The Chargé in Lithuania (Fullerton) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 10.]
Sir: I have the honor to inform the Department that an incident has recently occurred which bids fair to aggravate the already unsatisfactory relations existing between the Memel Autonomy and the Lithuanian Central Government.
I have been confidentially informed by my British Colleague here that he was told by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the evening of January 1, 1932, that the President of the Memel Directorate, Dr. Otto Boettcher, accompanied by Herr James Gubba, leader of the German Landwirtschaftspartei (Farmers’ Party) in the Memel Diet and a certain Herr Nickel Baltromejus had proceeded to Berlin, via Tilsit and Koenigsberg, East Prussia, on or about December 15, 1931, [Page 469] and that, joined by the German Minister to Lithuania, Dr. Hans Moraht, in Koenigsberg, they had consulted with the German Foreign Office with regard to questions interesting the Memel Autonomy. Dr. Zaunius told Chargé d’Affaires Preston that the Lithuanian Government would not have discovered this clandestine meeting of the Memel Germans with officials in the German Foreign Office had it not been that Herr Baltromejus, upon returning over the frontier between Tilsit and Pagegen, Memel Territory, had been found by the Lithuanian border authorities to be in possession of a laissezpasser issued to him by the German Consul General in Memel, Dr. Toepke. It seems that Mr. Baltromejus as a Memellander was entitled to travel across the Lithuanian-German frontier for a distance of ten kilometers on either side with a local border pass, but that, perhaps somewhat impressed by the secret and lofty character of his mission to Berlin, he did not utilize this document, freely displayed the pass given him by the German Consul General, and outlined to the Lithuanian officials who interrogated him the purpose of his trip.*
The matter was, of course, eventually reported to the Lithuanian Foreign Office and Dr. Zaunius stated to Mr. Preston that the impression made upon his Government had been most unfortunate. The violation of the terms of the Memel Convention of 1924 arising from direct negotiations between the President of the Memel Directorate and a foreign Government was, he said, obvious enough, while the resort to German travel documents upon the part of Mr. Baltromejus, a Memel citizen, at the instigation of the President of the Memel Directorate, was a flagrant contravention of Lithuanian sovereignty. The Minister for Foreign Affairs said that it was the disposition of the Cabinet to denounce Herr Boettcher and his associates and bring them to Kovno upon charges of high treason, but that he was disposed to urge moderation and to recommend to the Memel Diet that it require Herr Boettcher to resign. He did not indicate what, if any, other steps might be taken against Messrs. Boettcher, Gubba and Baltromejus, but he added to Mr. Preston that it was his opinion that the Lithuanian Government must request the withdrawal, as personae non gratae, of both Dr. Moraht and Dr. Toepke. Dr. Zaunius indicated that it had at first been his intention to protest immediately to the four other signatories to the Memel Convention, [Page 470] France, Great Britain, Italy and Japan, claiming a violation of Article II of the Pact of the League of Nations.5
Mr. Preston, immediately communicating with the British Minister to the Baltic States, residing in Riga, was directed by Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen to recommend to the Lithuanian Government a path of moderation while the whole affair might be reported to the British Foreign Office.
Mr. Preston proceeded to Riga for purposes of consultation with his Minister on January 7, 1932, and returned on January 12, 1932. During a conversation with me yesterday, he was kind enough to permit me to peruse certain despatches which he had prepared for the information of the British Government, and said that it appeared likely in view of Dr. Zaunius’ personal desire that no crisis should be precipitated in the Memelland at a time when the German Government was demonstrating a more independent and almost belligerent attitude, as well as at a time when economic depression in the rural districts of the Memel Territory was bringing about, independently of the Lithuanian Central Government, a serious reaction against the Directorate there, that the affair might be adjusted amicably merely through the withdrawal from public office of those held responsible.
In view of the more serious preoccupations commanding the attention at this time of the various major signatory powers to the Memel Convention, it seems somewhat doubtful if the latter will find themselves in a position or disposed to deal in a summary fashion with the present Memel incident. Under normal conditions the Lithuanian Government would have considerable reason for satisfaction in this indication of bad faith upon the part of the Memellanders, but it may well be that a certain uneasiness creeps into the situation from their point-of-view as a result of the international tension now existing. The effect upon a restless and perturbed German public opinion of the ejection from office of the Memel Directorate or the trial upon charges of treason of Dr. Boettcher and his associates might conceivably be a German coup d’état in the territory which neither Lithuania nor the somewhat unwieldy triumvirate of other signatories to the Convention of 1924 might be in a position to prevent.
The incident which I have made the subject of this despatch is as yet unknown to the Lithuanian public and to the majority of the Diplomatic Corps here, and I am at present unable to approach the usual sources of information in the Government for enlightenment or opinion with regard to it because the conference held between [Page 471] the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Chargé d’Affaires of the British Government in Lithuania are considered by both parties to be as yet strictly confidential.
I shall endeavor to keep in close touch with this new situation which has arisen in Memel and to provide the Department with all available information as it becomes available.
- An English translation of Mr. Baltromejus’ German laissez passer as well as a translation of the record taken by the Lithuanian border officials at Pagegen of his interrogation by them are enclosed herewith, through the courtesy of my British colleague. [Footnote in the original. Enclosures not printed.]↩
- The reference apparently is to the Convention of May 8, 1924, which was negotiated under the auspices of the League of Nations.↩