Friday, July 16, 2010

Poignant Letters: Between Laeken and Hirschstein

Here is a touching letter addressed by Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians to her son, Leopold III, then imprisoned by the Gestapo and the S.S. at the fortress of Hirschstein on the Elbe. The note, dated June 9, 1944, shortly after the deportation of Princess Lilian, Princess Josephine-Charlotte, and Princes Baudouin, Albert and Alexandre, did not reach Leopold until April, 1945, after the royal prisoners had been transferred to Strobl in Austria.

My dear dear Leop.

We did EVERYTHING to prevent the departure of Lil and the children, but NOTHING worked!! Lil will tell you everything. I only want to tell you that I am thinking of you all the time and that my thoughts will continue to be with you, Lil and the children. I hope we will be able to see each other again soon! You can count on me for everything that is in my power to do. I embrace you tenderly, my heart heavy to see dear Lil and the 4 little ones depart.

In turn, here is a letter from the King to his mother, dated June 15, 1944. Despite his reassuring tone, the period of captivity in Germany and Austria was actually a very frightening time for the Belgian royal family. Everyone was haunted by the memory of the fate of the Romanovs...

My very dear little Maman,

Above all, I want to tell you how much your little note(1) touched me and gave me pleasure. We know how far we can count on you.

You will certainly be happy to know that we are all in good health. But the circumstances are so sad! My trip was easy since there were only the three men. That of Lil and the children was much harder. One day, we will be able to tell you all about it.

Boredom will doubtless be our worst enemy. So we try to organise our days, in consequence. Each of us gives lessons to the children; Lil, French, I, history, Gierst, mathematics, du Parc, English, Weemaes, Latin and Flemish!

The garden is very small, we more or less go around in circles. Barbed wire everywhere. The most tiresome part is not having any direct news.

Our thoughts remain at Laeken close to you. Be careful, dear, dear Maman. Be optimistic and do not worry about our fate. We will all see each other again, soon, with patience...

Again, thank you for what you have done. K. who is bringing you this(?) message will tell you many things, which I cannot put to paper.

Always your Leop who embraces you tenderly and loves you.

(1) Evidently, a different note from the letter by Elisabeth quoted here.


Jorge said...

I can't help thinking how difficult the Belgians made life to Lilian considering what an exemplary woman she was. She shared her husband's miseries and was a source of joy and consolation to a sad family (after Queen Astrid's death). She endured constant criticism through her life, but the evidence in her favor is so clear that one can only conclude that she was a loyal and loving wife. It's incredible how some human beings can make life impossible to innocent people just to take political advantages. So cruel and inhuman.

Matterhorn said...

I agree, Jorge. It reminds me of the attacks on Marie-Antoinette. People who want to present Lilian as a self-seeking "gold-digger" ought to look more closely at the kind of dangers she faced, along with Leopold, not least of which was this period of captivity with the S.S. She was more likely to be grave-digging (for herself) than gold-digging. At one point, towards the end, the Nazis tried to poison the whole family with cyanide, no less.

It's strange to think, that if Queen Astrid had lived, Lilian would never have become a royal consort, would probably have gone on to marry some other prosperous Flemish burgher like her father and doubtless, would have had a much more peaceful life.

Jorge said...

More peaceful, yes, but God wanted something else. In the end, I think she succeeded in her life mission. She stayed with her husband and gave him great happiness (and three children), and she also did a great humanitarian work. She must have had an impressive inner strength to endure the critiques for so many years.

Matterhorn said...

That is true. A great lady, with a high destiny.

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