Joachim Tauber. Die deutsch-litauischen Beziehungen im 20. Jahrhundert. Lüneburg: Verlag Nordostdeutsches Kulturwerk, 1993. 30 pp. Paper. DM 5.00
Vytautas šalys, Ringen um Identität. Warum Litauen zwischen 1923 und 1939 im Memelgebiet keinen Erfolg hatte. Kova dl identiteto. Kodl Lietuvai nesisek Klaipdoje tarp 1923-1939 m. Lüneburg: Verlag Nordostdeutsches Kulturwerk, 1993. 104 pp. Illustrations. Hardback. DM 20.00
Karl-Heinz Ruffmann. Deutsche und Litauer in der Zwischenkriegszeit. Erinnerungen eines Memelländers, Überlegungen eines Historikers. Lüneburg: Verlag Nordostdeutsches Kulturwerk, 1994. Paper. Map. 39 pp. DM 5.00
As interest revives in the future of the Kaliningrad Oblast, it is not surprising to see books appear on the now almost forgotten autonomous region of Memel between the wars. The parallel is far from exact, but it is nevertheless informative. Memel was a tiny sliver of land, the citizens of the town ethnically and linguistically German, the countryside inhabited by Lithuanians, but the territory was historically a part of Prussia; mentioned prominently in the German national anthem, it was not a place that any German politician dared abandon lightly.
Tauber's short survey of the region describes the rise of ethnic tensions in the mid-19th century, with the simultaneous development of a Lithuanian nationalism opposed to Polonization and a Germanization policy which emphasized Protestantism. Lithuanian nationalists at the University in Königsberg smuggled Lithuanian literature over the border, with the quiet acquiesence of Prussian officials. In effect, German policy was to weaken the tsarist empire by any means possible. When war came in 1914 Germany's policy was to annex and Germanize the region. That is, to make Lithuanians learn the German language and adapt the good work habits, etc., of middle-class Germans. By 1918 the policy had changed to making Lithuania into an independent buffer state; after two tumultous years Lithuania emerged as an independent state, minus its traditional capital, Vilnius, and without Klaipda (Memel), its only good port and the mouth of the Nemunas (Memel) River.
Tauber jumps quickly to 1939-1945, then concludes with a short description of the events of 1989-1991. There is a clear acceptance of the verdict of 1945, that never again will Germans inhabit or live next to the Memel region. But he hopes for a new German expansion there: one of peaceful economic activity. German and Lithuania should both benefit from democratic government and economic prosperity.
šalys' dual language study is hardly longer, but it is a more concentrated and more scholarly study. He begins with questioning the ability of any statistican to assess accurately the ethnic identity of the pre-war population. Tradition made most people identify with Germany, and early twentieth-century politics were fluid in the extreme. Emotion, not logic, dominated.
The new Lithuanian state was not willing to agree quietly to the loss of such an important territory as Klaipda. But its politicians missed their best opportunities. Just as Germans in Alsace, Silesia and Danzig would have preferred to be part of their neighboring homeland, ethnic Lithuanians in Memel would gladly have had the international community be more generous with them. The Germans in Memel, of course, were the local majority and had a different view of the situation. Better organized than the Lithuanians, once the 1923 annexation was reversed by the international community, they dominated the free state's fifteen-year history. The inner struggles of this autonomous state represents the heart of šalys' story, the failure of the Lithuanian state to find some way to quiet the fears of the Germans in the city, the widespread German belief that Lithuania would be a temporary state, and German expectations that the situation would change radically after the Treaty of Versailles was declared null and void. Memel's Nazis were the dominant force before Hitler consolidated his control of Germany; it was a foregone conclusion that Hitler would proceed with annexation at the first opportunity.
Ruffmann begins by citing the 1993 declaration at the founding of the University of Klaipda praising the German contributions toward the creation of the "Little Lithuanian" culture and people and the Lithuanian state. He emphasizes the loyalty of the people of the region to the Prussian monarch, a loyalty which crossed ethnic and linguistic lines. This ties directly into šalys thesis that any explanation of the events of this era require going beyond politics to social practices, local traditions, and even psychology. What the Germans and Lithuanians had in common after 1920 were 1) an anti-Polish bias, 2) economic interests. Economic warfare beginning in 1934 hurt Lithuanian badly, so that the Kaunas government welcomed the 1936 trade agreement.
As did šalys, Ruffmann notes the weaknesses in the Lithuanian position: the effort to overwhelm the German numbers by encouraging Lithuanians to immigrate into the Memelland, the strong-man rule of Smetona belying claims to democratic purity (in contrast to the Weimar government), harrassment of Memel officials and pro-German Memellanders, and repeated efforts to change the international status of the region. These helped German leaders to muster practically the entire German-speaking population into a solid block of resistance to incorporation into Lithuania. Over-excited nationalism on both sides made possible the Nazi dominance of this movement and facilitated the 1939 annexation into Germany.
The dreadful years that followed, first a Soviet occupation of Lithuania, then German, and again Soviet, ended the five hundred year history of Memel as a German city. Not, however, the role of Klaipda as a window on the West. Ruffmann concludes (34-37) with a reflection upon minority rights in general: guarantees of linguistic and cultural freedom must be absolute, with no efforts at "nationalizing" the minority. He speaks of not feeling "homeless" (ein Heimatvertreibener, d.h. als jemand der seiner Heimat beraubt werden konnte), because as a human being and historian he sees a freedom in maintaining traditions and preserving history. History as a means of reconciling the present with the past, of connecting one people with another. Such is the spirit which infuses these three books. Herder and Kant would be pleased.