I Live Again by Ileana, Princess of Romania
IT WAS not possible for me to think only of the difficulties I knew in Bucarest, for there were also worries at home. A new epidemic of typhoid broke out in the summer of 1946, and we settled down to an attempt to cope with it on a larger and more systematic scale then we had used before. The investigations we made, and our struggles with everything from superstition and inertia to red tape, would make too long a story to tell here, but I must mention that the hospital staff and I made regular personal contributions, as well as official ones, to this concentrated effort. We worked to educate the people in the most hygienic methods of defense; in the free use of DDT and of inoculation. Every Sun day all of the doctors and nurses would scatter up the various valleys to the churches, where we could be reasonably sure of finding the villagers all together, and would try with the help of the priest to convince the people that they should be inoculated. Since the injections bring a painful reaction, it was not an easy matter to get them to come a second and third time, and the keeping of records was far from simple. Because the houses were widely spread over hills and dales, many miles of real mountain climbing had to be done before the job in any one area could be considered at all complete.
It seemed to me an irony of fate that my son Dominic should at this time come down with typhoid, and I found myself terrified at once. My youngest brother Mircea, whom I had adored, had died of this dread disease during World War I. Long after he was no longer conscious of anything, his baby voice called my name, hour after hour, and it was something I had never forgotten. Al ways the work with children was hardest for me, in all my hospital experience, for the cries of a child in pain or delirium brought back those anguished days of my own childhood when I had lost my baby brother. To my deep joy, Niki's case proved to be a light one, and I was able to nurse him at home because my invaluable Frau Koller volunteered once more to be isolated with the patient, as she had done when Minola had scarlet fever. I found also that Niki's illness had a good effect on the peasants in our countryside. They seemed to feel that if my son could get typhoid no one was safe; and they came in greater numbers to let themselves be inoculated.
During the fall I found that my back was giving me increasing trouble. I had always suffered to some extent from arthritis, but now I developed a severe and hampering pain. In addition to my regular work, there had been too many occasions when I must lift and carry heavy bodies, or strain to push cars, or shovel snow when we were forced to travel in bad weather. I was advised to have X-ray treatment, which had to be done at Brasov at a very early hour, and which complicated my daily schedule no little. This was the beginning of the crippling condition that is still under treatment, although I was able to keep fairly active until after we had reached South America.
I have spoken of the Christmas of 1946, when Anton was in Switzerland trying vainly to get permission to go to Austria, and I mentioned that it was a quietly happy one, with no major difficulties, and with the typhoid epidemic at last definitely seeming to be ending. What I did not mention was the fact that to our parcels in 1946 were added some from our very special American friends, and I would like to speak of them now. Many people came to look at Bran, for it was a unique and lovely castle, but few really stayed and took an interest in the inhabitants of our little village. Some did not wish to and some were not able to; but there were some who did, and who have remained stanch friends ever since—not only to me and my family, but to many of my countrymen and to Romania in general.
The first I would like to mention is Bishop O'Hara (now Archbishop) of the Roman Catholic Church, who was appointed regent of the Apostolic Nunciature in Bucarest in May, 1946, but because of delays in obtaining a visa did not arrive in Bucarest until January, 1947. He was the first American to be appointed to our country in this capacity. The former appointees had kept within the strict official confines of their duties, but Archbishop O'Hara had a different view of what his work should be. He decided to know this country he was accredited to, and he toured it from one end to the other, visiting not only his own churches but going to other places where he had heard there was distress. I can say with envy that he has explored parts of Romania where even I have never been! He not only visited but he seemed to love and understand the country and the people. A great quantity of food and medicine had earlier been sent by Pope Pius XII to Romania and distributed by the Romanian Red Cross, but in March, 1947, the Catholic War Relief was organized on extensive lines. This was an untold blessing that reached far out to many an abandoned village, where food, medicine, and clothing were distributed with out regard to religion or nationality. Archbishop O'Hara did not confine his own personal efforts to those of his own church, and I have never known him deaf to any appeal of mine. It was in great part due to him that we were able to run the camp for refugee girls that I have already mentioned.
