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Section X.—Memel (Art. 99)

Article 99.

Germany renounces in favour of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers all rights and title over the territories included between the Baltic, the north eastern frontier of East Prussia as defined in Article 28 of Part II (Boundaries of Germany) of the present Treaty and the former frontier between Germany and Russia.

Germany undertakes to accept the settlement made by the Principal Allied and Associated Powers in regard to these territories, particularly in so far as concerns the nationality of the inhabitants.

Note to III, 99

According to the German delegation, even the Lithuanian-speaking inhabitants, who numbered only 54,000 as against 68,000 Germans and who usually spoke German as well, had never desired separation from Germany. Memel was “a purely German city”, which had never belonged to Poland or Lithuania ( Foreign Relations, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, vi, 838). The cession of the district had therefore to be rejected.

The Allied reply declined to admit that the cession conflicted with the principle of nationality ( ibid., p. 949). The district had always been Lithuanian; the port of Memel was the only sea outlet for Lithuania. In as much, however, as the status of Lithuania had not been established, the district would be transferred to the Allied and Associated Powers.

The Conference of Ambassadors on February 16, 1923 assigned the territory of Memel to Lithuania, to which its population belonged. The conditions attached to the assignment were accepted by Lithuania, which, however, declined to assent to the convention intended to effect the transfer of the territory. The Principal Allied Powers accordingly referred the situation to the Council of the League of Nations under article 11 of the Covenant. The Council established a Commission for the Question of Memel to examine the matter, the Council naming its president and the Committee for Communications and Transit the other two members. Lithuanian and Polish delegations were heard, and a new draft convention negotiated under the auspices of the commission was accepted by the Council and Lithuania on March 14, 1924 (League of Nations, Official Journal, 1924, pp. 121, 361, 409, 539, 598).

The convention concerning the territory of Memel was concluded between “the British Empire, France, Italy and Japan, signatories [Page 238]with the United States of America, as the Principal Allied and Associated Powers, to the Treaty of Peace of Versailles” and Lithuania on May 8, 1924 and entered into force for all parties on August 25, 1925 (29 League of Nations Treaty Series, p. 83). The convention transferred to Lithuania all rights and titles, ceded by Germany in virtue of article 99 of the treaty of peace, to the territory described in article 28 of that treaty and further defined by a letter of the president of the Conference of Ambassadors to the German Government on July 18, 1921. This “Memel territory” was constituted under the sovereignty of Lithuania with legislative, judicial, administrative, and financial autonomy as defined in an attached statute.

The territory was administered by a governor appointed by the President of the Lithuanian Republic and by elected deputies to the Lithuanian Diet, whose legislation was applicable to the territory so far as consistent with the Memel statute. The expenses of occupation and administration up to the date of the transfer and half of the expenses of delimitation of the territory were repayable by Lithuania to the states represented in the Conference of Ambassadors. German property transferred to Lithuania by the convention on behalf of the Memel territory, in virtue of articles 254 and 256 of the treaty of peace, was appraised by the Reparation Commission, which debited Lithuania with a total of 60,092,678 gold marks: German-ceded property, 57,968,535; German imperial and Prussian debt, 109,401; rolling stock, 2,014,742.

The convention contained the standard provisions respecting the determination of German or Lithuanian nationality of persons domiciled in the territory on the date of ratification by Lithuania, that is, September 27, 1924. The declaration relating to the protection of minorities made by the Lithuanian Government before the Council of the League of Nations on May 12, 1922 (22 League of Nations Treaty Series, p. 393) was applicable within the territory, except that the Lithuanian and German languages were both recognized as official within the territory.

The Memel administration was invested with extensive and specific local authority subject to conformity with the principles of the Lithuanian Constitution. By the statute, Memel citizenship was distinguished from Lithuanian citizenship, the Directorate issuing separate passports for Memel citizens. A Chamber of Representatives (Landtag) elected by universal, equal, direct, and secret suffrage legislated for the territory. The executive power rested in the governor and a Directorate of five persons, who were empowered to [Page 239]initiate legislation equally with the Chamber of Representatives. The territory administered its own police, courts, and schools.

The port of Memel was made “a port of international concern” within the meaning of the Barcelona recommendations. The Lithuanian Government was obligated with respect to Memel and all its territory to conform to the provisions of articles 331 to 345 of the treaty of peace. The administration, operation, upkeep, and development of the port were entrusted to a harbor board consisting of representatives of Lithuanian and Memel economic interests and an appointee of the Committee for Communications and Transit of the League of Nations who was not a citizen of the Niemen riparian states.

