Memelland, also known as the Klaipėda Region, is an almost-forgotten strip of land in what used to be East Prussia, north of the Memel, or Neman, river. The region changed hands several times in the first half of the 20th century, through the turmoil of the two world wars and their aftermath. In 1923, following the Klaipėda Revolt, the people of the port city of Memel – now Klaipėda – had to decide whether they wanted to be German or Lithuanian. Many people, mostly Protestants, fled. Those who remained declared allegiance to Lithuania, until the Nazis – led by Hitler himself – ‘reclaimed’ the region in 1939. Mission accomplished, Memelland remained in Nazi hands for a few years until that nightmare was over, and the Russians took over.
It will be rewarding to highlight and bring back to life the stories from this little-known episode of German history. This is the story of life in a would-be paradise ... While its full bounty was always ready to be enjoyed by the rich in their great country estates and castles, others suffered from poverty, slavery and exploitation, combined with poor health care, horrifically substantiated by death registers from the time. Anyone caught in possession of valuable amber stones, which, of course, belonged to the feudal lords, could expect drastic punishment.
- Idea: Uwe Kersken
- Written by: Heiko Schier
- TV Movie: 2 x 90 minutes
- Co-production with studio tv-film.
- Producers: Milena Maitz and Uwe Kersken
- In negotiations with a German broadcaster.
I’ve been considering the idea of a film about Memelland for quite some time. Before she died, my mother, Elfriede, often told me of her childhood, which she had spent around the Memel and the Curonian Spit, where she liked to secretly go scouting for amber. She kept hold of many of these stones until she died, like treasure. She talked about how the family scraped out an existence on a large farm known as Zehntkunen, where the father worked as a blacksmith until his early death. I am left with the inherited stones, a few ancient photos and pictures, documents from the genealogical lexicon, and also an affection for an old (silent) film: Murnau’s Sunrise from 1927, for which he won an Oscar. The film is based on Sudermann’s collection of novellas, The Journey to Tilsit.