A great granddaughter of Queen Victoria is happy nowadays living quietly in an American suburb. But in this book she recalls her very recent life of almost constant danger as a Princess of Romania, from which she escaped adventurously to make her way to a new world haven.
Published by Rinehart & Co., Inc. at $4.00.
THE POTS and pans shine brightly in my peaceful white kitchen. The curtains are gay. I who have lived behind an Iron Curtain, who have faced the accidental death of war and the purposeful death of assassination, have found sanctuary. The peaceful shadows are gathering outside as they also are gathering in the silent house, for I am alone, though not lonely; so many thoughts keep me company.
In this big, old New England house there are two rooms I would like to show you; two rooms which hold my present and my past, the substance from which I must create my future. Which will surprise you most—my shining modern kitchen, with every device for American housekeeping, or my bedroom upstairs, with its unrelated collection of things from another life? I do not know. I cannot judge how these things will seem to you.
When at seventeen I visited the United States with my mother, reporters used to ask me, “What is it like—to be a princess?” and I could never think of anything to say to them in answer. How could I compare it with something else when I had never been anything except a princess? In Romania, for example, there was a trumpeter who blew a lovely call—a succession of quick, golden notes—when any of us entered or left the palace. Here I come quietly into my own drive; a passing neighbor may nod pleasantly, my key unlocks the door into my silent hall. In Austria a formal and official letter to me would be addressed: “Ihre Kaiserliche und Königliche Hoheit die Durchlauchtigste Erzherzogin und Frau”—“Her Imperial and Royal Highness the Most Illustrious Archduchess and Lady.” Here the delivery boy says briskly and cheerfully when I open the door to his ring, “Habsburg here?” as he looks over his parcels. But these are outward things, and of little importance. How one is addressed is a matter of custom. Romanian trumpet and American doorbell both came into being without my advice being asked.
“What is it like—to be a princess?” Shall we find the answer in these two rooms I am inviting you to look at?”
There on one wall of my kitchen is a picture of my mother in Romanian dress among her flowers. For the background of the picture stands Bran, our fairy castle upon a rock in the Carpathian Mountains where once I lived. On another wall I have an old icon of Christ, the symbol of that faith which has carried me through all my troubles, and has landed me here on my feet in New England, with the strength to live again.
Yes, to live again, because after I left home, which for me has always been Romania, I was as one dead. Not circumstances alone were hard to bear, but the need to live at all. Getting down to brass tacks in my kitchen helped me greatly. The need to busy my hands quieted my mind. The effort to cope with simple things and to do them well helped me to start afresh.
Yes, I have spent a lot on this kitchen. It may perhaps surprise you to find such complete equipment in a house for which I had at first no furniture outside the kitchen except seven beds and seven chairs. But in making my new life I meant to have the best tools from the start, and to wait patiently until I could get other things less essential. Did not your pioneer ancestors do the same when they began their new life in a new world? They who with unaccustomed hands used strange tools to conquer a new land would understand my white and shining kitchen! Soon I shall gather up and wash the dishes of my frugal meal and go into that other room to which I have invited you.
There, too, I feel close in spirit to your ancestors—those who brought across an unknown ocean a cherished bit of china, a piece of silver, a family miniature—for there I have gathered a few precious belongings from my other life.
Over my bed hangs a beautiful Spanish crucifix my mother left me in her will. It had remained in Sonnberg, my home in Austria. A Russian soldier during the occupation threw it out the window; a peasant child found and hid it for me, and finally it came back to me.
On the mantelpiece are a few beautiful jades—hidden from the Russians in a chimney in Austria for four years. Beside them is a round, flat, gilded box. This holds my greatest treasure—a handful of Romanian soil brought over the Romanian frontier past Romanian guards who had betrayed their country, and who turned away and could not face me when I showed them what the little box contained.
Around me tonight there is peace, contentment: so much to look back on, so much to be grateful for, so much to look forward to. I am not, then, lonely, even though I am alone in this house I have invited you to visit. Besides, tomorrow the children come back from school. There will be happy cries, rushing and stamping up and down stairs, radio and gramophone going, questions and demands, arms entwined around my neck, laughter—and probably a little scolding! It will be home and a happy family life. And there are friends old and new within reach. I can call them if I choose, or they may call me.
But tonight I would rather be still and pause a moment before I look forward to the future or backward at the past.
THERE IS one thing I cannot show you in either of my two rooms: one very important thing which I was allowed to bring with me from my old life, and which made the foundation of my new one. You can see it in a photograph of my mother there on the table, but no picture can give you any idea of the living glow and the rainbow fires in the sapphire and diamond tiara she is wearing.
Nicholas I of Russia had it made for his wife, the Princess Charlotte of Prussia, when he became emperor in 1825. Through his granddaughter, my mother’s mother, it descended eventually to me. And so the tiara and I both entered the United States twice, and together: once in 1926, when I was one of a royal party receiving an official and impressive welcome in New York City, and when the diadem was suitably packed and guarded; and once in 1950, when I flew from Argentina to Miami with the tiara wrapped in my nightgown!
Because I was suffering severely from arthritis, I received permission in May, 1950, to come to the United States for medical treatment. I could not afford to insure something whose “breakup” value had once been appraised at eighty thousand dollars, so I decided to wrap it in my nightgown and keep it with me in a small bag. Thus with three hundred dollars, a ticket to Boston, and a hidden tiara, I prepared to enter the United States for the second time.
It was a thirty-hour trip by air—over the Andes and finally over the Caribbean. I felt that I was in a very real sense carrying my children with me, for on the results of my journey their whole future might depend. Six months earlier my two older children had received scholarships in prep schools—one in Pennsylvania and one in Massachusetts—and their letters had been showing a growing confidence and contentment. For most of their lives they had been the victims of war and its accompanying anxieties, first in their father’s homeland and then in mine, and the younger children could not remember any other conditions. My husband and I had sought security and a new life for them in Switzerland and then in Argentina, but we had not found it. Could it be that somehow, in the friendly country I had visited as a girl, I might find a new home for them?
In Miami, I lined up for customs inspection. I had not realized how public the inspection would be, and when it was my turn and I answered that I had something to declare, I asked if I could unpack my bag in private. The officer was good humored, but a little impatient with my hesitation.
When he finally led me to an office and I opened my bag, it was obvious that he did not know quite what to do when a tiara turned up in the luggage he inspected. Was it real? he wanted to know. When I assured him that it was, he looked still more harassed, but finally he decided that he would send it to Boston “in bond.”
