I Live Again by Ileana, Princess of Romania
IF YOU are to recognize in my story the people and places I am talking about, I must sketch a background for you and introduce you briefly to the members of my family. I may as well begin by telling you frankly that a princess spends very little of her time wearing a diadem! Although the court functions at Bucarest were always dignified and beautiful, by the standards of some courts they were simple and sober ones. I myself wore the lovely sapphire and diamond tiara on only one state occasion, and that was at a large ball which the Legitimist Party gave in the Hofburg in Vienna, four years after I was married. I went to only one "court ball" in my life, and that was at my own wedding; but there I wore a much smaller diadem given me by my father-in-law. (It was, however, an appropriate one for the occasion when the title "Archduchess of Austria" had been added to my name, because the diadem had originally been a present from Napoleon to Maria Louisa, who was also an archduchess of Austria.)
You must understand that while I was growing up Romania was struggling to take her rightful place with the rest of the civilized world in what proved to be a tragically short period of national independence. There were less than seventy-five years in all; seventy-five years of freedom between Turkish dominance and Communist enslavement—yet the Romanian dream of independence as a nation is nearly two thousand years old. Romans under Emperor Trajan had colonized "Dacia Felix," the old name for Romania, in A.D. 101. After the fall of the Roman Empire the inhabitants of the colony retreated to the forested Carpathian Mountains to hide from the Asiatic hordes that swept into Europe. There the people guarded so well their Christian faith and their Latin language and customs that to this day they are a Latin people. They are related to the Italians, the French, the Spaniards, and the Portuguese, and not to their immediate neighbors, who are Slavs.
When the Asiatic conquerors withdrew, toward the close of the thirteenth century, three distinct provinces came into being: Wallachia, Transylvania, and Moldavia, which included Bucovina and Bessarabia until 1812. Occasionally these provinces would win a short period of freedom, but usually they were under a foreign rule. Times without number they were used as battlegrounds in wars among their three great belligerent neighbors—Russia, Turkey, and Austria-Hungary. Without an opportunity for education, forced into the hard and difficult occupations of the peasant, and denied the benefits of the progress developing in other countries, the Romanian people nevertheless tried uninterruptedly to become one country. It is a tragic but an inspiring story, too long to tell here, which came to a climax in 1859, when Moldavia and Wallachia managed to join together under Alexandru Ion Cuza. Still virtually Turkish provinces, and considered by the Treaty of Paris to be "vassal states," they called themselves hopefully the "Romanian United Principalities." When for domestic reasons the principalities decided seven years later to call a foreign prince to rule over them, my family entered the story, for they chose my great-uncle, Prince Carl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen.
It was a young Romanian patriot and revolutionist, Ion Bratianu, who was largely responsible for persuading this German prince to leave the magnificent castle of his family, which stands not far from the Black Forest, where the Danube has its beginnings. Down this river Prince Carl traveled to Romania, disguised as the valet of Ion Bratianu to escape the vigilance of the Turks, who were strongly opposed to his election as prince. When he first set foot on the soil of his new country he said solemnly, "Now I am a Romanian!" For him that statement was a sacred pledge, and he devoted the remaining forty-eight years of his life to fulfilling it.
The new Romanian was not only politically intelligent, but he was personally brave. He wrested independence for his country from the Turks in 1877, at the Battle of Plevna. When a shell burst near him, his companions were startled to see him doff his cap and bow in the direction of the explosion, saying, "This is the music that pleases me!"—a gesture which I often remembered during the bombardments I experienced, but which I never felt myself able to imitate.
With the defeat of the Turks, Prince Carl was crowned King Carol I of Romania in 1881. When he had arrived in Bucarest in 1866 someone had said to him, "There is the palace!" and he had asked in honest bewilderment, "Where?" The low house, on a muddy street in which pigs were comfortably wallowing, certainly bore no resemblance to the palaces he had known in Germany. With freedom Bucarest grew surprisingly fast into a modern town, but although the palace was to some extent enlarged and improved, it still remained small and modest. When time and prosperity permitted, King Carol built in Sinaia a beautiful castle, called Peles after the rushing stream that courses through the meadow of the Carpathians upon which it is built, but the palace in Bucarest remained the same. Plans were drawn up after World War I for a bigger and more imposing structure, but my parents felt that other projects for the country as a whole were more important. During my father's last illness the palace burned, and although my brother Carol began rebuilding it in 1931, it was never entirely finished. As I said earlier, the splendor of court spectacles has always been given a subordinate role in Romania. A whole country was fighting for its individuality as a nation, and neither king nor subject had much time to pose in costume!
