Volume 22, No.1 - Spring 1976
Editors of this issue: J.A. Račkauskas
Copyright © 1976 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Correspondence and Conversations


University of Wisconsin — Madison

On July 27, 1962, I visited Vaclovas Sidzikauskas in his office at the Committee for a Free Lithuania in New York, and we had a long conversation concerning the Memel/Klaipėda question and also on other aspects of Lithuanian foreign policy of the 1920s. Again, with Mr. Sidzikauskas' permission, I recorded our discussion.

Mr. Sidzikauskas' comments made clear that even 40 years after the event, he was hesitant and reserved in discussing certain conspiratorial matters. This was not unusual in my experience of talking with Lithuanian émigrés, but Mr. Sidzikauskas had gene-rally been much more open than others with me. I made reference, for example, in this conversation to my intention yet that same afternoon to visit Jonas Budrys, who had led the Lithuanian occupation of Klaipėda in January 1923. Mr. Budrys at first agreed to my using a tape recorder and then asked me to shut it off. (For a reference to my talk with Mr. Budrys, see my article, "Die Besetzung Memels im Januar 1923," Forschungen zur osteuropäischen Geschichte, 10: 334-352.)

As before, Mr. Sidzikauskas and I spoke in Lithuanian; I have translated the conversation from my tape recording.

AS: I know almost nothing about [Voldemaras] Čarneckis as Foreign Minister. What was he like? What did he want to do?

VS: He was Foreign Minister for only some eight months in the cabinet of [Vladas] Petrulis. In his time, let's see, June, we had a conference in Palanga at the place of President [Aleksandras] Stulginskis. We had received an offer from the Poles to begin floating lumber on the Nemunas river, and the question was how to react. Petrulis, [Ernestas] Galvanauskas, Foreign Minister Čarneckis, [Petras] Klimas, [Dovas] Zaunius, if I am not mistaken, and I were there. We decided to answer affirmatively, to open talks, without changing our stand in principle. We were concerned about Klaipėda's timber industry; Lithuania's forests did not give it enough to do. There was stagnation in the timber industry, and Klaipėda depended heavily on the timber industry. It was important for us to get timber from the Nemunas basin from the regions held by the Poles or even further by the Belorussians. Then the question was who should conduct these talks, and this fell on Sidzikauskas. I said that it was inconvenient for me as representative in Berlin to conduct talks with the Poles, but I could not get out of it. The talks were in Copenhagen.

AS: Were the talks secret?

VS: I would not say that they were completely secret. The Danish government knew about them, and we did not make any great secret out of them. There was a large Polish delegation. We were in Copenhagen rather a long time, but we did not reach agreement. We agreed to recess for a month and to reconvene in Lugano. I sent a ciphered telegram to Kaunas, saying that we could not agree and that we had decided to recess, to notify our respective governments, and to meet again in Lugano in one month. I added that if I did not receive other instructions, I would regard this as acceptable, since we had another meeting the next afternoon. There was no answer from Kaunas; we met and signed a protocol for a recess of a month. Then it came out that Kaunas wanted a shorter recess because a ferment had begun in Lithuania. Negotiating with the Poles had made the government's position difficult. Under pressure from the president, the government wanted to recess only for a week or two. They sent a telegram, but the Foreign Ministry put the wrong address on it. I did not receive it, and the telegram returned to Kaunas.

AS: That is, they wanted just a shorter recess.

VS: They wanted only a shorter recess. They did not want to agree with my proposal to recess for a month and then meet in Lugano. They wanted only a week or two if necessary, since they feared that the matter would have such "internal repercussions."

AS: So they did not want to negotiate for too long.

VS: Yes, either to finish or to break off. They feared "internal repercussions." I received this telegram when I was already in the sleeping car from Copenhagen to Berlin. It was already too late. I was to go to meetings in Geneva, but they recalled me to Kaunas. There we had a conference. The government resigned, and Čarneckis' career as Foreign Minister was finished because of this. There was an investigation of the secretary; was she a Polish agent? This was all nonsense; it was just a mistake, she wrote the wrong address. The matter was not a big one: to break for four weeks, one week or two, or to end the talks. But this was not just a procedural question. There was a meeting of the cabinet, which had already resigned. I told of the work of my delegation and of my instructions. They could do nothing. Čarneckis resigned, [Mečyslovas] Reinys became Foreign Minister, and [Leonas] Bistras Prime Minister. They sent a different delegation, headed by [Jurgis] Šaulys to Lugano. This incident, in which I was probably the most responsible, ended Čarneckis' career as Minister of Foreign Affairs. After that he was in Washington for a time, then in Rome, then in the Foreign Ministry. The Russians deported him to Siberia, and there he finished his life.