Arriving in Boston, everyone in the office of the customhouse was very matter of fact until the parcel was opened. Even I, who was so familiar with it, felt always a thrill of delight at the radiance of blue and white fire when the tiara was suddenly brought into the light. The faces of the men revealed their shocked amazement. They gasped. Then one smiled, relieved.
“But of course you have this insured!” he said.
“Oh, no,” I told him calmly. “Why should I? It has escaped the Nazis and the Communists safely. Naturally I did not expect to lose it here!”
They were evidently uncertain whether to laugh or to scold me, but from that moment we were all friends. The age of the jewel was found to make it free of customs, so eventually I walked off with it under my arm—still in its somewhat battered cardboard box.
Finally, after much trouble, worry, and heartbreak, it was sold for a sum much below its value. It was both beautiful and splendid, but my children were in need. As it stood, it neither fed us nor clothed us nor warmed us. I could not even wear it!
So it was with no permanent regret that I gave up my diadem. It had been a gift from my mother, and what it enabled me to do I consider also her gifts: to pay my debts of two years’ standing; to make a first payment on a home in New England; to go back to Buenos Aires and bring the other four children to the United States; to put them into the schools where they had been given scholarships; to take a respite in which I could regain my health and find a way of earning my livelihood. “Il faut faire face à la vie, car la vie aime les braves.” It is necessary to confront life, for life loves the brave: so my mother once wrote in a book she dedicated to a friend. Many years later, in a time of great trouble for me, I found and opened that book—and the message was as if my mother had spoken to me in that hour.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 1931 I married Archduke Anton of Austria, of the Toscuna line of the house of Habsburg. 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.
Anton and I, like many young couples with small children, wished to find a home in the country. In 1934 our quest ended at the Castle of Sonnberg. Although it was thirty miles from Vienna—farther than we had expected to go—and had lapsed into a deplorable condition after having been to some extent modernized and remodeled about twenty-five years before, we liked it so much that we decided to buy it.
The castle had been built in the sixteenth century. Square, and without ornamentation except for its tower, it had its rooms arranged around an open courtyard with a well in the center. The nearest town, or what you would call our “shopping center,” was nearly two miles away; but the little village of Sonnberg was at our gates.
Besides the care of our growing little family of children and my necessary occupations for the household, and besides the luxury of working on unnecessary but fascinating projects for beautifying the castle and gardens, I found much to do in the village. My children’s nurse and I started a small dispensary for infants and children, which was open one day a week. During the six winter months I established and managed a canteen to provide food for about thirty of the poorer school children.
Perhaps you can see from this that my days were pleasantly and usefully full. But those peaceful years ended in 1938, the year when Austria was engulfed by Nazi Germany. For me the anxieties of that time were at first submerged in a more personal grief, the death of my mother.
In the spring of 1937 she had had the first indication of the illness to which her death over a year later was finally ascribed. Not until February of 1938 was she well enough to be taken to Meran, in the Italian Tyrol. I joined her there. My constant worry about her prevented my following the mounting Austrian crisis as closely as I would otherwise have done. It was therefore with deep shock that I heard over the radio on March 12 the news that Nazi troops had crossed the Austrian border, to complete the following day what Hitler hypocritically called the “Wie-dereingleiderung”—the “again-interlinking”—of Austria with Germany.
My responsibility for my children at once took precedence over everything else, in my mother’s mind as well as in my own; and she sent me immediately in her car to Innsbruck, where I took the first train for Vienna.
At the station in Vienna, where Anton met me, a Nazi flag was prominently displayed on our car. When I expressed my horrified unwillingness to drive with such an insignia, Anton explained grimly how it had happened. Early that morning fifty men of the SA had arrived at the castle, prepared to take over the premises in order to prevent any Habsburg from trying to interfere with the glorious entrance of Austria into the Reich. When the wire came announcing the time of my arrival, they at first refused to consider allowing Anton to drive to Vienna to meet me—something which was necessary if I was to get to Sonnberg that night. Eventually, however, as he pointed out patiently and repeatedly that no one was running away, but that instead I was returning to the Reich, as it were, they agreed to let him leave with the car. After all, they had the children and all our possessions as hostages! But—Anton explained to me—no car could move anywhere without the Nazi insignia. It therefore remained on the car as I returned to Sonnberg and our fifty unexpected house guests.
Mother was taken back to Romania in early July, and from there I received on July 18, 1938, a telephone call telling me she was dying.
Anton and I set out in the car for a nineteen-hour drive across Austria, Hungary, and Romania. In the very early morning we came to the Romanian frontier, and I asked the guards if they had any word from the palace, but they said no—no word.
Yet I think I knew in my heart what had happened, even though I refused to acknowledge it to myself until we came to the town of Cluj after sunrise and saw the flags all flying at half-mast. My mother had died at five o’clock the day before. And she left me, among other outward symbols of an inner love and tenderness and understanding which are rare even between mothers and daughters, the fairy castle of Bran which we had both cherished so deeply and the sapphire and diamond diadem which has enabled me to begin a new life for my children.
SNOW FELL relentlessly and slowly out of a leaden sky. I watched from the low window of our Vienna apartment and saw with anxiety and a certain exasperation how the drifts piled ever higher in our sodden little garden. It was February 24, 1942, and I was making my first visit to Vienna after the birth of my sixth child, little Elisabeth. I had intended to stay in town only a day or two for medical checkups and the necessary errands for the family, but twice our attempts to reach Sonnberg had been prevented by high winds, storm, and snow.
After the sober months at Sonnberg, where I had been preoccupied with the effort to produce food and to keep up the morale of our household and of the village while I awaited my child’s birth, I found that Vienna jarred strangely on my nerves. Friends had taken me to the opening of a fashion collection, and I had been astonished not only at the amount and variety of beautiful materials, but at the conversations around me. It seemed to me incredible that people could spend thought and money on such nonessentials in wartime.
At Sonnberg war seemed very close to us always.
In the quiet countryside, where everyone was a friend or an acquaintance, there were few battles which did not wear the face of someone known to us. In the country, too, the lives of all women were changed more completely and obviously than was usually the case in the cities. The restrictions in fuel for both house and car meant immediate and radical changes in living where other transportation was not available. The rationing of food and clothes meant that farm produce must be more strictly accounted for; that certain crops must be increased and certain alterations be made in the number and kind of livestock one owned. The mobilizing of all men, until only the very old or crippled remained, meant that farm tasks must be taken over by women.
Anton had been conscripted in the fall of 1938 at the time of the Sudeten crisis, and had been stationed for three weeks at the frontier. The crisis temporarily over, he had been dismissed and had come home in time to help me deal with the billeting of a medical detachment in Sonnberg—the first of thirteen such billetings upon us, lasting from three days to six weeks. A few of these close contacts with the army made us realize that universal conscription was very near, and Anton decided to volunteer so that he might choose his service—that of the air. After completing his infantry training, which was required of every soldier, he was assigned to the air forces, first as Kurierstaffel, or flying courier, and later as flying instructor.
