LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 31, No.4 - Winter 1985
Editor of this issue: Antanas V. Dundzila
Copyright © 1985 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
THE POLISH ULTIMATUM TO LITHUANIA
The Despatch of Lithuanian Minister J. Baltrušaitis in Moscow
Translated and annotated by
ROBERT A. VITAS
Jurgis Baltrušaitis, Sr., poet and diplomat, was born in Paantvardžiai, near Skersnemunė, county of Raseiniai on May 2, 1873. Having completed gymnasium in Kaunas in 1893, he enrolled in the Science-Mathematics faculty at the University of Moscow, also attending history and philology lectures. Baltrušaitis paid for his studies by tutoring. In 1899, he was one of the founders of the "Skorpion" publishing house. He began contributing to Russian literary publications and until World War I made frequent and extended visits to Western Europe. His second, collection of Russian poetry, Gornaia tropa (Mountain Path), published in 1912, was translated into Italian and Bulgarian.
Baltrušaitis spent the war and Russian Revolution in Russia, participating in relief work among Lithuanian refugees. Following hostilities, he continued his cultural work, for a time being in charge of all of Russia's theaters and concert repertoires. He was elected Chairman of the Soviet Writers' Union in 1919. Baltrušaitis was a very prolific poet, wrote ten short stones and numerous articles on literature and art in Russian. He translated about fifty works from various European countries into that language.
In 1920, Baltrušaitis was appointed Minister to Moscow by the Lithuanian government. He would remain continuing his literary work until 1939, when he was appointed Counsellor of Legation in Paris. He died there on January 3, 1944.
Baltrušaitis was a Russophile, although some of his work was in Lithuanian. This is further accentuated by the fact that most of his Lithuanian work was written between 1940 and 1943. This long-term acquaintance with Russian life and culture spilled over into his political views. He represented the school of thought which leaned to the Soviet Union for support. Baltrušaitis felt that only the Soviets could be counted on as partners in Eastern Europe; he saw Lithuanian and Soviet interests converging. Undoubtedly, Commissar for Foreign Affairs Maxim Litvinov's statements in support of an independent Lithuania added fuel to such thoughts among Baltrušaitis and others like him, for example, military attache in Moscow Colonel Kazys Kučas. Baltrušaitis was to remain undaunted in his belief in Moscow, even after the Kremlin's lack of concrete action on Lithuania's behalf during the Polish-Lithuanian crisis on March 1938, in which Poland successfully demanded the restoration of diplomatic relations after the killing of one of its border guards (See Lituanus, Summer 1984, pp. 43-73).
This view is brought out in the following despatch. Baltrušaitis submitted it to the Lithuanian foreign ministry as 1) a chronological country-by-country account of the crisis, 2) a summary of his philosophy, and 3) a broad recommendation in the direction of the Soviet Union. The document was utilized during a high-level policy conference involving the Lithuanian diplomatic corps and foreign ministry personnel on October, 20, 1938. Apparently, most of the conferees did not share Baltrušaitis' views; the conference opted for the policy of neutrality.
The original Lithuanian version of the despatch is from the archives of Mr. Vaclovas Sidzikauskas, former Lithuanian minister to the League of Nations, and provided courtesy of Dr. Thomas Remeikis. It was translated in consultation with Ms. Birutė Tamulynas; French translations by Ms. Ramoną Steponavičius-Stephens.
Assistance on several historical points was rendered by Mr. Jonas Dainauskas of the Library of International Relations, Chicago.
The annotated translation follows.
May 12, 1938
1. The Poles' use of violent methods to restore normal relations with Lithuania, viewed in perspective, pushed us into a new political situation, but in no way changed the unvarying political will of the entire Lithuanian nation and her national leadership to be independent, self-sufficient and free, as much in her distinctively hardy cultural spirit, risen again from the ashes of the ages, as in the structure of her internal political life.
Indeed, in eighteen years the absence of any relations with the Poles was a strong barrier, in whose protection the recently-reborn Lithuania brought up her children, broadened her national experience, strengthened the national welfare, as well as moral, cultural and material forces. She deepened her current steadfast self-confidence, her honorable courage and her sturdy Lithuanian resistance to any expected and unexpected dangers.
The first barrier broke in a way painful to our national will.1 But dangerous exterior forces encounter a perhaps much stronger bulwark, thanks to a painful misfortune, which concentrated national unity and courageous resistance. This, in the first place, must guarantee Lithuania's independence.
Therefore, Lithuanians need neither shiver very much nor become dejected, because Lithuania's path is still the same; only the signs along the way may be somewhat changed.
2. Mankind's situation in our time is, first of all, a rather confused tangle of separate states and their often opposing interests. This is yet so gnarled that the same goal-seeking fibers are not often side-by-side. In other words, true friends are often bigger enemies than plunderers. In addition, the important members of the tangle history's leaders stretch the entire tangle or parts of it wherever they need to.2 Besides, in the forests of mankind, the small, weak trees are often doomed to be destitute in the shadow of centuries-old oaks, which smother their very existence, decide or change their innate function in the world.
In other words, the security and independence of separate states, especially the small ones, often depend, to a great extent, on their larger neighbors. Therefore, it is important for every nation to carefully take into consideration her neighbors' tendencies and observe their political peculiarities and desires. For it is extremely important that the little fish recognize the pike, and the chicken the hawk.
We are sufficiently acquainted with our large neighbors, Poland and Germany, to know what they are as political entities among themselves and in the midst of their allies.
Our recent, painful difficulties were the true tests of our friends and well-wishers. Thus it is necessary to observe the behavoir of our supposed and true friends. In general, we must safeguard our security and maintain potential aids to the defense of our national existence.3
3. The spirit of Poland's political role in the European system today clearly manifests itself in the Poles' relations with the French.