King Carol I and his poet-wife, Queen Elisabeth (Carmen Sylva), had no children except a daughter who died in childhood. The King's nephew, Ferdinand, my father, had been born second son of the Hereditary Prince of Hohenzollern; but after he was chosen as heir apparent of King Carol, in 1889, he counted himself a Romanian with the same seriousness of devotion that his uncle had shown. At the death of his uncle in 1914 he became King Ferdinand I, and he reigned until 1927. Because of world-changing events, during his reign the Romanian dream was realized to its fullest extent. World War I destroyed much: countries disappeared, thrones crumbled: but to my country it brought the deeply longed-for unity of all Romanians.
In 1916 Romania joined the Allies in World War I—a fact which in itself proves that her royal family no longer thought as Hohenzollerns, but as Romanians. When the Russian Empire fell as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution, Bessarabia, which had been a Russian province, was able to break free and to join the mother country of Romania in March, 1918. Eight months later the disintegration of the Habsburg monarchy freed Transylvania from the Hungarians, after seven hundred years of servitude. In 1866 my great-uncle had been chosen to lead a precarious union of four million Romanians. Fifty-six years later, in 1922, my parents were crowned King and Queen of Romania Mare (Greater Romania), a union of eighteen million Romanians for whom the prospects of permanent status as a nation looked bright and promising.
In 1893 my father, then Crown Prince of Romania, had married Marie, born a princess of Great Britain and Ireland. She was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria—the eldest daughter of the Queen's second son—and so a first cousin to King George V of England. Since her mother was a grand duchess of Russia, sister of Czar Alexander III, my mother was also a first cousin to Czar Nicholas II—whose visit with his family to Romania in 1914 is one of my most vivid childhood memories.
My parents had six children, the eldest of whom is my brother Carol, born in 1894, who became King Carol II. He abdicated in 1940; and his son, King Mihai I (or Michael, as his name is in English), abdicated under duress of the Russian Communists on December 30, 1947. The second child of my parents is my sister Elisabeta, who was Queen of Greece until she divorced her husband, the late King George of Greece. Next comes my sister Marie, whom we call Mignon, who later became Queen of Yugoslavia. Her husband was murdered in Marseilles in 1934, leaving three sons, the eldest of whom is King Peter of Yugoslavia, deposed in 1941. My next brother is Nicholas, now living in Switzerland; I was born in 1909; and I had a younger brother Mircea, who died of typhoid during World War I. There are great differences of age between us all—fifteen years, for example, between Carol and me.
In the changing European scene the royalty of my parents went undisputed. Their coronation as rulers of Greater Romania had taken place in Alba Iulia—a city in Transylvania dear to the hearts of Romanians because it had been the headquarters of Mihai Viteazul, Michael the Brave. This prince had for a brief period in 1601 gathered together and led Trajan's Dacia Felix, but his murder by his enemies had ended the union of Romanians for another three hundred years. To my country, my parents' coronation at this shrine of Romanian independence was symbolic of their position as the embodiment, the inspirers, and the executors of an age-old dream. To my parents, it emphasized their position as the first servants of the state—and they continued to see to it that their children performed a fair share of the work!
I was the youngest and, because my sisters were both married before I was thirteen, I was the only girl at home during the active years following World 'War I. The years of my teens were those when my country also was "growing up" as a unified nation. Since I was born five years before World War I, my early childhood had been peaceful, but in a way I remember it now only as a far-off dream of a story I was once told. For in December, 1916, the Romanian army, with the King, his ministers, and Parliament, were forced by the Germans to evacuate Bucarest and withdraw to Jassy, in Moldavia. The collapse of Russia made the position of Romania still more difficult, and it was not until November, 1918, that we were able to return to our home in Bucarest.
During those two years of difficulty and danger I was not too young to understand what was happening. More than 300,000 refugees were crowded into Jassy, a town of 50,000 people. There was little fuel, and never enough food. I can remember being always hungry, and yet wishing I need never eat; for the limited amount of food we were able to get had little variety, and was often so spoiled that in normal times it would have been considered uneatable. Epidemics of typhus and typhoid raged through the town and countryside. In the hospitals where my mother and sisters worked I saw two and often three patients in one bed, while many people died in the streets.
For years I saw in nightmare dreams the funeral "procession" I so often saw as a child in Jassy: the bony horse drawing an ordinary farm cart loaded with dead bodies, piled as high as possible; a rough board put across the wagon bed to make a seat where beside the driver sat a priest in his vestments, and an army trumpeter to sound his call over the mass graves. One day while it passed our house I watched from a window, wondering how such a starved-looking animal could pull the heavy wagon. Suddenly the horse stopped and quite slowly collapsed between the shafts, dead. His fall overturned the wagon, and the naked bodies spilled stiffly out over the street. I remember catching sight of our Romanian cavalry guard rushing out to help as I turned away from the window to run for comfort to the little wooden horse I had brought with me from Bucarest—the favorite toy of my baby brother Mircea, who had died only a month before we were driven from our home.
