LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 14, No.1 - Spring 1968
Editor of this issue: Anatole C. Matulis
Copyright © 1968 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
VERSAILLES AND MEMEL
ROMUALD J. MISIŪNAS
The author is completing doctoral studies in Russian history at Yale University. During the 1968-69 academic year Mr. Misiūnas will be an exchange student at the Moscow State University.
The region referred to as Memelland (Klaipėdos kraštas in Lithuanian)** is composed of the pre-Versailles German area situated north of the Niemen River — an area roughly the size of Luxemburg with a population, in 1910, of slightly over 141,000. Prior to World War I the city of Memel was a port of secondary importance in East Prussia. Although the harbor was of greater depth than that of Koenigsberg and, moreover, ice free, the authorities had always favored Koenigsberg.1 So as to prevent competition between the two ports, Memel and its Kreis were directly attached to the Prussian Regie-rungsbezirk of Koenigsberg whereas the rest of the area belonged to that of Gumbinnen,2 As a consequence, Memel and its surrounding area felt less attached to Germany than the rest of East Prussia.3
The nationality of the inhabitants of the region was debated. The indigenous population had largely disappeared during the rule of the Teutonic Knights. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the area was repo-pulated by immigrants. As service in Memel was much easier than elsewhere in East Prussia, settlers were attracted. In addition to Lithuanians, Swiss, French, Pfael-zers, Magdeburgers, and Dutchmen colonized the region.4 Therefore, the majority of its inhabitants in 1914 were not descended from the indigenous population.5
The city of Memel was thoroughly German. However, were one to consider the population of the entire region, it is questionable whether the German-speaking element possessed an absolute majority. The Festschrift des Koeniglichen Preussischen Statistischen Bureaus for 1905 states that in the Kreis of Memel, 43.94% of the inhabitants spoke Lithuanian as their mother tongue; in the Kreis of Heydekrug, the percentage was 57.78. Taking into consideration the two to three percent who were bilingual and who were listed as German and excluding the officials who were transients, a conclusion that the Lithuanian speaking element possessed a slight majority in 1905 can be reached.6 Another pro-Lithuanian argument is based on the Prussian church statistics of 1912 which lists 71,782 inhabitants out of a total population of 138,529 as being Lithuanians, and it is not unlikely that those Lithuanians who spoke German were included as Germans.7 According to the census of 1925, under Lithuanian rule, 59% used Lithuanian habitually as against 38% for German.8 Although statistical arguments could be carried ad infinitum with numerous modifications and corrective factors, the generalization that the German and Lithuanian speaking elements in the pre-war Memel region were virtually equal numerically seems to be valid. However, prior to the war, a discussion of ethnical statistics could only have been academic as virtually no resident of the area dreamed of separation from Germany, and the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants, including the Lithuanian element, were nearly 100% Lutheran and loyal subjects of the King of Prussia and the German Emperor.
The economic life of pre-war Memel depended heavily on its position as an export port for Russian Lithuania. Timber, floated down the Niemen, was especially important; in 1913, it represented 32.8% of the value of all imports of the area and 41.8% of the value of all its exports.9 Although pre-war traffic seemed to be expanding satisfactorily,10 there are also some claims that Memel was stagnating. The population increase between 1870 and 1900 was only 1,108 (from 19,008 to 20,116),11 and the British Peace Handbook, published in 1920, rounds off the population of the city at 21,000.12 Presumably, the last figure includes the increase during the war years when the port became a important supply center for the Eastern Front. If this assumption is correct, the population growth of the city is surprisingly small. Although the contention that pre-war Memel was a dead branch 13 is a gross exaggeration, the fact that Russia was improving her Baltic ports would inevitable have affected the volume of trade through Memel.
During the war, the Russians who had occupied the city briefly in early 1915 hoped to be able to acquire the area once Germany was defeated. Indeed, the Britisher L. W. Lyde envisaged the entire Niemen basin as belonging to a postwar Russia, a proposition which would have detached a large portion of East Prussia.14
The first mention of annexation of Memel to a future Lithuanian state came in the United States on September 22, 1914, when 250 delegates of various Lithua-nian-American organizations met in Chicago and demanded a future independent Lithuanian state which would include Memel.15 This group enjoyed little significance at the time, but it is likely that by 1918 Wilson was acquainted with their aspirations. During the war years, however, most Lithuanian nationalists never claimed the area. Pastor Gaigalaitis (Gaigalat), a native of the area and a member of the Prussian Parliament for Memel, wrote a book in 1917 advocating an independent Lithuania;16 he makes no mention of Memel as being Lithuanian. On March 23, 1918, Germany recognized the independent state of Lithuania. At the time the latter made no claim to any territory under German sovereignty.
