I Live Again by Ileana, Princess of Romania
HERE I think I must tell you a little about the reasons why my own life and my personal duties were so changed after 1938. It is not my intention to relate the political history of Europe during World War II. Nevertheless, it is almost necessary to review briefly some of the events outside Romania's own borders which affected her, and which altered my own life as it altered the lives of half a world, if you are to understand my story during the ten years between 1938 and 1948.
To the average person in the United States, Central and Eastern Europe, I find, are simply a section of the map where there are strange-sounding names and where the boundaries are always changing. There were few people in this country, it seems, who followed with much interest what was going on in that part of the world, either before or after Pearl Harbor; yet there events took place which involved all of us. Why is it, you ask me, that after fighting with the Allies in World War I, Romania fought with the Axis in World War II? Why did I find Romanian wounded in German hospitals, when in the preceding war, hardly more than twenty years before, the two nations had been enemies? It is not a simple question, and a complete answer would have to include more of the history of Romania and of Europe than you wish to hear. Yet I think a few facts will help you to understand some of the reasons why Romania, for centuries a battleground for the quarrels of Germany, Russia, Turkey, and Austria-Hungary, found herself in this latest war a target for English and American bombs also.
In March, 1938, Hitler's troops marched into Vienna, and Austria ceased to exist. In September, 1938, Great Britain, France, and Nazi Germany signed the Munich agreement of "appeasement," and Romanians knew that the peace of Europe was ended, and that once more -they were in the center of what would be a battleground. In October, 1938, Germany snatched the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia; in March, 1939, the German armies marched into Prague. In August, 1939, when the "Nonaggression Pact between the German Reich and the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics" was signed, there was added to this Hitler-Stalin agreement a secret additional paper. This paper provided for a "territorial and political rearrangement" of Central Europe, and provided that part of Romania would be given to Russia. And in September, 1939, Hitler's armies entered Poland.
During those years Romania had not failed to plead for help. In 1938 the government of Romania had asked Great Britain to take a more active part in implementing her relationship with Romania—Britain's last ally in Southeastern Europe. In February, 1938, a planned visit to Bucarest by the chief economic adviser to the British government was canceled because Mr. Chamberlain wished to avoid irritating Hitler by seeming to take an interest in this part of Europe. In October, 1938, Mr. Churchill, speaking in Parliament, said:
Romania, then, had every right to feel that she had been abandoned by her former allies to "make the best terms" possible "with the triumphant Nazi power." When Poland fell, in September, 1939, and France and England officially declared war on Germany, Romania, as their ally, was faced with a decision. She could have declared war also—and been promptly overrun by the Soviet and German armies which were destroying Poland at her very borders. France and England were farther away, with time to prepare for war and with no enemy at their gates. Romania therefore acceded to Nazi demands that she remain neutral; a state which, after all, permitted her to offer shelter to Polish fugitives. This she did in spite of strong German and Russian protests, as many Poles have gratefully testified; and not a few of those she befriended escaped to Allied lands and later joined Allied armies.
Such a state of affairs was of course not long allowed to continue. After a thwarted attempt on the part of the Nazis to capture Romania in a "putsch" planned for September, 1939, Germany and Russia moved in to the kill with a succession of complaints from Russia of alleged Romanian "incidents." In June, 1940, the Romanian government was given twenty- four hours in which to cede Bessarabia and Northern Bucovina to Russia, warned by both Germany and Russia that only by so doing could war with both these powerful nations be avoided. There was no help for Romania from her former allies, Great Britain, France, and the United States. She acceded to the demand, and was given four days to evacuate a territory of more than fifteen thousand square miles, with a population of three million. Furthermore, at Hitler's demand, a German military mission was "invited" to come to Romania; and the Romanian king (then Carol II) was warned that, as a punishment for Romania's attachment to France and Great Britain, further territorial concessions must be made to Hungary and to Bulgaria. In August the Romanian Foreign Minister was summoned to Vienna and told that by the next day the decision to accept these demands must be made or Hungary and Russia would at once loose total war against Romania, with Germany's approval; and Romania would be wiped out. If, however, this concession was made, Germany would guarantee that Romania might keep the balance of her territory! Once again there was no help offered. A few days later, in August, 1940, nearly twenty thousand square miles with more than two million inhabitants were given to Hungary, and more than twenty-five hundred square miles with four hundred thousand inhabitants were given to Bulgaria. National bitterness at this ruthless dismemberment of the country completed the ruin of Romania's internal government. King Carol II abdicated in September, 1940, and his nineteen-year-old son Michael, about whom I will speak later, was declared king.