Special provision was made for transit traffic, especially with respect to timber and products made therefrom, which constitute an important factor in the trade of the Niemen basin. The Lithuanian Government undertook to apply the statute and convention on freedom of transit adopted at Barcelona, April 14 and 20, 1921 (17 League of Nations Treaty Series, p. 11) to sea, water, and rail traffic at Memel or in transit through the territory. Lithuania undertook not to apply articles 7 and 8 of the Barcelona statute in respect of traffic of the Niemen basin “on the ground of the present political relations between Lithuania and Poland”.

The Memel convention provided that any member of the Council of the League of Nations was entitled to draw its attention to any infraction of the convention. On September 28, 1925, the Council decided that any communication under this stipulation should be forwarded to the members of the Council.

The Memel Landtag on March 2 and August 6, 1926 asked the Council to consider matters relating to finances and budgetary autonomy. On September 15 Lithuania announced that an agreement on the financial questions had been approved by the Memel authorities. In the meantime the Council had submitted the question of procedure to a committee of jurists, which on September 20 reported that the original request had not asserted that the convention had been infringed; the Council thereupon decided that communications from Memel should be addressed individually to the Governments represented on the Council, any of which would then have the right to raise the question within that body.

In 1927 Germany complained of Lithuania’s interference with electoral autonomy in Memel; however, a statement from the Lithuanian [Page 240]Prime Minister on June 15 was reassuring enough for the Council to strike the item from its agenda.

Germany transmitted petitions from the Memel Diet alleging infraction of the convention in communications dated August 28, 1930 and May 5, 1931. One of these, relating to financial questions, was settled by reference to the League experts. The other questions, which related to jurisdiction of the courts and the application of the statute, were settled by direct negotiations between the parties to the Memel convention.

The Governments of the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Japan brought a case concerning the interpretation of the statute of the Memel territory to the Permanent Court of International Justice in 1932. The question related to the powers of the Lithuanian governor of the territory to dismiss the President and members of the Directorate and to dissolve the Chamber of Representatives. The Court by 10 votes to 5 on August 11, 1932 found that the governor was entitled, “for the protection of the interests of the State, to dismiss the President of the Directorate in case of serious acts which violate” the 1924 convention, that the dismissal involved was in order, but that the dissolution of the Chamber of Representatives on March 22, 1932, “when the Directorate … had not received the confidence of the Chamber, was not in order” (Series A/B, Nos. 47 and 49).

On March 22, 1939, a week after its occupation and disruption of Czechoslovakia, the German Government, in “clarifying the questions pending between Germany and Lithuania and thus opening the way for the formation of friendly relations between the two countries”, obtained from Lithuania the cession of Memel in a treaty which, in the English version published by the German Government (Auswärtiges Amt, 1939, No. 2, Documents on the Origin of the War, No 342; cf. file 860M.01Memel/584), provided:

Article 1. The Memel Territory, separated by the Treaty of Versailles from Germany, is reunited from to-day with the German Reich.

Article 2. The Memel Territory will be immediately evacuated by the Lithuanian military and police forces. The Lithuanian Government will see to it that the territory remains in an orderly condition in the course of evacuation.

“Both parties will appoint commissioners, in so far as this is necessary to carry out the handing over of the administrations which are not in the hands of the autonomous authorities of the Memel Territory.

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“The settlement of the remaining questions arising from the change in sovereignty, especially of the economic and financial questions, questions dealing with officials, as well as questions of citizenship, will be reserved for a special agreement.

Article 3. To give consideration to the economic needs of Lithuania, a Free Port Zone will be provided for Lithuania in Memel. Details will be settled according to the principles laid down in the annex to this treaty [Reichsgesetzblatt, 1939, ii, 610].

Article 4. To strengthen their decision to secure the friendly development of relations between Germany and Lithuania, both parties undertake neither to resort to force against one another nor to support the use of force against one of the Parties by a third party.”

The treaty concerning nationality (Staatsangehörigkeit) war signed at Kaunas and in force on July 8, 1939 (ibid., p. 999). Lithuanian nationals who had lost German nationality on July 30, 1924 or by opting for Lithuanian nationality or who as Germans by race (Volkszugehöriger) had obtained Lithuanian nationality by option, as well as those whose Lithuanian nationality was so acquired by birth, legitimation, or marriage, “obtained German nationality, effective March 22, 1939”.