I Live Again by Ileana, Princess of Romania
THE SUMMER of 1945 brought the political situation in Ro mania to another climax, which for a time made us hopeful that help might be given us by the other two Allies. Great Britain and the United States had refused to recognize the Communist-imposed Groza government, which had been put into office on March 6. The Potsdam Conference during the last of July and the first of August called, among other things, for having a "recognized democratic government" in Romania, and shortly afterwards President Truman, speaking over the Voice of America, reaffirmed this, and added that "Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary . . . are not to be the spheres of influence of any one power." The next day the British Foreign Minister, Mr. Bevin, followed this up by stating that he did not believe the Romanian government represented a majority in the country; that he believed "one kind of totalitarianism was being replaced by another."
After these public recognitions and condemnations of the kind of government that had been imposed on the Romanians, the representatives of the United States and Great Britain serving on the Allied Control Commission in Bucarest said in a note to King Michael that their governments refused to recognize the Groza government; that they could neither re-establish diplomatic relations with it nor invite it to the peace conference in Paris. King Michael, therefore, felt that he would have the support of those nations in establishing a more representative government in Ro mania, and he requested Premier Groza to resign. Groza, after an appeal to Russia and a promise of her support, refused to do this. There followed a difficult period during which King Michael declined to see any representatives of the government he had asked to resign, and during which this same government, aided by Russian force, continued to carry on the business of the country. Papers without the King's signature were legally invalid, but it was soon evident that anyone who refused to accept government decrees and documents simply because they were legally invalid got into serious trouble.
It was a time of a most difficult impasse, which Russia used for her own advantage. In return for Stalin's support of the Communist government under Groza, many additional concessions were made to Russia by this government, and Romania's future was loaded with still more chains of hopeless slavery. It is no doubt too early to know exactly the motives from which the Allies acted. Perhaps they felt that Russia would back down before sheer force of words, for certainly no one in either England or America felt enthusiastic about actually going to war with Russia over what she was doing in Europe. Too little was known by the general public in both countries about the real purposes of Russia, and the futility of "appeasement" policies.
August, September, and October passed. The Romanian people waited, enthusiastically loyal to their king but with no way to take over authority. The Romanian army also waited, loyal to their royal head but helpless in the face of the well-armed and ruthlessly poised Russian forces occupying their country.
On November .8 came the name day of King Michael, on which his birthday also was celebrated. Usually there were no great festivities for this occasion, but people went to sign their names in the visitors' register at the palace, and a Te Deum was sung at the Patriarhie—the church where the Patriarch, who is the head of the Romanian Orthodox Church, resides and carries on the church government. This year any observance of the day was discouraged by the government, but the opportunity for a public demonstration of loyalty was not surrendered by the people. Al though the King was in Sinaia, they went in throngs to the palace in Bucarest, carrying flags and singing the National Anthem; men and women, old people and children crowding the square. Russian trucks full of armed soldiers drove up to disperse the crowd. The people, in the face of the bullets, by simple force of numbers over turned the trucks and set fire to them. Larger forces had to be brought in, and literally hundreds of the people were beaten savagely and dragged off to arrest before the crowd could be broken up. Perhaps there are few peoples who have allowed them selves to be shot in order to wish their king a happy birthday!
It was a moving demonstration, but it had the powerlessness of a man attacking a machine gun with only his fists to help him. The Communists tried to minimize it by hastily announcing that "Fascists and capitalists" had shot and killed the "poor, unarmed workmen." They quickly collected as many of the bodies of the dead as possible, taking them away from their protesting and un willing families, and put on a tremendous funeral procession for these "victims" of the "Fascists"; a procession which deceived no one except those outside the country who read and believed the news dispatches. A special mass grave was dug in one of the big public parks which has in itself been made to follow the Party line.—It was originally Parcul Jianu, named for a Romanian hero, but under the Communist government it was rechristened "Tito Park." Since Tito's fall from grace, I hear that it has again been renamed. Now it is "Stalin Park."—
Following this demonstration of loyalty to the King, increasing pressure was put on Romania by Russia and her imposed Communist government. Finally, at the Allied Conference in Moscow in December, the King was advised to accept a "compromise," which was largely a matter of adding one minister without port folio from each of the other two political parties to the Groza government. Since these two parties actually represented the vast majority of the Romanian people, and since the position of the two ministers was obviously a "figurehead" one, this amounted to forcing the King to accept a situation he had previously been encouraged to repudiate. If it had not been for the great love and respect felt by the people for their king, his prestige would have suffered seriously. As it was, the action served to discredit the other two Allies in Romanian opinion, for it had been made clear that they would not seriously oppose Russian actions.