I remember our Romanian guard also on the day the Bolshevik revolution was declared in Jassy. The house into which our family was crowded stood next to the Russian headquarters, and I looked out of my bedroom window to see the Russian officers lined up against their garden wall, while Russian enlisted men prepared to shoot them. Between our yard and theirs was a dividing wall, with wood stacked against it; and while I watched, frozen with horror, our guard, who had heard what was happening, came rushing around the house. Drawing their swords, they dashed up over the woodpile to the top of the wall and jumped into the Russian garden in time to rescue the officers—but not all scenes of violence ended so happily.
Many of my memories of those two years in Jassy are pleasanter ones. I was the constant observer of my mother's work with our people, and I grew to feel close to them in a way which might not have been possible under more normal circumstances. When I was only seven years old I went about with Colonel Anderson, the head of the American Red Cross work in Romani; and I took great pride in being his interpreter as he distributed supplies and organized relief work in towns and villages. The British and American army officers stationed there also were very kind to me—even though they were unintentionally the cause of my losing my belief in Father Christmas, who is the Romanian Santa Claus.
To guard against my being disappointed when I received no presents, my parents had told me that Father Christmas would not be able to get over the German lines and come to Jassy; and I passed along this information to my British and American army friends at a little Christmas tree party to which they had invited me. They seemed quite shocked at such an idea and said they were positive I was mistaken; they were quite sure Father Christmas would be able to get through the lines. That night in our crowded sleeping quarters I was awakened by confused noises, and peeping through my half-closed eyes I saw more than a dozen of my officer friends filling a Christmas stocking for me while my mother watched. Somehow I knew at once that there had never been a Father Christmas; that always before my own family had filled my stocking; but I knew also that I must seem not to know this! So I lay still, pretending to be asleep, until they had gone and I fell asleep again in earnest.
The stocking I explored the next morning was probably one of the strangest collections of gifts an eight-year-old girl ever received for her Christmas. I remember there were two tobacco pouches—a leather one and a rubber one; a wooden cigarette case; a little gold piece of American money; a small bar of chocolate; a regimental badge (which I still have); tiny British and American flags; and other similar things I have forgotten. I loved every one of them, in spite of the disappointment I still felt at losing my belief in Father Christmas; and I was careful to tell my officers that Father Christmas had come, after all! I know now that I spoke more truly than I realized, for the effort these harassed and anxious men made to do a kindness to a little foreign girl in a land strange to them was surely the true spirit of Christmas.
When Colonel Anderson left Jassy he gave me a small sum of money to administer by myself, and I remember how deeply proud and responsible I felt to have charge of this little fund which I could use to help others. It was perhaps during this time that the foundation was laid for my interest in nursing and hospital work, for the great need of our people for help of this kind was burned into my heart. It was impossible to forget those years in Jassy even when we returned to Bucarest and a more normal family life. I was a loved and happy little girl, with many things in my life to enjoy. I still remember, for example, how pleased I was with the lovely dress I wore at the coronation in 1922—cloth of gold, with a blue velvet cape! And I never felt aggrieved or unhappy because the next years were ones of work and study, with none of the freedom and the gay social occasions that I find are taken for granted by teen-agers in the United States.
I had little unscheduled time. My life was bound to the growth and progress of my country. So many things were being founded, organized, and developed! I threw myself enthusiastically into all the youth movements then coming into being, and in this way I grew to know intimately the young people of my country. I became a Girl Reserve of the Y.W.C.A. so that I could learn about their organization, and soon I was head of the group in Romania. At school in England for a year, I joined the Girl Guides and took their training courses, so that I was able to help set up the Guides for Romanian girls. I became a part-time student at the School for Physical Education in Bucarest, getting up at seven o'clock in the morning to make time for my classes there. I learned to know the peasant, the student, and the soldier; the schoolgirl, the factory girl, and the daughter of the courtier. I knew the slums and the peaceful convents. I grew up part and parcel of my country: its aspirations and its developments were an integral part of my very being. Romania was and is the love of my life, the reason for my existence.