Romania's position, already terrible enough, was now made even worse by a growing coolness between Germany and Russia, as these two nations began to disagree over their spoils. There is not time to list the entire succession of events; but by November of 1940 Molotov was reproaching Hitler to his face for having guaranteed Romania against further territorial losses, and he finally demanded that this guarantee be withdrawn—a demand Hitler refused for the time being. Continued disagreement between Russia and Germany led Hitler in December, 1940, to draw up a secret plan for a military campaign against Russia, which included the "co-operation" of Romania. In January, 1941, a number of German troops were moved into Romania, an action which Russia strongly protested. By the last of February, however, the Germans announced to the Russians that they had 680,000 troops stationed there, with "inexhaustible reserves in Germany" backing them.
With Romania as only one pawn in the complicated chess game between Germany and Russia, a game which included Bulgaria, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Serbia in equally bitter moves and countermoves across the board, events moved forward to June, 1941, when Germany attacked Russia on all fronts, with Romania as one of its allies.
Perhaps even from this brief outline it will be possible for you to see that in June, 1941, Romania could not choose between war and peace. If she remained neutral she would receive instant annihilation as a country. Instead, she had to choose whether to join Russia or to join Germany when these two powerful nations began fighting each other on the very soil of Romania herself. At this moment a survey of the situation showed that every continental European nation that had opposed Hitler had been wiped out as a nation. The United States had elected a president who had promised his country solemnly that no American youth would be sent abroad to fight; and the Romanians believed that this represented the firm intention of the United States to stay out of the war in Europe. No help could therefore be expected from that quarter. Had Romania elected to join Russia, the German troops then stationed in Romania could probably have ended the fight before it began. England, who had suddenly become an "ally" of Russia, would have had no power to protect Romania from either "enemy" Germans or "friendly" Russians. Russia made no guarantees whatever to Romania during the tense spring of 1941, in spite of numerous Romanian requests for assurance that Russia would at least promise not to attack Romania if Romania entered the war against Germany. No such assurance was given. On the other hand, Germany offered a chance for Romanian soldiers to march into the stolen provinces of Bessarabia and Bucovina to liberate their fellow Romanians from the Russians. This was a cause which seemed so obviously a righteous one that the average Romanian accepted it not only with approval but with enthusiasm, and with the hope that Germany would be grateful enough for Romania's help to allow her to keep her reclaimed lands if she won their freedom from Russia.
In addition to the over-all picture, one must remember that Romania had had close contacts with both German and Russian armies in World War I, as well as in those first years of World War II. Both German and Russian soldiers were hated by the fiercely independent Romanians, but no one on the ground could fail to realize that German ruthlessness was limited while Russian savagery had no limits. For more than twenty years, over the border between Romania and Russia had come fugitives with tales of brutality and oppression; and these had been augmented during the past year by fugitives from the provinces of Bessarabia and Northern Bucovina, which Russia had stolen. Stories of property confiscation, of the methods of the secret police, of the bloody extermination of any who objected to the system, of the desecration of the churches, of the deliberate destruction of family life, and of the immense and horrible forced-labor camps—these things, which most of the world has only recently begun to hear of, were common knowledge in Romania for more than twenty years before 1941. Besides, it is one thing to hear of atrocities from a book or a magazine article which can be read in your warm, protected home; it is quite another thing to hear of them from the fellow countryman who sits at your hearth, dazed and scarred from the brutality to which he witnesses. It would have been a difficult thing to have convinced a Romanian in 1941 that the safety of "democracy" demanded his joining forces with the Russians; those Russians who had invaded Romania ten times between 1700 and 1900, whose ancient and modern brutalities he knew at first hand, and whose dangerous political ideology he also knew. Much of what is now being openly stated about communism in the United States—its utter opposition to freedom of every kind, and its entirely cold-blooded justification of any means to attain its end of world-wide domination—was common knowledge twenty years ago among Russia's close neighbors. These are some of the reasons why in 1946, when the Russians took over Romania, there were less than one thousand members of the Communist Party in the whole country, as the Russians themselves stated.
