THERE is a strange contrast between the history of this sleepy Baltic port in the centuries prior to the Paris Peace Conference and its prominence in the subsequent fifteen years. Until 1917, Memel had few claims to fame. As a port it was surpassed by the greater activity of Königsberg and Danzig. Historically, it was overshadowed by Tilsit, that city farther up the Niemen where Napoleon and Alexander of Russia had divided the world between them.
In 1919 Memel City and its hinterland were separated from East Prussia. The unit comprised an area of 945 square miles and a population of 150,000
(25,000 Germans and 125,000 who consider themselves Lithuanians). To Germany's protests the Allies answered that although the city of Memel was largely German, the hinterland was Lithuanian in sympathy. Furthermore, Memel was the only outlet to the sea for the newly created state of Lithuania. Until that country had definite boundaries (she had a continuing conflict with Poland after Zeligowski's seizure of Vilna in 1920), the Allies continued to rule Memel. They wished to make Memel available for Lithuanian commerce but were not willing to give Lithuania unconditioned sovereignty over the Territory.
The period of inter-Allied government was scarcely a happy one. The Germans in Memel Territory demanded the status of a free city, such as Danzig, for they considered this the quickest route to reunion with Germany. Even Lithuania had little respect for the port which supposedly was to serve her needs. She erected customs barriers between herself and the Territory, and directed her own trade to Königsberg and Libau.
The stalemate was ended in January 1923. A filibustering expedition of Lithuanian soldiers in civilian dress entered Memel and, after some fighting with Allied troops, proclaimed the union of Memel and Lithuania. In February 1923, the Conference of Ambassadors recognized the fait accompli but insisted on a certain degree of autonomy for the Territory. The task of defining this autonomy was ultimately given to a committee of the League of Nations. On this committee the
Loading, please wait...