Driven by a feeling that I wanted to be of service, I entered a systematic course of Red Cross training to supplement and complete the courses I had previously taken in England and in Romania. I did not join the German Red Cross because to do so involved swearing fidelity to Hitler, and this I could not do. Therefore I never received a certificate for this nursing course, but the training added a great deal to what I had already learned from both theory and practice.
I felt alien to those acquaintances in Vienna who were trying to ignore the war, and my sympathy with those friends who had lost dear ones only made me more conscious of the fact that I was doing nothing constructive in the city. Surely, I felt, there must be something I could do which would satisfy my longing to be of real use. And just then, as if in answer to this deep wish of mine, the telephone rang.
On the wire was an acquaintance who had been visiting one of the soldiers’ hospitals in the city. She thought I might be interested to know that quite by chance she had heard of a wounded Romanian officer among the patients. Without difficulty I located the small and unimposing hospital, established in an old school building. I inquired at the desk for a Romanian officer. Yes, there were even two Romanian officers. They were not too seriously hurt, but they were unhappy because they had no clothes or personal possessions, no way of writing to their families, and no idea of how long they would be kept in this particular hospital. They had been sent to Vienna with thirty wounded soldiers, but assignments to different hospitals had separated them from their men, and they could find no one who would help them get in touch with one another.
They were delighted to meet “a Romanian lady” who could speak to them in their own language, and they told me their troubles promptly and in detail. Learning who I was not only made them feel I might be able really to do something about their troubles, but also—I was happy to notice—made them feel with relief that they had found someone from whom they had a right to expect help. It was moments like this that made me glad I was a princess!
I do not remember exactly how many offices and hospitals I visited before finding those thirty soldiers, but eventually I located not only these men but other groups of Romanian wounded—some who were in serious condition. The roads to Sonnberg continued impassable for nearly a week, but in that week I found and entered upon another road, which led into one of the richest periods of my life.
In the beginning it was easy to find out and satisfy the needs of our Romanian wounded. Most important at first, I found, was to talk with their doctors and nurses; to translate the soldiers’ requests and questions, and the answers which were made in a language unknown to them; to give them a feeling of security by showing them there was someone who cared what became of them in a strange land.
I made frequent visits and increasingly longer stays in Vienna. More and more Romanian wounded arrived in Vienna, and besides visiting the old hospitals I spent long hours locating and visiting those which were rapidly being improvised in all parts of the city.
In December of 1942 I invited to Sonnberg for the holidays three blinded soldiers, and a fourth wounded man who had his sight and could help care for them.
The soldiers who stayed with us quite evidently were more relaxed and happy to be out of the crowded hospital atmosphere. I knew that always there were men who must wait about in a semiconvalescent stage, either for one operation or a series of operations. They were lonely and in a foreign country; they needed to be together. Sonnberg was large, I had my nurse’s training, and some of the household staff had assisted in work with the village dispensary and could help me. I was quite sure the servants would prefer a settled arrangement to the difficulties of having troops billeted unexpectedly upon us—something which had already happened thirteen times. Therefore, why not a hospital at Sonnberg for those Romanian soldiers who must wait in Austria for operations?
I made plans and wrote letters, and by April, 1943, the Romanian hospital was established at Sonnberg. It was a simple convalescent hospital, actually, with no elaborate equipment and with an almost non-existent staff. There was no resident nurse or doctor at first. Instead, we had a doctor who called on us at regular intervals and whom we could call in an emergency, and I myself ran the hospital with the help of an orderly. The army furnished sheets, blankets, bandages, and drugs, while I provided the building, the beds, and the equipment. All services were provided either by my own household or by the men themselves.
As the months went on we increased the variety of treatments we could offer. We developed various kinds of occupational therapy. For our patients were chiefly blinded soldiers, amputees, and soldiers who had been frozen. Some blinded soldiers, of course, were only waiting for the operation of transplanting a cornea, but many had been in explosions which had dreadfully injured their faces, and they were undergoing long and painful plastic operations.
IN 1943 I took the children to Romania for the summer. It had become increasingly difficult for me to live in Austria. My work with my own wounded countrymen had in many ways shielded me from direct contact with political events, but the increasing pressure of Nazi indoctrination was beginning to affect even Austria. Brought up as I had been, I could not avoid strong personal objections to the totalitarianism of the Nazi political philosophy, and to the methods used by the Party, but I expressed these only to Anton, and only in private. Up to this time, also, little was known—at least in Austria—about the atrocities that were later published to the world, and therefore my objections were to abstract ideas rather than to concrete examples, since few of these were known to me.
Yet, I was beginning to know too much about affairs in Austria and Germany to remain detached from them. The position that had at first protected me from knowledge was now bringing me inside information. The Nazi philosophy was not one I wished my children to learn to accept.
As a result, I decided to leave the three older children in Romania, where they could attend the Saxon schools and perfect their knowledge of Romanian gradually; but I took the three younger children back to Sonnberg with me in September, 1943.
Nineteen hundred and forty-four began in the shadows of growing anxiety in Austria over the progress of the war, and to this in my case was added my personal anxiety for my own country. Conditions of living and of travel became worse as the destruction from the Allied bombing increased. My main concern was for the three children who were with me in Austria. More and more I felt that I wanted them to be in Romania, even though the Russians were steadily advancing and my Austrian friends felt that I was mad to think of going toward the enemy instead of staying where I was. For that I had only one answer. If there was to be worse danger, I wanted my children to be where every man was my friend. So in March I took them to Bran and made arrangements to leave them there, intending to return to Austria and continue as long as possible my work for the wounded. But on March 27, when I was to have left for Vienna, travel suddenly became impossible. The Russians were rumored to have entered Moldavia; refugees were crowding down into southern Romania; the Germans had set up defenses and were engaged in a quarrel with the Hungarians, and all civilian travel across Hungary was forbidden. For the time being, decision was out of my hands. I was in Romania, and there I must stay.
THE SUDDENLY strained relationship between Germany and Hungary would, I thought, keep me in Bran only temporarily. Nevertheless, I foresaw several weeks of inactivity, which I have never been able to bear, and I also saw the need of every available pair of hands. The Russians were pressing hard upon our northern and northeastern frontiers, and innumerable refugee trains which passed through Brasov, the town nearest Bran, were taking the threatened population to safer districts. I applied to the Brasov chapter of the Red Cross to give me work until I could return to Austria, and I was assigned to the station canteen there.