In 1941 there was actually, then, no choice for Romanians to make. There was only the hope that in spite of their desperate situation, which compelled them to join forces with the Germans, they might still exist as a free people. Therefore, so long as Romanian soldiers were fighting on Romanian soil to free Romanian people there was unity within the country on the war against Russia. When Romanian forces had won back their provinces, and crossed the Russian border to fight beyond it, internal disagreement grew. Nazism was not popular in Romania, and the people did not like to think they were helping to fight the Nazis' war for them! Great Britain declared war on Romania on November 30, 1941, and this increased Romanian anti-Nazi feeling. To appease the threatening German dissatisfaction with this attitude within his country, Romania's leader, General Antonescu, declared war on the United States on December 12, 1941. The declaration of war made him increasingly unpopular, even though it was generally understood that he took this action because he was forced to, and even though he promised that no American citizen and no American property would be harmed—a promise which was faithfully kept until the Russians took over Romania and wiped out all promises. Romanians actually felt that America's entrance into the war was really a triumph for them, since it would ensure the preservation of democracy and freedom, and straighten out the whole shambles brought about by the totalitarian governments. An astonishingly active—and largely unpunished—resistance movement spread and grew, so that on August 23, 1944, Romania came to terms with the Allies. An accord was signed and a fourteen-day notice to leave Romania was given to the Germans, but Hitler persisted in ignoring this, and ordered the Germans to make a prolonged and terrible bombing attack on Bucarest. Romanian armies then turned on the Germans and drove them from Romania; something which was often a bitterly difficult thing to do from the purely personal standpoints of men who had been comrades-in-arms a few weeks before, and were now ordered to fight one another.
The whole story of this three-year period, from June, 1941, to August, 1944, has not yet been told. When it is, it will be an epic of patriots who differed in convictions but not in devotion to their country; an accusation of the self-serving and time-seeking men who exist in every country, and who betray each party in turn; and a moving tribute to the countless "little people" who suffered without understanding. During the last months of this period Romania made desperate attempts to ensure that her surrender to the Allies would be truly a surrender to the Allies as a whole, and that she would not be turned over, helpless, to Russia. Winston Churchill had said in September, 1943, that "satellite states, suborned or overawed, may perhaps, if they can help shorten the war, be allowed to work their passage home." This was radiocast to all the satellite states, including Romania. The Voice of America and BBC alike appealed to Romania, as to the others, to turn against the Nazis and "work their passage home." Romania's underground of resistance was supported and aided by British and American encouragement. But when the final surrender was accomplished, Russians insisted that the Armistice be signed in Moscow rather than at a central meeting place for the three Allies. Russians signed "for" the British and Americans; the carrying out of the Armistice was left to the Soviet army. In the game of power politics, in a series of moves which I do not wish to list here because to those who are not students of such things they might seem unbelievable, Romania—with her freedom-loving people, and with her woods and farmlands, her oil and coal and other mineral wealth—was turned over to Russia, and in Russia's control she has been ever since. I have tried in this brief outline to speak without bitterness. I have not referred to internal Romanian politics or to the political considerations that swayed the other countries involved, although these are even now to some extent a matter of record. For those who are interested in a further study of Romanian history and the Romanian people, especially during the past fifteen years, I recommend a book by the late Reuben H. Markham: Romania Under the Soviet Yoke. From this book and other reliable sources, some still unpublished, I have tried to verify the dates of events inscribed on my memory. I have also made use of the small section of my journal which happened to survive the almost total destruction of family letters, records, and photographs.
Mr. Markham, a staff foreign correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor for more than twenty years, spent most of his adult life in the Balkans and in Eastern and Central Europe. I knew him and Mrs. Markham for more than fifteen years, and often talked with them during that time. A citizen of the United States, he had a perspective we Europeans lacked; but, on the other hand, he inevitably misunderstood some things because of his different background. I do not agree with all the interpretations he gives the facts in his book on Romania, but the facts themselves have been carefully collected and verified. His admiration and friendship for Romania are beyond question. He will always be remembered with affection and gratitude by us who knew him, and by all who are able to understand how much he did for Romania—something, incidentally, which he modestly minimizes in his book.
For my own simple story, I think that this short summary of dates and events will be sufficient to explain why the Castle of Sonnberg ceased, soon after my mother's death, to be the busy, pleasant, country house of a growing family. It will enable you to understand why my life changed and why the castle became in turn a museum, a barracks, and a hospital—and finally only the poor, stripped ghost of the happy home it had been.