I Live Again by Ileana, Princess of Romania
ON MY way back to Bran I stopped in Predeal to see the Antonescus. Predeal is the highest point of the pass, and it was for many years the frontier between Old Romania and a part of the country which had been occupied by Austria-Hungary for seven hundred years. I well remember as a child driving up to the pass by horse and carriage, and looking down into the unbelievably beautiful valley of the Timis; down upon Transylvania, the land where brother Romanians dwelt under a foreign rule. On both sides of the pass lived the dream that one day Transylvania would be liberated, free to join the mother country. It is still wonderful to me to think that I lived to see that dream come true; to see the barrier of the frontier destroyed. Later, as a young girl in the company of fellow students from the School of Physical Education, I went skiing on those slopes, always with a conscious thrill of joy in passing freely across what had once been a boundary, and entering the country into which as a child I had only been able to gaze hopefully. A dream came true, and then the nightmare of slavery again descended, but I know my country. From the passes of the Carpathians, no matter in what direction he looks, our enemy keeps watch over a country where the dream still lives!
In the spring of 1944 one still crossed the old boundary freely, and so I came at last to the home of the Antonescus. It was a simple and charming villa, built of whole logs and furnished in keeping with the surroundings, and it commanded one of the most magnificent views I know. From the sunny glass veranda one had the feeling of overlooking the world: the panorama of mountains and forest unrolled farther and farther away until it reached an incredibly distant blue horizon. I could readily understand Marshal Antonescu's love for his villa, and why he found it a place of rest and refreshment.
I, too, found it such a place that day. For a moment I had a feeling of timelessness which lifted me out of the difficult present in which I was living. It was a timelessness infinitely far removed, also, from the future that was two years in front of us, when I was to come by accident into the square in Bucarest where a small unhappy crowd were being forced under the guns of the Russian soldiers to produce a "spontaneous" demand for the Marshal's death—a "spontaneous" demand picked up and magnified by radio. It was infinitely far removed from a day in 1947, when a little haunted ghost, home from the Russian prisons, a ghost who had been the wife of the Marshal, was to beg of me as a parting favor that I try to get for her a poison which she could hide, and so save herself from further torture.
Much criticized Marshal Antonescu! His political actions may be condemned, his self-assurance deplored, but no one ever doubted his deep patriotism. He was the implacable enemy of communism, and to the Communists he was given for punishment. His death was ignominious and brutal, yet in it he achieved a greatness which had not been his in the days of his power. This is not a political history, although in order to supplement my own observations of what occurred in my country I have read much that has been written, both published and unpublished accounts and analyses. Therefore, when I speak of the Marshal I do not speak of him as a politician, as perhaps someday I may do. I speak now of him as a personal friend, and to me friendship means loving one's friends, faults and all, even though one does not love their faults.
In World War I, Antonescu was aide-de-camp to Marshal Prezan, who was Romanian high commander, and an intimate friend of my family. At Jassy during the retreat we lived in a house in town, but the Prezans had a small villa outside the city. It stood on the edge of a wood overlooking gentle hills, and quite often "Papa Prezan" and his wife would invite me to spend a day there and enjoy the country. Antonescu was then a captain, young, good tempered, and with a very real love for children. He would enter enthusiastically into my games of imagination, and he did a great deal to help a child forget the unchildlike scenes among which she was living. I remember that I enjoyed pretending to take his picture, using as a "camera" a pencil that an American of the Red Cross had given me. He would pose in all seriousness, and be properly astonished at the unflattering sketches I produced as the finished "photographs." When I was at school in England and he was military attaché at the Legation in London, he would come to visit me on Saturdays, greatly amused at my invariable requests that he bring me some ginger beer. His standards for everything were always high, and I can never remember a time when I did not have the feeling that I would hate it very much if my friend Antonescu should hear I had done something wrong. No matter how powerful and autocratic he became in his public life during the years after my marriage, to me he was always the same. I had remarked on this to him once, and he had laughed.
"It is my own youth that I find when you are with me," he said.
Therefore, I was not wholly surprised, when I made my visit to him and his wife, to find that even if he had been angry and had stormed at General Zwiedineck, he softened when he saw me. He was a short, well-proportioned man, with ruddy complexion and reddish hair which—together with his severity—had gained for him the nickname of "Cainele Rosu"—The Red Dog. He had kept a youthful figure and appearance, and was still fond of skiing. This fact also set him apart from other Romanian generals, who somehow usually seem to acquire rotundity along with the dignity of high rank. His wife, whom he adored, and who could in his eyes do no wrong, was a small neat person with an orderly brain. She was a marvelous organizer, and I have never known her to forget a promise or to fail to carry out what she had promised. She was somewhat handicapped by the fact that she often did not properly evaluate the flattery given her because of her high position, and she consequently was too apt to think of herself as infallible. This meant that she often annoyed people, or unnecessarily hurt or offended them, but her intentions were of the best, and I know that she was truly kind.
Since I have always found it best to be honest, I proceeded to bring up the reason for my visit immediately. I found my old friend not difficult to appease, if indeed he had ever been as angry as I had been told he was. That is another thing I have discovered: things always become exaggerated in the telling, because few people can resist the temptation to enlarge upon a story, especially if it is at the expense of someone else. Then, too, many people prefer repeating unkind remarks to telling the kind ones, although often in the heat of anger more has been said than is really meant. Romanians have sometimes been said to be much given to this sport, which is dignified by the name of intrigue, but I have never felt that it was from real malice so much as from the pleasure of letting their imaginations run away with them, and the fun of seeing the results. I do not share this particular enjoyment, perhaps because my position made me so often a victim of it, and I finally learned that it was best stopped by pinning people down to the facts as soon as possible. Then they smilingly and deprecatingly got out of it, and it all boiled down to nothing—although sometimes one was burned by the steam just the same!
Marshal and Madame Antonescu accepted my explanation, which relieved me very much, although I realized, as I told them, that they wanted to believe well of me rather than the opposite—which, unfortunately, was not always the case with others. We talked of the general situation in Romania. Antonescu was decidedly anxious and unhappy, but he still believed in the German military machine.
"I know," he told me, "that many think I should turn around and capitulate to the Allies; but if this were done without warning I should be a traitor to the pledged word of my country. There is also the fact that Germany is still strong, and could crush us in a day. But more than all this, it shall never be my hand that signs a document agreeing to the entry of Russian troops upon Romanian soil. We learned in the last war what it was like to have them as friends! What would it be like to have them enter as victorious enemies? They have always wanted to annex us, and in the past they were prevented only because the Turks got here first."
What would have been the result if Antonescu had acted differently? What would have happened to our country if he had joined in the plans to make terms with the Allies, instead of opposing this plan until he was arrested by his own people and turned over to the Communists? If this tough, realistic soldier had been free to warn and to protest against the treatment he foresaw Romania would receive from Russia, would it have made any difference? No one can say. The "ifs" of history have always fascinated me, but we can only speculate about them. At any rate, the visit had ended my immediate apprehensions about my own difficulties, and I felt I could return to Brasov and begin work again.