In the Balkans, monarchs were caught between a rock and a hard place, the Nazis and the Soviets. In Yugoslavia, Prince Paul, as he himself told me, was under truly immense pressure from the Germans. Unable to secure aid from the Allies, and in order to save his country, he went to Berlin to unite with. He was overthrown following a coup, and shortly thereafter Hitler invaded. Seen as an enemy by the English, he was sent to South Africa and placed under house arrest. In Yugoslavia there were pro-royalist and pro-communist resistance movements; the English supported the latter and were won over by Tito. Out with the monarchy.
In Romania, my cousin Queen Helen told me how she and her son, King Michel, had accepted the dictatorship of Antonescu, an ally of the Germans. Then at the end of the war, they sought the support of the Americans as the Soviets were closing in. The Americans replied that owing to the Yalta Agreement, there was nothing they could do, as the territory of Romania was outside their control. Despite this, they turned on Antonescu, and locked him in a strong room with the royal silver. The Soviets invaded and maintained the monarchy for a time. Michel and Helen expected to be executed at any moment. Again, the end of a monarchy.
In Bulgaria, King Boris felt forced to ally with the Nazis, but began to rebel towards the end of the war. He was summoned by Hitler but resisted his pressure. King Boris returned to Bulgaria in poor health, he was dying. Everyone suspected Hitler of having done something. As with Romania, the Americans left Bulgaria to the Soviets. Soviet rule began with the executions of the regents of the young King Simeon, including his uncle, Prince Kiril. As with Romania, the monarchy was kept for a time then dismissed. Once more, the end of a monarchy.
In Greece the war was exploding. The Italians were beaten back, but the Germans came to their support and began to make their way south. The royal family sought refuge in Crete with the British, but the German menace followed, so the British had them evacuated. On their way to the port, the German Junkers bombed the roads. The royal family was forced to take refuge in the ditches. King George II made it to London, while the rest of the family went to Egypt then to South Africa. Only two princesses remained in Greece, aunt Helen and aunt Alice. Years after her death, we learned that Alice had sheltered a Jewish family in her home throughout the war. She posthumously received the highest honors of Israel.
We followed all of these developments with great interest, at every turn family or close friendships were involved. We knew everyone intimately. Their fates preoccupied us all. Follow the war a period of mutual aid fell upon the royal community. Royal refugees fled the Soviet advances. Some lost their families or their fortunes, others their identity. Those who had the means often helped those who needed it.
Here I wish to address a delicate historical point that has intrigued me for some time. We know that England is fiercely royalist, but the monarchy has shown itself to have a rather ambiguous attitude towards other monarchs. Perhaps because monarchy is a symbol of stability, one that didn’t correspond to the imperial ambitions of the British Empire. Historically, England played a role in the French Revolution and probably played a role in the fall of the Portuguese monarch in 1911. During the Second World War, England supported the communist partisans over the royalist in Yugoslavia, and let Tito execute the royalist leader Draza Mihailovic. In Greece, a number of obstacles were put in place by the British that made it difficult for the king to return. In Italy, one needs only to read the war journals of Macmillan, an envoy of the English government, to see how opposed they were to the monarch of Savoy, as well as the extent of their communication with the communists. As for royalty seeking refuge in England during the war, most were refused assistance.
However, shortly after the war, everyone gathered together, the Allied monarchs and those who supported the Axis, the German princes of the resistance and the German princes who welcomed the Nazis. The later had kept their fortunes and their ranks. These differences were no match for the solidarity of royalty.
Photographs by Justin Creedy Smith