Volume 23, No.1 - Spring 1977
Editor of this issue: Thomas Remeikis
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1977 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


University of Wisconsin — Madison

As can be seen from the conflicting testimony of such figures as Julius Bielskis and Vaclovas Sidzikauskas, Juozas Gabrys was a controversial figure in the history of independent Lithuania.* He had his supporters and his detractors. Mr. Sidzikauskas criticized my discussion of him as having given him too much credit, yet a major American scholarly journal once rejected an essay which I had written about Gabrys because I had allegedly not given him enough credit for his contribution to the Lithuanian national movement.

Under these circumstances, Gabrys poses an intriguing challenge for a historian. Since he died in 1951, I never had the opportunity to meet him. In 1957 my father and I visited his widow in Vevey, Switzerland. She received us in friendly fashion, gave me copies of several of his books, and even presented me with a file of five issues of Gabrys' newspaper, la Lituanie Independante. On the other hand, she would not permit me to search through his papers. She looked through several files herself and insisted that the documents were too personal to turn over to me. Unfortunately, after her death, most of the archive was destroyed. Dr. Albertas Gerutis managed to save Gabrys' manuscript memoirs, "Tėvynės sargyboj," but the rest was lost. As a result, documentation of his career has to come from other sources.

Gabrys was undoubtedly the best known Lithuanian political figure on the European scene before 1916. He had been very active in Paris for several years, and he had established a number of friendships in French intellectual circles. He published memoirs, which appeared in French in 1920, described this phase of his work in detail, 1 but one has to turn to his unpublished memoirs, now in Dr. Gerutis' possession, to get a clearer picture of his career after 1916 when he had begun to work with the Germans.

Dr. Bielskis was obviously uncomfortable in discussing with me the question of whether Gabrys had worked with the Germans during the First World War. Now that we can freely investigate the German Foreign Ministry archives for this period, there can be no doubt about this. Even as he maintained his contacts with French officials, Gabrys cooperated with the German ambassador in Bern, Baron Gisbert von Romberg, and he received considerable amounts of money for his efforts. 2

There is of course great irony in the fact that Gabrys later denounced the Taryba as a German puppet, even while he was himself still in contact with Berlin. Gabrys, however, also wrote anti-German literature while he took money from Romberg. He obviously never considered himself a German agent, but he thought that others, who might even be receiving less, were incapable of steering an independent course.

Another area of controversy concerns Gabrys' relationships with Polish figures. Despite his written attacks on the Poles and also on other Lithuanians, such as Antanas Viskantas, who seemed inclined to cooperate with the Poles, Gabrys was himself ready to make deals. Gabrys had such soaring self-confidence that he apparently believed himself capable of controlling any alliance which he chose to make. 3

In the winter of 1918 - 1919, Gabrys told Allen Welsh Dulles, then an American intelligence agent in Switzerland, that he was ready to consider cooperation with the Poles, and he indeed entered into talks with Polish officials. These resulted in some sort of a conditional agreement, but this maneuver proved abortive. 4 Nine months later Gabrys entered into more serious talks along this same line.

By the summer of 1919 Gabrys was bitterly opposed to the Provisional Government of Lithuania. Drawing no distinction between Mykolas Sleževičius and Antanas Smetona, he argued that the government was dominated by Russian-educated politicians who were incapable of establishing Lithuania's independence. Instead, he insisted that a duly elected Constituent Assembly, probably dominated by the Christian Democrats, would remove these persons from office. He obviously thought that the Christian Democrats would offer him a high governmental post. Bielskis told me that Gabrys aspired just to be Foreign Minister; I believe that he considered himself the natural choice to head the government.

In August 1919 Gabrys sought Polish aid in organizing a coup d'etat in Lithuania. As he told a Polish representative, "I laugh at Poland, I hate it, but since Lithuania cannot walk without feet, then I turn to Poland, I want it since Poland is the feet for Lithuania, I have considered it carefully." Gabrys wrote to a French friend, "Our quasi-government has been unable to reach an understanding with the Poles and it has also been incapable of making war." 5 Here again Gabrys failed, as the forces in Eastern Europe were already beyond his capacity to influence them, much less to control . 6

On August 1, 1919, Gabrys published the first issue of his newspaper La Lituanie Independante, which was aimed at discrediting Provisional Government in Kaunas. In the lead article, entitled "Our Aim," Gabrys proclaimed his desire to seek Lithuanian independence on good terms with all its neighbors. The keynote of the issue was his demand for the election of a Constituent Assembly. A report on the "Present situation in Lithuania" criticized the government as lacking "any support worthy of the name." Completing the first page was the text of an open letter to Smetona, written in May, declaring that the government feared facing elected representatives of the people.