It was a sunny, cold morning in March, 1944, when I presented myself, not without some trepidation, at the Red Cross canteen in the station. I was met by a tall, fair-haired, strong-looking woman, who looked straight at me with steady blue eyes. This was Mrs. Podgoreanu, who for four years had been running the canteen tirelessly and efficiently. She had a direct and commanding manner, and she viewed me speculatively, with a sort of “So! What am I to do with you?” expression.
“Please,” I said, “could I wash up or shall I just wait?”
“A troop train is coming in. You can serve tea at that window over there,” she replied, in a tone which seemed to imply that perhaps at least I would be doing no actual harm in that job.
The first morning my performance at the tea window apparently proved satisfactory, for I felt that Mrs. Podgoreanu looked at me less skeptically when the troop train pulled out and word came that the first refugee train of the day was arriving. I well remember that first train, for though it seemed terrible to me, it was nothing to compare with the misery I was to see later. In the first place, the morning was sunny and everyone was fairly cheerful, and in the second place, this train had come by a route well provided with canteens, and had not had too many long waits on the road. Still I found their plight unbelievably pathetic, and the condition of my wounded soldiers in Austria, tucked into clean beds and under expert care, seemed suddenly almost enviable in comparison. Women, children, and old men were crowded into cattle cars or third-class carriages, together with all the belongings they had been able to bring with them. I saw then for the first time what incongruous things people will take away with them. There were cows standing uneasily next to handsome bronze lamps; hens nesting in Louis XV chairs. The most moving things to me were the solemn-eyed children, tired, dirty, and hungry. How I longed to be able to take them and give them a good bath in warm water!
We of the canteen, loaded with great baskets and large cans, hurried as fast as possible down the rails to begin serving the train at the last carriage, begging the people as we went to remain in their carriages and come in turn to the windows to receive their portions.
As I was hurrying up the platform I met the Commanding General and his staff, and I stopped to greet him. He was General Nicolae Tataranu, an old friend of mine. General Tataranu informed me that he had come to make a general inspection of the work and to designate a room for the dispensary. He asked me if I would be willing to take over its organization, working with the head of the military hospital in Brasov, and of course I was delighted to accept the job. Then with Mrs. Podgoreanu we inspected a restaurant just outside the station. It could be used as a rest house for the needy when trains were delayed for long periods, and—as I realized with joy—it would give me a place to bathe the children!
NOT ALL my days at the station canteen left me with the feeling that we had been able to alleviate the misery of the thousands of people who had been driven from their homes. For some we could do nothing, and then my feeling of frustration added to the depression always lurking in the background of my mind as I worked. What, after all, was a little bread and hot soup to someone who had lost everything?
However we always had plenty to do. Relief and hospital trains had to be served, as well as refugees and military transports, and we were constantly trying to improve our services. The dispensary had to be equipped and kept supplied and the resthouse which General Tataranu had obtained for us had to be at least partially furnished.
Soon it was evident also that the dispensary required a permanent medical and nursing service, and that our problems were touching many authorities, both military and civilian. Since the coordination of all this was in the hands of the Governor of the region, and he had also been asked to provide for the establishment of a new Red Cross hospital in Brasov, he decided to call together a big meeting for reports and suggestions. A harmless enough occasion, one would think, but it led me into serious trouble.
The meeting took place in the city hall and was well attended. I had been asked to sit at the speakers’ table, and at the end of the meeting I was called on to make whatever suggestions I thought necessary.
By this time I had worked long enough in the canteen to feel deeply the value of the work done there, and to realize how very shorthanded Mrs. Podgoreanu was most of the time. The dirt and confusion, the risk of contagion, the actual squalor and misery of many of the refugees, discouraged many workers from returning after one difficult day. I felt that if the women in Brasov could only understand the great need of these helpless victims of war they would respond in greater numbers, and I knew also that more help would be essential when the new hospital was opened. So, carried away by my enthusiasm, I made a strong appeal to the women present to do volunteer work for the Red Cross.
More than a week later General Zwiedineck came to see me with a serious face. Since he had been my mother’s aide-de-camp and trusted friend, and also looked after my business affairs in Romania, I knew him well, and I realized from his expression that something unpleasant was brewing.
He opened a copy of Universul, the largest newspaper in Bucarest, so that I could see the black headline splashed across the page:
PRINCESS ILEANA MAKES AN APPEAL TO THE ROMANIAN WOMEN
I stared in horror. At first I was completely at a loss to understand what had happened, but as I looked at the article more closely I realized that it was a more or less accurate account of what I had said at the meeting in Brasov a week earlier, and had already nearly forgotten about. Only a modest article had appeared in the Brasov paper, but some reporter in the capital city—perhaps honestly intending to do good—had seen an opportunity for a feature story. He could hardly have done anything worse to me, for I was now in an unpleasant and difficult situation.
At this time Romania was under the military dictatorship of Marshal Antonescu, and the Marshal’s wife was undisputed head of all relief activities. Both were good friends of mine, but 1 knew they could quite readily become most exasperated if things went wrong. Besides, power seems to go to the heads of even the best of people, and certainly theirs was no easy position. At this same time my nephew, the young King Michael, and his mother were living in dignified disapproval of the dictatorship, although wholeheartedly concerned with the problems of our country. In a momentary bit of harmony, the Queen and the Marshal’s distant cousin, Premier Mihai Antonescu, had decided that she should write an appeal for aid to the refugees, and this was to appear in the newspapers the following day. It was at this unfortunate moment, General Zwiedineck told me coldly, that my own “appeal” had been headlined, completely stealing the thunder from the Queen’s article.
I realized the seriousness of the situation even while I felt I had done nothing wrong. I immediately went to see Michael and his mother, Queen Helen, whom the family had always called Sitta.
As I had thought, Sitta and Michael were both interested in hearing of what was being done in Brasov for the refugees, and of the plans for the Red Cross hospital soon to be opened. The hospital had of course been one of the reasons for the luckless meeting I had attended, which I explained and described fully. Once they understood what had happened, and how really innocent I had been in the matter, they were most kind. We discussed my situation, and they came to the conclusion that I could go on working as long as I accepted no leading position.
IN BRASOV once more, I found an order for the establishment of the Red Cross hospital there.
The first and most important problem was to find a suitable building for our three hundred fifty beds. General Tataranu and the Mayor were anxious to give us all possible help, but they had no jurisdiction over the one building that really pleased us, which was a high school belonging to the church. To use the building we would have to have the permission of the Metropolitan, who lived in Sibiu. Because he and I were old friends it was not difficult for me to approach him and explain our need of the high school building, and I returned to Brasov with the desired permission.