Little is known of precisely what occured at the Paris Peace Conference in connection with Memel; only an outline can be reconstructed. The Lithuanian activity at Paris in 1919, however, does stand out.
The first goal of the Lithuanians was to be admitted to the conferene as a belligerent. On February 16, 1919, their delegation arrived at Paris and asked Clemenceau to be allowed officially to present their case to the conference. One of the delegates, A. Voldemaras, argued that an unrecognized government's inadmissibility was not a question in view of the participation of the British dominions. Some of the other Lithuanian claims for admission, however, such as that two-thirds of Rennen-kampf's army had consisted of Lithuanians17 were unfounded.
Clemenceau received the delegation, but informed the delegates that the question of admission was to be determined by the Principal Powers acting together. In the end, Lithuania was not admitted and was treated only as a de facto state. A later claim by Voldemaras that Clemenceau had promised admission has no basis.18
The committees of experts attached to the delegations of the various powers considered that in the future Poland and Lithuania would form one state. Their recommendations were largely presented with this assumption even if it was not expressly stated. Dr. Isaiah Bowman of the American Intelligence Section was of the opinion that Memel should go to Lithuania.19 Professor Frank Golder of Harvard, who was the Lithuanian expert in the Intelligence Section, seems to have been of the same opinion.20 The map of Lithuania in the Outline of Tentative Report and Recommendations Prepared by the Intelligence Section in Accordance with Instructions for the President and Plenipotentiaries includes Memel within the projected boundaries.21 The same report specifically advocated a Polish-Lithuanian federated state.22 The French Comité d'Etudes as a whole and more particularly Professor A. Meillet who was in charge of Polish-Lithuanian affairs, also concluded that Memel should go to Lithuania within a Polish-Lithuanian state.23
Within the organization of the Paris Peace Conference, the Commission of Polish Affairs treated the question of Memel as well as of East Prussia. A sub-committee under Laroche of the French Foreign Office dealt specifically with Memel.
Apart from Memel, there were proposals to detach other parts of East Prussia as well. On February 28, 1919, the President of the Polish National Council, R. Dmowski, presented a memorandum to the commission of Polish Affairs which proposed that not only Memel but the in-tire notheast of East Prussia should be given to a Lithuania attached to Poland.24 There was also a movement in some Polish circles to claim Memel apart from Lithuania on the basis of Wilson's Fourteen Points. The Polish delegates even prepared a propaganda map indicating their claim to Memel.25 However, as there was yet little Polish hostility toward Lithuania in anticipation of a Polish-Lithuanian federation, the Poles generally supported Lithuanian claims to Memel at this time. The Lithuanian delagate Voldemaras states that Paderewski assured him personally of having demanded the detachment of Memel so as to give it to Lithuania. Voldemaras adds that this, of course, was done with the understanding that all Lithuania would be Polish.26
The Lithuanian delegation was afraid of Polish intrigue, and as the government which they represented had not received de jure recognition, they were convinced that an attempt would be made to force Lithuania into a union with Poland. To forestall this, an appeal was made to Wilson on March 17, 1919,27 and to Clemen-ceau on March 24. The memorandum presented to Clemenceau 28 asked for both Memel and other parts of East Prussia. Already on February 6, 1919 the newly organized National Council of Prussian Lithuanians had sent an appeal to Clemenceau to detach the Lithuanian areas, both Memel and regions south of the Niemen from East Prussia.
Frères du peuple lituanien encore opprimé par la regime russe (probably a reference to the Bolshevik invasion of Lithuania proper then in progress) et proches parents du peuple letton de Cour-lande et de Livonie, nous fumes arrachés il y a cinq siècles au Grande-Duché de Lithuanie par l'order des chevaliers teutoniques et nous vivons depuis lors courbes sous le joug allemand.29
The March 24 memorandum contains further arguments of this nature as well as reasons why Lithuania should belong neither to Russia nor to Poland. There is also a statement of the possibility of Lithuania's becoming a buffer state between Germany and Russia.
There is a contention that the mention of German wrongs inflicted on Lithuania, whether fictitious or real, was a clever play on the psychology of Clemenceau,30 who subsequently announced that he would free "the poor oppressed Lithuanians from 'the German yoke in East Prussia'."31 There is a further contention that the March 24 memorandum ruined all chances for a plebiscite in Memel.32 The decision to detach the area had already been taken on March 12, 1919, but what was to be done with it was still undetermined.
The effect of the March memorandum on
and the subsequent Memel clause is questionable. As the conference
remained closed to the Lithuanian delegation,33
it is much more plausible to attribute the Memel clause and
Clemenceau's attitude to the influence of the Poles. Even his statement
about freeing the oppressed Lithuanians could have been made within a
context of envisaging giving them to a Polish-Lithuanian state.
