I Live Again by Ileana, Princess of Romania
ON DECEMBER 7, 1944, the second government under General Sanatescu had fallen, and had been replaced by one under General Nicolae Radescu, an old friend of mine who had once for seven years been aide-de-camp to my mother.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. Finally, the end of February, Premier Radescu boldly addressed the Romanians directly in an open and violent attack on what the Communists Ana Pauker and Vasile Luca were doing, speaking of them as people "without God, without country, and without law." But in spite of this, and of the efforts of the American Political Mission in Bucarest—which Vishinsky, Stalin's emissary; completely and insultingly ignored—the King was forced to yield to Moscow's demands. General Radescu's government was dismissed and the Premier himself was forced to take refuge in the British Military Mission headquarters to save his life. On March 6, 1945, Russia, with the tacit acquiescence of the other two Allies, imposed on Romania a Communist government, three of whose four heads were not even Romanian.
Political events had touched us but little in our valley, cut off from the outer world by the snow as we were during those winter months, until on January 5, 1945, we heard the horrifying news that all citizens of German origin were to be deported to Russia. All men between the ages of seventeen and forty-five and all women between eighteen and thirty, whether or not they had children, were to be taken at once. The protests of General Radescu's government against this decree, we heard, had been futile.
Terror struck at the hearts of all. The Russian troops came and surrounded village after village in turn, ruthlessly dragging men and women from their homes. Mothers were separated from their weeping children; husbands and sons from their wives and parents; young girls from their families. There were heartrending scenes, scenes that made one's blood boil. And one could do nothing—nothing! We all tried to help by hiding some man or woman, but the result was that then a mother or a wife would be carried off in place of the intended victim. Then at once the one in hiding came out of his own accord, for who can see a loved one taken in his stead?
Bran had many neighboring Saxon villages which had been in existence for eight hundred years; therefore, we witnessed our share of the mass kidnapings which in about three weeks sent 35,590 men and 32,748 women, crowded into unheated railway carriages in the middle of winter, to slavery in Russia. It was one of the most terrible things I have ever seen, and Mrs. Podgoreanu found these weeks more horrible than any of the other experiences she had had in the Brasov station. In one village near Bran, over eighty children were left parentless, and we were not permitted to help. They could only be collected and cared for by the old people left behind. Almost immediately it was also decreed that all Saxons were to he dispossessed of their property. Gypsies and ne'er-do-wells from the towns, who had no idea how to farm but who had eagerly embraced communism upon the assurance that it would pay them well, were put in possession of what had been the most productive farms in Romania. This, too, had disastrous later effects on the economy of the country.
In the general disturbance and fear that overshadowed the whole nation, the fact that during the fall Transylvania had been retaken from the Hungarians and declared once more a part of Romania did not bring much joy and elation to anyone. We were right to feel suspicious of the event, for the Hungarians in the province were quick to see their chance. They immediately joined the Communist Party in great numbers, and took the side of the Russians, so that they were allowed to remain in power and the Romanian people continued to be strangers in their own land. It was as if a blanket of sorrow had descended upon us all, and no matter how we tried to adapt ourselves to circumstances, the pressure was too great. Yet we struggled on, in literal truth "building up with worn-out tools," and often with no tools at all.
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. He was now, we heard, decidedly tinged with red and definitely working to gain favor with the Communist Party. In fact, because of his attack on General Radescu's government later that same month, he was to be rewarded with the position of minister of war in the Russian Communist-dominated government set up on March 6, to hold it until December, 1947, and to remain more or less in favor until the middle of 1948. After that, his usefulness evidently at an end, he was to be "purged" from the Party with other Romanians who had worked with the Russians for various reasons, and who were paid for it in typically Communist style.
In February of 1945, however, Radescu was simply commanding general of our region, and his announcement that he was arriving at the hospital for a visit of inspection with "an important gentleman" simply meant that another item had to be fitted into a busy day. The fact that he arrived late, which upset our schedule, did not add to our pleasure. Still, the inspection went well, and on the whole the General was quite pleased. The "important gentleman" did not seem particularly important. He was a civilian who looked middle-aged to me, although later I found that he was younger than I had thought. He had a strong, rugged face, intelligent but somehow ruthless. He wore his graying hair closely cropped and, 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—for a women's ward, a children's ward, a chapel, a section for outpatients, and a building for contagious diseases; all things for which a great need was already evident.