After Poland's agreement with Germany,4 the Poles' international policies, in due course, began to develop in not completely the same direction which firmly and clearly guided Poland's postwar relations with France.5 And today, the relations between these two countries have strayed so far from their original path, that not only do many former joint Franco-Polish political interests no longer coincide, but often, for example in the Czechoslovakian problem, clearly conflict and become adversative.6
Poland's megalomaniacal policies have long been searching for other friends and assistants; for example, the Rumanians, Yugoslavians, Hungarians, Italians not for the joint benefit of two countries, but for her own separate political goals and desires. Thus Paris' influence in Warsaw, and Paris' confidence in Warsaw is constantly decreasing, if it has not already evaporated.7
For example, Ambassador Coulendrou8 reports with great anger that the French question as to how the Poles would react if the Germans were to invade Czechoslovakia was recently answered: The Franco-Polish mutual assistance pact9 is a purely bilateral pact and takes effect only if the Germans attack France.
Coulendrou stressed: That is how it still exists today, but tomorrow even that may no longer be. Later he added: We will see how the Poles feel when the day dawns not too far distant when France expresses that Poland cannot expect French assistance.
It is no less important to comprehend the spirit of future German relations with the Poles.
With a certain caution and reserve, this spirit was clearly characterized by the famous General Koestring in his conversations with our Colonel Skučas during the Polish ultimatum.10
During the ultimatum, the Poles indirectly and the Japanese, Italians, and Germans directly daily intruded into the Lithuanian Legation in Moscow and hunted me down for the singular and clear purpose of learning whether the Soviets were not considering reacting to Beck's actions in some sort of concrete, meaning armed, way. This for them was the test of current Russian strength.
Did not even General Koestring visit thrice? In a long conversation with Colonel Skučas he nervously burst forth with the following points:
As time passes, Poland is becoming less important to Germany.
She is necessary only temporarily, while we realize our vindication in the West.
But the time will also come for Upper Silesia and the Corridor.11
How that will occur is another question, but it will occur.
For example, war between Germany and the Soviets could arrive. The path to the Soviets goes through Upper Silesia and the Corridor. After having marched into those territories, we would not leave.
Poland probably does not know that she is working for us gratis.
If, for example, we were to join the Poles in war against the Russians, then, having taken over a portion of the Ukraine, we would not give the Poles even a pinch of Russian land.
If the Russians and Poles were to go to war against us, which is also possible, the peace treaty would also be concluded at Poland's expense.
In ambiguous fashion, the general later implied that if Poland were determined to take over Lithuania, she would find different landlords in the Klaipėda territory.12
They need a port? Let them find one elsewhere.
As he concluded, General Koestring quietly said: Why shouldn't the Russians rattle the sabre? Then the Poles would stop driving toward their ultimate objectives.13
That should be compared to Prague's news, namely, having bestowed its blessing upon Beck's deed, Wilhelmstrasse firmly advised the Poles that they should in no way cause an armed conflict with the Soviets.14
There are other observers of Germany who feel similarly about the future of German-Polish relations.
4. The actions of three friendly states during the ultimatum.
March 12. The British ambassador in Warsaw inquired to Vice Minister Szembeck15 about the incident, advised moderation and expressed hope that the incident would not lead to threats.
Collier16 instructed the British ambassador in Warsaw to meet with Beck and receive an assurance that the incident will not be used for the purpose of aggression.
March 18. Halifax,17 after the presentation of the ultimatum, stated that he would immediately take steps in Warsaw, advising the renunciation of extreme demands because the Lithuanian government agrees with the demand to restore diplomatic relations, in principle.
The British will propose that the Poles extend the term of the ultimatum, so that there would be more time to consider the matter.18 Regarding the League of Nations, Halifax cannot advise without having thought about the question longer.19 He is of the opinion that during the term of the ultimatum such a move would not be practical. If British efforts in Warsaw fail, he will not be able to take responsibility for having advised to reject the ultimatum.
March 18. Halifax's instructions to the British ambassador in Warsaw.
"Please insist firmly that the Polish government accept the suggested procedure of the Lithuanian government to restore diplomatic relations;20 this gives Poland what she wants without creating an unfavorable impression and without destroying her good name. According to my information, the French government will make a similar proposal; therefore, the French ambassador will probably also make the same kind of demarche. But even if he does not, you do so anyway. If Poland does not consent to consider this demarche, then ask for at least an extension of the term, citing the absence of Prime Minister Tūbelis21 from Kaunas. I informed the Lithuanian minister in London22 that I cannot accept the responsibility for advising Lithuania to reject the ultimatum. I agreed to make a suggestion that perhaps other forms pleasing to the Polish government could be found. I was likewise not able to advise the Lithuanian minister in London that the League of Nations be appealed without having studied this question in greater detail; it is not clear to me what the results from that would be. Perhaps it would be possible to consider the League only when nothing better is left. State all of this to Poland's foreign minister in whatever form you feel is best. You can say that Poland's ultimatum would ruin Poland's good name, as well as that of M. Beck, if she were to keep insisting anyway on an extreme form for a goal which could be realized without an ultimatum."
On March 18 the British ambassador in Warsaw reported to London on the results of his demarche: "Beck showed me the text of the ultimatum23 and said that I am the first foreign individual to which he has shown it. The Polish government, in Lithuania's interest, is not releasing the text; but, of course, it is not Poland's matter if Lithuania herself releases it." (Here in his report, the British ambassador indicates that having read the ultimatum, he found it to be rather polite).
Next, Beck summarized for the British ambassador his efforts of 1935-36 with Lithuania's foreign minister to restore diplomatic relations.24 In January of this year, unofficial representatives of Poland and Lithuania had likewise begun discussions regarding the same matter. In February, those discussions had proceeded favorably. The names of ministers had even been mentioned, along with a place for them to meet. Suddenly, for no reason, the discussions were broken off. The border incident exhausted Poland's patience. From the interrogation of a captured Lithuanian agent, it became clear that Lithuania had sent him to carry out underground anti-Polish propaganda. Polish establishments brought suit in court against Lithuanians living in the Vilnius region who had been recruited to aim propaganda against Poland. In this way, Poland's patience was exhausted. The ultimatum demands nothing more than diplomatic relations, which are unavoidable. He, Beck, had received past pressure from all quarters to make extreme demands, but had refused to so.25
In response to the ambassador's question as to what would happen if Lithuania were to reject the ultimatum. Beck was unable to say what would occur, but stressed that the effects would be "grave."
