless brought it, they brought fairly substantial quantities of food.” Held nevertheless misunderstood and repeated the questions, whether the Jews were arrested for trying to bring food into the ghetto, where they were dispatched, were they arrested for the transportation of food, and so on.

Essentially, this is where the testimony of Father J. Borevičius ends, the record of which confirms the impartiality of the witness, and the telling of the truth. J. Noreika named as the commander of the underground in Western Lithuania (supposedly, the witness did not know exactly and followed his impressions) and as the person, who led him to become engaged in the rescue of the Šiauliai ghetto prisoners, not earlier than when the ghetto was established in late July 1941. What does this mean? This episode only complements and confirms other sources of J.Noreika’s participation in the underground, support for the rescue of the Jews, among which were people who were close to him. Is this strong testimony in favor of J. Noreika? I would think, that as well.

Boreviciu

Priest Jonas Borevičius

 

© 2020 Arvydas Anušauskas. Visos teisės saugomos.