The entire lack of power of these two added ministers was brought to my attention later, when I was appealed to for help needed by the National Peasant Party—one of those thus "represented." To my great joy I was able to aid one of Mr. Maniu's favorite nephews, by working through an acquaintance I must not now identify but who used my name and went directly to the Russians. It is the only time I agreed to this being done, but the circumstances were special ones, and I am glad that it was a successful effort.
During that same fall of 1945 my own difficulties again be came great with the recurring problem of the children's schools. The three eldest all needed work more advanced than they could get in the village school. The Catholic Sisters of St. Mary in Bucarest offered to take Minola and Alexandra. They had for many years conducted one of the best high schools for girls in the country, and my family had a close connection with them because my great-uncle, King Carol I, had helped them start their community. I was deeply touched by their offer, and I accepted it without asking anyone else about it. No trouble for any of us was caused by this.
The problem was not so easily solved for Stefan. He had passed his examinations successfully for the previous year, but there was no doubt that he was getting insufficient instruction because of the informal and irregular teaching that had been the best thing we could manage the year before. In Predeal, in the mountains above us, there was a famous military school which gave by far the best and most democratic education in the country, and which had been founded by Nicolae Filipescu when he was minister of war under my great-uncle. The fundamental purpose of the school was to train peasant boys of outstanding ability for officership, but there were a small number of places open for boys of other classes as well. I asked a former aide-de-camp, who was on the Board of Trustees, if there was any possibility of getting Stefan into the school, and he promised to see what could be done.
My joy was great when he told me that everything had been arranged, and that if Stefan could pass the examination there was no reason why he should not be enrolled. I realized that the whole matter was very delicate, for I was still not supposed to communicate with or to see the King. I felt it was best to have no direct contact myself with the Ministry of War, on which the school depended, because of the equivocal political situation that had existed ever since March 6, when a Communist government had been imposed upon us. This time was, of course, at the very beginning of the months when the King ignored the government and the government, supported by Russia, ignored the King; but I was not at all aware of what the situation really was. Having discovered that asking too many questions usually resulted in everyone's saying "No" because he was afraid to assume any responsibility, I decided to ask no questions at all, but to accept the trustee's statement at its face value. Stefan left for Predeal, accompanied by Bittermann because I was at the time ill in bed—something which proved to be very lucky for me.
Stefan was received in person by Vasiliu Rascanu, now minister of war, and a great fuss was made over him; something which we did not want, naturally, and which put me in the false position of being friendly with a government discredited by Michael, who was not only my nephew but also my king. I still did not under stand what had been done to me, even when I heard of the public reception, When I heard Rascanu had announced that the King had given his consent to Stefan's enrolling in the school, I was delighted and immediately wrote to thank Michael. It then developed that Michael had known nothing about it at all, and he was very angry at the way the situation had been used as a political weapon. I was ordered to remove my son from- the school.
This, I felt, was both unfair and unwise. I had acted in an orderly way, and it was neither my fault nor Stefan's that others had used a harmless request as a political football. It seemed to me, as it had from the beginning, a dreadful thing that the grandson of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie should be refused an education in their country, and I even felt that my own work for Romania deserved the favor of permitting my children to attend school. I went to Bucarest to try to see the King, but I was told that it was not possible for me to be received. My friend of the year before, General Aldea, who still had access to the King, pleaded my cause; but—politics being what they are—he was told that I had put myself hopelessly in the wrong, and whether it was through ignorance or not made no difference. Stefan would have to leave the school in which he had immediately felt happy and at home. I was informed that on the following weekend I must take him away.
I hoped and prayed that something might intervene, but the week passed uneventfully. On Friday night I made one more desperate prayer, and then went to bed, but not to sleep. Finally I said, "Thy Will be done. If it is right for Stefan to remain, then he will remain. If not, he will have to go." Suddenly I felt at peace, and I slept. On Saturday morning I awoke to a tremendous fall of snow, unexpectedly early in the season. The drifts were waist deep; not even a sledge could be moved. For me the answer was clear. Stefan could not come home, and I felt that I had been granted a miracle.
I used the respite given me by the snow to insist with fresh courage and more strongly that the King receive me. He finally agreed to do this, but I was not able to see him until shortly before Christmas because the roads remained impassable. Even by that time I had quite a struggle to get to Bucarest, and Stefan had to come home from school on skis for the holidays. It was a joy to see Sitta and Michael again and to feel once more the warm comfort of one another's company. We talked everything out, and I could then understand how terrible their position had been. They, too, then realized that, cut off from every contact with them as I had been, I had had little idea of the intrigues that had been going on, or of how I was being misrepresented to them. It was not the first action of mine that had been used in this way, but at last those who wished to separate us for their own purposes had gone too far. They had defeated their own end by making me feel sufficiently desperate to insist upon seeing Michael, and we were together again in fact, as we had always been in mind and affection. We were now able to see one another almost normally, which was a great comfort to me; and I was able with time to be of service to them, to my great joy.