Further, the ambassador asked if Polish armed forces are concentrating. Although Beck avoided giving details, (he denied any military activity).
The British ambassador also repeated that which he had stated to Szembeck.
Beck wrote down the ambassador's wishes. Concluding the conversation, Beck expressed the hope that the Lithuanian government will accede to his request.
At about 3 A.M. M. Preston 26 read the telegram of the British ambassador in Warsaw addressed to Halifax: "I was informed by the French ambassador that the Lithuanians, through the French government, had accepted all of the conditions of the Polish ultimatum except the March 31 date, which is when diplomatic relations are to be restored. The French ambassador informed Beck, who replied that he could not accept the Lithuanian response in any way other than through their minister in Tallinn,27 as is specified in the ultimatum. My French colleague indicated to me that this is a trivial matter in a question of war or peace. However, I agree with his view, which he expressed to Paris, that it would be better for the Lithuanian government to accept the ultimatum in its entirety, instead of bargaining (merchander) over dates and methods of communication. It must be remembered that public opinion has been aroused and it would be difficult for the Polish government to justify any moderation of demands. The Lithuanian government would be well-advised to accept the ultimatum just as it stands prior to 21:00 Saturday, unless she is determined to go to war."
At 3:30 M. Preston read Halifax's instructions regarding the above-mentioned British ambassador's telegram:
"From the conversation with Balutis I understood that the Lithuanian government accepts the Polish ultimatum, in principle. I have just learned from Warsaw that the Polish government requires complete acceptance, including the March 31 date, the restoration of diplomatic relations and a reply through the Polish minister in Tallinn.
"This should not create any difficulties if the Lithuanian government has accepted the essence of the ultimatum, as I believe she has done. Please try to convince the Lithuanian government to accept the ultimatum in its entirety."
Further, M. Preston informs that the demarche, according to this instruction, was to have been made in tandem with M. Dulong,28 since the French had approached Halifax with such a proposal. However, it appears that M. Dulong has not yet received such instructions.
M. Klimas29 on the evening of March 16 telegraphed that if the Poles demanded only relations, any of our attempts to negotiate that point would not receive French support.
March 18. Leger30 agreed to intervene in Warsaw to try to persuade the Poles to renounce the use of an ultimatum. The French hold an appeal to the League of Nations as a theoretical construct. They do not accept responsibility for a rejection of the ultimatum; they doubt their influence with Beck.
March 18. Leger informed M. Klimas that their demarche in Warsaw had been very forceful. Beck thanked the French ambassador for France's interest in the Lithuanian-Polish question, but he cannot turn back now, since Polish public opinion has been aroused and this question has fallen to it. He cannot make any adjustments in the ultimatum as it stands now.
The general impression of the conversation was clearly negative. Leger deeply regretted that he was unable to accomplish anything and advised M. Klimas to see Paul Boncour.31
March 19 13:00. M. Dulong expressed: "En ce qui concerne recours à Génève et concerne non la forme assurement injustifiable, mais le fond de la demande polonaise, il est fort douteux que la Lithuanie eut l'intérèt à titre immédiant à s'en remettre à la SDN [Société de Nations] qui s'est d'ailleurs en ce qui la concerne déja prononcé pour la frontière que la Lithuanie a jusqu'ici refusé de reconnaitre."32
In this way the French government intervened twice in Warsaw for the sake of moderation.
The French government must advise that Lithuania not create illusions for herself, that in this case French action in Warsaw would be as decisive as the Lithuanian government desires. French influence in Warsaw is also limited. Therefore, the French government would not want to place the Lithuanian government in jeopardy, for which France would not be able to make guaranties. However, taking into account Lithuania's request, the French government, seeing the extreme brutality of the Polish note, undertook a demarche in Warsaw. Nevertheless, her demarche cannot be directed against the essence of the note. Consequently, the French government agrees to be an intermediary, so that the restoration of diplomatic relations between Lithuania and Poland would be executed under more favorable conditions. For such a demarche, the French government must receive the assurance of the Lithuanian government that she will agree to open diplomatic relations with the Polish government sans conditions préalables [without prior conditions], and that she will accredit a representative to Warsaw no later than April 15. In that way, the setting of a date later than that appointed by the Poles may sooth Lithuania's ego. Lithuania, however, refused this French transactional offer, giving the reason that Halifax had agreed to mediate in the restoration of diplomatic relations between Lithuania and Poland not under the conditions of the ultimatum, not appointing a date in advance when representatives must be accredited, Dulong inquired about the reason for Kaunas' refusal.
The response was that it was important to the Lithuanian government that Polish demands not assume an extreme form. The French transactional formula did not allow for extreme demands to be eliminated only the date was postponed. Therefore, the Lithuanian government felt that either that or another date if the extreme form remains had no importance.
Further M. Dulong made explanatory efforts, so that the Lithuanian government would not think that France did not want to use all of her influence in Warsaw to assist Lithuania in this matter. M. Dulong said that if the Lithuanian government feels that way, it would not be correct. The French government was determined to use all of its influence, except that influence is greatly diminished in Warsaw at the moment.
March 19. M. Klimas reported in a telegram that Paul Boncour had already learned of our affirmative response. He asked that his regrets regarding what happened be conveyed to the Lithuanian government. He guarantees that France will always be friendly toward us, and will constantly be on guard to see that Poland not repeat measures unacceptable to Lithuania's honor.