"You must have vision," I told him, "and imagine all these things growing up around you!"
He was attentive and interested, and after the official inspection was over I offered them simple refreshments in my study, where Anton joined us. The conversation flowed easily; the "important gentleman" seemed less distant, and took a greater part in it. 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." I had no way of finding out more about him, since I had no one to ask.
I am now going to digress a little to tell of an adventure, or at least to tell the part I can relate without endangering others. I do not want to put it in chronological order in this story, for fear of involving some who helped me and who may be still alive to be punished. For the same reason I can tell only a small part of what occurred. It is a story which did not end for two years, and through all my other activities during that time it wove in and out of the days and nights, and thought had to be taken for it.
It began with the coming to me of two fugitives—whom I shall call by the nicknames we gave them, "Over" and "Under." They were different only in the length of their stay from many others who had to be hidden, for of course my underground activities began with the coming of the Russians and I was trusted by many people with their lives. These two came from opposite directions, but they arrived at about the same time, and in such circumstances that it was obvious we would not be able to send them on their way out of the country immediately. As a matter of fact, we kept Over for six months, and Under for two years before he was finally sent off with false papers.
The only safe place to hide them was in the castle itself. In winter no one went there, but this also presented complications. They had to be kept warm in some way, yet no smoke must be seen coming out of any of the chimneys. A room must be chosen which could be heated by electricity, yet it must be located where no one —the caretaker, for example—would be likely to go, and at the same time it must not be where its heat would melt snow on a roof above it. Anton and I studied the problem, and finally decided on a small, out-of-the-way room, inside which we built a sort of tent which could be kept warm without affecting the roof. The electricity was turned off during the winter, but Anton put in a secret wire which luckily the caretaker never noticed.
There remained the daily problem of food and water, and to get food for two men when food was scarce, as well as to carry it secretly to the castle, was no easy matter. Anton, Frau Koller, and I took it in turns to get the food to them, but it was my job to provide it. I did such things as inventing a poor, ill woman in the village to whom I wanted to send cooked food daily, and instructing the kitchen to provide it. Since everyone in my household knew everyone in the village, this did not work too well in my own kitchen, but it did succeed fairly well in the hospital, where the cook was a stranger to Bran. When there were heavy falls of snow it was also difficult, since not only was it heavy 'going to climb to the castle, but new footprints were hard to explain. The problems of "summer residence" were different but no less worrying, for there were many more people moving about the village and the castle.
All this provided us with plenty of excitement and thrills, especially since there were heavy penalties—usually death—for hiding any fugitives. I do not know to what extent the underground that had operated against the alliance with Nazi Germany carried over, but I do know that when I was first brought in touch with the underground against the Russians it was somewhat unorganized, and had not learned very well how to hide. At best, under Soviet law and police, it is a hard matter to set it up and keep it going. Over and Under provided us with examples of almost every possible difficulty in their long stay with us. There were plenty of incidents, both tragic and funny, but there was plenty of drudgery as well; something which seems rarely thought about in novels of adventure.
Perhaps one of the most dangerous periods of their stay was when Under developed a tumor on his breast which we thought might be cancerous. Its growth was rapid, and although we hoped it might be benign, an operation was the only way to make certain. I decided to entrust a certain doctor with the secret, and to ask for his help, and with real courage he consented to give it. Between us, we arranged that another operation requiring the services of a specialist should be scheduled at my hospital—something which happened often enough to make it entirely reasonable—and for this one we selected a specialist whom we knew could be trusted. When we confided in him, he also proved brave enough to risk his life. We smuggled out of the hospital the necessary sterile towels, dressings, and instruments, and Anton got them safely into the castle.
We had made an ostentatious preparation for asking the visiting surgeons to spend the night in Bran and "rest" before returning to their own homes. Separately, in the middle of a winter night, the two of them and Anton and I made our way into the castle, where Anton had chosen a room that could most safely be heated and prepared. There upon an improvised table the patient was placed, and Anton held him down while I gave the anesthetic, which was ether. (This proved a terrible bother to us later, by the way, for it is an odor which is almost impossible to get rid of for a long time.) While being put to sleep and while waking up, Under spouted endless reams of poetry to us, which gave a slightly hilarious touch to an otherwise mysterious and rather gruesome scene. The operation was successful, and it turned out that the tumor was benign—after a complicated and secret arrangement for sending the tissue for examination under the name of a legitimate patient in the hospital. In the meantime, however, I had great trouble in washing the soiled linen, for I had to get it all out of the way before morning, and bloodstains require soaking. It was also nerve racking to smuggle all the things back into the hospital, and when it was over I felt that I, for one, could be satisfied with a less exciting life if opportunity ever offered it.