The winter of 1945-46 also presented new problems at the hospital. The epidemic of typhus which I have mentioned hit the hospital hard, and I found myself with nearly all the staff down with it, including Dr. Puscariu and Badillo. The worst difficulty was to get someone to nurse them, because there were on duty only two nurses besides me, and I was recovering from a slight operation, as well as having to cope with the difficulties in regard to Stefan's school. Happily Frau Koller and Gretl could step in to help, and since all the nurses were not equally ill, and were not stricken at the same time, they could also help one another. The military hospital sent me a doctor, who was pleasant even though he had not had much experience, and we also refused to take any new patients for the time being, so that we could get a chance to locate the cause of the epidemic and to disinfect everything.
In spite of all this, we kept the Christmas festivities as well as we could for our own family and our patients. I even went so far as to put on all my finery, which seemed to please everyone very much indeed. In fact, Badillo, who was the most seriously ill of all, told me later that it was the one clear and happy picture he had of those difficult days. Dr. Puscariu had been taken to a hospital in Brasov, for he developed phlebitis in the leg. I had to make the journey to Bucarest to get him the necessary medicine, and it was a terrible one because of the snow, but I did get back with the medicine in time. One of the nurses in Bran—not to be outdone by the doctor, we told her!—then developed phlebitis in her arm; a rare occurrence which gave us much worry for a few days, and which she got over by a miracle, we felt.
When at last everyone crawled back to health and we could again begin normal work, I was more than thankful. The last to return was Dr. Puscariu, although at least we were able to bring him back to his own home for his convalescence. The military doctor had returned to Brasov, so that Badillo and I ran the hospital as best we could between us, visiting our chief daily to tell him all that went on and to ask for his instructions. I remember those visits with especial pleasure. We really got to know him, and we were enchanted with his wit and intelligence. Badillo, being young, developed a fine case of hero worship, and later when he discovered his idol had feet of clay, as so often happens, his grief was great. I had fewer illusions about people, but I still enjoyed this intelligent man greatly and learned much from him.
It was during the time Dr. Puscariu was convalescing that a woman in labor came to us. The midwife had found that it would be quite impossible for her to give birth naturally, as she was very narrow and not at all young, and this was her first child. She must have a Caesarean. I had assisted at a Caesarean but Badillo had only watched one. Did we dare do it? Then I remembered there was a woman gynecologist spending her vacation in a valley village not too far off. We were much relieved. We could get her and she could operate.
She was delighted to come, and gave us good advice all the way from her house to the hospital. In fact, by the time we got there she had reorganized the whole place, moved into it, and turned it into a first-class maternity hospital with herself at the head. When I mentioned that the hospital really was already organized and had a head, she waved this aside as quite unimportant and assured me smugly that she stood well with the regime in Bucarest! Badillo and I looked at each other, divided between indignation and amusement. Once in the hospital, our doctor looked the woman over and after many important-seeming and time-consuming examinations announced that a Caesarean would be necessary. Then she told us calmly that she had never operated; Badillo would have to do it, she would assist, and I could attend to the instruments. Again Badillo and I looked at each other grimly and settled the question between us. She could give her name as operating, but we would do the actual work.
To save her face she agreed, but she carried on the ruse by washing up and pretending to assist. She finally got into our way so much by ordering me about, telling me how to set up the instrument table, and in general making a nuisance of herself that I did what I rarely allowed myself to do. I got on my royal high horse, as it were: firmly put her in her place; shoved her gently but decisively aside, and set to work. It was comforting and flattering that the patient's confidence was entirely in me, and she took the anesthetic calmly. Badillo and I managed well between us, the child was safely delivered, and all was well with the mother. Need I tell you that we were relieved and glad, and also not a little proud?
The lady doctor departed less pleased, and never ceased trying to get a footing in the hospital by using her influence in Bucarest, but happily she did not succeed. What made it difficult for me was that she was the wife of a man who had been kind to us, and we did not like to hurt his feelings. It was with some trepidation that we made our daily visit to Puscariu and told him what we had done. He did not scold at all, but instead commended our courage and initiative and said that having a registered doctor present saved us before the law. The experience gave Badillo and me more confidence in ourselves, and Puscariu seemed pleased that he had found two good pupils. He proposed that later in the year we might try to arrange a visit to the University of Cluj to visit the clinics there. Of course, we looked forward to this, and it was a most interesting experience, but it is one of those things which belong in another story.