The Memel clause in the Treaty of Versailles 40 was admittedly temporary, and satisfied hardly anyone. The Lithuanians complained over the refusal to name a new sovereign.41 They were, furthermore, disappointed that there was to be no plebiscite on the left bank of the Niemen which they claimed on ethnic grounds. The Conference, however, felt that as the process of Germanization had gone too far in these districts, it was unreasonable to take into account a few pockets of Lithuanian speaking majorities.42 Any direct Polish claim to Memel was also buried.
The clause was most odious to the Germans, especially the Memel Germans who had already been aroused by Lithuanian propaganda activity since the armistice. A national council for Preussisch Litauen had been founded on Novehiber 16, 1918. It consisted of notable Lithuanians of the area including Dr. Gaigalaitis (Gaigalat). The organization had set up an information bureau at Berne, and had channeled propaganda into the Memelland through the French embassy at Kobenhavn.43 The Germans had begun to hold protest meetings. The greatest fear of the Memellanders was the possibility of incorporation into Poland, and for many of them in 1919 that was synonymous with incorporation into Lithuania.At that stage, therefore, the Lithuanian movement failed to make much headway in Memel.
As news of the treaty began to leak out, a delegation was sent to President Ebert to request that Memel be kept in Germany. The Social Democratic Party held meeting at Memel and Tilsit on May 8, 1919, protesting a peace violence and affirming that the Prussian districts north of Niemen were purely German and desired to remain such.44
The Treaty had been presented to the Germans on May 7, 1919, Two days later a general protest was sent to the Allies followed by a note of protest on the thirteenth which dealt specifically with territorial questions. Neither note mentioned Memel. It is possible to gauge from these notes, the importance which the government in Berlin attached to the area at his stage. Only on May 29 did Brockdorff-Rantzau declare in the Comments by the German Delegation on the Conditions of Peace that the inhabitants of the Kreises Memel, Heydekrug, and parts of Tilsit and Ragnit, including those speaking Lithuainian had never wished for separation. He admitted that the Lithuanians did have a majority (53%) in the Kreis of Heydekrug according to the 1910 census. The city of Memel was purely German. In the area as a whole, there were 64,000 Germans to 54,000 Lithuanians.
A movement for joining; the Lithuanian population of the former Russian Empire does not exist in this part, apart from a small group of no weight, especially since the Lithuanian population of the former Russian Empire is Catholic, whereas that of the German territory is Protestant.45
On the whole, Brockdorff-Rantzau's observations were correct, except, perhaps, for an underestimation of the Lithuanian movement in the territory at the time. Although it was comparatively small numerically, it did enjoy the support of several rather prominent people of the area like dr. Gaigalaitis (Gaigalat), and was not exactly "a small group of no weight."
The Allied reply denied that the cession of Memel conflicted with the principle of nationality.
The district in question has always been Lithuanian; the majority of the population is Lithuanian in origin and speech; and the fact that the city of Memel itself is in a large part German is no justification for maintaining the district under German sovereignty, paticulaily in view of the fact that the port of Memel is the only sea outlet for Lithuania.46
The latter part of the reply seems to indicate that even had the area been overwhelmingly German in speech, it would still have been detached and that the right to free access to the sea superseded the right to national self-determination. Kalijarvi believes that Laroche purposely stated it in the above terms so as to avoid any plebiscite in Memel which he felt would have gone against both Poland and Lithuania.47
The reply also gives the indeterminate status of the Lithuanian territories as the reason for administration by the Allied and Associated Powers. It is most likely that had Lithuania not been emerging state, Memel would have been given to her outright.
It is difficult to determine whose idea the Allied occupation was. The claim that dr. Gaigalaitis (Gaigalat) first suggested an Allied occupation to precede a gradual relinquishment in favor of Lithuania and was responsible for the adoption of this by the Conference 48 is hard to accept, particularly in view of the fact that the doctor was not called to testify before the Commission of Polish Affairs,49 even though he may have been of the above opinion. If the idea did not originate within the Commission itself, as may well have been the case, it would be most plausible to ascribe its proposition to the Polish delegation as an arrangement which was most favorable to Poland's Lithuanian policy.