March 16, 15:30. Litvinov33 received Baltrušaitis, who had just returned from Kaunas. He expressed knowledge of the extreme demands that the Poles were preparing in connection with the border incident, garnered from an earlier Estonian report addressed to us. Moscow understood that the ultimatum had already been formulated; Litvinov had already telegraphed Paris about the gravity of the situation. He advised the Lithuanian government to quickly inform Washington about the seriousness of the situation, because in this way an appeal would be made to American public opinion.
March 16, 24:00. Litvinov announced to Baltrušaitis by telephone: This evening I summoned Ambassador Grzybowski,34 who pretended to know nothing of any ultimatum. I strongly expressed that the potential Polish move against Lithuania would create difficult complications in Eastern Europe.
March 17, 13:00. Litvinov announced to foreign correspondents a Soviet declaration which proposes that peaceloving nations convene a special conference to defend peace. He compared the Lithuanian-Polish conflict to Czechoslovakia's tragedy. The declaration:
"Having joined the League of Nations35 with the intent of working with other peaceful states in an organized manner, the Soviet government did not let pass a single suitable opportunity to recommend the most effective guaranties of peace. She saw these in the organization of the League of Nations' collective security system, and also in the organization of regional non-aggression pacts to defend against aggression. The Soviet government took practical steps on this road, concluding such pacts with France and Czechoslovakia36 pacts which do not threaten, in the absence of aggression, any nation.
"During the past four years, breaches of international obligations toward the Covenant of the League of Nations and the Paris Briand-Kellogg pact37 attacks of nations against nations have occurred. They gave an opportunity for the Soviet government to express not only its non-involvement in these international crimes, but also to express readiness to actively participate in all measures contributing to the organization of a collective opposition to an aggressor, even in spite of the unavoidable worsening of relations with that aggressor. The Soviet government also warned that international passivity and leaving aggression unpunished in one instance later leads to the repetition and multiplication of such events. The events of international life, unfortunately, confirm the accuracy of these warnings. They have been reconfirmed by the military encroachment into Austria,38 and the use of aggression to deprive the Austrian people of their political, economic and cultural independence.39
"Instances of aggression first occurred more or less on Europe's edge or on continents far from Europe; aggression touched the interests of non-neighboring nations. This time violence is being used in the center of Europe and has created unquestionable dangers not only to eleven nations the aggressor's neighbors but to all nations within and without Europe.
"Thus far, the threat has formed against territorial integrity and, in every case, the political, economic and cultural independence of small nations. Their unavoidable enslavement will create the conditions to pressure and even attack the largest nations in similar fashion.
"In the first place, a threat arises against Czechoslovakia. Further danger, thanks to the contagiousness of aggression, threatens to grow into new international conflicts and is already manifesting itself in the tense conditions near the Polish-Lithuanian border. The present international situation places before all peaceful nations, especially the Great Powers, the question of their responsibility for the long-term fate of all peoples Europe's and otherwise. The Soviet government understands its share of this responsibility, and its obligations stemming from the Covenant of the League of Nations, the Briand-Kellogg Pact, and non-aggression agreements concluded with France and Czechoslovakia. Therefore, in the name of the Soviet Government, I [Litvinov] can express that it, as before, is prepared to participate in collective operations along with those who have the goals of stemming the future spread of aggression and abolishing the dangers of new, larger international slaughter. It agrees to immediately discuss with other nations within the League of Nations and beyond practical means dictated by circumstances. Tomorrow it may already be too late. However, the time for that does not have to arrive if all nations, especially the Great Powers, take a firm, unequivocal position with regard to the problems of collectively rescuing peace."
March 18, 10:00. Baltrušaitis conveyed to Litvinov's secretary the text of the ultimatum received from Kaunas at 8:00 A.M. It was immediately presented to Litvinov, who had spent the night at home since it was a non-working day.
March 18, 16:00. Baltrušaitis saw Litvinov. Not having been able to confer with government officials since it was a non-working day, Litvinov did not state his personal advice but, as he put it, thought out loud. Concisely, primo would be that if the Poles are determined, and obviously they are, to achieve full satisfaction, they will march into Lithuania. We [Lithuania] will not be able to repel them. Only by declaring war could others be able to stop the Poles. Having said that, Litvinov became silent for a time.
It follows, he continued, that force must be bowed to. Secundo, but in bowing to force it is necessary to declare to the world that you [Lithuania] are being compelled to give way. While bowing, we [Lithuania] without reservations do not give up our rights. It is important to win time. It is possible that the Poles seek more; for example, they may seek a pretext to take over the entire country. Maybe the Poles are operating in tandem with the Germans.39 Tertio, there is presently no time for an appeal to the League of Nations, and that would probably not stop the Poles' actions. Perhaps it will be possible to appeal to Geneva later. It will be necessary to confer and organize soon in order to block the way for possible future aggression, quarto. Those are Litvinov's thoughts. He said the entire Soviet government will be able to consider the matter only tomorrow afternoon. He will immediately report anything new. l [Baltrušaitis] am not expecting them to change their position.
March 18, 17:50. Having once again invited Grzybowski to his home, Litvinov again firmly expressed that force not be used because that would cause serious complications.
March 18, 20:00. Litvinov further informed Baltrušaitis by phone. In a conversation with Grzybowski at home, he had firmly put forth to him the question as to what Poland really seeks in her ultimatum to Lithuania. He received the reply that Poland seeks normal relations and absolutely nothing else. Litvinov, not convinced of Grzybowski's frankness, requested that he contact the Polish government that very night and on the morning of March 19 repeat to Litvinov the same statement in the name of his government.
March 19, 13:00. Litvinov called Baltrušaitis to say that Grzybowski still had not come. However, having learned directly from Kaunas of the acceptance of the Polish ultimatum, he has withdrawn his prepared report from the agenda of a meeting of the Government as it is no longer a pressing problem. Baltrušaitis later learned that the report proposed that the Soviet Government decide what action it would take in case the Polish measures became actual aggression.