The issue continued with a "letter from Lithuania," decrying the power of German officials in the country and denouncing the subservience of the "Smetona clique." An anonymous report on "mass discontent in Lithuania" told of moves by the government against Vincas Bartuška and others of Gabrys' friends, and it declared that meetings of Lithuanian patriots were endorsing the sentiments of Gabrys' open letter to Smetona.

A report from Berlin complained that the Lithuanian legation there was only serving the Germans; a communique from Paris, signed "C. Rivas" (one of Gabrys' regular pseudonyms), criticized the activity of Augustinas Voldemaras and Martynas Yčas as Lithuania's representatives to the Paris Peace Conference. Voldemaras was allegedly compromised by his German connections, Yčas by his old links with the Russian Constitutional Democrats. A dispatch from the United States noted that Gabrys' open letter offered a hope of reconciling the right and the left within the Lithuanian emigration. After a sarcastic comparison of Smetona and Taleyrand, the issue closed with a press review which took particular aim at Viskantas and Jadvyga Chodakauskaitė, Smetona's sister-in-law.

The second issue, dated August 15, carried a lead article calling for agreement between Poland and Lithuania on the basis of geographic, economic, and military considerations. This would require compromises on both sides, but Lithuania should be able to conclude a military and economic pact with Poland while still maintaining its sovereignty and dignity. Gabrys prefaced the article with a disclaimer that he did not share all the views set forth in it, but Polish sources noted with approval that this issue of the newspaper contained no direct attacks on Poland. 7 Instead, Gabrys continued his attacks on the Provisional Government as a band of refugees from Russia, heavily influenced by the Bolsheviks. He labeled Mykolas Sleževičius "a Bolshevik to the third degree."

The lead article of the third issue, September 1, declared that Lithuania was at a cross roads, faced by the necessity of choosing between an alliance with Poland or an alliance with the Baltic and Scandinavian countries. The alliance with Poland had more to offer, but Warsaw must renounce all its imperialist ambitions. A report from Lithuania described the manner in which the French military mission, which has been "the work of J. Gabrys," had failed to capitalize on the friendly reception which it had first received and was now discredited. The bulk of the issue was devoted to a recounting of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles which had relevance for Lithuania and to an essay offering a detailed accounting of Lithuania's agriculture.

Although the newspaper was to appear on the first and the fifteenth of every month, the fourth issue was dated only October 20, 1919. In it Gabrys welcomed the fall of the Sleževičius government. Its end, he claimed "completely justifies" his newspaper's criticisms of it. He welcomed the accession to power of Ernestas Galvanauskas as a westernized Lithuanian, who represented a change from "our Petrograders such as Sleževičius, Yčas, and Voldemaras." "Our premier," he continued, "has clean hands." The task now was to convene the Constituent Assembly.

Gabrys was now also able to welcome the recognition of Lithuania by Great Britain. This recognition, he declared, had been limited to just de facto recognition because of the nature of the present government, which lacked "authority and prestige." A report from Lithuania again condemned the Sleževičius government and the army general staff, while one from Berlin denounced corruption in the government. Another item from Paris, signed by C. Rivas, praised the appearance of La Lituanie Independance.

Issue No. 5 is lacking in my complex. In no. 6, dated December 1, 1919, Gabrys wrote glowingly of the future relations between Lithuania on the one hand and England and France on the other. The second article in the issue denounced Russo-German intrigues in Lithuania as exposed, curiously enough, by Baron Friedrich von der Ropp, who had served as Gabrys' contact in his dealing with the Germans in 1916 and 1917.

An examination of the "financial balance of the first year of the Smetona regime" complained bitterly of corruption and mismanagement. A tardy report on Lithuania under Sleževičius spoke of the government as one "of the extreme left with strongly Bolshevik tendencies." Under the flag of nationalism, the government had furthered a Bolshevik campaign against the Polish landowners. The opposition in the country was uniting behind the Christian Democrats. In this last issue of his newspaper, Gabrys also gave space to his Ukrainian friends, publishing an appeal written by Simon Petliura.

While Gabrys felt that he would have the support of Christian Democrats in Lithuania, he also realized that his real backing in 1918 - 1920 came from the Lithuanians in America. Addressing himself to that audience, he published two major statements of his position in the newspaper Draugas, and in 1920 he reprinted these as a pamphlet, summarizing his opposition to the Provisional Government. 8 He passionately argued for the correctness of his actions, and he justified his practice of making decisions by himself with reference to the work of Vincas Kudirka. In opposing Smetona, he insisted, he had in fact been fulfilling his obligations as a Lithuanian citizen.

