Political Diary 1939-1941

Paris, February 7th, 1939The phone wakes me up: it's George, who calls me from Algiers. He keeps waiting for his plane to be repaired. The thought that he left on "an old jade" – as he says – worries me. I remember my mother-in-law's words and I agree with her: "I am fed to the teeth with it." I went to see The Hostage by Paul Claudel at the French Comedy with Ventura[i]. Paris, February 8th, 1939I have supper with [Georges] Huysman, General Director of Arts, at his place in the famous Gobelin manufacture, where he stays at the state's expense. Other guests: [the playwright] Tristan Bernard, Anatole de Monzie [the Ministry of Communications], [the novelist] Roland Dorgelès. There is great enthusiasm here, a huge waste of spirit – one of the most subtle – , but everything spiced with vulgarity as a husk dish. Paris, February 10th, 1939 Two telegrams from George: one from Colomb-Béchar, the other from Reggane. He has finally set off. He is at the heart of his dear Africa. The web of events starts unreeling: the Spanish nationalists [Franco's troops] have conquered Minorca, the island where some fool from here claimed that the Englishmen had landed a long time ago. The Japanese conquered the island that reigns over Hanoi Harbor. The chess game has started. Take your seats for the quadrille. Tea at Mrs. Florica Bressy, Alice Cocea's sister. I go there to run an errand to Thierry who is dying to find out if he is appointed ambassador. "The prestige of Romania's King is at stake." This is what I have to tell General Cocea's daughter, who is an almighty figure at Quai d'Orsay. Thierry calls me. For the sixth time since yesterday. I remember Mrs. Tallien's[ii] line: "Patience dear, you'll get your breeches."[iii] Paris, February 11th,1939The Hainan Island, in China's Sea, was occupied by the Japanese. Hong Kong, Hanoi and Singapore are threatened (Japan worries me). After Franco's men had occupied Minorca, [the battleship] "Devonshire" came to save the Spanish republicans (that is, the "communists," as the adversaries consider them). The British protect "the Reds" – here is another quite significant issue. Paris, February 12th, 1939 In Berlin, a music-hall artist went to jail because of the sketch he was interpreting. He was asking the audience who was the brilliant German who, casually, undertook diplomacy and whose name started with G. The audience shouted: "Goering!" The comic actor answered: "Aber nein!" After a few piano chords the question was asked again; the audience shouted: "Goebbels!" the actor shouted in his turn: "Nein!" When the audience gave up, the comic whispered: "Goethe!" The audience was elated. Paris, February 14th, 1939 France buys from the United States 615 airplanes that cost two billion [francs] instead of building them itself. I think as George does, I know he would agree. When one wants to win a boxing match it's better to train rather than to buy false muscles. When producing airplanes, one produces the corresponding men as well – good workers and good pilots. Paris, February 16th, 1939 The French newspapers discuss Franco's ingratitude endlessly. "A gratitude that actually he shouldn't feel," I remarked. They bank on his ingratitude towards Mussolini, who helped him defeat "the Reds." In my opinion, one can count on his ingratitude if the Rome-Berlin Axis entered a bad political phase or suffered some other kind of failure. Paris, February 22nd, 1939 This afternoon I went to princess Edmond de Polignac, on Cortembert Street, to listen to some music. There was a Romanian pianist, Dinu Lipatti, playing. A little man with the allure, smile and profile of Emanuel [Anton Bibescu's younger brother]. He was enthralling. Paris, February 23rd, 1939 No news from George, after his last telegram from Gao. Paris, March 1st, 1939 Cardinal Pacelli's is elected: pope Pius XII becomes the successor of pope Pius XI[iv]. Paris, March 4th, 1939 I received today the visit of José-Maria Sert[v], who – together with other people – dealt with rescuing the paintings from the Prado Museum. The operation cost much, very much, the expense being incurred by the Whites and the Reds in turn, while the Spanish people… Armored train, armored shelter, special guards, nothing was considered too expensive for the paintings of El Greco, Velasquez, Titian. While the Spanish people… Who would have spent the money used to secure the paintings of the Prado Museum for saving the children of Spain? Put El Greco, Titian or Velasquez in front of an ordinary woman, a worker, a shepherd, a janitress from Spain or from any other country and ask any of them if it is worth paying in order to see such a thing, to keep it, to save it from perishing. The answer is easy to guess. However, in Spain, to save some paintings that the average man doesn't even care for, the state's money was spent – be it red or white – , in other words money coming from people's toil while the children were dying. We, the very happy and very