The following post contains significant information quoted and paraphrased from resources at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum Library and Archives. They focus on the history of Germans in Lithuania. They are shared here for their scholarly and historical perspective and to help provide a political and social history to the family history we all seek.
If you would like to see some maps of these areas, here is a link to Himmler’s Auxiliaries at Google Books.
Part I: Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 5
Chapter 1: Himmler and the Volksdeutsche
Page 22: 10 million Volksdeutsche after WWI
100,000 in Memelland, Lithuania
80,000 Latvia and Estonia
Page 23: Volksgruppe came to refer to a minority of Germans residing within a state.
4 distinct groups
Group 1: Germans in territories separated from the Reich as a result of WWI settlement. One group of these was the Memelland in Lithuania.
Group 3: Germans who had never belonged to the German Empire or the Hapsburg crown: the Lithuanian Germans.
Chapter 3: Presettlement VoMi
Page 58: The Berlin Headquarters: divide the Reich geographically—Osten-Nordosten included Poland, the Baltic States, and Memelland.
Chapter 5: VoMi and the Minorities’s I The Southern and Eastern Borderlands
Pages 90-93: Lithuania seized Memelland from Germany shortly after the end of WWI (1924). Estimated 60,000 living there had been Prussians and were quite distinct from the 30,000 to 40,000 Volksdeutsche who inhabited the rest of Lithuania and who were former subjects of the Russian czar. Although some of the latter were urban folks, the majority farmed the countryside south west of Kaunas, near the East Prussian border where their ancestors had settled several generations earlier.
Neither the Memellanders nor the Volksdeutsche in the interior were Baltic Germans, a term exclusively reserved for the Volksdeutsche of Estonia and Latvia.
The Reich’s relations with the two Volksdeutsche constituting the German minority in Lithuania differed greatly not only because of its special interest as Memellanders and former Reich subjects but also because of the differences Lithuanians allowed the two groups with Germany.
On the basis of the 1924 Memelland statue, which made Memel an autonomous region of Lithuania, the Lithuanians recognized the Memel Germans as a distinct group with special status and guaranteed them unlimited access with the Reich.
As for the Germans of the interior, their access to the Reich was restricted. During the early years the Lithuanians treated the Germans of the interior well. As simple peasants owning moderate amounts of land, they entertained no lofty aspirations for special status and no notions of cultural superiority. They posed no threat to Lithuania.
Relations between the Germans of the interior and the Lithuanians worsened in 1926 when a new government came to power:
Lithuanization of family names
In 1935 dissolved their main political organ
Curtailed activities of their major cultural organization.
Page 91: Memellanders were also restricted but not as much because of their autonomy.
Surge in German Nationalism (Nazism)
Memellanders were discouraged from leaving disputed Reich lands as it would reduce the German population and weaken the Reich’s claim to these lands.
Memellanders sought re-annexation.
Lithuanians tried to appease.
Page 92: “Ein Volk, Ein Reuich, Ein Fuhrer” was heard throughout Memel.
Hitler said that “the issue of Memel would be shortly resolved.” Memel was peacefully re-annexed to the Reich on March 23, 1939.
Lithuania lost a seaport and valuable shoreline to Germany. Lithuania was glad to be done with Memel and the fact that Hitler asked for no more. (This was contrary to what had happened in Czechoslovakia and what would happen in Poland.)
My Note: A case could be made that Memel’s desire for re-annexation was one of the events that led to the Molotov-Rippentrop agreement on August 31, 1939.)
Page 93: The rest of Lithuania’s Volksdeutsche remained a national minority. VoMi retained an interest in the Germans living in the interior. They kept them quiet and prevented them from disturbing the Reich’s plans for the future plans with Lithuania for neutrality.
In 1940 VoMi became involved with the Germans in Lithuania over their resettlement.