March 20. Apologizing for the delay by the Warsaw chancellory, Grzybowski obviously having purposely waited an entire day expressed in Beck's name: Regardless of secondary negative factors, the Polish government defined the Lithuanian question within the traditional framework of peaceful Polish policy.40 That conforms with everything the Polish ambassador had expressed to M. Peoples Commissar regarding the restoration of Lithuanian-Polish diplomatic relations.
Because the Poles assisted by the Germans and Japanese were spreading rumors that the Soviets fully approve of the Polish measures, and Litvinov during a meeting on March 16 had said that it is difficult to condemn Poland's desire to have normal relations with all her neighbors, Litvinov's reply to Grzybowski on March 20 was as follows: "I reminded the ambassador that I had recounted a thought about diplomatic relations among nations, in general, but I never actually expressed approval of those methods by which Poland restored relations with Lithuania. The use of such methods will cause us [the Soviet Union] to follow the future development of Polish-Lithuanian relations with special care, out of fear that such methods will be used in the future as an innocent facade to achieve desired goals. I confirmed to the ambassador our concern that Lithuania retain her full independence, not just formally but also in fact."
Litvinov dictated that to Baltrušaitis during a meeting on March 23, and stated that he had telegraphed Kaunas so that Minister Krapivincev41 would report the same to the Lithuanian government.
5. Having compared the actions of three governments during the Polish action, it is confirmed that the French and English having acted similarly formally, but dissimilarly in practice in terms of pressure on both countries [Poland and Lithuania] involved in the conflict were concerned only with damping down the intensity of the conflict so that it would not become the spark of a bigger fire. They did not address the question whether Poland is planning a more radical assault on Lithuania's independent life in the future; whereas Litvinov was concerned with exactly that future, for which he had expressed to the Poles the Soviets' serious warnings.42
6. England's, France's and the U.S.S.R.'s previous support of Lithuania's vital interests.
England and France were never greedy with advice and recommendations, but when, for example, the fate of Vilnius depended on them, they recognized Vilnius as being Poland's the stronger country's who is an ally of one and for the other is not such a quantité negligeable as is Lithuania. These nations did not look very much differently upon the difficult Klaipėda problem.43
England's and France's relations with Lithuania do not follow from some general, principled attitude, but are determined solely by Lithuania's practical potential, her weight as a political and economic entity. Such relations are very narrow and, therefore, neither for the French or the English is it necessary that Lithuania live freely and independently. Neither has up to now demonstrated a willingness to intercede on behalf of this freedom and independence using concrete measures.
The Soviets acted differently and not just because their fundamental doctrine really recognizes the indisputable right of all nations, especially small nations, to an independent life. More importantly, because Lithuania's independence immensely corresponds with their own practical political interests.
Even during Barthou's44 time, after Moscow's first conversations with Paris had begun which initially appeared as the beginnings of an east-west collective security pact, and which eventually became the strictly bilateral French-Soviet mutual assistance agreement45 Litvinov thrice placed pressure on the French foreign minister to draw Lithuania and the entire Baltic zone into the agreement. However, Barthou, as Litvinov then reported to me, twice refused to consider such a scheme, and during the third instance stated that he himself approved of the entire matter, but that such a project would not be acceptable to the French government.
Litvinov later acted in similar fashion during final negotiations with Laval.46 Laval agreed to render assistance to the Russians only in the event that someone without provocation attacked Soviet territory itself. In addition, for the sake of complete clarity as Litvinov read in confidence to me, Laval even inserted in the protocol the following observation:
"If, for instance, in defending Lithuania, the Soviets clash with the Germans and during the course of the fighting retreat into their own territory, the Soviet-French assistance pact in such a case would not be valid."
In addition, the organization of broader security schemes not having succeeded, Litvinov has also made an offer to the Poles and Germans both of whom having coldly rejected it to collectively guarantee the full and actual inviolability of Lithuania and all the Baltic states.
And today, Moscow does not fail at every opportunity to work for the maintenance of universal peace and the realization of collective security. This year, Litvinov strongly expressed this sentiment in his statements and suggestions to the Committee of Twenty-Eight47 in Geneva on February 1, and in Moscow during the time of our conflict with the Poles on April 17.
7. Nevertheless, in evaluating the world's response during our difficult, unexpected period during the days of the Polish ultimatum it appears that we do not live in solitude. It is the duty of the entire [Lithuanian] nation to prepare and vigilantly work now not just during hours of misfortune to not only prevent the nation from declining, but also to help it grow stronger as much as possible in the future.
In our new situation with I the Poles, we must be cautiously suspicious of Poland with regard to two of her goals: Her program minimum and program maximum. Taking into account Poland's current political tendencies, aim minimum would at least consist of efforts through offers or temptations to make us join Beck's neutral zone.48 In another form, the Poles, alone or with the help of others, will want to draw us into their political orbit, immediately or in the long-term subjugating Lithuania to Polish interests.
Our own resistance would suffice to oppose this.
Aim maximum could be Poland's attempt Europe's general situation having become more complicated to find a justifiable opportunity to suddenly and once and for all violently assault our independence.
We need to practically prepare and organize the assistance of potential and existing allies in advance. Alone against Poland, Lithuania is no warrior.
8. The Russians also foresee these two possibilities, especially the first. That is why Litvinov has expressed to the Poles that Moscow will carefully monitor the future course of Poland's relations with Lithuania, and will see to it that we maintain our full independence, not only formally but also in fact.
Measuring our resistance and evaluating our individual actions, Litvinov, rather soon after the acceptance of the ultimatum, became troubled over our current political course. That became especially clear during a conversation with me on April 27.
In this long conversation he, in a friendly yet concerned tone, immediately expressed to me that we are leaning toward, if we have not already succumbed to, the ways of aggressors and imperialists. In response to my question on what basis rests his determination, Litvinov mentioned three concrete items.