As soon as the weather permitted, the new wing was energetically started again. It was not too easy. Mr. Malaxa had left the country for the United States, the factory was constantly changing directors, and the engineers were more interested in their own profits than in the hospital. This class of people were affected to a greater extent by the Communist regime than the workmen them selves, who seemed to remain much more conscientious and willing. On one occasion only did I have any difficulty with a workman, and he was a patient who I am sure had been "worked up" to find fault with the hospital in order to make an opening for those who would have liked to take it over "so that it might serve the interests of the people"! In fairness I must say that those who wished to do this, and those who were affected by Party propaganda, were the discontented and incompetent "small fry," who had been passed over in their own professions because they were mediocre and were now looking for opportunities to show their devotion to the regime so that they could profit by it. They seemed to feel also that in this way they might "get even" with a world which had not rewarded their lack of ability. The higher authorities never listened to them, so far as the hospital was concerned, and did not uphold their efforts to harm the work I was doing, but it was not always easy to find time to deal with the difficulties they some times introduced into our daily program.
One instance like this occurred when the construction was at last finished and only the painting remained to be done. The engineer in charge of the work 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, 1 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."
On another day we had a visit from the new head of the social insurance. He was an ordinary workman, a Communist, but I do believe an honest soul who thought he could do something for his fellow workmen. He arrived decidedly the worse for a few glasses of wine, and full also of the jargon of the Party. He greeted me offhandedly, reeled a little unsteadily ahead of me into my office, and sat down at my desk to interview me. Inwardly amused, and remembering Shaw's "Apple Cart," I asked him if I, too, could sit down. To my great delight he immediately answered, just as does the man in the play:
"Oh, don't stand on ceremony with me!"
An inspection of the hospital followed, during which one could see him visibly rearranging his conception of how the "bloodsucking royalty" lived. In the end, he took hold of the collar of my uniform and, giving me a vigorous and affectionate shake back and forth, assured me that in spite of my being a princess I was quite a decent person, and my work deserved sup port! Actually the man was really full of good intentions, and when sober he had plenty of good common sense. He repeated his visit several times, and we became good friends. He felt that I was interested in seeing that the workmen got back in benefits more of the money they had paid in for years in compulsory insurance, as of course I was. They had never really got back a fair amount. What was paid me for their care actually covered only the food, leaving nothing for medical supplies, nursing, or operations, as the records plainly showed, and many hospitals were not able or did not wish to make this up from other funds, as I did. The "graft" in the compulsory system of social insurance was one of the things that even the strongest anti-Communist believed would be corrected by this party with its avowed purpose to help the worker. Of course, nothing of the sort was done, and abuses were simply increased by the party for its own benefit. This was discouraging to everyone, but it was terribly disillusioning to those who had honestly believed that communism had any good intentions what ever.
My poor inspector became more and more saddened by the way things were going and confided many of the details to me. He told me how the administration of the insurance, instead of being simplified so that the money really would go for the care of the patients, was constantly being made more involved. More and more "spongers" were being put in all the time.
"It is not being run to the advantage of the poor or the work men at all," he said sadly. "I cannot understand it; I really cannot! And I have lived for this day!"
I felt sorry for him, but he was only one of a number of people—several of them highly placed—who had been deceived in the purposes of the Communist Party. I know of many whose hearts were almost literally broken by their disillusionment as time went on, and whose deaths were due to nothing else than their realization that they had been deceived into betraying their country. As for our inspector, since he was a simple man and did not understand the intricacies of administration, he was eventually removed on the plea of his incompetence and a less honest and more pliable person was put in his place. This new man was a good bookkeeper, and since he had been installed ostensibly as the "people's" representative, they could not protest against his dishonesty without being told:
"But you put him in yourselves! He is your representative!"
This is one of the Communist methods of getting things into their power. An institution is put into the hands of the "people" themselves. Then, as events prove they naturally cannot manage a complicated post for which they have not been trained, a real Party member, dishonest and ruthless, is put in. Any protest is sabotage against the state, which is presented as being something which expresses the will of the "people" themselves. Eventually, to their entire bewilderment, the workers find they have become enslaved to something which they are told is their own will and they do not know how to disentangle themselves. When you discuss this with a Party member who is "high up" in communism, he tells you glibly that "the individual must be sacrificed to the interests of society," What I wanted to know, and never succeeded in finding out, was: When does the individual become a part of that society which profits by all this sacrifice? For if there were some definite period of probation, or apprenticeship, after which one could be sure of being admitted into the inner circle and getting some of the mythical benefits this sacrifice produces, I am sure everyone would be more spontaneously willing to leave his home at a moment's notice with what he can carry in his hand, or to crowd strangers into it and sacrifice his privacy—to mention only a few items which the individual contributes to "society." However, there never seems any answer to my question, as I have said.