The Lithuanians did not seem to be in favor of the arrangement. In all likelihood, they would have preferred a plebiscite. Indeed, before the treaty was signed, the Lithuanian envoy at Paris, Mr. Klimas, suggested just that. If it were favorable to Lithuania, the area was to be handed over to her immediately, if not, a partition could be effected.50
It would seem that the Lithuanian envoy was overly optimistic as to Lithuanian chanches in any plebiscite in Memel at the time, although the fact that he did propose one could also be an indication that the Lithuanian movement in Memel was stronger thatn most authorities on the subject seem to think. In the census of 1925, under Lithuanian rule and after several years of detachment from Germany, 59,337 out of a total population of 141,644 declared themselves German, 37,625, Lithuanian, and 38,404, Memellander. Most of those in the last category were illiterate peasants of Lithuanian origin.51 In view of this, it is possible that the Germans might not have obtained an absolute majority in any plebiscite. However, a partition as suggested by Morrow 52 and mentioned by the Lithuanian Minister would not, as the city of Memel was German, have solved the question of Lithuania's access to the sea.53 In any partition, the city would have been separated from the rest of East Prussia due to fact that the Kreis of Heydekrug to the south of Memel possessed the greatest concentration of Lithuanians in the area.
After Clemenceau's answer became public, the German Memellanders made every effort to have Brockdorff - Rantzau and Erzberger obtain a status for them like that of Danzig. In June, 1919, a Vor-Parlament of 100 members was organized, and met to discuss the possibility of a free state. The fact that its 18 Lithuanian members withdrew seems to indicate that already a sizeable portion of the Lithuanian element was considering a union with Lithuania. The remaining 82 members voted for a resolution for union with Germany, but the Allied occupation had already been decided upon at Versailles.
The treaty was signed on June, 28, 1919. In July of that year, a second Vor-Parlament was called. Its first request was for occupation by the English if there was to be an occupation at all. On August 26, 1919, the assembly asked the Allies for a free state status under German mandate,54 or at the very least for self-government,55 but the reply was that the treaty could not be changed. A decision was taken to declare the Memelland a republic under Prussia, and in the event of a Prussian refusal, under Germany. Were the Allies to veto this, a plebiscite was to be demanded. The fact that a plebiscite did not head the list of German proposals might also be indicative of an uncertainty of the ability ot obtain a German majority.
There is no mention of any Lithuanian members in the second Vor-Parlament. In all likelihood, there were none. At the same time, a Lithuanian group, referred to as the "Little Lithuanians"56 met at Tilsit to work for annexation by Lithuania, if necessary with some degree of autonomy.
The Treaty of Versailles was ratified on January 10, 1920. On January 9, a meeting had taken place in Paris between German and French representatives with the purpose of working out the details of the German evacuation of the Memelland. It was decided that the transfer would take place ipso facto as soon as the treaty went into effect. When the Allied and Associated Powers received the books and accounts of the area, the German rights therein would be considered terminated.57 The German troops would be withdrawn; however, all administrative and judicial officials who had not been hostile to the Allied and Associated Powers could retain their offices without thereby losing their rights in Germany.58
An English quartermaster-general was dispatched to prepare for the arrival of the Allied troops. This gave rise to some hopes that the English would be the occupying power. Not only the German Memellanders but also Lithuania would have preferred such a situation. However, on February 5, it was announced that the occupants would be French. On the whole, the Lithuanians disliked the Polonophile French, and the fact that France was the occupying power would psychologically influence their actions until 1923.59
The transfer of the territory took place on the tenth,60 and on the twelfth, the evacuation of German troops was completed. The following day, the first French troops landed, and on the fourteenth, the French commander, General Odry, landed with the greater part of his contingent of chasseurs alpins.61
Although Gen. Odry swept away the second Vor-Par-lament's constitution, he did allow the Committee of Seven who had been elected by that gathering as an executive to continue as an advisory body under the name of the Directory. On July 7, 1920, a civil commissioner, Monsieur Petisne, was appointed; he set about the reorganization of the government. Although his measures seemed drastic, in fact, they were but adaptations of the previous Prussian administration to Allied rule.62 While a detailed discussion of the organization and function of the local government of Memel under Allied rule is out of the scope of this paper,63 it should be pointed out that its operation was unsatisfactory.64 The professional and business groups were given a predominance; these groups were largely German. The Directory was composed virtually exclusively of Germans. The railroads were under the Prussian railway administration at Koenigsberg. All the civil servants, including judges, clergy, and teachers were salaried by the Prussian government As a result foreign elements exercised a decisive influence on the civil administration.65 The Lithuanians were thus to a large extent justified in claiming that notwithstanding the Allied description of Memel as being Lithuanian, the government and the officials were Germans and that the vast majority of the officials were not even of local origin.66
As the occupation of the Memelland began in January, 1920, the French had not yet given up the idea of a Greater Poland. The Allenstein plebiscite had not yet taken place, and the thought of eventually giving Memel to a Poland-Lithuania was still strong.67 As France wished the area either to become a part of Poland or else to come under French protection, French rule was benevolent so as to win the confidence of the people.68 Although the educated members of the comminity, both German and Lithuanian, and newspapers such as the Memeler Dampfboot continued to protest the presence of the French, the population on the whole became indifferent to them.69 Morrow's contention that the Memellanders began to feel that separation from Germany under their loca! government as constitued by the French gave them better prospects70 is, however doubtful. The Germans desired reunion with Germany, and the Lithuanians desired union with Lithuania.