Primo: Our recognition of the conquest of Ethiopia several days before the Geneva conference where such actions, in his opinions, will probably be sanctioned.49 Criticizing our breach of Geneva's principles of unity, Litvinov says that if that is our service to Italy, then it will be left politically unrepaid; in reality, it will only decrease the strong moral sympathy which we have earned in the world.
Secundo: Moscow was very surprised by our apparent permission for our state radio to be used for a speech on behalf of Hitler's plebiscite.50 Litvinov called that gesture of ours an overly-quick surrender to the lurking usurper of the Klaipėda territory: Germany. Our surrender will not be politically repaid anyway.
Tertio: Litvinov expressed that he was completely unsatisfied with the information which M. Foreign Minister [Lozoraitis] imparted to Krapivincev in connection with Munter's51 visit to Kaunas. That is a deficiency in the traditional friendly openness [between Lithuania and the Soviet Union]. Apparently, Munters is regarded here [in Moscow] as a little Beck, a nimble man who is not serving the interests of the Baltic as much as acting on the instructions of men in Europe who are seeking foreign goals.
Independently manage your new and old relations with your neighbors but guard your independence, concluded Litvinov. And he thrice expressed: We ourselves want absolutely nothing else from Lithuania.
In a conversation with Potemkin52 on May 5, he said he was very much amazed by news from Tallinn and Riga that we had invited the Estonians and Latvians to also recognize Ethiopia as being Italy's.
9. On May 9 in a private conversation with Potemkin, he expressed that the Soviets are determined to carefully work for the realization of collective security even in a narrower scheme. This could be used in the face of Europe's quite possible large-scale catastrophe. Such a Russian determination is greatly helped by Churchill's powerful speech at a meeting of the Freedom and Peace Movement in Manchester. After a long silence, he attacked Chamberlain's "ruinous policies," and invited the aroused British public to vigorously fight for an organized defense a defense in which the Soviets must participate.53
From Potemkin's subsequent words, I sensed that Moscow may very much approve of a strong Baltic union up to a mutual assistance structure in a separate but necessarily open form so that other nations could join. I received the impression that Moscow may also wish to join such a structure. Together with this, Potemkin said that Scandinavia also seems to be displaying a propensity toward a broader union against the threatening danger the insecurity of Denmark's Schleswig is an example of this54 although Scandinavia's traditional policies have up to now developed within the framework of absolute neutrality.
1 The broken barrier refers to the Polish ultimatum of March 17, 1938, which demanded the restoration of diplomatic relations after the shooting death of a Polish border guard; Lithuania accepted two days later.
2 The Great Powers advised Lithuania to accept the ultimatum. They felt that the resumption of ties would help stabilize Eastern Europe. A rejection of the ultimatum may have, in their opinion, launched a major war.
3 Baltrušaitis was probably alluding to the Soviet Union as a potential ally of Lithuania.
4 After secret negotiations, Germany and Poland announced a Ten Year Pact of Non-Aggression on January 26, 1934.
5 Marshal Pilsudski, quasi-dictator of Poland from 1926 to 1935, had unsuccessfully sought assistance from Paris for joint preventive action against Hitler. Further, Warsaw considered the Four Powers (Britain, France, Italy, Germany) Pact of 1933 to be a blow to Polish prestige and a sign that the Western powers were willing to make concessions to Germany. Combined with Hitler's search for a friend in East Europe, these factors led to the German-Polish Pact of 1934. After its conclusion, Poland took a more arrogant attitude toward France. The Franco-Soviet pact of May, 1935, compounded the increasing problems of Franco-Polish relations. Pilsudski's death in the same month removed any possible restraint on Foreign Minister Jozef Beck.
6 France and Czechoslovakia signed a treaty of military alliance in 1924. On the other hand, Polish-Czech relations had been marred by, among other things, the dispute over the Teschen district of Silesia, one of the richest industrial areas of Austria-Hungary. The Czechs claimed it for historical reasons; Polish claims were based on ethnicity. In July 1920, the Conference of Ambassadors gave Czechoslovakia a large portion of Teschen with a population of 80,000 Poles. In September 1938, Poland was able to annex Teschen thanks to its connection with Germany and the appeasement by the Western Powers (Cf. note 14).
7 Poland had sought allies in Central Europe to guard against Germany and the Soviet Union and to help Beck further his aggressive policies. This was, in part, due to Warsaw's diminishing confidence in Paris, in particular, and the West, in general.
8 Robert Coulendrou, French ambassador to the Kremlin.
9 The Franco-Polish treaty of alliance was concluded in 1921.
10 Major General Ernst Koestring was Germany's military attache to Kaunas and Moscow. Colonel Kazys Skučas was the Lithuanian military attache to Moscow. One of their conversations, which took place on March 18, 1938, is discussed in Documents on German Foreign Policy 1978-1945 (Washington: U.S. Department of State, 1953), Series D (1937-1945), Volume V, pp. 443-444. During its course, Skučas expressed regret that Lithuania had not accepted past Soviet offers of cooperation in foreign policy and military matters.
11 The Upper Silesian Convention between Poland and Germany was concluded on May 15,1922. It lasted until 1937, regulating the treatment of minorities and other matters. Danzig, containing 170,000 Germans, was a Free City under the League of Nations. It provided Poland with a commercial outlet to the Baltic Sea; the Poles controlled the commercial relations and communications of the port.
12 This alludes to Case Memel, German plans to invade the Klaipėda territory if Poland were to take military action against Lithuania. See Documents on German Foreign Policy, Series D, Volume V, pp. 433, 437.
13 This may mean Beck's vision of a Warsaw-dominated Polish-Baltic-Scandinavian block as a counterweight to the Germans and Soviets. It could also refer to territorial expansion. Cf. section 7 of this despatch for Baltrušaitis' view of Poland's programs minimum and maximum.