Now my work fell into a regular pattern, although I still expected that I would be returning to Austria in a few weeks at most—as soon as the difficulties between Germany and Hungary were finally settled. In the meantime I spent three mornings a week on bringing up to date the courses in nursing at the military hospital, and four mornings at the station canteen. The afternoons I spent in helping to organize the new Red Cross hospital, and often in the evenings I would return to the canteen to give Mrs. Podgoreanu a helping hand.
In the spring of 1944, alarms and air raids came with such frequency that finally we received an order to prepare in a more sheltered locality an annex to the hospital, where at least part of the more seriously wounded cases could be moved for convalescence. This meant that we were again out searching high and low, far and wide, for available space, but all big buildings had long since been requisitioned by other institutions. Whether they were actually using it at the time or not, the “owners” of such space were most unwilling to surrender it, and they were often extremely disagreeable about our request.
It was then that I first thought desperately to myself, If no one will give us help, I’ll get on without it! I’ll build my own hospital!
I owned one piece of ground at Bran which was suitable, but it had been lent to others for raising a potato crop. Perhaps I could buy off the people who had planted the crop, but when it came to a building—and then I suddenly thought of the wooden barracks buildings occasionally dismantled and sold by the army. I began making inquiries, and finally located one which could be bought, but I did not have the money. I got out a bracelet I thought I might be able to sell to start the needed fund, but here my friend, General Tataranu, heard what I was doing and appeared on the scene.
“What are you thinking of?” he said. “Have you not six children to support? This is nothing you are doing for yourself! I will let you have an army barracks—not a very grand one, but not so bad! In fact, you can have two of them!”
I could hardly believe it. Then, to my delight those who had planted potatoes on the chosen plot refused to take money for their crop loss, saying that they also wished to make an offering. The next thing was the matter of furniture, utensils, and such things, and for the furniture I appealed to Colonel Serbu, the director of an ammunition factory in Tohan, one of the neighboring villages. I told him that it had been suggested we might get cupboards, tables, and benches at cost from his workshop, but instead of leaving it at that, I surprised myself by going on to explain all I really wanted to do. My dreams got the better of me, and I shared with him what I had confided to no one else: my whole vision of what could be done also in a time of peace with a hospital out here in the mountains, where a whole countryside lacked the medical services they should have.
“But,” he suddenly said, “you can’t do that if you begin with a horrible old army barracks!”
“Oh, but I can!” I told him. “Why, at first I had only a piece of ground, and even the crop that grew on it was not mine!”
He still objected. “But I will give you an almost new barracks if you can arrange for the General to give me one of his old horrors instead.”
The excitement of feeling that my dreams could come true had only one consideration that sobered it. How could I possibly manage to spend the time in Romania which the hospital and my other work would require if I continued my work with the wounded in Austria? This question was solved for me quite quickly and finally. I had been expecting Anton to come for a furlough when I suddenly received word that he was leaving the army and coming to Romania to stay. Hitler had decreed that the “propaganda” of princes dying for their country must cease!
I decided to call the new hospital “Spitalul Inima Reginei”—The Hospital of the Queen’s Heart. When my mother died in 1938 she left, besides her will, a letter to her people, and in this she asked that her heart should not be buried in the church at Curtea de Arges, where the bodies of the royal family were laid, but that it should be removed from her body and placed in the humble little church she herself had built on the shores of the Black Sea. So her heart had been taken to Balcic, her beloved home on the seashore; but the cruel decision at Vienna in 1940 had given that part of Romania to the Bulgarians. A few hours before they took possession of the land General Zwiedineck had taken the casket containing the heart from the chapel and had carried it to Bran, where it was deposited in our small wooden church. Later I had had a little chapel carved out of the rock of the hill just behind the church, with a winding path and steps mounting up to it, and there I placed the casket containing the heart. There it stood apart and alone, a shrine easily accessible to all.
THE TWENTY-THIRD of August, 1944, dawned and passed as did the days immediately before it, with no more uneasiness than usual. I was getting ready for bed when the telephone in my room rang, and the excited voice of the operator said:
“Domnitza! They have made peace! There is no more war-—it is over!”
I could not grasp what she said at first. No what? “Listen to the radio!” she insisted.
I ran to Anton and we turned the radio on, to hear an announcement that the King had informed the people an armistice had been agreed upon.
I was not a witness to what happened in Bucarest. I can only state the facts themselves, as I have been able to discover them.
On the afternoon of August 23, Marshal Antonescu was arrested at the Palace in Bucarest and turned over to guards who were members of the Communist Party, a party at that time numbering less than one thousand members in all of Romania, according to figures later announced by Ana Pauker. At the time of his arrest a new government was announced, which stood from August 23 to November 4, and which was headed by General Sanatescu. It was a military rule, but included as ministers of state without portfolio the heads of the four political parties. When the second government, which lasted from November 4 to December 7, was formed, it was still headed by General Sanatescu, but it was a political government.
We did not immediately hear what was happening as the Russian army crossed our borders, to be received “with confidence.” As our army met them peacefully, ceasing “all fighting and any act of hostility against the Soviet army,” according to instructions, the Russians imprisoned each regiment and sent it to Russia. Between August 23 and September 12, the Russian “friends” of Romania, received “with confidence,” had captured and sent to Russia as prisoners of war one hundred thirty thousand Romanian soldiers.
THANKS LARGELY to Colonel Serbu, the construction of the new hospital went on. On the eighth of September, by dint of an enormous effort in which everyone joined, Spitalul Inima Reginei opened its doors to the first forty wounded.
We had heard that the Russians would not take the road through Bran, because the bridges along that route were bad, but suddenly parts of their army began arriving. Word ran before them of the way they “lived on the country” as they advanced; of their raping and stealing.
Can you think what it is like to sit waiting for brigands, knowing that you are at their mercy, that there is no law or order to which you can appeal? It is a condition which American civilization has forgotten about since the days of its frontier. Soldiers arrived on foot, in carts, on horseback, in haphazard groups. With frightening and unhuman simplicity they took what they wanted at the point of a gun, and they shot at people with that complete lack of feeling which a normal man has when he shoots at a cardboard target.
The villagers soon discovered that it was best to put at their disposal a certain amount of food and livestock: an expensive arrangement, but one that was safer in the end, even though it began the disruption of the economic system of a community which made it easier for the Party to “take over” later.
It became dangerous to go even to Bran Poarta, a part of the village of Bran, and since I could not get to Brasov at all, it was fortunate that I could keep in contact with the hospital there by telephone.
