The death of King Michael I of Romania brings his tragic destiny into the limelight, but also his historical decisions and actions.
Although he had a short reigns (1927-1930 under regency and 1940-1947) and he was quite young, his decisions related to the WWI in Romania and to the Romanian state at that time are considered to having had a serious impact on the nation’s history.
Besides the records of being the last monarch from the Eastern European countries who was still alive, one of the fewest heads of state at rule during the WWII who was still alive, and the last surviving monarch or other head of state from the inter-war period, or also the man who met Hitler, King Michael I will remain in the history as the Romanian head of state who changed the course of the WWI in Romania and in Europe, by turning arms against the Nazis, with the coup against dictator Ion Antonescu considered to have shortened the WWI by 6 months, thus saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Moreover, the move enabled Transylvania reunification.
On 23 August 1944, Michael joined the pro- Allied politicians, a number of army officers, and armed communist-led civilians in staging a coup against military PM Marshal Ion Antonescu, who was Hitler’s ally fighting for the Axis powers, but in fact he was considered rather Hitler’s puppet, used by the Nazis to take advantage of Romania’s oil fields and other natural resources of the country.
King Michael ordered Antonescu’s arrest by the Royal Palace Guard. In a radio broadcast to the Romanian nation and army, Michael issued a cease-fire just as the Red Army was penetrating the Moldavia front in Iasi, proclaimed Romania’s loyalty to the Allies, announced the acceptance of the armistice offered by the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union, and declared war against Germany.
King Michael was awarded for this act when the war ended, he was bestowed the highest rank of the American Legion of Merit by the US President than, Harry Truman.
He was also decorated with the Soviet Order of Victory by Stalin “for the courageous act of the radical change in Romania’s politics towards a break-up from Hitler’s Germany and an alliance with the Allied forces, at the moment when there was no clear sign yet of Germany’s defeat”, according to the official description of the decoration.
However, the history seemed to be against him even so, as his decision to turning against Nazis and shortening the war did not prevent the later Soviet occupation, which would also negatively reversing the course his life and destiny.
Under the terms of the armistice, Romania recognized its defeat by the USSR and was placed under occupation of the Allied forces, with the Soviets, as their representative, in control of media, communication, post, and civil administration behind the front.
In March 1945, political pressures forced King Michael to appoint a pro-Soviet government headed by Petru Groza.
Between August 1945 and January 1946, during what was later known as the “royal strike,” King Michael tried unsuccessfully to oppose the Groza government by refusing to sign its decrees. US and UK refused to intervene. The entire fight against the communists ended by King’s forced abdication.
Early on the morning of 30 December 1947, Michael was preparing to spend the New Year’s Eve in Sinaia at Peles Castle, when PM Petru Groza summoned him back to Bucharest. Michael returned to Elisabeta Palace in Bucharest, to find it surrounded by the army unit loyal to the Communists. Groza and Communist Party leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej urged him to sign a pre-typed instrument of abdication. Unable to call in loyal troops, due to his telephone lines allegedly being cut, Michael signed the document. Later on, after he returned to Romania, the King recounted that the communist leaders back then had threatened him that over 1,000 students who were imprisoned at the at time, would be killed if he hadn’t signed the abdication.
And so, he embarked on a long exile, along with his mother, an exile that would last until 1989 when the communist regime eventually fell down. Despite the communist propaganda that Michael would have left with considerable valuable assets, the King has repeatedly denied the reports, saying the only things he took were four personal automobiles loaded on two train cars.
His life was to be as challenging in exile as he had been before.
In June 1948 he married princess Anna de Bourbon-Parma in exile, in Athens, but with the great Western powers refusing to officiate the marriage for fear of offending Stalin.
Later on, in order to earn a living and support his numerous family (he had five daughters), the King had to work as farmer in UK, pilot of Lear Jets in Geneva and entrepreneur, founder of an electronics company also in Switzerland and broker in New York.
Until 1989, Michael delivered messages to the Romanian people on radio, Free Europe, Voice of America and BBC, on a yearly basis.
After Ceausescu’ communist regime collapsed in 1989, the king tried to return to Romania in 1990, but he was arrested and forced to leave upon arrival. It was only after two years in 1992 when the former sovereign was eventually allowed to visit Romania on Easter. He was welcomed by huge crowds, which yet worried the government at that time and ex-president Ion Iliescu, so they reversed their decision and banned the king’s potential visits.
In 1997, with a newly elected president backed by a centrist coalition, Emil Constantinescu, King Michael regained his citizenship and was allowed to come to Romania again. It was also then that he also regained possession of some of his seized properties, including the Elisabeta Palace.
Săvârșin Castle in Arad, the former private residences Peleș Castle and Pelișor in Sinaia mountain resort were also among the restituted properties. While Peleș and Pelișor are open to the public, Elisabeta Palace and Săvârșin are used as private residences.