In one instance he was, to be sure, indirectly responsible for getting an innocent man into trouble, but no one could have foreseen this would happen! Archbishop O'Hara had sent extra food to the school that Stefan attended, but the directions on the boxes were printed in English. The Commandant bought an English dictionary in order to translate them, and the poor man was instantly pounced upon as a "capitalist sympathizer," and nearly lost his position. Because of this and other similar incidents, so typical of the Russian Communists, the labels were later printed in Romanian, which made things much easier. The Archbishop remained at his post, working under difficulties which one day may be more widely known, until he was forcibly obliged to leave the country in 1950. He is a great Christian and a great American, and the Romanian people will long be grateful to him.
Another American friend was Sergeant Wilmer Park, who with his friend Mr. Albanasi came once to visit someone staying with us, and then came often after that to visit us. It was through these men that I got the first messages over to friends in the United States, and it was they who got for me the badly needed American textbooks of nursing that became wells of knowledge and help to me. In gratitude I feel I must list them here. They were for me the substitute for the medical schools and libraries so easily accessible to you in this country, but which I did not have: The Principles and Practice of Nursing, by Harmer and Henderson; Nursing: an Art and a Science, by Tracy; The Textbook of Anatomy and Physiology, by Kimber, Gray, and Stackpole.—I have those very volumes now on the bookshelves of my home in Newton. The Communists, you see, allowed me to bring those hooks with me, since they were texts which would enable me to earn a living as a "worker," instead of remaining a "parasite" upon society. All other books which had not already been destroyed by the Russians in Sonnberg were retained as the property of the state, including those irreplaceable ones autographed and given me by my mother.
These American textbooks were a priceless gift to the work of the hospital. I began translating chapters to read to my nurses. I adapted certain charts and diagrams, and I was inspired by others in the texts to create original ones for our use. I dreamed of one day getting permission from the authors to translate and adapt the books for Romania. Perhaps, I thought sometimes with a deter mined cheerfulness, they might be our first texts in the School for Nurses that I hoped to establish.
Among our new friends was also Lieutenant Colonel Krichbaum, M.D., who was medical attendant to the American Mission. He, too, traveled the country far and wide. He grew to know and love it, and to understand the spirit of the people and the depth and strength of their resistance to the Russian oppression. Colonel Fred G. Sigerist, the head of the American Red Cross, also was unfailing in his efforts to help, and we have him to thank for the generous gift from the President of the United States, in March, 1947, of a shipload of rations for the starving population of Moldavia.
The kindness of these men, so different from one another and yet so alike in spirit, was my first experience of the generosity of the Americans, of their lack of resentments and of their desire to help the neighbor. Their gifts under our Christmas tree reminded me of the night so many years before, when Father Christmas had come to a little Romanian girl in Jassy. There were so many small kindnesses done, which I cannot mention here for lack of time and space. I shall never cease to be grateful, for example, to those who gave me the Armed Services Editions of American books, which did so much to help me escape for a little while in my mind to a different world.
In February of 1947 we received the wonderful and hearten ing news of the shipload of food from President Truman, which was to be distributed by the Red Cross to the distressed regions of Moldavia. What seemed most extraordinary to me was that the Communist government had accepted this, under certain restrictions, and had given the necessary authority to the railroads for transporting the supplies. It was, of course, a tremendous under taking to distribute the food, and it needed a great deal of technical knowledge to plan it so that nothing could go wrong. The problem was solved in an interesting way. The Red Cross appealed for volunteers, and nearly the whole of the General Staff of our army, besides many other officers—all of whom had been forced to resign in 1945—offered their services to this project. Mr. Costinescu, President of the Romanian Red Cross, gave full powers to General Mardari, a most capable general and a former royal aide de-camp—and one of those victims later deported to Russia by the Communists.
The whole plan was set up like a veritable military campaign, under the supervision of the Red Cross and representatives from the American Military Mission under Brigadier General Schuyler. Experienced civilians and former Red Cross workers filled up the ranks. Since at this time the hospital was running quite smoothly, I volunteered my services, and asked my dear friend Mrs. Podgoreanu to go too. She agreed to come with me, and certainly she is to be thanked for the good results we obtained, and for the orderliness and thoroughness with which our branch of the expedition worked. I only smilingly carried out and passed along the orders she had thought out, with perhaps a little more tact added than she would have used.
