"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 in the United States, where people are kind. Around me is peace, content; so much to look back on, so much to be grateful for, so much to look forward to… The sun was setting, but it rises again."
In spite of crippling arthritis, Ileana drives expertly, although she narrowly averted an accident on the day when Sandi's white mice, which had been gone for days, suddenly showed up in the car. As they are away at school during week, children now have no pets.
Herzi shops with mother. Her Christmas gift to Ileana was shiny metal object, "because it is so beautiful, but I don't know what it is." Gift was a gadget designed to crush ice cubes.
I Live Again - Conclusion
AUGUST came, with news ever more frightening; the Russian offensive had started like a tidal wave. The twenty-third of August, 1944, we turned the radio on, to hear that the King had informed the people an armistice had been agreed upon. Soon we heard his quiet voice giving the news; I listened with mixed feelings. Receive the Russian army with confidence? In what? I wondered.
Can you think what it is like to sit waiting for brigands, knowing you are at their mercy; 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 your frontier. The Soviet army was not like anything since Genghis Khan's Tartar hordes; soldiers arrived on foot, in carts, on horseback, in haphazard groups, all armed to the teeth. They took what they wanted and shot people with the complete lack of feeling a normal man has when he shoots at a cardboard target.
There were heavy penalties—usually death—for hiding any fugitives. Underground activities began with the coming of the Russians, and I was trusted by many people with their lives. 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"; dispossessed, and forbidden to work, those who did not starve must depend on the generosity—and ingenuity—of others.
At about this time I met 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, she was like a boa constrictor which has just been fed, and therefore is not going to eat you—at the moment! 1 could well imagine that she had denounced her own husband, who in consequence was shot; further acquaintance showed me the cold and dehumanized brilliance by which she had reached the powerful position she occupied.
She was quite frank about the reason for their treatment of the people. She said that it was not possible, unfortunately, to destroy a whole generation and have only the young left to train. A certain amount of physical work had to be done. It was not necessary to have any regard for human life. There would be enough of the "expendable" generation, too old to train, for purposes of labor, no matter how prodigally they were used and destroyed.
She told me of her imprisonments, amounting to nine years in all.
"And did you change?" I asked her.
"No," she said. "We are not seeking to change people in prison. We are only getting evil out of the way."
"But why not kill outright those whom you intend to punish most severely?" I asked her.
Again there was the feeling of utter, ruthless, impersonal inhumanity. "Simple death would be too easy," she said. "And it would not frighten the others sufficiently."
We talked also of America. The hatred of the communists for the United States exceeded their hatred for anything else. Ana Pauker was very specific about their plans in regard to this country. She explained quite brilliantly—and, so far as I have been able to determine, quite correctly—the industrial setup of the United States, particularly its dependence on electric power. She had figures to prove that if electric power were destroyed, the 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 method of attack was in the water system, which could be destroyed or polluted easily. Food distribution could be disarranged by only slight effort, and completely destroyed by a little more. Experiments along this line had already been carried out. Strategic strikes might make atomic bombs unnecessary, but a few properly placed bombs would do the work if that seemed better. She explained casually just why this was impossible in Russia, where an entirely different organization was in operation.
WAS she correct? How can anyone tell that now! She had, of course, left God completely out of the picture, and I cannot do this because I have seen His power. Yet I do not think it is in accordance with His will that we trust in our own ignorance to protect us. I have seen Nazism take over one country, and communism another. This perhaps makes me more conscious of the need of intelligent defense against them.
An intellectual plague was creeping over us, far more serious than the epidemic of typhoid. Slowly but surely communist doctrines were being instilled into the schools. History was being changed to suit the party line.
In the little village school at Bran we, too, were forced to "celebrate" all the holidays commemorating our unity with our dear big brother, Russia. Not too much, of course, was understood by these younger children. I remember one incident which made my heart stop beating for a second. It was one of these celebrations, when much oratory about the glorious union of Romania and Russia had been produced. At the end my small Magi said in a too audible whisper:
"Mamma! I don't quite understand! Are we all rejoicing because the Russians are leaving at last?"