Under had another adventure some time after Over had been sent on his way. This occurred during warm weather, when we were moving up to the castle for the summer. It was necessary for him to leave his indoor hiding place while the castle was being cleaned and made ready and until we were in residence and could hide him more safely. Anton and Stefan made him a "dugout" in the woods not far from the castle, but in a place where no one was ever known to go. They did this most expertly, and replaced turf and bushes so that nothing could be seen from the outside, although in his cave Under had plenty of room to lie down quite comfortably, and even to move about. He was enchanted with his new "palace," and we left him there fairly sure that all would be well, a conviction that was rudely shattered by—of all people—the village idiot.
This personage had gone for a stroll in the woods, his gaze lost among the upper branches of the trees, when suddenly the ground gave way beneath him and he found himself sitting in a hole staring at a man who was stretched out comfortably underground reading a book cozily enough by lamplight. As soon as he recovered his breath he uttered a yell of terror, climbed frantically out of the hole, and went tearing off downhill through the woods. Most fortunately for us all, the first person he met was Anton.
"Archduke! Archduke!" he wailed. "Necuratul—the unclean one; the devil—is in the forest! I fell in on him! He was under the ground reading a book!"
Realizing what must have happened, Anton assured him that he knew all about it and was taking care of it, and that if the idiot would go home and tell no one what he had seen, his soul would undoubtedly be safe. Happily he did not talk about it to anyone else, which showed how truly terrified he was; but actually his fear was nothing compared to that of poor Under! He simply disappeared, and it was some time before Anton found him and could devise another hiding place for him.
As I have indicated, the Communist Party early in 1945 began coming out into the open, agitating strikes and putting on "manifestations" which were protected and sustained by the Russian troops. This led to the speech by General Radescu which I have mentioned, and which made him a great hero to the nation. He had voiced what we all felt, and was therefore in great danger from the new masters of our country. During the time he was in the British Legation, and the months he was a "protected" prisoner, we all felt anxious about him, and when his escape was arranged over a year later we breathed more easily. We felt that with his safe arrival in Cyprus, and later in the United States, a spokesman for Romanian freedom was abroad to represent those of us behind an Iron Curtain. I was deeply proud of my old friend, whom I was able to visit secretly during his imprisonment. I had known him since I was a little girl, shortly after he had won Romania's highest award during World War I. With most people he was so silent and quiet as to have a reputation for being rather taciturn, but he had always been willing to talk to me. Now he had talked to the world, frankly attacking Ana Pauker and her colleagues, and it heartened us all. Even though it did not change the plans of the Communists, it at least openly challenged them.
With the establishment of a Russian-dominated government on March 6, 1945, Petru Groza, an opportunist and a windbag for others to work behind, was declared premier.
"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,' or at least I think it is he." Once more we consulted the guestbook and compared names. Yes, they were the same.
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 the Z.I. 161. A petition was immediately set up to have him freed, and was signed by the entire hospital, including the Tudor Vladimirescu, but it had no effect. With what to my mind was an absurd, pathetic, and entirely misplaced confidence, 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. So! I thought. Evidently he actually is a man of power, and he keeps his word.
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. Perhaps it was because my appeals were always impersonal so far as my own interest was concerned. Perhaps it was because he also had ideals, although these were false according to my way of thinking, and had suffered for them; therefore, he respected my willingness to suffer for mine—for he inevitably came to know that I dared much, and dared again whenever it was asked of me. 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. The first question, of course, was where to stay; and here one of my mother's oldest friends stepped forward and offered me her home. She was a charming person who lived simply and quietly, and everything she had was put lovingly at my disposal. I shall never forget her welcome, nor the fact that I was able to go to her at any time without previous notice, something which was always a convenience, and often later was a serious necessity, for the telephone was a far from private instrument to use, and as time went on there were occasions when I needed to travel without announcing the fact.