AS: It seems to me that Reinys was a rather good minister; didn't he have more of a program?

VS: He did not have a special program, and he did not have much special experience in foreign policy. But or course he took a popular line, not to have relations with the Poles. He liquidated the talks with the Poles. He was not minister long. He became bishop coadjutor, and Bistras became acting minister.

AS: It seems to me that in 1925 you were more aggressive in Berlin. According to the German documents, you showed up more, you wanted to talk more about this and that, even about a treaty with the Germans. Weren't you now more aggressive than earlier?

VS: Perhaps. Since these matters with the Poles were more complicated, it seemed to us that we needed better relations with the Germans. So my action began in 1925. When [Mykolas] Sleževičius came to power, I spoke with [Gustav] Stresemann about a non-aggression pact.

AS: In the German documents Brockdorf-Rantzau wrote about [Jurgis] Baltrušaitis, and Schubert wrote about you. You and Baltrušaitis were friends, weren't you? Santariečiai?

VS: Yes.

AS: Rantzau once wrote that Baltrušaitis did not have much influence in Kaunas, and that what was important was that he was your friend.

He was then already a respected public figure. Together we later organized the Santara party. We again came together in diplomatic work. We supported this so-called triangle. Berlin - Kaunas - Moscow, and we tried to maintain it.

AS: I understood from the German archives that you in Berlin and Baltrušaitis in Moscow worked for such a triangle. Was there a contrary current in Lithuania?

VS: No, because there was an anti-Polish spirit. The Poles had taken Vilnius, and there was always a danger of Polish aggression. This was maintained not just because of Moscow, Chicherin, supported our aspirations to Vilnius, but also as a defensive measure against Polish aggression. We sought closer relations with Russia and with Germany. This was not a pro-Berman or a pro-Soviet tendency. This arose from the defense of our government, from the possibilities of our territorial situation.

AS: In January 1925 Petrulis as Prime Minister came to Berlin. According to a letter from [Juozas] Herbačiauskas to Šaulys, which I read in the Šaulys archive, the Poles paid his expenses. Did he come to talk with the Poles?

VS: He visited me once in the mission in Berlin. I learned only later — this was an unpleasant incident in that period — that he had met with [Tadeusz] Holówko. [Sidzikauskas was here mistaken Petrulis had actually met with Juljusz Lukasiewicz — AES.] Holówko was one of the activists seeking an understanding with Lithuania. Petrulis met him twice, and after that came the Polish offer for talks. The Poles probably had illusions from these secret talks; from this came the misunderstanding in Copenhagen.

AS: It would seem that most of the secret talks were in Berlin.

VS: No, there were also other talks.

AS: According to the German archives, after Pilsudski came to power in 1926, you spoke with the Polish representative in Berlin. These were not formal talks but only a general exchange of opinions.

VS: Yes. In 1927 when [Augustinas] Voldemaras was in the government. Later the Polish representatives in Berlin came to me. We met a couple of times, once at his place, another time at mine. He was considered close to Pilsudski. He made me an offer: Pilsudski determined everything in Polish foreign policy, and, being half-Lithuanian, half-Polish, he had romantic sentiments. Maybe we should seek a modus vivendi. I would be the person who could speak with him man to man. Therefore they asked me to try to meet with Pilsudski. That was a concrete proposal.

AS: When was that?

VS: When [Juozas] Tubelis was in the government. I traveled to Kaunas. We had a conference with the president, Tubelis, and Zaunius. We decided that as a gesture we should hold such a meeting, but that perhaps I should not talke part, since it could compromise my position in Berlin. However secret it might be, the Germans would learn about it. Therefore we decided that [Vladas] Stašinskas, the director of the Lithuanian bank, should go. Stašinskas went to Vilnius and met with Pilsudski; nothing came of it. The Poles had thought that if I would be there, there would be a diplomatic approach, but Stašinskas, very directly and almost brutally, declared "withdraw or surrender Vilnius." Pilsudski then said to note how long the French had waited for the resolution of the question of Alsace-Lorraine. This meeting had no result.

AS: The Lithuanians write no memoirs. There are perhaps only five volumes. [Mykolas] Krupavičius told me that he thought you were planning to write a political history of Lithuania.

