860M.01 Memel/108

The Chargé in Lithuania (Fullerton) to the Secretary of State

Diplomatic No. 280

Sir: I have the honor to inform the Department that I visited the Memel Territory between July 28 and 31, 1931, for the purpose of political and economic investigation and had opportunity there to discuss the long-standing dispute involving the Lithuanian Central Government and the Autonomy in conversations with Governor Merkys and other officials. Under date of July 17, 1931, in the course of my despatch No. 275,1 I had the honor to report the substance of a conversation which my British colleague, Mr. Preston, had with Governor Merkys a few days prior to that time while also in Memel. My conversation with the Governor tended to confirm Mr. Preston’s impression of General Merkys’ attitude and views at this time, and contributed comparatively little to the information communicated to the Department in my despatch under reference.

Governor Merkys expressed to me a very frank pessimism over conditions in the Territory and particularly with regard to the attitude toward the controversy which he said was developing among the signatory powers, who, he felt, were inclined to take the German point-of-view. Mr. Jacobson, financial expert, of Swedish origin, of the League of Nations, was despatched to Memel two weeks ago, in consonance with a resolution of the League Council of May 22, 1931,2 for the purpose of formulating an advisory opinion as to the percentage participation to which the Memel Territory is entitled in its income from customs, excises and other revenues. General Merkys said that he had naturally done everything in his power to create a favorable opinion of the Lithuanian Administration with Mr. Jacobson, but he reiterated to me the foreboding which he had voiced to Mr. Preston that Mr. Jacobson would be influenced, either consciously or unconsciously, in favor of the German thesis, rendering [Page 467] a decision which would be unfavorable to Lithuania. It seems difficult to understand how Mr. Jacobson, basing his observations and conclusions ostensibly purely upon facts and figures submitted to him, could permit prejudice to influence his judgement in a matter of this kind, but the Governor undoubtedly anticipates that such will be the case. General Merkys said that Mr. Jacobson’s labors would be terminated within a short time, when he would communicate his findings to the Council of the League for the information of the signatory powers of France, Great Britain, Italy and Japan.

The Governor declared that it was his opinion that no solution would be found to the Memel controversy as long as the Convention of 19243 were permitted to stand in its present condition and that he felt that the bickering would continue indefinitely, with the dissatisfied Memel German element growing more and more unruly through encouragement offered by the League of Nations in giving ear to its complaints, unless the Convention were actually abolished and some other means were discovered for the adjustment of the situation. I suspected that the Governor might here be hinting that a putsch could put an end most effectively to the present state of affairs, but he said that rumors of a Lithuanian forceful annexation of the Territory, accompanied by the expulsion of the Directorate and all dissatisfied German elements, were ill-founded and that, much as he personally would relish such a course, it had never been contemplated seriously by his Government, although it might have been talked of by Nationalist firebrands in the country. The Governor declared, however, that if the Hitlerites obtained control of the German Government, one of their first steps would, without doubt, be the organization of a putsch to drive out the Lithuanians from Memel and restore the Territory to Germany.

While the general aspect of the city of Memel remains uninteresting and dull, symptoms of unrest are developing in greater numbers, and possibly in greater gravity, than was the case a few months ago. Mr. Erik Widding, neutral, or League of Nations, member of the Memel Harbor Board, told me that the local German residents were genuinely apprehensive of a coup de force upon the part of Lithuanian Nationalist elements—with the full knowledge if not with the full consent of the Government. On the evening of July 28 a mass meeting of Lithuanians in the Memel Stadtgarten, or Municipal Park, violently decried the Directorate and proclaimed the right of Lithuania to the Territory. The police failed to interfere. Collisions [Page 468] between Memel Germans and Lithuanian sympathizers are of daily occurrence. It was Mr. Widding’s impression, warmly, if not impartially, supported by that of officials in the Chamber of Commerce upon whom I usually call when in Memel, that the Governor and the Central Government administration in the Territory of which he is the head were displaying little interest in composing current difficulties arising there and that the situation was growing worse.

I was impressed by the significant change which is apparent in the attitude toward the Memel question of former Prime Minister Galvanauskas, who is now engaged in private business in Memel. Mr. Galvanauskas, although not in sympathy with the Government since his retirement from public life some years ago, has invariably up to this time expressed to foreign visitors an optimism with respect to the conciliation of difficulties in Memel. When I called upon him a few days ago he broke into a bitter tirade against Germany and did not hesitate to excoriate the Administration for what he termed its failure to curb German influence there. Mr. Galvanauskas refrained from making a definite recommendation as to what should be done but indicated that Lithuanian private enterprises would be at a standstill in the Territory if the Memel German element continued to enjoy the ascendency. As the result, he said, of a policy of almost incomprehensible stupidity upon the part of the Government the path of acceptable compromise and of conciliation had been practically obliterated.

Respectfully yours,

Hugh S. Fullerton
  1. Not printed.
  2. See League of Nations, Official Journal, July, 1931, p. 1132.
  3. Convention and statute, dated May 8, 1924, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. xxix, p. 87.