Gabrys claimed credit for all the achievements of the Lithuanians under the German occupation. Without specifying his relationship with the German government — indeed, he obfuscated this point — he insisted that it was he who had forced the Germans to tolerate the establishment of the Taryba, he who had named the majority of the delegates, and he who had nominated Smetona as the Taryba's first chairman. He also claimed credit for having won German recognition of Lithuania's independence in the form of the Kaiser's declaration of March 23, 1918.

The split with Smetona, he continued, came at the Lausanne conference of 1918, when the leaders of the Taryba insisted that they would not accept his leadership. "From the first contact with the delegates of the Lithuanian Taryba, it became clear that they had already become proud as the 'bearers of Lithuanian sovereignty.' They did not at all wish to negotiate with the representatives of our organization. They had altogether forgotten the aid and support which our organization had unceasingly given Lithuania and the Taryba." The issues at stake, he declared, were: 1) the necessity of repudiating the election of Urach as the king of Lithuania; 2) the need to resist Germany's desire for a military and trade convention; 3) the establishment of a policy for Lithuania at the coming peace conference; and 4} the need to convene a Constituent Assembly.

At the Lausanne conference, it should be noted, Gabrys had the support of the American Lithuanians. While Gabrys squared off with Smetona, Kazys Pakštas argued intensely with Juozas Puryckis. As Pakštas later told my father, the Taryba representatives, even at this late date, could not believe that Germany would lose the war. Therefore they reckoned on having to continue maintaining close ties with Berlin. Gabrys and the Americans argued for a broader perspective. 9

After the end of the war, to continue with Gabrys' account, he claimed to have persuaded the French to send a military mission to Lithuania, and he contrasted this to Voldemaras' lack of success at the Paris Peace Conference. The Smetona clique, he asserted, now lost no opportunity "to spit in my face and to heap filth on me." When he visited Lithuania in April 1919 he was warned that if he raised the question of the Taryba and a Constituent Assembly, he would be arrested. "It may be," he concluded, "that I have made mistakes, I have erred, but no one can accuse me of bad will as my opponents have tried."

In the end, Gabrys' campaigns against the Provisional Government proved counterproductive. However independent he thought he could himself remain while dealing with various foreign groups, he had hopelessly compromised himself in Lithuanian politics. After World War I he remained an émigré, serving only briefly as consul general in Königsberg.

During the First World War, General Erich Ludendorff complained that German policy toward Lithuania was being made in Switzerland. Gabrys in fact played a major role in the formation of a Lithuanian state from the rubble of the conflict in Eastern Europe. Yet his career ended in failure. His personal tragedy lay in his inability to make the transition from the heady atmosphere of diplomatic intrigue, where he unquestionably excelled, to the broader stage of national politics. Whether because of ambition, vanity, or simply error, he never really considered any of his rivals to be worthy, and he treated them accordingly. In return he was excluded from the Lithuanian political stage.


* Editorial Note. In a series of documentaries ( "From a Lithuanian Archive"), Prof. Senn has presented conversations and correspondence with prominent 20th century Lithuanian political personalities: Julius Bielskis, Vaclovas Sidzikauskas, Steponas Kairys, Mykolas Biržiška (see Lituanus, 1975, Vol. 21, Nos. l, 2, 3, 4; and 1976, Vol. 22, No. 1). In this article Prof. Senn responds to the conflicting evaluations of Juozas Gabrys, an important personality in the struggle for Lithuania's independence.
1 Vers l'independence lituanienne (Lausanne, 1920).
2 I have discussed this in detail in my study The Russian Revolution in Switzerland, 1914 - 1917 {Madison, 1971). My interest in Gabrys was in fact the entering wedge for this study of the Russian emigration in Switzerland during the First World War.
3 This is possibly the explanation for his curious overture to the Bolshevik leader Vincas Mickevičius-Kapsukas at the beginning of 1919,
4 See Michal Sokolnicki's account in Kultura, 1953, no. 12.
5 Documents in the Jozef Pilsudski Institute, New York City. See also M, K. Dziewanowski, Joseph Pilsudski: A European federalist. 1918 - 1922 (Stanford, 1969), pp. 165 - 66.
6 On the events in Lithuania in August and September 1919, see Piotr Lossowski, Stosunki polsko - litewskie w latach 1918 - 1920 (Warsaw, 1966), pp. "123 - 26; Gerd Linde, Die deutsche Politik in Litauen im ersten Weltkrieg (Wiesbaden, 1965), pp. 224 - 25; Alfred Erich Senn, The Emergence of Modern Lithuania (New York, 1959), pp. 146 - 48.
7 See Dziewanowski, Pilsudski, pp. 165 - 66.
8 Kodėl aš nerėmiau laikinosios Lietuvos valdžios? (n.p., 1920).
9 Notes of a conversation between Pakštas and my father in Washington, D.C., August 17, 1954, dictated to me by my father that same evening.