VS: If my wife had not died, I wanted to retire from this job last year or at the latest this year, and go live in Europe for a few years. I wanted to write a diplomatic history of Lithuania. I was one of the most active participants, and I wanted to leave something for other generations to remember about the conditions of our diplomatic activity in reviving Lithuania, how border questions were resolved, what successes, what mistakes, what was good, what was bad, the conditions in which Lithuania's relations with its neighbors developed and what were the determining factors, why we did this or that in the political and diplomatic questions of the day. I would still like to do that if I get out of here. I would like to sit down and of course collect materials, since I cannot write this just from my own memory after all this time. I have to check all sorts of things, read all sorts of things.

[At this point we digressed with a discussion of my work on Lithuanian history.]

AS: We spoke earlier of Lithuania's position in the question of Vilnius: that there would !be no relations with the Poles so long as they were in Vilnius. I read in the stenograms of the Second Seimas that Kairys had once declared that he did not agree at all with this position and that relations were essential in order to show Lithuanians in Vilnius that Lithuania was thinking about them. It would be better if Klaipėda rather than Danzig were the seaport for Vilnius. On the other hand, I read in Vilnius Lithuanian newspapers that some Lithuanian politicians perhaps didn't want Vilnius, because what would they do with it?

VS: On Vilnius there was a general position, a common opinion; then there could be disagreement of sorts about methods. This looked like it would last a long time, and Klaipėda was pressing on us. From the economic problems in Klaipėda there came political problems. The thought that we should seek a modus vivendi with the Poles came mostly from this concern for supporting Klaipėda. But these considerations ran up against our basic position of having no relations with Poland until the resolution of the Vilnius question. Hence the talks in Copenhagen and after. We wanted to float timber, but in such a way that we would not have to establish any relations. The Poles wanted a consulate, they wanted telephone communications, we wanted to find a way to "eat cake and to have it." Each had their own aims, and we each wanted to use the same object, the timber. We could reach no agreement.

AS: What role did Vailokaitis have in foreign affairs? I keep seeing his name, but I cannot put my finger on what he did. The Russians kept saying that he was directing foreign policy.

VS: There were two Vailokaitis'es. One was a priest, Jonas, and here you surely mean Juozas, a priest who was a banker and member of the Seimas. He was one of the most sensible members of the Christian Democratic fraction. He never intervened actively in foreign affairs. He did participate in the work of the Christian Democratic fraction, in their meetings, and there he had a certain influence.

AS: I spoke about him with Krupavičius, and Krupavičius told me that in the fraction he had almost nothing to do with foreign policy.

VS: He represented common sense. He was a sensible man, but he did not act directly.

AS: As I have read, in 1920, even before the Zeligowski affair, when a firm policy toward Poland had not yet been established, there were already some voices against relations with Poland until they recognized Vilnius as Lithuanian. It would seem that Zaunius was one of hardest. He was in Riga with Šaulys, and I read a memorandum in which he complained that Šaulys had even smiled in talking with the Poles.

VS: He was in the Foreign Ministry, and he participated in the Baltic conference in Riga. His position was always rather hard toward the Poles, and at times he had less trust in them than did persons from Lithuania Major.

AS: Was he from Klaipėda?

VS: He was not from Klaipėda but from the Tilsit region.

AS: I would like to hear more about your role in the Klaipėda rising. You told me in a letter that your role began only with the rising, that it was only diplomatic.

VS: You see, with all the preparations in advance, we made no moves with the Germans, with the German government. There were other channels in the fall of 1922. The Germans let Kaunas know that something had to be done because of the danger from the Poles; the Poles were seeking a condominium in Kaunas or something of the sort. The Germans did not like this, and therefore they let Kaunas know unofficially that Lithuania could have a free hand in this.

AS: Can you tell me what those channels might have been.

VS: [after a pause] I would not want to yet.

AS: All right, I am going to see [Jonas] Budrys. He told me that he would talk about the rising with me.

VS: Perhaps he will tell you more; that was his affair. In Kaunas they believed that we would face no problem from the German side. As diplomatic representative I had no talks on the matter. Only after the event did Carl Schubert call me in. There was a rumor started by the Poles that this Lithuanian move had occurred with German connivance. He delivered a protest against the events in Klaipėda, against Lithuanian participation, and he asked me to send this in an easily decipherable code. He had to give me the protest pro forma in order to show the English, the Poles, or whomever, that the Germans had delivered an official protest, that Germany was not at fault, that there was not German connivance here. That was the beginning of my commission. Then I went to Paris where there was a League of Nations Council meeting on the line of demarcation. With [Oscar] Milašius I visited LaRoche, the political director of the Quai d'Orsay to discuss the Klaipėda rising. He wanted the Lithuanians to withdraw; he threatened us with a ship and all sort of things.