I had asked that if it were possible I might be permitted to go to the region of Piatra Neamtz, in the northern part of Moldavia and in the valley of the Bistritza. During World War I, I had spent a happy summer there, away from the horrors of Jassy and the war, and it was there I had first learned to love and respect the Romanian peasant. There, too, I had obtained the foundation for my really quite thorough knowledge of the Romanian language, for it is the peasants who are its real guardians. It is a truly beautiful archaic language, and my mastery of it is one of the things I do pride myself on.
The Red Cross agreed to my request, and so did the King and the government. I then asked if it would be possible for me to be housed in a railway carriage, so that I could avoid the necessity of accepting anyone's hospitality, for I realized that anyone who entertained me might endanger himself. I half hoped that I could have my old carriage, in which I had traveled so widely all over the country in the days before I was married. It had been decorated according to my own taste, and because I was so passionately fond of the sea I had had it made to resemble a ship. However, it existed no more, for it had been destroyed in one of the bombardments, and therefore a ministerial one was found for me. It was fairly comfortable, and it not only could be heated independently, but it had a sort of kitchenette in it, which added to its usefulness. I must say that I felt a certain thrill of pleasure when everyone assembled and we left from the central station of Bucarest. My party included Mrs. Podgoreanu and two of my nurses, with three other girls from Bran, and seven people chosen by headquarters, making a "team" of fourteen. We traveled all night, so that we would reach Piatra, the capital of the region, well ahead of the first trainload of provisions.
It was a raw and cold March morning when we arrived, but the sun was shining. Although I had been warned that this was a "Red" town, I was given a fairly large reception and invited to have breakfast in a private home, where I began finding out exactly what the situation was in the city. To my delight I met there my father's old librarian and trusted friend, who was a great help to me. I learned that the most difficult person to deal with would be the Prefect, the administrative head of the region, who was a strong member of the Communist Party. He was described to me as a capable administrator, however, and by no means a bad man, but as one who was not at all friendly with the Red Cross, and was aggressively on the alert for anti-Communist sentiment and activities.
Immediately after breakfast I called the local authorities together for a meeting with the Red Cross executives, Mrs. Podgoreanu and myself. I explained that I was only a woman, with little knowledge of how to direct activities and with absolutely no information as to the town's resources, the state of the roads, or how many supplies would have to be transported. However, I said, I knew that they would be able to take care of the situation, since Mr. Prefect was known even in Bucarest for his splendid talents in organization, and I was leaving it all to him. He and the men of the Red Cross could work it out, I was sure, and I would follow the lines they laid down for me. The supply train was due that evening, and would they please come to my carriage at five o'clock so that we could decide on any final minor details? At six in the station waiting room, I suggested, we could meet with our different teams, including the local organization, and Mr. Prefect would lay the plans before them and give them their instructions.
I could see that I had won the first round, so I bowed politely and left the meeting. I spent the intervening time seeing some old friends, for it was deeply moving to me to return to this little mountain town, so proud of its past, which I had visited often as a child when we spent that wartime summer in Bicaz. When the group met again I found the arrangements could not possibly be improved upon, and the meeting in the station went off equally well. Later I was told that in the last three years no one had dared mention publicly the King, the Americans, or God: I had mentioned all of them in my speech, and neither had the heavens fallen nor had Mr. Prefect walked out on the meeting!
Our work began the next morning at six o'clock. Mr. Prefect was there promptly, keeping a wary eye on me, but this did not at all disturb me. In fact, I was delighted to have him with me, because in that way I also knew more or less what he was up to. I had no intention of allowing the American Relief to be made into a Party weapon. We watched each other carefully: we were in separable companions for at least fourteen hours of every one of the next sixteen days. Neither of us could have done much harm in the remaining ten hours, for we were much too tired. I once said to him, "What will you do when I have gone?" and he replied grimly, "Sleep and eat!"