14 Rumors were rife in Moscow that Warsaw had orchestrated the ultimatum in tandem with Berlin. Polish and German aims had temporarily coincided over Teschen (cf. note 6). Wilhelmstrasse refers to the German foreign ministry. Prague's news may refer to Czechoslovak | foreign | minister Kamil Krofta's remarks to press correspondents. Supposedly, Litvinov had stated to him that a Polish attack on Lithuania would draw Moscow into war with Warsaw. Beck did not believe that Litvinov ever made such a statement. See U.S. Embassy, Warsaw. Cable #33, Section 1, March 25, 1938, 760C.60M15/351 (Section 1) E/HC, pp. 2-3.
15 Britain's ambassador in Warsaw was Sir Howard William Kennard. Count Jan Szembek was Poland's Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
16 Chief of the Northern Department of the British Foreign Office (cf. note 51).
17 Lord Edward Halifax was Britain's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs from February 1938.
18 The term of the ultimatum would remain forty-eight hours (March 17-19). Beck timed it so the deadline would fall on Pilsudski's name day. See Jozef Beck, Final Report (New York: Robert Speller & Sons, 1957), pp. 145-146.
19 No appeals with regard to the ultimatum were ever made to the League of Nations.
20 On the night of March 14-15, the Lithuanians presented the Poles with a proposal, informally transmitted by Leon Noel, France's envoy to Warsaw: A mixed commission would investigate the matter and present its findings to both governments. This proposal would be formally rejected in the ultimatum. Kaunas also informally expressed a willingness to restore ties with Warsaw, though not under the cloud of an ultimatum.
21 Lithuania's prime minister, Juozas Tūbelis, had suffered a stroke and was convalescing in Zurich. He was Mrs. Sofija Smetona's brother-in-law and the President's closest and most trusted advisor and friend. Smetona agonized over Tūbelis' absence and disliked making major decisions without his advice (see Vaclovas Šliogeris, "Lenkai, ultimatumas, užkulisiai" ("The Poles, the Ultimatum, Secrets"), Tėviškės žiburiai, 12 September 1974, p. 2, cols. 3-7). Transportation minister Jokūbas Stanišauskis was named acting prime minister.
22 Bronius K. Balutis.
23 Text of the ultimatum:
Upon order from my Government I have the honor to communicate the following to Your Excellency:
1 The proposition of the Lithuanian Government of the 14th instant cannot be accepted for it does not give sufficient guarantees concerning the security of the frontier in view of the negative results of all Polish-Lithuanian negotiations made up to the present time.
2 For this reason the Polish Government declares that it considers as the only solution corresponding to the gravity of the situation the immediate establishment of normal diplomatic relations without any previous condition.
This is the only way to regulate the neighborly questions for a Government animated by good faith to avoid events dangerous to peace.
3 The Polish Government allows the Lithuanian Government 48 hours from the moment the note is presented for the acceptance of this proposition in making it known that diplomatic representations at Kaunas and Warsaw will be accredited not later than March 31 of this year. Until that date all discussions of a technical or other character between the Polish and Lithuanian Governments shall be continued by the envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary at Tallinn.
The exchange of notes attached concerning the establishment of diplomatic relations shall take place, before the expiration of the period of 48 hours mentioned, at Tallinn between the Polish and Lithuanian Ministers at Tallinn.
4 The proposition above mentioned will not be the subject of discussion with regard to its content or form it is an unchangeable proposition.
The failure to respond or the presentation of any supplements or reservations shall be considered by the Polish Government as a refusal. In the event of a negative reply the Polish Government will guarantee the just interest of the state by its proper means. Accept . . .
By order of my Government I have the honor to advise that the Polish (Lithuanian) Government has decided to establish from today normal diplomatic relations between Poland and Lithuania (Lithuania and Poland) and to this end established a Legation at Kaunas (at Warsaw). The Minister of Poland (the Minister of Lithuania) duly accredited will present his letters of credence at Kaunas (at Warsaw) at the latest before March 31 of the present year.
The Polish Government (Lithuanian Government) guarantees on its part to the Lithuanian Legation (Polish) at Warsaw (at Kaunas) the normal condition of operation and in connection with this guarantees before March 31 of the present year the possibility of direct communication by land, water, air, postal, telegraph and telephone between this Legation and the Lithuanian Government (Polish).
24 Stasys Lozoraitis, Sr., Lithuania's foreign minister 1934-1938. Prior to Lithuania's annexation by the Soviet Union, foreign minister Juozas Urbšys instructed Lozoraitis to assume the post of Chief of the Lithuanian Diplomatic Service in the event of invasion. Lozoraitis carried out these duties in Rome until his death on December 24, 1983.
Lozoraitis and Beck only met twice, i.e. in September 1935 during the Assembly of the League of Nations in Geneva; Lozoraitis called on Beck and the latter returned the courtesy. During the first meeting, Beck proposed that diplomatic relations be restored. Lozoraitis replied that first the political-moral atmosphere had to be improved, namely the poor treatment of Lithuanians in the Vilnius territory. In response to Lozoraitis' question whether Warsaw would accept the Lithuanian government's reservation regarding Vilnius, Beck replied: perhaps. During Beck's return visit, general political matters were discussed.
In an attempt to smooth the way for negotiations, Polish news correspondent T. Katelbach came to live in Kaunas, and the former editor of Lietuvos aidas (Echo of Lithuania), Valentinas Gustainis, went to Warsaw. He would publish Lenkai ir Lenkija (The Poles and Poland) in 1937. Furthermore, secret contact was maintained with the Polish government by a special envoy who traveled to Warsaw on orders of Lozoraitis, with Smetona and Tūbelis concurring. Despite such exchanges, Lozoraitis states that he was unhappy with the development of discussions, citing Warsaw's unwillingness to furnish a preliminary agenda for eventual negotiations.