Lithuanian activity on the Memel question was rather quiet during 1920 and 1921 and was mainly limited to an economic blockade of the territory with the aim of achieving domination.71 The primary reason for the Lithuanian reticence was the hope that the Allied and Associated Powers would restore Vilna (Vilnius) which had been seized by the Poles. There was a fear of antagonizing the Conference of Ambassadors while that question was being discussed.72 Voldemaras feels that it was a tactical mistake for the Lithuanians to mix the Memel question with that of Vilna.73
The Hymans Proposal, designed mainly to solve the Lithuanian - Polish dispute also made reference to Memel. The area was to come under Lithuanina sovereignty, but Poland would be guaranteed the use of the Niemen as well as of the port Memel for all transport including munitions.74
In spite of strong French pressure, Lithuania rejected the Hymans Proposal. With the rejection ended all possibility for a Greater Poland, and at the end of 1921, the French were in a dilemma as to what to do with Memel. There was no langer any possibility of giving it to Poland, and there was little desire to give it to Lithuania.
The Lithuanian movement in Memel was growing. The Lithuanian Constituent Assembly had on November 11, 1921, adopted a resolution which would provide autonomy for Klaipeda (Memel) when the area joined Lithuania.75 The fear of Polish aggression, though in actuality a rather remote possibility by that time, the belief in the economic impossibility of a free state, and the consideration that future French pro-Polish machinations might be in the making led a sizeable number of persons to conclude that union with Lithuania was the least of all evils.76 On February 21, 1922, another Lithuanian organization, the National Council (Tautos Taryba) for Memelland was formed from representatives of various Lithuanian organizations in the territory. It was in the future to be the chief spokesman for the Lithuanian party in the area. In the resolution adopted on that day, the Lithuanian candidates for the Territorial Directory were withdrawn, and the activities of those seeking a free state were condemned:
The newly-elected National Council of the Prussian Lithuanians, assembled in the Rytas public hall at Memel, on 21st February, 1922, in the eyes of the Entente and of all other civilised States raises a resolute protest against the unlawful action of the Arbeit-gemeinschaft for the independence of Memel, which by all sorts of intriguing, mendacious and unjust methods has collected in Memel District signatures in order to prove that a majority of the inha-bitans of this region deside independence.77
The above statement of the Lithuanian community as well as the actions of the German Arbeitsgemeinschaft seem to indicate that activity by both sides in the territory was on the increase in the anticipation of an imminent solution.
In early 1922, the Lithuanian government also initiated a diplomatic offensive for the acquisition of Memel. Up to that time its communications on the subject had been addressed to the Conference of Ambassadors. On March 7, 1922, however, a lengthy note was presented to the government of Great Britain.78 Apparently, the Lithuanians believed that something could be gained through an appeal to Britain. The English had supported the Lithuanian cause much more than had the French. The British government had been the first of the Allied and Associated Powers to extend de facto recognition to Lithuania. Moreover, Britain seemed very cool to the French idea of a Greater Poland. In all likelihood, the Lithuanians thought that a determination of the final status of Memel by the Conference of Ambassadors could be effected through British insistence; the French seen^ed for the moment to favor the status quo. But as Memel was largely a French affair in practice, though nominally in the hands of the Allies, it was the French attitude which counted. The note to Britain seems to have had little if any effect.
