Sunday, March 11, 2012

Beloved King Leopold

Here is an account of a delegation of fervently royalist Belgian soldiers visiting King Leopold III in St. Wolfgang, Austria, shortly after his liberation from Nazi captivity. First-hand testimonies emphasize his simplicity, cordiality and joy at seeing Belgian soldiers again after his narrow escape from death.  While the government tried to discourage his return to Belgium, the soldiers were eager to bring him home in triumph. Unfortunately, the article is only in French, but I have translated some excerpts of the testimony of Valentin Rickal, a Franciscan army chaplain, fiery Catholic and enthusiastic patriot who had reportedly vowed to say 100 Rosaries if he were able to meet his beloved King:
...The sentinels present arms and the Grand Marshal immediately receives us. "His Majesty is expecting you", he tells us, and, opening the door of the salon, he prepares to present us to the King. I advance, but I do not have the time to formulate a single word before the King shakes my hand and tells me of his "great joy at seeing and receiving his first soldiers". 
At his request, I present my comrades to him. He converses for a few moments with each of us, asks us for details about our towns, about the destruction caused by the flying bombs, about the von Rundstedt offensive in the Ardennes. Then, he offers us a glass of wine, some cigarettes. Our conversation continues... "Tell me about yourselves, about the army. How many battalions and volunteers are there? When and how were you mobilized? Since when have you been in Germany? Are you happy? Speak to me, for I know nothing and I am so happy to see my soldiers again!" We answer the King and we are astonished to be speaking with him almost like brothers, as we did, a few weeks earlier, with our brave prisoners discovered at Buchenwald. 
When the King says to us: "Do you like photos? We could take a few," I cannot contain my joy. "Sire, you overwhelm us, we would never have dared to formulate this desire." But the King smiles and, taking us by the arm, invites us onto the terrace overlooking the lake. It is there that, speaking of the time he spent before his liberation, he relates to me the painful hours he lived through at Strobl. I understood from the King's words that if it had not been for the advance of the Allies, which was a surprise for the S.S. committed to his guard, the villa of Strobl would have been witness to the murder of our great King by the S.S. This, too, it is important that the Belgians should know. But our photographer is ready. The King places himself in the midst of us and beckons to us to come closer to him. He himself asks that other photos be taken, because he cherishes this memory. He even asks the Grand Marshal of the Court to take a photograph, "so that all six of us can be with him." With the kindest smile, he also permits a few shots to be taken during the conversation. 
The time passes, however, and, if we had come to see the King to satisfy a need of our hearts, we did not want to leave him without broaching the subject of his return. In all simplicity, we say to him: "Sire, the country awaits you. Do not believe the politicians who say that the majority of Belgians are distanced from Your Majesty. Return, Sire, and the present tension will be swiftly resolved."
The King reflects, then, calmly, he tells us: "It is not only in our country. It is in all the countries that one can see political tensions, but I have confidence in the good sense of my people." 
Yes, we feel that the King's heart beats in unison with that of his people. Yes, we have before us the Sovereign who gave himself entirely to Belgium, the chief who has the consciousness of having done all his duty and who wishes to accomplish it to the end. 
His Majesty insists that we remember him to our whole battalion and bring them his good wishes. He repeats how happy he is to have received us. He shakes our hands one last time...

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