I have said this much about my early life because it may help to answer that question I was so often asked on my first visit to the United States: "What is it like—to be a princess?" Perhaps you will be disappointed at my answer, as an American girl was who wrote and asked me for my picture. When I sent her one she wrote politely to thank me, but she added sadly, " I did hope it would be one of you in royal garb!" Unfortunately I did not wear "royal garb!" In organizing and later visiting the different sports clubs and youth groups, I traveled up and down the country wearing a uniform, or the peasant dress of the district, or simple modern clothes—whichever was most convenient. The boys' and girls' clubs for the working class of young people kept me out almost every evening, and so I seldom even went to a movie. Although at home we wore evening dress for dinner, that occasion was usually also a responsibility. I was expected to use my education to talk intelligently with our guests, whatever their fields of interest might be. I was not being entertained, but living up to my duty of entertaining others.
I have said that a princess spends little of her time wearing a diadem. And yet, although it did not show in any of my pictures, and although neither I nor anyone else was conscious of it at that time, I know now that I actually was wearing a diadem! Only during the most recent years of my life, when I returned to my country in a time of danger and suffering, did I come to realize this. For at every difficult moment I found at my shoulder a friend to help me in my work for my country. The soldier at the station canteen who lifted me quickly to a safe position where I could stand while I distributed food to the crowds of refugees who were maddened by hunger; the marketwoman who roused a mob to prevent the kidnapping of my two sons; the official who used devious means to get supplies for my hospital—all these and many more who sprang to my side in every crisis would say softly later, "But, Domnitza Ileana, do you not remember when we worked together in—?" And they would name a group or a place which had been a part of my youth, and of theirs. It was only then that I realized I had indeed been wearing a diadem: the diadem of leadership, given me by the love of my people; a diadem which is my most precious possession, and which can never be lost or destroyed!
This is what it was like—for me—to be a young princess. This is why I became so deeply and eternally a Romanian in my mind and heart and soul. Even when in 1931 I married Archduke Anton of Austria, of the Toscuna line of the house of Habsburg, and lived abroad for a time, there were reasons why nothing really changed the old allegiance.
During the first ten years of our marriage we had six children: Stefan, born in 1932; Maria-Ileana (whom we call Minola), born in 1933; Alexandra (Sandi), born in 1935; Dominic (Niki), in 1937; Maria Magdalena (Magi), born in 1939—one month after the war broke out; and Elisabeth (Herzi), born in 1942. For a year after our marriage we lived in Munich, and then we moved to Mödling, near Vienna; but in 1934 I bought the Castle of Sonnberg, which became our most beautiful home. There we led a peaceful life devoted to our growing family and to the people around our estate. I was prevented from taking part in constructive work for my new country, not only by the needs of my children but also by the political changes and the uncertainty of the national situation in Austria. This kept me from feeling that I was really a part of Austria, as I felt I was a part of the country of my birth. Besides, we Romanians are attached to the very soil of our land, and we never can feel the same in any other. So strong was this feeling in me that I had a pottery bowl of Romanian earth under my bed when my children were born, so that they also should be born on Romanian ground!
Circumstances of which I shall speak later took me back to my country in 1944. It is especially of that time and of the years immediately following that I wish to tell you. They stand out most strongly: we lived through so much in those five years! The fight for survival was so strong, so poignant. Although this is my story, it is closely knit with Romania's fate and with that of all Eastern Europe, for what touched one touched all in these latest great historical events of our times. And I had the unparalleled opportunity of seeing it all from close quarters; of knowing personally, and often most intimately, people out of all walks of life. Their tragedies became my tragedies, their hopes and losses mine. Death and violence, plot and espionage, treachery, torture, cowardice, and incredible bravery—these were part of everyday living. My hand trembles even now when I think of all there is to write and to say about those days. For the changes that came about were not merely changes in rulers, governments, or occupations. These changes are aimed much deeper; they are directed at the soul of a people, robbing them not of political liberty alone but of the very decencies of life. The force now dominant in the country of my birth ruthlessly destroys not only those who oppose but also those who do not march in the lead of the new order of things. This force is not against a class, it is against a whole mentality. It stands not for the freedom of the masses, but for their subjugation.
I know how bravely my people stood up against this horror; how their spirit rebelled and rebels still. Their endurance is unbelievable; their sufferings cry out to the skies from which as yet no answer comes. They bend to the storm, but my deep conviction is that they will not break. As long as they can remain on their native soil they will remain true to it!
All this is a far cry from the quiet of my New England kitchen. Let me look back a moment to the last peaceful period of my life: those years in the Castle of Sonnberg. Now the castle stands lifeless, a deserted, empty shell; but let me try to think of it as it was when I first saw it. I would like to tell you something of my life there. Once there was a princess—the story could begin—once there was a princess who lived in a castle!