—I remember that one day I was so tired I allowed myself to become exasperated when I heard the little noise that meant my telephone conversation was being listened to and taken down. "Do you have your pencil and paper ready?" I inquired sarcastically. "Is it convenient for you that I begin speaking now? You must let me know if I go too fast!" There was a small, smothered gasp, and then only dignified silence!—
In return for the kindness of my hostess, I could bring her delicacies from the country; especially meat, which in Bucarest was very difficult to get. I found great comfort in my flying visits to her, and we talked over many plans and hopes. It was while staying with her that I met the engineer Nicholas Malaxa, who was the proprietor of the factory which, under Colonel Serbu's direction, had built the hospital. He was a strange man, who liked to surround himself with a sort of somber mystery in his enormous house, but once one had got through all his noiseless, sliding doors, this great industrialist was most pleasant, and reminded me of his sister, who had been my mathematics teacher. 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! He would give the necessary orders, and when next I came to Bucarest we could go over the plans. In the meantime, he said, he would like to offer me a sum of money to get what I felt was most urgently needed for the hospital. For a minute I could hardly find words for my gratitude. My small staff and I had worked so hard to stretch our little resources over so many needs; there were such great anxieties and difficulties caused by the Russian occupation; we were constantly faced with so many situations our little hospital could not take care of adequately! To get such help seemed truly a miracle.
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 before spending any of this precious money. 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. Unfortunately, he himself was a very ill man, but after his death from cancer of the lungs—which he had himself diagnosed—his work was carried on by his wife, also an able doctor.
Once again I found that the years when I had been working and growing up with my country now made my opportunities for service greater and more far-reaching. Among the people I would have to work most closely with was a man whose wife had been a Girl Scout of mine; another Scout held an influential position in still a different department—and so it went on. At the head of one bureau, I found, was the aunt of one of the wounded Romanian officers I had known in Vienna. All this meant that I needed to waste no time convincing people of the seriousness of my purpose and of the fact that I had sufficient training and experience to carry it out. Even when later an old and convinced Communist was put in charge of the ministry, I found that he, too, was first of all a doctor, and one whose special interest was preventive medicine. Unfortunately, this was an aspect of the profession which had few followers in Romania, but I was one of them, and we thus met on the ground of a common purpose.
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 had been the apothecary on one of the hospital trains that came to Vienna. 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! I was getting almost all I needed, and the sum from Mr. Malaxa was still untouched! 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. Eventually I did find something on which to spend my money: thick materials to make gowns for the patients in cold weather. Also I got a quartz lamp and a short-wave diathermy set, as well as some rare surgical instruments for kidney operations. Not everywhere was I given wholesale presents, but I left no shop without their having volunteered a contribution of some kind. This would have been remarkable at any time, but now when these supplies were irreplaceable, and really beyond price, it was truly miraculous.
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. (Once someone asked me how I had got "all that" done. "With my feet!" I replied. And this in many ways is true, for things do not drop into one's lap. One has to go and find them.)
This time my return to Bran from Bucarest was a triumphant one. I had gone there and back safely, and I had come home not only with my hands filled, but with many of my hopes for the future suddenly turned into immediate possibilities. I discovered that there was a second unused barracks at the Malaxa factory which could be used to make my maternity and children's ward, and I still had one of the old ones General Tataranu had given me. This, when moved and arranged somewhat differently inside, could be used as a storeroom.
Another wonderful thing was that there were things to be stored for the coming winter, in spite of the scarcities. I myself owned a little farm outside Brasov, and now I heard that two of my friends of the fire brigade were in great danger of losing their own farm. They were of German origin, and only the husband's position as an officer in the army had protected them up to this point. Therefore I bought the place from them, keeping them on as administrators on a percentage basis, and giving my share of their crops to the hospital. In this way a part of our food supply was independent and uncontrolled. This fact, and the fact that we had more than we could use for the hospital, meant that I could help provide food for those of the underground hidden in the mountains and for families of those designated by the Russians as "war criminals"; a term which, as I have already explained, could be applied to everyone in the country if our captors chose. Many of these families were dispossessed, and were forbidden to get work, so that those who did not starve must depend on the generosity—and ingenuity—of others.
Naturally these activities on the part of the hospital did not come about all at once, but developed one step at a time as conditions in Romania grew worse, a process which went steadily and inexorably on.