Instead, "privacy" is labeled as one of those perverted "bourgeois" notions fostered by "Fascists." In Romania about this time the word "Fascist" began to be bandied about in the most incongruous way to denote anything not Communist. I once read in the same article references to "Anglo-Hitlerists" and "Monarcho-Fascists," among other strange creatures, all mentioned in the Scanteia, a leading Communist paper. Phrases like this were supposed to be swallowed whole by the faithful, but the desired result was not always attained because Romanians tend to be mercilessly critical and mocking toward anything that is not intellectually irrefutable. In the past we used to consider this "taking to pieces" of every thing a destructive element in the Romanian mentality. Someone once said, "Romania is the only country where success has no success!" But at this moment such a critical attitude stood us in good stead, for the wholesale propaganda did not go down as quickly as the Russians evidently expected. People were not impressed inwardly, even when they had to conform outwardly.
I remember the time the hospital was visited by Apararea Patriotica—The Patriotic Defense—which was one of the leading Communist associations. I found them in the wards distributing small gifts, and since I was busy and did not pay much attention to their remarks, I made the amusing mistake of thinking they had said they were from the Civil Defense. It was only at the end that I grasped who they were, when they said they would like to come again with a play and songs which would enlighten my poor patients with the truth. I thanked them politely, but showed them that we really had no space for a stage or such things, and said vaguely that perhaps later on something could be arranged.
A few days afterwards when I came into the wards in the morning I was not greeted by the usual "Satraiti, domnitza!" Instead, everyone who could walk about was doing so in a vague and groping manner, as if he were in a fog; and the bed patients were rubbing their eyes and shading them with their hands while they peered at me as if they had suddenly lost their eyesight. I realized a joke was intended, but I could not understand what it was, so after I had laughed as I was supposed to do, I asked what they were about.
"What?" they said in mock surprise. "Do you not know that this is a house full of darkness, and that you are preventing any light from reaching us?" I still did not understand. "Aha!" they said. "That comes of not reading the papers!" And they showed me an article in the Scanteia, telling of the visit with which we had been honored, and ending with the accusation that I had re fused to let my poor, downtrodden, unhappy patients be told of all the lovely things in store for them in the brave new world.
"Or is this great lady"—the article ended—"afraid that light might penetrate into this house of darkness and show her up?"
The bombastic words had tickled the sense of humor of my "poor, downtrodden, unhappy patients," and the joke was good for quite a while. They knew it was not true, and they laughed. I laughed too, but today I think it less funny. Today I know that this is the only kind of literature one is permitted to read, and that the young people who have nothing with which to compare it will not only be deceived by the content of such articles but will not know how poorly written they are by purely literary standards. The whole level of culture and education is being lowered, in addition to the corruption of ideas that is going on, and one wonders how long there will be any people left who know this, and who dare to show it.
In Brasov when posters everywhere urged that people "buy and spread abroad" the Scanteia, the public quite spontaneously reacted by buying it in quantities and "spreading it abroad" by tearing it up in small pieces and throwing it all over the place. Even in Bucarest, with the machine guns of the Russians uncomfortably in evidence, the compelled and policed "spontaneous" parades and demonstrations of the workmen were always getting into difficulties. The tired, irritated workers, anxious to get home to supper, shouted witty and unrefined remarks about the Party members whose portraits they were carrying as posters, or used these banners for quite rude and disrespectful purposes. More than once I was recognized by some of the annoyed marchers, who stopped the procession to inquire cheerfully how my children were getting along, or to ask me the names of the Russian Communist "heroes" whose pictures they were carrying, and to comment in a free and uncomplimentary fashion on the appearance and probable ancestry of the gentlemen in question! I always got away as quickly as possible, for fear of getting them into trouble with the Russians, and as I left I would be divided between pleasure at finding that they were not really deceived by our captors and anxiety for the economic condition of the country—for of course all these parades and demonstrations are during working hours, and are paid for by the employer; something which tends to disrupt production.
The "less than one thousand" membership in the Communist Party when a Communist government was imposed on Romania was a true reflection of the Romanian attitude toward communism, and I am not speaking of the upper classes alone, but of the back bone of the country: the peasant and the middle class.