The fact that the note to Britain
placed great stress on economic arguments for Lithuanian possession of
Memel is noteworthy. Hitherto, although economic arguments had been
presented in support of Lithuanian claims, they had always been
secondary to nationality arguments. The note to Britain then can be
said to represent a change in tactics by Lithuania not only due to the
fact of an appeal to a single Allied government but also due to a shift
in the stress placed on the arguments for Lithuanian possession of
In spite of the diplomatic activity of the Lithuanians, by mid-1922 serious doubts about the eventual turning over of the territory to Lithuania began to appear among the other Allies, apart from the French who had by now virtually renounced the suggestion. The facts that half the inhabitants spoke German, and that Memel was not only the outlet for Lithuania but also for the Vilna region as well as the notion that the Memellanders were better socially organized and hence would be more happy in a state of their own began to carry weight in the councils of the Conference of Ambassadors.79 The Allied reluctance to turn Memel over to Lithuania is perhaps best demonstrated by the refusal to tie the Memel question with the de jure recognition of Lithuania.80 On July 13, 1922, Lithuania was informed that de jure recognition would be extended to her by the Allied Powers proided that she would observe the internationalization provision of the Treaty of Versailles concerning the river Niemen.81 After several exchanges of notes discussing the Lithuanian state of war with Poland and its effect upon the navigation of the Niemen,82 Lithuania accepted the provisions of the treaty upon normalization of relations with Poland.83 The Allies ignored the last reservation, and on December 20, 1922, granted Lithuania recognition de jure in view of Lithuania's unreserved agreement to observe the internationalization of the Niemen.84 With this, the question of Memel should also, in theory, have been solved. The status of the Lithuanian territories had been decided, and according to the Reply of the Allied and Associated Powers to the Observations of the German Delegation on the Conditions of Peace the reason for the Allied occupation was the indeterminate status of Lithuania. This was the Lithuanian position,85 and it was stated in the first reply by the Lithuanian Foreign Minister to the offer of de jure recognition.86 However, Poincare replied, over two months later, that the question of recognition de jure could in no way to tied to the question of Memel.87
A committee of the Conference of Ambassadors headed by Laroche which had been set up in early 1922 to study the Memel problem and to work out a new plan was still in session. On Noveber 6, 1922, the Lithuanian Delegation appeared before this committee and presented, economic, financial national, and political reasons why Memel should be united to Lithuania. As in the note to Great Britain, the economic reasons predominated. There was even a veiled hint of a total economic dissassociation form Memel were it not to be ruled by Lithuania:
Memel séparé politiquement de la Lithuanie s'en séparerait également dans le domaine économique et celui des voies et communications. Pour assurer son développement économique, l'Etat lithuanien, dans cette éventualité, se verrait obligé de donner à la construction de ses voies ferrées nouvells la dirction la mieux appropriée à ses interests économiques.88
If this can indeed be read as a threat, the question arises whether it could have been effected. The answer seems to be affirmative. There was at the time no direct railway between Memel and Lithuania, and Lithuania found it easier to export her produce through Liepaja and Koenigsberg. The partial economic boycott initiated in March, 1920, was not therefore entirely due to political motives. The statement that "Lithuania, if absolutely necessary, can dispense with Memel," but that "Memel cannot live without Lithuania,"7989 seems to have had some effect. It was further corroborated by various Lithuanian organizations in the Memelland which bombarded the Laroche committee with memoranda, statistics, and arguments to that effect throughout November, 1922. The National Council (Tautos Taryba) of the Union of Prussian Lithuanians of the. Memel Territory, the Board of The Council of the Kreis of Memel (without the adherence of three German members), the Lithuanian Members of the Chamber of Agriculture of the Memel Territory, the Union of Lithuanian Merchants in Memel, the Economic Party of the Memel Territory, a delegate from the Peasants' Union of Small Holders of the Memel Territory, and the Organizations of Lithuanian Youth at Memel 90 all appealed to Laroche demanding union with Lithuania. If their claims that the Memel trade was stagnating and if their statistics are correct, the partial economic boycott begun by Lithuania seems to have been showing its intended results. The fact that Germany to which Memel's currency was tied was suffering from inflation tended to aggravate matters.91 The organizations also complained of Germanization and rule by German officials, but these complaints were only secondary to the economic ones.
We have been unable to find any records of German Memellander presentations to the Laroche committee, but the fact that such took place is indicated by the Lithuanian groups in their reply to Laroche's inquiry as to their identities and composition.
It should be mentioned here that the delegate Raszavitz is a member of the largest Company of retailers of the Memel Territory and is in close connection both with the groups and with the Chamber of Commerce whose delegate to the Conference of Ambassadors was M. Jahn. But this gentleman had not been appointed by the aforesaid organizations and had not made known his intentions before leaving for Paris. Consequently there is now great excitement and dissatisfaction among the groups of which M. Jahn styled himself the representative, since the retail merchants fear that the Memel Territory, if it is sparated from Lithuania, will be exposed to collapse.92
On November 7 Laroche sent a questionnaire to the Lithuanian delegation consisting of five questions as well as a request for statistics of the Memel trade.93 Apparently, the arguments for economic hardship in Memel had had some effect on the committee. On December 19, O. V. de L. Milosz, the Lithuanian representative at Paris, returned the questionnaire with answers as well as a statistical memorandum on the 'Memel trade before the war. He regretted not being able to furnish adequate statistics for the war and post-war years as such were unavailable to him. There had been five questions. To the first, what effect would the closing of the Lithuanian frontiers to a Memel free state have, the answer was: "... (it) would lead to an 'abrupt and gloomy downfall,' . .. the economic crisis would evoke, especially in the town of Memel, social disturbances with all the consequences arising therefrom."94The second question as to the effect of a solution favorable to Lithuania on Memel's trade was answered with a prediction for economic, political, and cultural growth for the area. The third question dealt with the effect on a Memel united with Lithuania of a prolongation of the latter's conflict with Poland. The answer, after an indictment of Polish activity, states that Memel would continue to be deprived of connection with the Vilna region but that Lithuania could provide the unequipped port with more business that it could handle. The fourth question as to whether the Lithuanian project of autonomy (the November 11, 1921, resolution of the Constitutent Assembly) envisaged a special regime for the port was answered in the affirmative. The last question, inquiring Lithuania's feeling toward the organization of a de facto administration for the port with representatives of the interested parties, i.e. Memel, Lithuania, and Poland was answered to the effect that Lithuania does not want a joint administration of the port.
