Fought fas­cism while rul­ing Ro­ma­nia dur­ing WWII

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - news.obits@la­times.com

For­mer Ro­ma­nian King Michael I, who was forced to ab­di­cate by the com­mu­nists in the af­ter­math of World War II, died Tues­day at his home in Switzer­land. He was 96.

Michael, who played a piv­otal role in Ro­ma­nia’s switch to the Al­lied cause af­ter a coup in 1944, spent decades in ex­ile work­ing as a chicken farmer and air­craft pi­lot. He fi­nally got his cit­i­zen­ship back in 1997, eight years af­ter the collapse of com­mu­nism.

Michael’s death leaves only two peo­ple alive who headed their na­tions dur­ing the war — for­mer King Simeon II of Bul­garia and the Dalai Lama of Ti­bet, both of whom were chil­dren at the time.

In a state­ment, the Ro­ma­nian royal house said Michael died at his home in Aubonne, Switzer­land. Michael had been suf­fer­ing from leukemia and another type of can­cer and last year with­drew from pub­lic life, hand­ing over his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to his old­est daugh­ter.

Pres­i­dent Klaus Io­han­nis de­clared “days of mourn­ing,” say­ing Michael “wrote the his­tory of Ro­ma­nia.”

Bri­tish Am­bas­sador to Ro­ma­nia Paul Brum­mell said that Michael “fought against com­mu­nism; he fought against fas­cism.”

Michael’s body will be f lown to Ro­ma­nia and will lie in state for two days at the Royal Palace in Bucharest.

Michael, a great-great grand­son to Bri­tain’s Queen Vic­to­ria, ac­ceded to the throne in 1927 when he was 6 af­ter his fa­ther Carol II eloped with his mis­tress and ab­di­cated. Af­ter three years Carol re­turned to the throne and stayed there un­til ab­di­cat­ing again in 1940, when Michael be­came king for a sec­ond time.

Michael reigned for seven years un­til he was forced to ab­di­cate.

Michael’s reign is best re­mem­bered for his coup on Aug. 23, 1944, against proNazi leader Mar­shal Ion An­tonescu, which took Ro­ma­nia into the war on the side of the Al­lies. For this, he was awarded Chief Com­man­der of the Le­gion of Merit by Pres­i­dent Tru­man and was dec­o­rated with the Soviet Or­der of Vic­tory by Josef Stalin.

Ro­ma­nia’s switch gave the Sovi­ets the op­por­tu­nity to ad­vance into the coun­try. Af­ter the war, Michael was lit­tle more than a fig­ure­head as the Sovi­ets in­stalled a com­mu­nist-led gov­ern­ment and Ro­ma­nia be­came part of the Warsaw Pact.

Many thought that he would re­main in ex­ile in Lon­don af­ter his ar­rival for the wed­ding of Princess El­iz­a­beth to his cousin Prince Philip of Greece in No­vem­ber 1947. How­ever, he was sum­moned to the Elis­a­beth Palace in Bucharest and told to sign a pre-typed ab­di­ca­tion or 1,000 sol­diers would be ex­e­cuted.

The com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment abol­ished the monar­chy on the day of his ab­di­ca­tion. Ro­ma­nia’s was the last monar­chy in the Warsaw Pact coun­tries to fall. Michael was then stripped of his cit­i­zen­ship.

Af­ter his ab­di­ca­tion, Michael set­tled with his wife and five daugh­ters in Switzer­land and later Bri­tain, where he worked as a test pi­lot and chicken farmer.

On Dec. 25, 1990, a year af­ter the revo­lu­tion that over­threw the Com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ship of Ni­co­lae Ceaus­escu, Michael and sev­eral other mem­bers of the royal fam­ily en­tered Ro­ma­nia for the first time in 43 years.

Us­ing a Dan­ish diplo­matic pass­port, Michael was able to ob­tain a 24-hour visa. He in­tended to reach Curtea de Arges Cathe­dral, pray at the tombs of his royal an­ces­tors and at­tend the Christ­mas reli­gious ser­vice.

How­ever, Michael and his com­pan­ions were stopped by tanks, taken to the air­port and forced to leave the coun­try.

In 1992, how­ever, the gov­ern­ment al­lowed Michael to re­turn to Ro­ma­nia for Easter cel­e­bra­tions, where more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple turned out to see him. His pop­u­lar­ity alarmed Pres­i­dent Ion Ili­escu, and Michael was for­bid­den to visit Ro­ma­nia again for five years.

A year af­ter Ili­escu’s de­feat to Pres­i­dent Emil Con­stan­ti­nescu in 1996, the Ro­ma­nian gov­ern­ment re­stored Michael’s cit­i­zen­ship, al­low­ing him back into the coun­try. Savarsin Castle in west­ern Ro­ma­nia was re­turned to him while the Elis­a­beth Palace in Bucharest was made his res­i­dence. Though Ro­ma­nia re­mains a repub­lic, the royal house looks af­ter the fam­ily’s prop­er­ties and be­stows hon­ors.

Michael’s re­la­tions with the coun­try’s lead­ers af­ter his re­turn were of­ten un­easy. In 2010, Pres­i­dent Tra­ian Bas­escu ac­cused Michael of be­ing a traitor for ab­di­cat­ing and sign­ing an armistice with the Sovi­ets.

On his 90th birth­day in 2011, Michael ad­dressed Par­lia­ment for the first time in 65 years and at­tacked the coun­try’s post-com­mu­nist lead­ers.

“To­mor­row’s world can­not ex­ist with­out morals, with­out faith and mem­ory. Cyn­i­cism, nar­row in­ter­ests and cow­ardice mustn’t oc­cupy our lives. They re­mind us too much of the years be­fore 1989,” he said, sit­ting on a throne-like chair.

Ro­ma­ni­ans as­so­ci­ate their royal fam­ily, par­tic­u­larly Michael, with el­e­gance and dig­nity, in sharp con­trast to their views of the po­lit­i­cal class.

Michael, who was born Oct. 25, 1921, mar­ried Anne of Bour­bon-Parme in 1948. She died in Au­gust 2016. He is sur­vived by five daugh­ters, the el­dest of whom, Princess Mar­gareta, will suc­ceed him as head of the royal fam­ily.

Robert Ghe­ment EPA/Shuttersto­ck

HE ‘WROTE THE HIS­TORY OF RO­MA­NIA’ King Michael I’s reign is best re­mem­bered for his coup on Aug. 23, 1944, against a pro-Nazi leader, tak­ing Ro­ma­nia into World War II on the side of the Al­lies.

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