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From the Money Museum’s treasury. Adolf Hitler and the Bank of Lithuania

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Just recently, the Money Museum purchased a small, yet a very unique, exhibit. It is a 1939 postcard featuring a rare photo that depicts Germany’s dictator Adolf Hitler visiting occupied Klaipėda. 
 

This fact itself may not be very surprising. We have seen a number of photos and video footages of the German führer. However, they mostly feature Hitler travelling by car through Klaipėda or his speech being delivered from Klaipėda Drama Theatre’s balcony. Yet, the photo on this postcard pictures Adolf Hitler walking. Moreover, a branch of independent Lithuania’s central bank can be seen in the background. Even more interestingly, the postcard still has the original hand-written text on it that shares authentic impressions of that particular day. So, why did Hitler visit Klaipėda? What made this branch of the Bank of Lithuania special? And finally, what is written on the postcard?


Klaipėda’s occupation and Adolf Hitler


World War II is generally considered to have begun in Europe on 1 September 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. However, a much earlier date could be considered as well, when the European countries were just passively watching aggressive foreign policy manoeuvres by the Nazi Germany – on 12 March 1938, Austria was occupied and on 30 September of the same year, after the Munich Agreement (also known as the Munich Betrayal) was signed, Germany occupied Czechoslovakia’s Sudeten region, which was mostly inhabited by ethnic Germans. In this context, it was clear that the Third Reich would sooner or later turn its attention to Klaipėda Region, which, before becoming part of Lithuania in 1923, belonged to the German Empire. This is exactly what happened on 22 March 1939 – Germany presented an ultimatum and the Lithuanian government, having no support and not expecting any from other countries, surrendered the region to the Nazis. 


However, it did not just end like this. At around 2 pm the very next day, Adolf Hitler himself came to occupied Klaipėda. Although the visit lasted only a couple of hours and culminated in, according to witnesses, an unusually lacklustre speech by the Third Reich’s führer, who was otherwise known to deliver quite hysterical speeches, it was captured in many photos where Hitler is seen in various parts of the city, surrounded by people. One of such photos was rather quickly made into a postcard, which was signed on 31 March in Klaipėda. It pictures Hitler nearby Klaipėda branch of the Bank of Lithuania. 


It was one of the first Bank of Lithuania’s branches established on 23 February 1923, a little over a month after Klaipėda Region was annexed by Lithuania. It was located in a building constructed in 1858 ,which up until then housed Germany’s state bank. In contrast to other Lithuanian institutions that left Klaipėda Region as soon as possible after its occupation, the Bank of Lithuania continued to operate there until the end of 1939 and mostly focused on debt collection. After that, it was reorganised into an agency of the Bank of Lithuania which operated in the free economic zone intended for Lithuania. When the country regained its independence, another “bank” took its place – the so-called entertainment bank. The building which used to house the bank now houses an entertainment centre and casino Nesė Pramogų Bankas (Nesė Entertainment Bank). 


What does the postcard read?


Although nowadays this photo may evoke various thoughts, it is obvious that Michael’s family (this is how the senders signed the postcard) welcomed the occupation in quite different spirits than the remainder of Lithuania. Addressed to the Bainhorn family in Hamelin, Lower Saxonia, the text on the postcard clearly radiates joy over the political changes. 


 “Memel, 31. III. 39.


We send you wholehearted best wishes from the already-liberated German Memel. Dearest Kristina, you probably thought that we forgot about you but, on the contrary, we often thought [about you], just couldn’t find the time. And now, we can experience all these amazing things happening. At 8 o’clock, when Cellulose (referring to the siren of Klaipėda Cellulose Factory) started howling and bells began tolling, we could only cry out of excitement. And we saw our führer, just a couple steps away from us. Ingė has X. She is now attending a celebration in Heydekrug (current-day Šilutė), she will send you a letter after Easter. Many German best wishes and one heil Hitler!
Michael’s family”

 

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Last updated: 2021-06-25