107.5 x 200 cm Oil on linen April 2022 Berlin, Germany
Showed: 2022 - Open Sudies, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Germany
Demonstration in Klaipėda in 1938. on the evening of November 1 on the occasion of the lifting of martial law. "Memeler Dampfboot" photo.
The 1926 Lithuanian coup d'état (Lithuanian: 1926-ųjų perversmas) was a military coup d'état in Lithuania that resulted in the replacement of the democratically elected government with a Nationalist regime led by Antanas Smetona. The 1926 coup was a major event in interwar Lithuania; the dictatorship would go on for 14 years. In 1935, the Smetona government outlawed the activities of all other political parties. The coup continues to be a difficult issue for Lithuanians, since the Soviet Union would go on to describe its subsequent occupation of Lithuania as a liberation from fascism. Encyclopædia Britannica, however, describes the regime as authoritarian and nationalistic rather than fascist.
In the spring of 1938 Adolf Hitler personally stated that gaining Klaipėda was one of his highest priorities, second only to gaining the Sudetenland. When Poland presented its ultimatum to Lithuania in March 1938, Germany openly declared that in the event of a military clash between Poland and Lithuania, its army would invade Lithuania to capture Klaipėda and a large portion of western Lithuania. A week after Lithuania accepted the Polish ultimatum, Germany presented an eleven-point memorandum that demanded freedom of action for pro-German activists in the region and a lessening of Lithuanian influence there. Its points were worded in a deliberately vague manner, which would enable Germany to accuse Lithuania of violations. Lithuania chose to postpone dealing with the problem, hoping that the international situation would improve. In the meantime it hoped to give the German population no reasons for complaint.
This tactic did not prove successful: pro-Nazi propaganda and protests were rampant, even among the Lithuanian population, and the local government was powerless to prevent them. The Nazis physically harassed Lithuanian organizations. On 1 November 1938 Lithuania was pressured into lifting martial law and press censorship. During the December elections to the Klaipėda Parliament, pro-German parties received 87% of votes (25 seats out of 29) in the Klaipėda territory. Dr. Ernst Neumann, the chief defendant in the 1934 trials, was released from prison in February 1938 and became the leader of Klaipėda's pro-German movement. In December he was received by Adolf Hitler, who assured him that the Klaipėda issue would be resolved by March o r April 1939. Neumann and other Nazi activists claimed the right of self-determination for the region and demanded that Lithuania open negotiations over the political status of Klaipėda. The parliament was expected to vote for a return to Germany when it convened on 25 March 1939. Germany's official channels maintained silence on the issue. Germany hoped that Lithuania would voluntarily give up the troubled region, and a public stance could have disturbed the sensitive discussions it was then engaged in with Poland over an anti-Communist alliance against the Soviet Union.
Under the Treaty of Versailles after World War I, Klaipėda and the surrounding Klaipėda Region (Memel Territory) were detached from Germany and made a protectorate of the Entente States. The French became provisional administrators of the region until a more permanent solution could be worked out. Both Lithuania and Poland campaigned for their rights in the region. However, it seemed that the region would become a free city, similar to the Free City of Danzig. Not waiting for an unfavorable decision, the Lithuanians decided to stage the Klaipėda Revolt, take the region by force, and present the Entente with a fait accompli. The revolt was carried out in January 1923 while western Europe was distracted by the occupation of the Ruhr. The Germans tacitly supported the action, while the French offered only limited resistance. The League of Nations protested the revolt, but accepted the transfer in February 1923. The formal Klaipėda Convention was signed in Paris on 8 May 1924, securing extensive autonomy for the region.
The annexation of the city had enormous consequences for the Lithuanian economy and foreign relations. The region subsequently accounted for up to 30% of the Lithuania's entire production. Between 70% and 80% of foreign trade passed through Klaipėda. The region, which represented only about 5% of Lithuania's territory, contained a third of its industry. Weimar Germany, under Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann, maintained normal relations with Lithuania. However, Nazi Germany desired to reacquire the region and tensions rose. Pro-German parties won clear supermajorities in all elections to the Klaipėda Parliament, which often clashed with the Lithuanian-appointed Klaipėda Directorate. Lithuanian efforts to "re-Lithuanize" Prussian Lithuanians by promoting Lithuanian language, culture, education were often met with resistance from the locals. In 1932, a conflict between the Parliament and the Directorate had to be resolved by the Permanent Court of International Justice. In 1934–1935, the Lithuanians attempted to combat increasing Nazi influence in the region by arresting and prosecuting over 120 Nazi activists for the alleged plot to organize an anti-Lithuanian rebellion. Despite rather harsh sentences, the defendants in the so-called Neumann–Sass case were soon released under pressure from Nazi Germany. The extensive autonomy guaranteed by the Klaipėda Convention prevented Lithuania from blocking the growing pro-German attitudes in the region.
As tensions in pre-war Europe continued to grow, it was expected that Germany would make a move against Lithuania to reacquire the region. German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop delivered an ultimatum to the Lithuanian Foreign Minister on 20 March 1939, demanding the surrender of Klaipėda. Lithuania, unable to secure international support for its cause, submitted to the ultimatum and, in exchange for the right to use the new harbour facilities as a Free Port, ceded the disputed region to Germany in the late evening of 22 March 1939. Adolf Hitler visited the harbour and delivered a speech to the city residents. This was Hitler's last territorial acquisition before World War II. During the war, the Germans operated a forced labour subcamp of the Stalag I-A prisoner-of-war camp for Allied POWs in the city, and expelled Poles from German-occupied Poland were also enslaved as forced labour in the city's vicinity.