That first morning we had to take over the control of the goods shipped in, and have those for the Bistritza valley carried into a narrow-gauge train and into trucks. This was done by soldiers and workmen, and we had to watch carefully because they, too, were very hungry, and to see such quantities of food was a great temptation to them. It was a cold and thankless job to check the transportation of these supplies, and it was exhausting both physically and emotionally. The American observer for our section, a nice officer whose name and rank I am sorry to have for gotten, appeared in the course of the morning and advised me to take a rest. He offered to share his breakfast ration with me, so I invited him to my carriage—which he found, I think, much less grand than he had expected. In fact, I could find but one plate for the lot of us.
"But," I said, "notice that it has a gold rim, and don't say I did not treat you royally!"
This broke the ice, and we all laughed together. I returned to my post warmed and strengthened, and soon everything was loaded and we were able to start off on the day's round. A gentleman had kindly put himself and his car at our disposal, and although the car was both antediluvian and temperamental it plowed surprisingly well through mountains of snow and rivers of mud. It was really extraordinary how well it did get us to most places, although I could not help teasing the driver once by telling him that I had pushed his car more miles than I had sat in it. Mr. Prefect had been forced to push, too. He had at first been a little surprised that I evidently expected him to help, but he soon joined me quite cheerfully. This really assisted us in becoming friends of a sort, for two people cannot remain stiff and hostile after they have many times been pushing together at the rear of a car that suddenly bounces forward and leaves them to fall face foremost into the same snowdrift. Sharing a military ration and breaking an apple in half and in half again to make it go around also are things which make for a certain creation of mutual sympathy.
Mrs. Podgoreanu went in another car so that we could cover greater distances and at the same time "follow up" on the distribution, for our routes were arranged to cross each other. In this way we visited thirty-eight villages in sixteen days, which was quite an accomplishment when one considers the condition of the roads and the terrible, changeable weather, which shifted from snow storms to sudden thaws and back again. A team was sent to each village, and they were responsible for the fair distribution of the provisions and for controlling the lists. Mrs. Podgoreanu's car and ours then drove from one village to another to see how things went, to settle difficulties and misunderstandings, and to explain things; tasks which were far from easy.
The misery we saw was appalling. The first thing that struck me was the extraordinary emptiness of the villages. Normally they would have been overflowing with people, children, and all kinds of sheep, dogs, geese, and hens, but now there were no animals at all. Anyone who had a cow was fabulously wealthy, he who had a few hens was rich, and the man who had flour or corn in his house was considered amazingly blessed with earthly goods. To choose which families were poorest was not simple where all were hungry, and yet there was not enough to give each family something. Lists of those who were to be helped had been made up in advance, and each list was read out to the assembled villagers for their agreement to it. Rarely did they suggest that someone's name be taken from the list, but always they named those left out who were still more unfortunate than the ones selected. Very well, the team would say, then who shall be taken off the list in their place? But they were all so poor! How could anyone decide?
I cannot make clear to you who have not seen it the heartbreak of such a situation nor do I wish to burden you with pictures of distress. Yet it is people in such conditions as these about whom I have heard Americans say, "But why do they not revolt against the Communists?" One does not always remember that not only is a certain physical strength required to revolt but also that pro longed misery produces in the end a dazed and stunned spiritual and moral state which leaves the individual partially paralyzed. Perhaps one illustration is enough to show how things were, and I choose one more pleasant than many I saw. One afternoon when I had gone hack to my carriage in the railway station I was eating an apple, and I threw the core outside. It fell into a dirty puddle of black, slimy water, but a child standing near threw himself ravenously upon it and gobbled it up. At first I stared, horrified, and then I rushed in to get him the rest of my ration for that day, but I could do that very seldom. Mrs. Podgoreanu, Bittermann, and, I were allowed American five-day rations, which made up the bulk of the provisions sent from the United States, for our own use, but we had to be extremely economical with them. We had to share ours with the two soldiers sent to guard me, whom the authorities found it unnecessary to feed, and with the railway attendant. Fortunately, the rest of our team of fourteen had been lodged in the town and received rations there.