few, have imposed to the people, to all peoples, our standards, our pre-established fiduciary rate, our values. Paris, March 8th, 1939 Lunch at the British Embassy. The table neighbor on my right is Hervé Alphand[vi], who is leaving for Berlin for some kind of financial scheme destined to hide both to the Germans and to the French the "gravity of the circumstance," as this slide is politely called. Alphand tells me that he will negotiate with "auntie Mutzi" – the nickname given by him to his German counterpart. Paris, March 14th, 1939 Preparations for Lebrun's[vii] official visit to London. Preparations for the presidential elections in Paris. The same old game. Long live Mr. Everyman! It's safer like that. Paris- London, March 15th, 1939 Hitler enters Prague today, seizes the citadel [the Hrad castle]. The Skoda plants, England's money, the Creuzot plants money, all of these were the lard from the trap that caught the mouse. I can imagine the echo in London, where I arrive tonight. Tilea[viii] phoned me yesterday to hasten my arrival. I thought he merely wanted to deny the hostile rumors started by Anton [Bibescu], but he had more serious reasons as well. I took the night bird – the seven o'clock plane – on Le Bourget airport. Shortly after, I arrived in Croydon[ix]. Paris, March 16th, 1939 Shrove Tuesday – what a carnival in Europe! Bohemia and Moravia were declared German protectorate! Lunch at Léonie [Leslie], Winston Churchill's aunt, who declares: "I am certain that Hitler did this to compromise Mr. Lebrun's visit." He did it with many other reasons and, perhaps, with no reason at all, out of an ardent drive. Tilea's troubled voice on the phone: "Bad news! The Germans offer us a piece of [sub-Carpathian] Ruthenia. It's a poisoned apple[x]." London, March 17th, 1939 Tilea arrives at my place at half past nine. A long conversation. He is in an awful state of anxiety and seems very unhappy: "I have terrible news from Transylvania. The Germans are at our border. They claim: 'Give up industry and remain an agrarian state. In this case we guarantee your frontiers.' Gafencu[xi] went crazy… In Bucharest everybody went crazy. Our entire armament [controlled by the Skoda plants] fell into the Germans' hands – it was still in Czechoslovakia. We are lost. Dead![xii]" I remember my father's words: "The spirit of this people was shaped by the teachers from Transylvania… against the Hungarian earls." In the fight against the counts. Poor Tilea was terrified at the thought that the earls, whom we had got rid of in 1919[xiii], would come back. In his opinion it is only a matter of hours. Transylvania is going to be snatched from Romania and placed under the leadership of a German general and some ordinary count. Tilea talks with an endless sorrow and his despair seems authentic. I promise him that I will do everything I can during my stay here. What exactly? We'll see. They are waiting for the speech Chamberlain is going to make tonight at Birmingham when he turns seventy. One expects everything from this speech that is being held the day after Hitler entered Prague and after Bohemia and Moravia became a German protectorate. A speech that needs to be listened to. Poor Chamberlain! Poor Anne! What a birthday cake! Victor Cazalet, Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, comes to see me. I ring this alarm bell, which is very sonorous, to him. He promises to do something. In the evening, at a quarter past eight I go up to Mr. Duchenne's flat, the general manager of Ritz Hotel, where I live: he invited me to his place to listen to Neville Chamberlain's speech. The Birmingham city hall, great ovations. What we feel right now cannot be expressed, says the British Prime Minister. [There has been no Anglo-German consultation]. Consultation rhymes with indignation. Magic words: "Liberty… the British Empire and France… the rabbit popping out of the top hat…" I am all ears, weighing every word and thinking of what I found out from Tilea this morning. Chamberlain states that they are not indifferent to what is going on in South (-Eastern) Europe. "Something is happening," I say to myself. Mr. and Mrs. Vansittart[xiv] promised to dine at my place in the small drawing room where they are going to meet Tilea. Vansittart wants us to be alone with the latter so as not to have any leaks. He asks our minister about Germany's economic ultimatum, about the 22 divisions that threaten to invade the country, about the German oppression. The Prime Minister here, in England, will be replaced. He is too weak. Vansittart tells Tilea that the Romanians should resist. "We will," the latter answers. "How is that possible?" I interfere. "By ourselves?" David is sent to fight while the others keep a respectable distance from Goliath. To my great surprise Vansittart tells Tilea that he will call Maiski[xv]. And so he does. From the quiet small drawing room in which we were sitting he calls Russia for help. And Maiski answers. The two arrange a