More and more serious cases were in the meantime being sent to Bran, so that a resident doctor was necessary. Finally—thanks to an inspection visit of the Commanding General, Vasiliu Rascanu—I obtained permission to have Dr. Dragomir, second surgeon from the Brasov hospital, detached permanently and assigned to Bran. We had regularly fifty or sixty patients—soldiers, factory workmen, and at one time three children who had been operated on for bone trouble in their feet. They were from a very poor quarter of Brasov, and the excellent bone specialist who operated on them asked us to take them because they needed special care. I had to put them with the soldiers, and while this worked out quite well, I realized that there must someday be a children’s ward in our hospital.
ON DECEMBER 7, 1944, the second government under General Sanatescu had fallen, and had been replaced by one under General Nicolae Radescu, an old friend of mine who had once for seven years been aide-de-camp to my mother. Acting with a heroism which makes a flash of light in the dark story of Romanian oppression, he and King Michael battled against Russian domination. But the Yalta agreement was signed on February 11, 1945, leaving Romania helpless in the hands of her Russian captors.
In February the hospital again had a visit of inspection by General Vasiliu Rascanu, who earlier had straightened out the matter of the hospital doctor for me. Rascanu announced that he was arriving at the hospital for a visit of inspection with “an important gentleman.” The inspection went well, and on the whole the General was quite pleased. The “important gentleman” did not seem particularly important. Although he was at first distant and reserved, his manners were pleasant. I soon found myself carried away with my hopes for the hospital, and I told him all my plans.
He was attentive and interested, and as the party was leaving he said to me quite seriously:
“I am—” and he pronounced a name which I did not hear distinctly—“Secretary of the Communist Party. I did not wish to come here at all; I only did so to please my friend, the General. Now I am glad I did come, for my opinion of you and of your work has changed. If—or rather when—we come to power, remember me. I will do all that I can to help you.”
I murmured my thanks, and wondered who he really was. After the visitors had gone, we spelled out his name with some difficulty from his signature in the visitors’ book: “Emil Bodnaras.”
On March 6, 1945, a Russian-dominated government was established.
“Did you see,” Dr. Dragomir asked me when the announcement was made, “did you see that the ‘important gentleman,’ Mr. Bodnaras, has a position in the new government? He seems to be the ‘Secretary General of the Presidency.’ ”
So he has come to power, I thought, but I did not give the fact much importance.
Now the persecutions began in real earnest, and in the open. The long arm of the Communist “law” reached out in every direction. Among the first to be arrested was our chief surgeon of Brasov. I was appealed to. What could I do? My own husband was virtually a prisoner and my own freedom hung on a thin thread. But the doctor had been a good man and should be saved! Suddenly I remembered Bodnaras’s promise. Well, let us see what he would do! I sat down and wrote to him.
It was like an episode in an adventure novel, for the orders to free the doctor came at the last possible moment. He was actually hauled off the train, which was to transport him who knows where, as it was leaving the Brasov station. And so that I would know who was responsible for this, I had a letter from Bodnaras telling me that he had done what I asked, and more than I had asked. He assured me that he had not forgotten my hospital, nor my vision, and that he had given the Ministry of Health orders to be of all possible assistance to me.
In this way began my connection with the Ministry of Health, which was productive of so much good and which opened so many doors that I was able to help much farther afield than I had ever dreamed of doing. So also began with Bodnaras a queer—what shall I call it? Friendship? No, for it was not that. Emil Bodnaras and I were always openly on opposite sides. We were enemies to the very core of our thoughts and ideals. Yet a mutual respect for and trust in each other’s honesty somehow bridged our detestation of each other’s worlds, a detestation deeper than hatred, which separated us like a chasm. The survival of one of us would be the death of the other. Yet, strangely enough, he never, when he could help it, let an appeal of mine go unanswered, and I made many. He told me once that my time had not much further to run, but that as long as I was there he saw I had my job to do, and he would help me do it.
“Though it is vain, you understand. Just now you are still necessary, but soon you will go!”
“But why not you?” I asked. “That too might happen!”
“Might, but won’t,” he answered calmly. Well, he has won the first round, but so long as the world stands the whole story has not yet been told!
To me his first written offer of help from the Ministry of Health seemed a wonderful opportunity to go to Bucarest and try my luck for the hospital. It was then that I met the engineer Nicholas Malaxa, who was the proprietor of the factory which, under Colonel Serbu’s direction, had built the hospital. I told him about the work going on in Bran, and of all I still hoped to be able to do. He listened attentively, and said he thought I was right in wanting to enlarge the hospital to include women and children, and that he would be happy to have the desired wing built for me!
Emboldened by this unexpected answer to an unceasing prayer, I decided to go to the Ministry of Health and see what they were willing to do. I found that, although the Minister thought himself a Communist, his organization had certainly not yet been affected; and since the Minister was a fine doctor himself, and one of our greatest brain surgeons, he did his best not to let politics hamper his work.
In spite of the good will I found at the Ministry of Health, many of the things I needed were missing from among their supplies. Because of the air raids, things had been dispersed all over the country, and wherever they had not been adequately hidden or guarded the invading Russians had helped themselves wantonly and stupidly. They had, for instance made saddles out of surgical gauze, drunk the alcohol, and found it amusing to pave the ground with tablets and capsules; yet at the same time their own patients were left without proper care so far as their dear “comrades” were concerned. One thing I could not get was abdominal surgical instruments, and I could also find nothing for electrotherapy. For these things I finally went to one of the biggest medical supply stores, which I found had been badly damaged by the bombardments. Hardly had I begun wandering around and observing the efforts being made to get things in order when I discovered that the proprietor was an old acquaintance. He let me hunt out what I needed, and then told me that he would consider it an honor if I would allow him to contribute them to a hospital established in memory of the Queen, and that he would add to my selections some things he had stored away that were unobtainable on the open market; things made of rubber, for example.
Here was another miracle! The heart of the Romanian is generous, and what made the gift still more precious to me was the fact that it was a tribute to my mother. Not everywhere was I given wholesale presents, but I left no shop without their having volunteered a contribution of some kind.
Can you understand why I so loved this hospital? It was because everything in it was a symbol of love. Behind each bit of it stood some act of kindness, some gesture of nobility, some memory dear to me; and woven through all were the hours of ordinary, essential hard work which made it truly a part of myself.
IN THE SUMMER of 1945 the building for women and children was started at the hospital. When the construction was at last finished and only the painting remained to be done, the engineer in charge of the work who was a communist announced triumphantly that there was no sum allowed for the cleaning that would have to be done before the painting and that we would have to take care of that somehow ourselves before he could do any more. Naturally we had no money to spend on hiring extra hands, so I made an appeal to my staff that they should help clean the building in their free time. Everyone volunteered, from the doctors down, and we had great fun washing the walls and scrubbing the floors. We sang and laughed and worked away gaily, and in the middle of it who should appear but our engineer, coming in, I suppose, to observe our disappointment and frustration. He was apparently surprised to hear the cheerful songs, and he asked rather pointedly where I was.