[end of reel]

VS: In Paris it was most important that we calm the French. France had won the war; France had the largest army in the world they had administered the Klaipėda region in the name of the Allies; and this was a humiliation for them. Secondly, they supported the Poles and the aspirations of the Poles. They wanted somehow to bring the Poles and the Lithuanians together. It was necessary for us to move the French. I had a very serious conversation with LaRoche. The French threatened us; they sent a ship which would bombard Klaipėda; they would not leave one stone upon another. We explained that his was a political problem which had been left open for too long. Clemenceau had promised Klaipėda to Lithuania; intrigues of all sorts had began in Warsaw and elsewhere. The inhabitants became restless; volunteers were organized; what was the Lithuanian government to do? We had to find a solution, a humane solution. In general we succeeded. The Auswartiges Amt did not hinder us. They put up some opposition; I wouldn't say that they openly supported us; but their position was, I would say, one of benevolent neutrality. On February 16, 1923, the Conference of Ambassadors made its decision: Klaipėda should belong to Lithuania and there should be a convention. Talks ensued, first in Paris and then in Geneva. I was the head of our delegation, and Galvanauskas came to sign the convention. At the beginning I was in Paris with Galvanauskas to negotiate with LaRoche and others. We could not agree. The question then went to the League Council; they proposed mediation, a commission to be headed by Norman Davies, American Under-Secretary. The talks then moved to Geneva. Balutis was there; Galvanauskas came at times; but I led the talks. The convention saw all sorts of dramatic maneuverings; it was not an easy job. The German element in Klaipėda of course now wanted more rights. Here we and the Germans began to diverge. While at first the Germans had nothing against Klaipėda's being joined to Lithuania, now they wanted that territory to have more freedom and even independence of Lithuania in customs and even currency. Here the French supported them to a great degree because the Poles supported them. This was a difficult struggle. We wanted to make the autonomy as narrow as possible. The Germans in Klaipėda, supported by Germany, wanted more rights, more self-government, more independence from the central government. Eventually we found a compromise. Even so there were still more difficulties, and we had to return to the League of Nations and to the Court at the Hague. I represented us as one of the so-to-speak authors of the convention. We more or less won. Their dependence was greater than either the Germans or the French had wanted. The governor could not only choose the Director, but he could also remove him from office. He could dissolve the parliament. The center had more >power than they wanted. We insisted that the autonomy had been granted for a limited time so that this land, which had lived under separate cultural, political, and religious conditions for about 700 years, could grow back together with the other part of the nation which had lived under different conditions. This autonomy should eventually be abolished. The Germans, supported by the French, were opposed: This autonomy should be real, for all time, it should grow. There was our difference. We wanted them to grow together; they wanted to petrify the situation.

AS: Who set the general diplomatic line in 1923, Galvanauskas?

VS: I would have to say that in essence probably mostly Galvanauskas and I set the general line. We worked together well; we were in constant contact. Sometimes I had to go to President Stulginskis and to report to the cabinet of ministers.

AS: What role did the president play in foreign policy?

VS: He did not do too much. But in fundamental questions, we would have a meeting with the president.

AS: Now the Klaipėda rising: The Lithuanians were in Klaipėda from January 15, but the Conference of Ambassadors only recognized Klaipėda as Lithuanian on February 16. The French departed on the 19th, and on the 20th the Lithuanian flag went up for the first time. Klaipėda was independent for more than a month.

VS: The Lithuanian government was in fact in charge, but that was not recognized. The decision was made earlier, but they announced it only on February 16, Lithuanian Independence Day. This was done very consciously. Since they had to give it up, they would do it in a special way.

AS: On January 19 there was a meeting of Lithuanians in Šilutė which asked for incorporation into Lithuania, and on the 26th there was a debate in the Seimas. The Lithuanians, it seems to me, could easily have lost everything by acting too quickly. Who was in charge in Kaunas?

VS: The policy of careful waiting was set when the Versialles treaty was signed. The treaty separated Klaipėda and [Georges] Clemenceau's letter promised it to Lithuania. Lithuania would first have to be reestablished and recognized de jure. We knew that there had to be a definite "sequence of events." First we had to win international de jure recognition. Only then, they would tell us in Paris, could one make a final decision. Until we had that recognition, they had a pretext to let things go, and of course Polish entrigues developed. When Lithuania obtained de jure recognition on December 20, 1922, that was a clear signal that there were no blocks to a resolution, that the twelfth hour had arrived, that a resolution had to be made. The powers holding Klaipėda had to decide its fate. In order to anticipate the decision, since there were stories that Klaipėda's fate may be something else, the inhabitants enforced their own will. They could not wait. It is too much to say that this was the plan of just one man. That was the general political line of the time, and it was carried out logically, whether first by Šleževičius or then by Galvanauskas. This policy was supported by all. It was just a problem of not letting the right time pass and of preventing a solution which would later be harmful.

