Memel, Lithuania or Memel, Germany?

January 10, 1923: Lithuania seizes and annexes Memel. Memel had been part of the German Empire before WWI. The Germans lost control under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. The Jews of Memel who would number 9,000 by the start of World War II, were trapped between the Lithuanians, who ran the city’s government, and the Germans, who were a majority. After Hitler rose to national power in Germany in 1933, the Nazis began campaigning for the city’s return to Germany. This campaign included anti-Jewish riots and other anti-Semitic actions. In October 1938, the local Nazis called for the implementation of the Nuremberg Laws in Memel; at the end of that year the Nazis won 26 of 29 seats in the city’s parliament, effectively making Memel part of Germany. German troops entered Memel in March 1939. Many of the Lithuanians and almost all of the city’s Jews had managed to escape to Kovno and other nearby towns before the invasion. However, after the Nazis took over Lithuania in mid-1941, they destroyed those Jews along with the rest of Lithuanian Jewry. When Memel was liberated by the Soviet army in January 1945, not one Jew remained.  (from This Day … In Jewish History, Mitch Levin)

Three years prior in 1920, the German post office issued a set of stamps overprinted with the word “Memelgebiet” or “Memelland”, of which the 5-mark blue (Scott No. 16) is pictured here.  The bottom of the stamp is indicative of the country’s use of postage stamps as political propaganda.  The words on the lower margin of the stamp read, “Seid Einig, Einig, Einig!” or literally translated, “We are United, United, United!”

memel-germany-sc-16-2-mark-yr-1920

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