860M.01 Memel/148

The Ambassador in Germany (Sackett) to the Secretary of State

No. 1512

Sir: Supplementing despatch No. 1507 of February 23, 1932,6 and confirming telegram No. 40 of February 23, 8 p.m., I have the [Page 473] honor to report that the Memel dispute is regarded by the German Government as exceedingly grave.

The negotiations at Geneva, the various steps taken in the hope of composing the differences between Dr. Böttcher and Governor Merkys, the Colban report,7 and finally Dr. Böttcher’s resignation from the Directorate, have all failed so far to relieve the extreme gravity with which events in Memel are viewed at the Foreign Office.

According to Ministerialdirektor Meyer, who is in charge of Eastern affairs, there is danger that Governor Merkys will suddenly form a Directorate of his own, dissolve the Diet and definitely torpedo the Memel statutes. Germany, he stated, could not tolerate such injustice by Lithuania to the Memel population, which had been German for the last 700 years and represented a far superior culture.

Since the advent of Merkys, the Memelländer had suffered oppression. Protracted negotiations and good will on the part of Germany had failed entirely to achieve any positive results for them. German policy had not been directed at any frontier revision or modification of existing treaty stipulations. It had been aimed exclusively at the maintenance of the statutory rights of the local population. At present, Dr. Meyer continued, the attitude of Governor Merkys and the Lithuanian Government had provoked a situation that was most dangerous; it was impossible to foresee what might happen.

The German Consul General in Memel occupied a special position. The Lithuanian Government suggested in the interest of better relations that he be replaced. In reply, the German Government pointed out that there were no grounds of complaint against him; that it could not consider withdrawing him. A second note has been received in the premises in which the Lithuanian Government persists in requesting his withdrawal. The German Government has intimated in reply that if the Lithuanian Government insists on the Consul General’s departure merely because as a witness to events in Memel he is unwelcome to the Lithuanian authorities the German Minister in Kovno would likewise be recalled. Dr. Meyer added that the exequaturs of Lithuanian consuls in Germany would also be withdrawn. Economic reprisals, too, would be considered, should Merkys attempt to overthrow the statutes or hold new elections under martial law with the aid of Lithuanian military organizations imported from outside the Memel territory.

The greatest danger, according to Dr. Meyer, was that the Memelländer, in a feeling of desperation, might lend themselves to disorders. [Page 474] In this event Governor Merkys could be counted upon to employ drastic measures to restore Lithuanian authority. The effect on public opinion in Germany would be inflammatory; particularly in East Prussia. Meetings of protest are being held all over the Reich, and the Chancellor, according to Dr. Meyer, is being inundated with telegraphic appeals from every conceivable quarter. And this high pitch of popular feeling has been reached despite the fact that every effort has been made to keep public discussion of the conflict as quiet as possible.

Reverting to the charges against Dr. Böttcher, Dr. Meyer explained that the German Government gave formal assurances that he had not engaged in any official negotiations when in Berlin. Dr. Böttcher gave similar assurances to Governor Merkys. All this proved to be entirely without result. The case against Dr. Böttcher and his associates, who accompanied him to Berlin, had been entirely fabricated; was based on unimportant circumstances. For example, the German Consul General had been unwise in giving one of the party a special laisser-passer in which the bearer’s mission was described as in the interests of the Reich. This had not been, Dr. Meyer insisted, in accordance with the facts. The Consul General had been merely imprudently anxious to assure control and customs courtesies on the part of the German frontier officials.

I venture to confirm the element of danger from the side of Germany which Dr. Meyer attributes to the situation. As the Department is aware, public opinion in Germany is particularly susceptible in respect of anything that concerns the Eastern frontier of the Reich. Moreover, the Memel incident has come at a singularly inopportune moment. Political passions are aroused and national sentiment is being played upon in the present domestic-political struggles; in a hotly contested presidential election. Disdain of Lithuania contributes to make intolerable any thought of Lithuanian success at the expense of German prestige or interests. It is, I fear, no exaggeration to suggest that a cloud, though a small one, has definitely appeared on the Eastern horizon. Rash action by individuals or irregular formations could precipitate a situation with widespread repercussions.

The Foreign Office expressed the hope that Mr. Skinner would find it possible to proceed at once to Kovno. The next week is regarded as particularly critical. It was hoped that his moderating influence might contribute to appeasement.

Respectfully yours,

Frederic M. Sackett
  1. Not printed.
  2. Report made by a League of Nations committee headed by Erik Colban, Norwegian representative on the League Council, February 20, 1932. For the report, see League of Nations, Official Journal, March 1932, p. 540.