AS: Galvanauskas was very tactful. Was it significant that he had lived in Western Europe?

VS: He finished university in Paris; later he was in the Balkans. He was an engineer for a French railroad firm in Serbia; then he withdrew through Albania to Marseilles, came to Paris, and was drawn into the work of the delegation. Certainly it was good that he spoke French. He knew German; he knew the western world. But most important was his pragmatic sense. He was an engineer; he did not like to write: it was difficult for him to write or to give some sort of good speech with baroque or rococo phrases. He was a pragmatist, an engineer, and this was very good in this time. He looked at things clearly, and, what's more, he had a will. If you agreed with him on something, he had the will to carry it through. He did not fear taking responsibility. There were his most important features, but his stay in the west gave him the ability to know languages and of course to become acquainted with the French.

AS: This leads to considering the Conference of Ambassadors' decision on Vilnius. In 1923 [Tomas] Naruševičius wrote, "The Lithuanian government has therefore the honor respectfully to request the Council of the League of Nations to draw the attention of the Supreme Council of the Allied and Associated Powers to the seriousness of the situation and to request the latter to fix the eastern frontiers of Poland in accordance with Paragraph 3 of Article 87 of the Treaty of Versailles. This step would at the same time settle the Polish - Lithuanian dispute." You said essentially the same thing in May 1922 when you were arguing against a division of the neutral zone. Why did you ask the Conference of Ambassadors to do this?

VS: The question had dragged on, and the League of Nations had not resolved it. It could not resolve the political question. It could not get the Poles out. The question was what to do next, what to do about the line of demarcation. In my opinion, Naruševičius did not write carefully. I said it differently; I had in mind that the Poles should first withdraw. I posed this condition. Do you have the quotation?

AS: No, I do not have the quotation.

VS: Well, this was my thought. If they wanted to make a decision, they should first force the Poles to withdraw. This letter of November 18 was written with the idea of winning de jure recognition, to show a certain good will, thinking, perhaps naively, that the Conference of Ambassadors would act upon the League of Nations' decision which did not recognize the Polish right to Vilnius. They were to be arbiters here; they would do just what the League of Nations could not, namely force the Poles to withdraw. We wanted to show our good will, since they criticized us for fighting with the Poles, and they did not want to recognize us de jure. The Conference of Ambassadors then exploited this request. They decided to give Klaipėda to Lithuania — they could not do otherwise — but for that it was necessary to give the Poles compensation, to recognize Vilnius as theirs. These were done together: on February 16 they recognized Klaipėda as ours and on March 15 Vilnius as the Poles'.

AS: In February 1923 when Viviani read the Covenant of the League to you, do you think that he was particularly angry because of Klaipėda?

VS: Oh yes. Those were parallel; he was very upset.

AS: I would like to ask about Reinys. Was he a Jesuit?

VS: I think not.

AS: I read in the stenograms of the Seimas where Sleževičius or some one said that there was a "black cabinet" of Christian Democrats which would decide questions of foreign policy and that Reinys was one of them. This was in the first half of 1925.

VS: There was a committee of three and there was a committee of six. The Christian Democratic bloc had a majority and formed the government. This was made up of three parties: the Christian Democrats, the Ūkininkų Sąjunga and the Darbo Federacija. They organized a committee of three consisting of one representative from each, and it was said that this group made more decisions than did the cabinet. Then they organized a committee of six, and this was the "black cabinet." They used to say, why are you debating? The committee of three of the committee of six will decide anyway. Reinys was a member. They would call any priest a Jesuit; that was just so-to-speak a nickname.

AS: In 1924 Galvanauskas was forced from office on the railroad question and the English loan. Why did [Antanas] Tumėnas resign as premier?

VS: Well, he was a slow person, and it seems to me that his own people forced him out. I couldn't say exactly what were the immediate reasons. It was difficult to talk with him.

AS: In your opinion then Baltrušaitis played almost no role in preparing the Klaipėda rising?

VS: I think that he did not know what was being prepared in Kaunas. When it was necessary, the Soviet representative in Kaunas was asked that Moscow should stage maneuvers so that the Poles would not know "what's cooking." This would limit their boldness. As I remember, this was done in Kaunas, not through Baltrušaitis, but I cannot be certain.

[The reel of tape came to an end as we were then turning to a discussion of the political activity of Juozas Puryckis.]