When we arrived at Bicaz, where I had spent the summer of 1918, I felt a tremendous emotion. Every corner spoke to me of my father and mother, of my sisters, and of our loved Canadian friend, Colonel Boyle, whom I called "Uncle Joe." I looked into the dear white house on the very edge of the rapid Bistritza, where I had spent so many hours as a little girl watching the swiftly passing rafts, but I found it ravaged by the invaders. My mother's room, kept always as she had left it, was now empty and its windows were broken. I wanted to share my memories with someone, but of those who had come with me there was no one who had been there before. I left the house and returned to the waiting peasants, and from the crowd stepped a woman.
"Domnitza, nu'tzi amintesti—Domnitza, do you not remember?"
What sweeter words could I have heard? Of course she re membered, and so did many of the others. There was hardly a village, a monastery, or a convent which I visited where I was not greeted by these words. There were women I had played with when they, too, were children, and older people who remembered many of the details of events I had almost forgotten. It was always hard to leave them; there was so much we could have talked about. But I had work to do, and I could spend little time in talking of things past, no matter how much it might have warmed my heart. Often, too, I found not only the past of my childhood, but also a bridge between those days and the present. Once at a small station there were police holding the crowd back, and suddenly a disturbance began far at the rear. A hand appeared, waving a paper, and a man's voice cried:
"But I must see the Domnitza! She is, I tell you, my friend! See, here is a card she wrote me!"
When I insisted that he be allowed to come to the car I found that he was one of my Romanian wounded, a soldier who had lost his arm and had been in a hospital in Leipzig. To those men so far away that I could not visit them as regularly as I did the ones in Vienna I tried to send postcards at frequent intervals, and this soldier had kept a picture of Sonnberg through all these years. With him, too, there were many things to speak of and re member, but only a little time before the train had to go on.
On the whole, the help sent to Moldavia was greater from a moral standpoint than from a physical one. The five-day rations we distributed as evenly as possible did not add a great deal to the total food of any one village, and they were completely foreign to the peasant. He naturally could not read the English directions, which in each village we had to explain, while we also supplied a mimeographed translation for later reference. A piece of coconut chocolate meant little to a peasant child who had never tasted coco nut or chocolate. It was difficult to make his parents understand that a little pouch of powder could produce a satisfying and nourishing soup for the family. The excellent crackers did not make up to them for bread or mamaliga—the thick corn porridge that is the basis of their diet.
Yet morally the effect of this distribution was much greater than one might realize. The people felt that indeed they were not forgotten; that the friends in America whom they had never wanted to fight had understood, and had sent them help. I witnessed many touching scenes, when in spontaneous speeches, under the disapproving scowls of the ever-present Communists, I was delegated by the people to thank the Americans for what they had done. I shall be happy if in some measure, through the medium of this book, I am able at last to transmit to my American readers the truly warm and unfeigned thanks of my people who have remained behind the Iron Curtain, and, as a nation caged and en slaved, cannot voice their thanks for themselves. For my own part, I am deeply grateful also for the opportunity those days gave me to revisit another part of my distressed country before I was compelled to leave it forever.
> There was another thing about this distribution of the American Relief supplies which I believe would have touched you. It was the almost reverent appreciation of the peasants for the sacks of peas that came with the rations. In every village, before any were eaten, people waited to see whether or not the peas would grow if they were planted, and when they found the seed would sprout they set it aside to plant. You must remember that these people had no seed for the coming year and no tools with which to work the ground. Everything had been carried away, even to the hoes and spades and rakes, so that they would literally have to use their hands to plant and cultivate the soil. Hungry as they were, they still set aside something which could be multiplied for the coming year, even though it meant that more of them would die in the meantime. It was the supposedly Communist ideal, which the Communists actually do not practice, here carried out by the free will of the people. Because they themselves were honest they could in truth sacrifice themselves as individuals to the good of "society," even though they would not have described their action in such terms. But no such plan can be imposed on any group, for this imposition not only fails to determine whether there exists the necessary integrity but destroys such integrity if it does exist.