860M.01 Memel/157

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

Diplomatic No. 13

Sir: I have the honor to inform the Department that Foreign Minister Zaunius delivered a ringing and much applauded speech on the Memel crisis before a capacity audience in the Kovno Opera House on February 27, 1932, reiterating his country’s determination to stand firm upon what it considers to be its legitimate and sovereign rights in the Memel Territory.

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I was finally received by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the morning of March 1, 1932, in private interview. Dr. Zaunius had suddenly concluded to proceed personally to Geneva on the same afternoon, for consultation with the representatives on the League Council of the various signatory powers, as well as to represent Lithuania in the emergency session called by the League to consider the Far Eastern crisis. He seemed very nervous and distraught, and I was inclined later to attribute this not only to forceful representations made to him the previous afternoon by the British Minister, visiting Kovno for a few hours for this purpose, but also to another interview which Dr. Zaunius had just concluded with the Soviet Russian Minister to Lithuania, Mr. Karsky. I later learned from my British colleague, who interviewed Mr. Karsky this morning, that the latter had conveyed to Dr. Zaunius, upon instructions from Moscow, the recommendation of the Soviet Russian Government that Lithuania step warily in the aggravation of its relations with Germany at this time and that it seek to compromise the present issues in Geneva. Mr. Karsky told Mr. Preston that his Government had some reason to suspect that a break in diplomatic relations with Germany, or even an interruption of trade between the two countries, would result in a more favorable attitude toward Poland, and that this Soviet Russia was very intent upon preventing.*

I interviewed yesterday the German, French and Italian Ministers in Kovno successively, and talked also with the British Chargé d’Affaires. The opinions of these gentlemen are not at all mutually harmonious. Dr. Moraht, the German Minister was, as always, reserved and cautious, but intimated that he considered the present situation to be hopeless. No one could predict, he said, what the inflamed [Page 478] state of public opinion in Germany might bring about did Lithuania not recede from its position. While the French and Italian Governments have backed, nominally, the British Government in its active efforts to induce Lithuania immediately to form a Directorate in Memel agreeable to the majority parties there, i.e. to the German Government, I detected considerable indifference in the attitude of Mr. Ristelhueber, the French Minister, and discovered a very distinct opposition to what he termed “playing Germany’s game” upon the part of the Italian Minister, Mr. Amadori. The latter feels that the other major signatories have permitted themselves to be carried along too far in the wake of Great Britain, which Mr. Amadori declared had obviously supported Germany in the Memelland with a consistence entirely remote from an honest evaluation of the facts. He attributed this to some commitment made to Germany by the British Foreign Office to support the German minorities, and hinted that this was probably a quid pro quo arrangement. The French Minister confined himself to deploring the fact that Lithuania had not been satisfied with the vindication before the League Council of its removal on February 6 of President Boettcher,9 but had insisted upon dashing headlong into a policy which laid it open to great danger.

Mr. Preston told me that he had received further instructions from his Government to-day directing that he establish contact immediately with Prime Minister Tubelis, in the absence of Dr. Zaunius the acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, endeavoring to impress upon him the probable seriousness of the consequences of failing to reach an agreement with Germany over the formation of a new Directorate in Memel. He said that the British Government was adamant in its demand that the Memel Chamber of Representatives should not be dissolved at the present time, and that he had reliable information from Berlin (presumably from the British Ambassador there) that the Brüning Government would be forced by public opinion to take drastic measures against Lithuania in the event that the Chamber were dissolved failing the appointment by Governor Merkys of a Directorate acceptable to the German majority parties. Mr. Preston said that he would represent to Mr. Tubelis the serious economic repercussions of German boycott on Lithuanian goods and a closing to them of the East Prussian frontier, and that he would hint also to the Minister that a collapse in the Lithuanian currency might very logically follow such complete disruption of Lithuania’s foreign trade.

The present hour represents undoubtedly one of the most serious crises which has faced Lithuania in its administration of the Memel [Page 479] Territory. The peril of actual hostilities between Germany and this country would seem to be reduced to a minimum since the Polish Corridor successfully prevents the shipment of troops from greater Germany to the Lithuanian frontier and any armed attack upon Memel would necessarily be limited to the efforts of forces recruited in East Prussia alone. The assurance which clothes the Lithuanian Government in its stubborn stand is almost certainly grounded in the belief that Germany is bluffing and will eventually subside when it perceives that this country will refuse to yield. It was also suggested to me by the German Minister yesterday, in the course of my conversation with him, that Dr. Zaunius and his associates in the Cabinet felt that, in view of the high state of popular feeling here in which all parties share, retreat from the position of defiance which has been assumed might mean the overthrow of the present Administration. Dr. Moraht observed that one factor which greatly embarrassed the Lithuanian Government in the conduct of its Memel policy was the bellicose attitude of the army, which had been trained to fight somebody for many years and had never realized the opportunity.

Further to speculate upon the course which events may assume is clearly useless, but a climax may come within the next 48 hours as Dr. Zaunius is scheduled to meet with the representatives of the signatories in Geneva to-morrow morning and must then reach a definite conclusion as to whether or not the Memel Chamber of Representatives shall be dissolved or a new Directorate of a more German complexion be proposed to the present Chamber. It would seem that a reasonable compromise could be reached through an agreement to permit the entry into function in Memel of a Directorate tolerably agreeable to both parties. Unhappily for this most obvious solution, it is evident that the German Government, lashed by public furor, has assumed a position here from which it is difficult for it to recede, while the Lithuanian Government may be perhaps in very nearly as embarrassing a posture. In the interim, the Lietuvos Aidas, Nationalist, Kovno, and Memeler Allgemeine Zeitung, Nationalist, Memel, publish under to-day’s date the somewhat amusing report that the Governor of the Memel Territory’s appointee to the Presidency of the Directorate has officially entered into office and that “conversations on this subject with the German majority parties in the Chamber of Representatives are understood still to be continuing.”

Respectfully yours,

Hugh S. Fullerton
  1. It is very obvious, of course, that the Soviets are most anxious to maintain Lithuania as a convenient corridor to Germany and that the destruction of amicable relations between Germany and Lithuania would put Russia in a position of unpleasant isolation to the west. [Footnote in the original.]
  2. See League of Nations, Official Journal, March 1932, p. 540.