“There she is!” said someone, pointing down the passage to where, with an old dress tucked up around my waist and a red kerchief tied on my head, I was hard at work on my hands and knees, scrubbing the floor.
“Why,” he said mockingly, “I was under the illusion that you were directing this hospital, not scrubbing the floors!”
“Indeed?” I replied. “Well, I do whatever is necessary: scrub floors, operate, or interview you in my office, where I now invite you to come!”
I let down my skirt, took off the kerchief, and preceded him to the office. He followed silently and we transacted our business with as few words as possible. At the end of the interview he excused himself a little lamely.
“Yes,” I told him, “you made a mistake there. Work should never be laughed at, and today it is also extremely imprudent to do so.”
At about this time Bodnaras said he thought I should make the acquaintance of the rest of the government, and would I accept an invitation to a dinner party at his house? I thought it over and saw that it had its advantages. When I arrived at the house, there they all were! It was the first time I had met Groza, the premier, who had a cheerful manner and certainly knew how to get a party going, with his loud laugh and his far from conventionally refined jokes. There was Lucretiu Patrascanu, the Minister of Justice, and there was the small, unpleasant Theohari Gheorghescu, Minister of the Interior, who did not even pretend to be amiable.
Last, but most certainly not least, there was Ana Pauker. A big, stout woman, with short, untidy, gray hair, fierce blue eyes under lowering eyebrows, and a fascinating smile which was not spoiled by the fact that her upper lip hung over her lower one. I have always felt when I was with her that she was like a boa constrictor which has just been fed, and therefore is not going to eat you—at the moment! I could well imagine that she had denounced her own husband, who in consequence was shot; and my further acquaintance with her showed me the cold and dehumanized brilliance by which she had reached the powerful position she occupied.
On that first evening we talked but little. It was at a later time, when I was trying to ease in some way the terrible treatment of those in prison, that I conceived the plan of inviting her to dine with me and the children. Somewhat to my astonishment, she accepted. All the children were present, and as usual before sitting down to our food the youngest one said grace—and there was our atheist standing up respectfully with the rest of us. After the children had gone to bed we sat down to a most interesting talk which lasted almost three hours. At the end I was surprised and a little amused to have her say:
“Now should you dismiss me, or should I leave? I have enjoyed this charming conversation so much that I have forgotten just what the protocol is!”
It was not a conversation in which I distinguished myself, for I was no match for her brilliant array of half-truths and slightly distorted facts.
I remember asking her to explain some of the Communist principles and methods; why, for example, they used so much violence, when violence never convinced anyone.
“It is not intended to convince,” she replied calmly, “but to frighten. When one replants, one first destroys everything that grows, root and branch. It is only afterwards that one can plant successfully.”
Once for a moment I did manage to put her in a corner. We were talking of conditions in the prisons, and she assured me good-humoredly that many things were exaggerated; that actually they were not so bad as I thought. I said that I wished I could believe her.
“Why,” she said, “you could see for yourself, if you just went through one or two jails, that really it is not so bad!” I took her up promptly. “Then let us go now, at once!” I said. “I will be glad to have you show me that I am mistaken!”
She hesitated, obviously taken aback, but recovered quickly. “Oh, but, my dear,” she said smilingly, “what would people say—your people and my people—if they should see us going through the prisons together!”
We talked also of America. As I was to notice many times, the hatred of the Communists for the United States was of a deadly bitterness which exceeded their hatred for anything else. Ana Pauker, like other Communists with whom I talked, was specific about their plans in regard to this country.
She explained to me quite brilliantly and—so far as I have been able to determine from newspapers and magazines I have now read here—quite correctly, the industrial setup of the United States, and I remember that she stressed particularly its dependence on electric power. She had figures and statistics to prove that if electric power were destroyed, the entire country would be so completely disorganized that it could not possibly recover before the government was taken over by those prepared to do so. Another easy method of attack, she explained, was offered by the kind of water system on which a high percentage of the population depended, and which could be destroyed or polluted simply and easily.
Was she correct? How can anyone tell that now? Certainly the facts she presented seemed correct, and the conclusions she drew seemed at least one of the possibilities of the situation. She had, of course, left God completely out of the picture, and I cannot do that because I have seen His power.
BY THE SUMMER of 1947, an intellectual plague was slowly creeping over us. Slowly but surely Communist doctrines were being instilled into all the schools. History was being changed to suit the Party line. In one of the schools attended by my older daughters this was done quite simply and openly. The teachers collected the history textbooks and carried them to the courtyard, where they put them ceremonially on a fire around which the entire school stood in a circle. In this way the girls could clearly appreciate the lesson that the past and everything taught about it had been wrong and false, and must be destroyed.
In the same arbitrary way in which history was rewritten, many poets and writers were “purged” from our literature. They no longer existed: they had never been.
In the little village school at Bran we, too, were forced to “celebrate” all the holidays commemorating our unity, political and “cultural,” with our dear big brother Russia. There we all stood respectfully for the Russian Anthem and for the Internationale, which my children sang lustily and uncomprehendingly with the rest while I squirmed! Not too much, of course, was ever understood by these younger children. I remember one incident which is amusing enough now, but which at the time made my heart stop beating for a second. It was on the occasion of one of these Russian celebrations, when many songs and much oratory about the grand and glorious union of Romania and Russia had been produced. (The oratory was prepared by the Party, and handed to the luckless “speaker of the evening” just before he took his place on the platform; a fact which everyone soon learned, and which kept us from blaming any of the orators for the sentiments expressed.) An artificial atmosphere of cheers and smiles was kept alive under the watchful eyes of the local Communists, so that to a casual glance the event would have seemed a most joyful one. But at the end my small Magi said to me, in a too audible whisper:
“Mamma! I don’t quite understand! Are we all rejoicing because the Russians are leaving at last?”
Reported in the right place, her remark could have sent all of her family to labor camps in Russia, and I admit that I was terrified. How does a mother warn a seven-year-old daughter so that she will not innocently condemn her family to death or slavery? How can she happily choose for a fourteen-year-old son between the truth that may cost him his life and the lie that may destroy more than his body?
But even in the fall of 1947, I was astonishingly free of any premonition of the end of my life in Romania.
Christmas at Bran was a pleasant one for the children. There were the usual celebrations, and for the very last time I wore my beautiful sapphire and diamond diadem.
