Klaipėda Region - World War II and After

World War II and After

When the area was returned to German control in 1939 under Nazi Germany, many Lithuanians and their organizations began leaving Memel and the surrounding area. Memel was quickly turned into a fortified naval base by the Germans. After the failure of the German invasion of the USSR (Operation Barbarossa) in 1941, the fate of East Prussia and Memel was sealed. By October 1944 the inhabitants of the area, without ethnic distinction, had to make a decision whether to stay or leave. Nearly all of the population were evacuated from the approaching Red Army, but the city itself was defended by the German army during the Battle of Memel until January 28, 1945. After its capture only six persons were found in the city.

The resulting decisions of the Potsdam Conference decreed that northern East Prussia, and therefore the Memel Territory as part of it, should be placed under the administration of the Soviet Union. On 7 April 1946, the Königsberg Oblast (later renamed Kaliningrad Oblast) was founded. It included the Memel Territory and became a new subject of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. On 7 April 1948, the Soviet Union transferred the Memel/Klaipėda District from Kaliningrad Oblast to the Lithuanian SSR and the area was divided between several rayons of the Lithuanian SSR.

At the end of the war, the majority of the inhabitants had fled to the West to settle in Germany. Still in 1945–46 there were around 35,000 local inhabitants, both Prussian Lithuanians and Germans. The government of the Lithuanian SSR sent agitators in to the displaced persons camps to make promises to former inhabitants that they could return and their property would be restored, yet the promises were never fulfilled. In the period of 1945–50 about 8,000 persons were repatriated. Bilingual Lithuanian-German returners were viewed as Germans.

The few remaining ethnic Germans were then forcibly expelled, with most opting to flee to what would become West Germany. Autochthonous people who remained in the former Memel territory were dismissed from their jobs. Families of notable local Lithuanians, who had opposed German parties before the war, were deported to Siberia. In 1951 the Lithuanian SSR expelled 3,500 people from the former Memel Territory to East Germany. In 1958, when emigration was allowed, the majority of the surviving population, both Germans and Prussian Lithuanians, emigrated to West Germany; this event was called a repatriation of Germans by the Lithuanian SSR. Today these formerly Lutheran territories are mostly inhabited by Lithuanians who are Catholic and by Orthodox Russians. However, the minority Prussian Lithuanian Protestants historically were concentrated in these regions, and some remain to this day. Only a few thousand autochthons are left. Their continued emigration is facilitated by the fact they are considered German citizens by the Federal Republic of Germany. No property restoration was performed by the Republic of Lithuania for owners prior to 1945.

Although maintaining that the Memel Territory in 1939 was re-annexed by Germany and acknowledging that Lithuania itself was occupied in 1940 by the Soviets, Lithuania after regaining independence on March 11, 1990, neither restored autonomy to the Memel Territory nor returned citizenship and property to former inhabitants, even to those who had opted for Lithuanian citizenship in 1939.

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