Polish historians frequently mention the infamous unkept appointment. Supposedly Beck and Lozoraitis met in Geneva in February 1938 and an agreement was made to hold further talks. Then, according to the Polish version, the Lithuanians did not appear at the designated time and place. According to Lozoraitis, though, he and Beck never met in February 1938, no agreement was made to continue discussions, no time or place for any future meeting was set.
25 Actually, Beck himself had been an instigator of Polish pressure tactics directed toward Lithuania.
26 Thomas Preston, British consul in Kaunas 1929-1930, Charge d'affaires 1930-1940, ambassador 1940.
27 Ministers in Tallinn, Estonia: Waclaw Przesmycki, Poland; Bronius Dailidė, Lithuania.
28 Georges Dulong, French minister to Lithuania.
29 Petras Klimas, Lithuanian minister to France.
30 Alexis Sant-Leger Leger (Saing-John Perse), General Secretary of the French foreign ministry. This poet-diplomat went on to win the Nobel prize for literature in 1960.
31 France's foreign minister 1933. Again named to that post on March 14, 1938.
32 "Regarding the appeal to Geneva, and what does not concern the assuredly unjustifiable form but the foundation of the Polish demand, it is very doubtful that Lithuania was interested in the immediate right to return to the League of Nations, which was then involved in the already pronounced issue of the boundary that Lithuania up to then had refused to recognize."
33 Maxim Litvinov, People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, U.S.S.R. 1930-1939.
34 Waclaw Grzybowski, Polish ambassador to the Kremlin.
35 The Soviet Union was admitted to the League of Nations on September 18, 1934 with a permanent seat on the council. The final vote was thirty-nine for, three against (Switzerland, Holland, Poland), with seven abstentions. It was expelled in 1939 after attacking Finland.
36 Non-aggression pact concluded with France in 1932, with Czechoslovakia the following year. Between 1920 and 1937, the Kremlin concluded 237 bilateral agreements and became party to 57 international conventions. Litvinov was an ardent advocate of collective security at the League. His resignation in May 1939 was a sign of Soviet-German rapprochement.
37 The Briand-Kellogg Pact outlawing war was concluded on August 27, 1928. The Soviet Union was not involved in the negotiations and was not among the original signatories. It signed, however, when invited on September 6, 1928.
38 The Third Reich's Anschluss of Austria took place at the same time as the ultimatum crisis.
39 Cf. note 14.
40 An overstatement in the context of Beck's aggressive foreign policy, in general, and his pressure tactics on Lithuania, in particular.
41 Soviet representative in Kaunas.
42 This explicitly brings out Baltrušaitis' partiality to the Soviets; i.e. his belief that they were concerned with Lithuania's independence and would take steps to secure it. Though he was disappointed by the Kremlin's lack of concrete assistance during the ultimatum crisis, Baltrušaitis remained undaunted in his opinion of the Soviet Union as Lithuania's protector. The following sections of the despatch further accentuate this.
43 Poland and France concluded an alliance in 1921 . . . On March 15, 1923, the Conference of Ambassadors recognized the existing boundary between Lithuania and Poland, thus de facto recognizing the Vilnius territory as being Poland's. On August 8,1923, the Conference issued an ultimatum to Lithuania demanding that it sign a convention allowing Poland to have free transit in the Klaipėda region. Lithuania refused and the Conference accused her at the League of Nations of threatening peace and good international relations. The Davis Commission would the following year settle the Klaipėda matter in a manner satisfying Kaunas but with Warsaw protesting in turn.
44 Jean Louis Barthou, French foreign minister 1934. He was assassinated along with Yugoslavia's King Alexander in Marseilles on October 9,1934 by a Croatian terrorist.
45 France had pursued an anti-Soviet stand during the 1920's. However, as events in Germany unfolded and Poland and the U.S.S.R. signed a non-aggression pact on January 25, 1932, barriers to a Franco-Soviet understanding were removed. Initial conversations, which Baltrušaitis mentions, led to speculation of a linkage between the French alliance system and the Soviet network of treaties in East Europe. On May 2, 1935, the two countries signed a five-year pact of mutual assistance.
46 Pierre Laval, French foreign minister 1934-1935; prime minister 1935-1936. In 1940 was Marshall Petain's Vichy foreign minister.
47 Ad hoc committee of the League of Nations.
48 Cf. note 13.
49 On October 7, 1935, four days after Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, the League of Nations Council declared Italy to be an aggressor. Sanctions voted by the Assembly were subsequently lifted on July 15, 1936. Lithuania recognized the invasion in 1937, setting off a storm of controversy.
50 In a provocative speech, Hitler suggested that a plebiscite be held in Danzig to determine under what auspices it wished to be governed. Obviously, this was a slap at the Corridor arrangement and implied that the 170,000 Germans there would vote to be reunited with Prussia. Kaunas radio broadcast a recording of the speech on a news program.
51 Vilhelms Munters, Latvian foreign minister 1936-1940. Collier of the British Foreign Office (cf. note 16) referred to Munters as one of the "cunning and unscrupulous" men in Europe. See U.S. Embassy, London. Despatch #76, March 23, 1938, 760C.60M 15/354 E/DC, pp. 4-5.
52 Vladimir Potemkim, Vice-Commissar for Foreign Affairs U.S.S.R.
53 Churchill, a political gadfly to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, constantly criticized Britain's lack of a strong and bold foreign policy in the face of Hitler's moves. Churchill spoke in Manchester, England on May 9,1938 at the invitation of A. H. Richards of the Freedom and Peace Movement, an organization very much in tune with his own views.
54 In 1864, Austria and Prussia severed Schleswig-Holstein from Denmark. After World War 1, Germany offered to return Schleswig to Denmark, but the latter recommended that they procede according to the wishes of the population. Two plebiscites took place in Schleswig in 1920. The southern zone voted to remain with Germany; the northern zone, with a large number of Danish-speaking people, voted to join Denmark. Hitler wanted to regain this area.