Her remark could have sent all her family to labor camps in Russia, and 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 to try to escape with my own family from the oppression to which my people were condemned could never be the right solution of the problem for me. It was my duty to stay with the country which had given me life and which held my heart, and not to desert it in a time of stress. I was not simply an individual, a mother who had only her own children to think of. I was also a symbol, a member of a royal family which had stood for service to its people. For that very reason I and my family could perhaps do more than other families to help strengthen and keep alive a small secret flame of hope for a Romania Mare of the future. I resolved to try harder and more courageously, carrying this resolution in my heart and not knowing that soon all decision would be taken out of my hands.
ON the evening of December thirtieth, as I drove into our courtyard, my headlights 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 around the radio. There was the message. The King, seeing he could no longer serve his people but was an impediment to their advance, had freely abdicated, and wished his people well. No one of us spoke. 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. Naturally I could ask no further questions over the telephone.
The next morning it was snowing slowly and relentlessly; the world was still. I parted from Anton and the children with great fear, but I had to go for the safety of all of us.
We met little traffic on the way, and those who recognized us only bowed sadly and silently. At Sinaia I decided to take the risk of delaying the journey a little, and to drive up to the Foisor to wait for Sitta and Michael. After two hours I decided to risk a telephone call to Bucarest, and surprisingly I was permitted to speak to the Queen. They had been delayed, but 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.
Snow continued to fall. Sinaia was wrapped in whiteness. There was something not quite real about it all; a long nightmare of white confusion. We met the royal party, and stopped so that I could get into Michael's car and drive out of town, where we could more easily talk. He and Sitta had been called to Bucarest. Immediately upon entering the palace they had been separated from their suites. There were strange guards at the doors. Then Groza and Ghiorghiu Dej had laid the abdication before Michael, informing him that guns were trained on the city and they would fire on the people if he refused. It was as if a revolver had been held to his head; there was nothing for him to do but sign.
Now they were being sent to Switzerland as soon as possible. Michael had asked about his two aunts, 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 he did not want to risk my life and those of the children. I should judge for myself.
All this went on in low, controlled voices. None of us could have borne the expression of emotion then! We parted there on the roadside, not knowing what would come next, or when we should meet again, or how.
THE moment I entered Bucarest I knew I could not endure to remain under such a regime. This first feeling had been wholly instinctive, but I soon found that facts supported it. My properties had been confiscated: the castle, the wood in Poeni Moldavia, and my little farms. Soon Anton called to say that the household had been cut off from the hospital, the castle had been sealed under guard, our house guard had been doubled by communists, and no one was allowed to go out of the grounds.
On January 6, 1948, all was at last ready for me to go to Bran and to collect the children and our luggage there. I was given two days to go and return, and this arrangement gave me approximately twenty-four hours in Bran.
The castle was still sealed, but now the communist guards opened it. I walked about the rooms, taking farewell of this beloved abode of my mother's and mine. 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.
Most heartbreaking of all was the parting from the hospital. It was growing dark, and the children came with me. Each parting was like an actual wound in my heart, especially when I came to the soldiers; for they would try to behave with correct fortitude, but they could not. One fell at my feet, and burying his face in my apron he sobbed hopelessly. At last I broke away from them. Other words were useless. I opened the door and crossed the beloved threshold for the last time, and the dark night swallowed me up.
January 7, 1948: 3:30 P.M.
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 unashamed down our faces. I kissed each, a kiss of peace, of friendship, of farewell.
When we crossed the bridge, there stood a great mass of peasants and students. I got out. They kissed my hands and the hem of my uniform; they handed me fir branches, which stand for the eternity of love, life and faith. Then the multitude knelt down and asked for my blessing, and I lifted my hand and made the sign of the cross over their bent heads.
Once more I entered the car. The people drew aside, still kneeling, to let us pass, and a great sound of wailing went from them. I felt that I was helping with the rites at my own funeral.
The afternoon was drawing to a close, and my heart lay within me like a dead weight. 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 two of the cars 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 ask for help," I said.
Those who were with me were afraid of the consequences, but I went. Silently they came to our rescue. With great efforts, digging, pushing and pulling, they got the cars on the solid ground again. The work had been done in unusual silence.
"Thank you," I said to them. "Please take this and divide it among you. 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, I knelt down, joining in prayer with the workmen, "Our Father, Who art in heaven—"
The sun was setting, but it rises again!