On November 4, the Laroche committee had sent a similar questionnaire and -request for statistics to Dr. Gaigalaitis (Gaigalat), the representative of the National Council (Tautos Taryba) of Prussian Lithuanians at Paris. This was answered on November 21. The first three questions and the answers to them were virtually identical in conclusion with the first three of the questionnaire to Milosz. The fourth question asked whether a Memel free state deprived of the opportunity to simultaneously trade with Poland and with Lithuania would prosper. The answer was that Memel as an independent state could not exist without support from the hinterland. Trade with Poland, moreover, was out of the question, due to the Lithuanian blockade. The last question asked what part of the prosperity of the port depended on foreign trade and what part on internal trade and how the respective portions affected the balancing of the budget. The answer concluded that under Lithuania the budget would be balanced. There was no statistical section attached separately; the statistics had been presented in the course of answering each of the questions.96
We have been unable to discover if Laroche sent any questionnaires to any of the German groups. However, in view of the fact that none of the sources mention any. it is fairly safe to conclude that if any were presented, they have not been made public.
The French desired the creation of a free city in Memel, but the British did not support them in this.96 However, in spite of British opposition, the Laroche committee seems to have been going in that direction.97 The Polish proposal for a free state for the trial period of ten to fifteen years was in all likelihood the solution that would have been adopted.
The Allies never seem to have seriously considered a plebiscite in 1922. The Germans in the territory were at the time well disposed toward one;98 however, it did not meet the approval of the Lithuanian element: "... we find ourselves compelled to protest against any plebiscite proposal for a population which, from time immemorial has been subjected to an agitation devoid of scruples."99
Lithuanian fears that Memel might become a free city were growing. There was a feeling that under such a status it might come under Polish influence. The Polish-Memel Convention of April 6, 1922, though thwarted by the Lithuanian blockade of the Niemen,100 was looked at uneasily.
In December, 1922, after Lithuania had been recognized de jure, it became evident that the Laroche committee might soon reach a decision on Memel. Many prominent Lithuanians, no doubt disillusioned by the failure of the Conference of Ambassadors to effect a Polish evacuation of Vilna and believing that Memel should have been handed over to Lithuania following the extension of de jure recognition, became convinced that the Entente was hostile to Lithuanian national aspirations and that the Memel decision would be unfavorable to Lithuania. They began to feel that only Lithuania could solve the phoblem favorably through a coup.
Although the Lithuanian government had no definite policy toward Memel101 and was officially neutral in the question of a proposed takeover and although the President, A. Stulginskis, was opposed to the idea as being too risky, certain highly placed individuals actively supported the proposal. The Prime Minister, E. Galvanauskas, personally favored the idea; he received strong support from Ex-President A. Smetona.102 On December 23, 1922, the latter published an emotional article in the weekly Trimitas (Trumpet) arguing that even were there not a single Lithuanian in Memel, the city should by right go to Lithuania for economic reasons.103 On January 4, 1923, in another article for the same publication, he stated that Lithuania would never accept any solution of the Memel problem which did not assign the area to her alone. He went as far as to hint at the possibility of a Lithuania invasion, stating that experience had shown that without de facto there was also no de jure.104 The idea of staging a takeover seems to have been prevalent among high Lithuanian government officials who felt that since Lithuania had been recognized de jure by the powers on December 20, 1922, and had not yet been given Memel, she was not slated to receive it at all.105 In spite of the opposition of some army officers,106 the decision to create a Lithuanian putsch in the Memelland was taken on January 4, 1923.
The decisive factor in the success of any such undertaking according to Lithuanian thinking was the German attitude. The pivotal question was whether the Germans, especially the Memel Germans would resist a Lithuanian invasion. The German upper classes in Memel were strongly anti-Lithuanian. While there seems to have been some feelings among the Social-Democratic leaders that the lot of the workers could become worse under Lithuanian rule, this element was not especially anti-Lithuanian. The businessmen, who had been amassing fortunes by importing German goods into Memel without export duty and re-exporting it elsewhere, were aware that the situation was temporary and had already begun to make contacts in Kaunas, just in case.107
Galvanauskas sought out the German envoy to Lithuania, Olsenhausen, and mentioned to him the plan for a putsch.