On the evening of December 30 I went over to a friend’s house for a cup of tea. Outside there was a blizzard, and I felt I must not stay too long or the roads would become impassable even for my “jeep.” As I drove into our courtyard, the headlights of my car fell on the white and terrified face of the caretaker.
“Domnitza!” he cried to me in anguish, “Domnitza! We have no more king! We are lost!”
I ran indoors, and found all the family sitting around the radio. There was the message. The king, seeing he could now no longer serve his people but was only an impediment to their advance, had freely abdicated and wished his people well. Slowly the room filled with the doctors, the nurses, and other friends who had heard the news. No one of us spoke for a long time. The end had come.
Later that night my administrator from Bucarest called to say that Groza wished to speak to me: would I come in to town at once? The King, he told me, was in Bucarest but was returning to Sinaia.
Early the next morning I drove off with Stefan and my secretary. It was snowing slowly and relentlessly. I parted from Anton and the younger children with a great fear in my heart, but still I felt that I had to go, for the safety of all of us. Besides, I must find Sitta and Michael and speak with them. We met little traffic on the way, and those who recognized us only bowed sadly and silently. When I came to the gate at Sinaia I found the two guards standing there, but as I looked more closely I saw that they were unarmed. I stopped and talked to an officer standing near, and with a voice choked and hoarse with emotion he explained.
“They disarmed us by force last night. We obtained permission to stand this one last guard, to welcome his Majesty for the last time. We mean to greet him this time with ‘Sa ne revenutzi, Majestate!”’—May you return to us, your Majesty!—“and then they can shoot us!”
The servants were sad and anxious. None of us talked much—what had one to say? I decided to risk a telephone call to Bucarest, and surprisingly enough, I was permitted to speak to the Queen. They were on the point of leaving. It would be best if I, too, would leave and take the road for Bucarest, so that we could meet on the way.
The snow continued to fall. Sinaia was wrapped in whiteness. There was something not quite real about it all; the whole drive was a long drawn-out nightmare of white confusion. In Campina we met the royal party, and we stopped so that I could get into Michael’s car and drive out of town, where we could more easily talk. He and Sitta told me how they had been called to Bucarest. Immediately upon their entering the palace they had been separated from their suites. Then Groza had laid the abdication before Michael, informing him that guns were trained on the city and that they would fire on the people if he refused to sign. It was as if a revolver had been held to his head: there was nothing for him to do but sign.
Now they were returning to Sinaia to pack and were being sent to Switzerland. Michael had asked about his two aunts, my sister Elisabeta and myself, and had been told that we could remain, if we wished, as private individuals. What, I asked him, did he wish me to do? He said that he thought I should try to stay, but that he could express no outright opinion because he did not want to ask me to risk my life and the lives of the children further. I should see and judge for myself.
THE MOMENT I entered Bucarest I knew I could not endure to remain under such a regime. There were the red flags, the posters with insults to my family, and—which seemed worst of all—the guards standing sloppily in their places, leaning carelessly against the palace walls smoking, with the red flag waving above them and hosannas to the Russian masters written over the walls.
Groza had asked to see me, but I was not able to reach him. His secretary told me that the Prime Minister had only wanted to assure me that I had nothing to worry about. I felt this was a little ironic under the circumstances.
I talked with Bodnaras by telephone; I told him I feared my job was over, and that it might be best for me to go away, too. He said he felt with regret that this was the right thing to do for the time being, but that he was sure conditions would settle down so that I would be able to return. He asked permission for himself and his wife to come to say good-bye to me—something which of course they did not do.
The government agreed to give us a train in which Elisabeta should travel too. We were permitted to take only personal belongings—that is to say, clothes, linen, and silver for the use of eight people—but no works of art, as these were “the property of the people,” no carpets, and no jewels except those which were indisputedly “family jewels.” A Control Commission came to watch us carefully so that we should “steal” none of our property.
In Bran I found everyone in a strained state of nerves. No packing had been permitted until I came, and the castle was still locked and sealed, but now the Communist guards opened it. I walked about the rooms, followed always by one or another of our guards, taking farewell of this beloved abode of my mother’s and mine. Each object I picked up was immediately pounced upon to see if I was “stealing” something. I tried to see myself in the past, and in this way to wipe out the horror of the present from my mind . . . I do not want to dwell on how I saw Bran for the last time.
January 7, 1948: 3:30 P.M.
A last farewell to our dear, small house; to my room with its loved pictures and comfortable bed; to the well-known tables and chairs. Good-bye, dear home, good-bye to your warmth and friendliness. I shall never see you again.
As one condemned to die I left it, knowing that this in very truth was the end. Outside my room in the narrow passage stood the weeping servants. They kissed my hands and wept as if I were already dead. I tore myself away from them and, gathering the silent and frightened children together, went with them and Anton into the courtyard. The three cars and the truck lent to us were ready to start.
The hospital staff were there to say good-bye and some of the patients with them. On the street the guards had seen to it that no one stood about or watched. I went up to each one who waited: my patients, my friends, and those with whom I had worked so hard and so well. Words failed us, but we let our tears run unshamed down our faces. I kissed each in turn, a kiss of peace, of friendship, of farewell.
The afternoon was drawing to a close. The road was still heavily blocked with snowdrifts, so that we had to make a detour through Tohan, a village of factory workmen considered entirely “Red.” Here, too, the road was partly impassable. We tried driving through the fields which the wind had swept clear of snow, but there had been a thaw. Two of the cars and the truck sank into the damp earth and we could not move them. At this hour the workmen were returning on foot from the factory not far away.
“I will go and ask them for help,” I said. The Communist guards felt this was imprudent, but I had no fear as I went over to some of the workmen and requested their help. Silently they acquiesced, and came to our rescue. With great efforts, and only after getting themselves wet and muddy, they got the cars on the solid ground again, and to a point from which we could regain the road. The work had been done efficiently and well, but in unusual silence.
“Thank you,” I said to them. “Please take this and divide it among you. I know it is little, but it is all I have.” And I held out to them what money had been left to me.
The men looked at one another, and then one stepped out from among them.
“No, Domnitza,” he said to me sorrowfully. “No, Domnitza, not today will we take a gift from you. Have you not been at our beck and call night and day? None has knocked at your door without being received. We have rendered you so small but so sad a service—see, the very earth is loath to let you go! But one request we still have of you. Will you kneel down with us and say a prayer for King and country, and for your return?”
And there in that muddy field, as the sun slowly set behind the Carpathians and filled the world with a last glow of splendor, I knelt down, joining in prayer with the factory workmen and those who till the soil. “Our Father, Who art in heaven . . .”
The sun was setting: but it rises again!