Friday, January 6, 2012

The Royal Family in Captivity: Part II

The deportation of the Royal Family
(Continued from Part I)

While King Leopold III, brave but forlorn, suffered through his first miserable night at Hirschstein, his wife, Princess Lilian, struggled valiantly at Laeken to protect his family. On the morning of June 7, 1944, immediately following the King's departure, she had been told by Captain Büntinck, an aide of Colonel Kiewitz, that she, too, would be deported to Germany, along with her three step-children and her little son. This second sadistic order came at a particularly cruel moment. Alexandre was still only a toddler, Baudouin was recovering from scarlet fever and Albert suffering from mumps. Joséphine-Charlotte, for her part, was only sixteen. Outraged, Lilian vehemently protested and tried her utmost to frustrate the plan, mobilizing all her connections and managing to gain a reprieve of forty-eight hours. Meanwhile, her mother-in-law, Queen Elisabeth, transmitted a message to Büntinck to convey to Berlin by telephone. Her words were chosen carefully to exploit the official pretext for deporting the Royal Family, a supposed concern for their safety: "Before leaving, the King, my son, unable to do so himself as a result of his sudden departure, asked me to transmit to the government of the Reich the following message: 'It would politically intolerable and have the worst possible effect on the Belgian people to cause the King to depart with all his family and to place them in safety, while the people are suffering and the other prisoners of war are separated from their families.' He did this in complete accord with the Princess, my daughter-in-law. A decision is urgently required."

Not surprisingly, the Queen's effort failed. During the night of June 8-9, with the aid of a chauffeur and two gardeners, the Princess set to work concealing the cars belonging to the Royal Court. She was determined to obstruct the journey as long as possible. By dawn, all but one of the vehicles had been hidden in one of the galleries of the castle. Finding the garages empty, the Gestapo were frustrated and furious, but eventually managed to gather enough cars to form a convoy. Meanwhile, Cardinal van Roey, the President and the General Procurator of the Court of Cassation had been summoned to Laeken to witness the violence done to the Royal Family and the official protest of the Princess. The King's consort gave Captain Büntinck the following message: "On June 7, 1944, learning that the order had been given for the transfer of his family to Germany, the King immediately demanded that they be allowed to continue to reside in Belgium. I share the King's views entirely, and I have advised you of it. On June 8, I associated myself with the demand made by the Queen of the German authorities to obtain the withdrawal of this decision. This morning, at three o'clock, you informed me that the order for departure was being upheld, and that the King's family had to leave the castle of Laeken at two o'clock in the afternoon. I protest the measure of which the princes and myself are the object; we will depart, therefore, only because we are constrained to do so." Prince Baudouin, the young heir to the throne, left a touching note for a friend: "I am writing you a short letter before leaving for captivity in Germany. It is terrible. But events require it. I thank you for your kind letter. See you soon, I hope."

That afternoon, the Royal Family would indeed begin their tedious and traumatic journey, but not before long discussions regarding the composition of the Princess' suite had further delayed departure. Two of the children's nannies, Mme. Schepers and Mlle. Henrard, offered to share their mistress' captivity, and were allowed to accompany her. The governor of the heir to the throne, the Vicomte du Parc, and one of the attachés of the King's cabinet, M. Weemaes, were also authorized to join the forlorn little party. (Initially, a physician, Dr. Rahier, was permitted to come, but was later ominously ordered to return to Belgium before reaching the Royal Family's place of detention). Towards evening, Princess Lilian and her fellow hostages finally had to bid a heartrending adieu to a tearful assembly of the rest of the royal staff.  Following in the the footsteps of their husband, father and Sovereign, but cruelly kept in ignorance of his fate or their own destination, the anxious prisoners finally reached Hirschstein on June 11, towards nightfall. To their relief, they found the King alive. Lilian, however, was particularly exhausted after many frightening adventures. In her hotel room in Weimar, with Joséphine-Charlotte's help, for instance, she had been obliged to secretly burn her husband's "Political Testament", to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy. En route, she had also been forced to protest vehemently for hours to prevent the S.S. from separating Princes Baudouin and Albert from the rest of the family. Worse, however, was yet to come.

(to be continued)


MadMonarchist said...

I love these posts and I am anxiously awaiting the rest!

May said...

Thanks, MM. I hope to have the next installment up soon.