Olsenhausen is said to have agreed to it personally and one day later
to have received instructions from Berlin to indicate to the
Lithuanians the tacit approval of the German government.108
V. Krėvė-Mickevičius, who was at the time a high official in the
Lithuanian militia, claims that he went to see General Seeckt in Berlin
in connection with the projected uprising and that the latter, as it
was more in the interest of Germany to have Lithuania rather than
Poland rule the area, approved of the project. Mickevičius further
contends that the general promised to influence the Memel Germans not
to interfere and that an agreement on arms purchases for the
undertaking was reached.109 We have
been unable to discover anything in the collection of General Seeckt's
papers which would corroborate such a contention. However, the notion
of tacit German support for the venture seems to have had some
following as Voldemaras was later to claim that Lithuania owed Memel to
The takeover was to be effected in two stages. A "Committee for the Salvation of Lithuania Minor" was established at Šilutė (Heydekrug); it was to spearhead the uprising which, when begun, would be continued by "volunteers" from Lithuania, a call for which was sent out on January 7, 1923. The choice of Šilutė as the headquarters of the venture is significant; "on opposait le centre rural lituanien a la ville allemande." 111
On January 9, 1923, the affair broke out in the Memelland. In two days, only the city of Memel remained out of rebel hands and by January 15, it was all over. Though largely an insignificant action militarily (the casualties were 20 Lithuanian volunteers, 2 French soldiers, and 1 German gendarme) the region was, for practical purposes, united with Lithuania. Officially, the revolution had been directed against the German dominated Directory, but the result was the virtual end of Allied rule in Memel.
The timing of the coup could hardly have been better. The French were too busy with the Ruhr invasion to bother with a backwater. The British seem to have been very inclined to accept the Lithuanian coup de main so as to be able to recognize the Polish seizure of Vilna.112 The Italians and the Japanese were really disinterested. Only the Poles were furious. They threatened to renew hostilities with Lithuania, and there were some suggestions that Poland should receive a mandate from the Allied to crush the Memel rising, and a special Polish emissary, Mr. Tarnowski, was sent to Memel to pave the way for an intervention.113 However, Soviet Russia, as if also approving the Lithuanian coup, began to concentrate troops on the Polish frontier with the effect of forestalling any projected Polish military undertaking against Lithuania.
The Allies had no desire to use military power to change the situation in Memel; they had acquiesced in the similar Polish seizure of Vilna.114 Moreover, there was the thought that someone was behind Lithuania in the affair, possibly Soviet Russia. Although there is no indication of any active Soviet role in the Lithuanian takeover, Soviet interest in the fate of Memel is indicated by the note to the Allied governments of December 22, 1922, to the effect that Soviet Russia would not recognize any settlement of the Memel problem brought about without her consent.115 Galvanauskas claims to have mentioned the possibility of a Lithuanian takeover of Memel to Chicherin while the latter was in Kaunas on his way to Berlin. Chicherin seems to have fully agreed with thè idea of a Lithuanian coup.116
The Allied reply to the Lithuanian invasion was surprisingly weak, a naval demonstration and several notes of protest. The Allies took refuge in negotiation.117 After a month of protests on the Allied part and claims of innocence and good faith on that of Lithuania, the Allies gave a definite promise on February 4, 1923, that the territory would be transferred to Lithuanian sovereignty; on February 16, 1923, the Conference of Ambassador reached this decision.
Over a year of negotiations, including a referral to the League of Nations, was still to pass until the problem would be officially solved with the May 8, 1924, signing of the Memel Convention. But for practical purposes, a solution had been reached with the success of the coup. In the end, although Lithuanian sovereignty was somewhat limited, slightly more so than the November 11, 1921, resolution of the Lithuanian Constituent Assembly had envisaged, Lithuania gained most of what she desired. Poland, in spite of strong protests, was virtually excluded from any role in Memel.118
In all likelihood, the original intentions of the Treaty of Versailles toward Memel were ultimately effected. However, this was due not to Allied desire, but rather to the fact that a new situation had been created which could only be reversed through the use of armed force, a means which the Allies were unwilling to employ in this question. The reluctant Allied agreement, however, acquired the appearance of being due only to a wish to end the tedious affair rather than to a genuine accord with the terms of the settlement. Undoubtedly, this raised the hopes of those who were displeased that the solution was not lasting and that at some suspicious moment in the future it could be changed without much trouble.