meeting. Sarita [Vansittart], bending towards me, asks me if I see how it works. Truth is that, this afternoon, there was a cabinet meeting in Downing Street in which they decided how to help Romania. The news that Bucharest denies the ultimatum[xvi] annoys the Prime Minister. Although, an economic ultimatum is just as serious as a political one. Giving up the industry, as Tilea told me this morning, [there was nothing else left for Romania] but agriculture. The Georgics, the Bucolics, happiness and heaven! This tragic denial – they have lost their head, as Tilea says. "Nobody wrongs me! Don't help!" There is another meeting of the British cabinet tomorrow. Tonight at Maiski. What will be the result of all these? London, March 18th, 1939 The economic ultimatum, denied by Bucharest, troubles the House of Commons. Hitler destines us exclusively to agriculture. At London there is a huge tumult. London, March 19th, 1939 The encounter with Tilea who suffers greatly. "Gafencu has gone crazy, he repeats to me. He negotiates with them. The fellows in Bucharest are angry with me. They ask me to deny the economic ultimatum. In fact, I told Lord Halifax[xvii] that I got the information from unofficial sources. But it's not true! It was Armand Călinescu[xviii] and Grigore Gafencu who updated me." He asks for the Denham phone number of Vansittart and I give it to him. "In Bucharest they don't agree to the way I acted. They give me no instructions. At Downing Street they decided not to acknowledge Czechoslovakia's disappearance [as an independent state]." "This has become a spasmodic tic with the western people," I answer. "See Ethiopia's emperor[xix]." Viorel Tilea states that Chamberlain is in danger, that his political demise is inevitable and that the Parliament wants Lord Halifax as head of the government. They are also requiring the introduction of obligatory military service [which didn't exist in England before]. And to reach these goals, the fellows here want to make use of Romania. Everything makes sense! Poor Tilea is overwhelmed with fear. I comfort him as much as I can. He is happy to find out that until tomorrow I am staying at Malcolm MacDonald[xx], who invited me at Hythe. Since the latter is a member of the government, Tilea hopes that I will be able to say something useful and to do a good job. I go to Hythe in Malcolm's small car, driven by hardworking Mason, James Ramsay MacDonald's former driver. On the way, he makes political confessions to me. To my great and amused surprise, he desperately wants Winston Churchill to enter the government. He tells me that the Germans are "hardheaded," that Romania has to defend herself and that, when needed, England will help Romania, but in order for that to happen – and he repeats it several times – Churchill must enter the government. This trust in Winston that I found with the driver of the first Prime Minister from the Labour Party makes me smile. Churchill is one of the few political Englishmen who doesn't like Malcolm, although the latter is very popular in the House of Commons even – or especially – among his adversaries. But Churchill, a passionate father, doesn't forgive Malcolm for defeating his son Randolph in the elections. I arrive at Hythe at noon. Malcolm tells me that Carol has sent their king an SOS. So Tilea was right to make a fuss! "Tomorrow they are holding the cabinet meeting for Romania." The situation is even more serious than I imagined. Ribbentrop [the Reich's ambassador to London then] was summoned to Berlin, to present his report [actually to become minister of Foreign Affairs instead of Baron von Neurath]. London, March 20th, 1939 Long conversation with Malcolm. He tells me that, on his return from Munich [after the agreement between the four parties concerning Czechoslovakia was concluded], Neville [Chamberlain] made them choke with laughter by describing the scrubby footman who came to welcome him and who was no other than Hitler. After the awful indictment delivered by the dictator who had lost any trace of self-control, Chamberlain, while descending the stairs, glanced at him over his shoulder and thought he was the ugliest creep he had ever seen. Then, Malcolm tells me about the incident with the inkpot. He says that these fellows have no idea how to draw up the draft of a communiqué. They know nothing else but to give orders. So, at that moment, they made a lot of fuss before they sat down and began to write the lines they were supposed to sign. And when it came to signing they brought a huge German inkpot, but… nothing. The inkpot had no ink! How poorly the Germans become organized when it comes to signing a compromise! I enjoy immensely this sentence full of contempt: They know nothing else but to give orders. I invite Malcolm at dinner where I am also inviting Tilea, whom I would like him to meet. He accepts adding that he has to meet their allies' delegate. Still, if it joins Great Britain, Romania has to face a problem: the more resolute Britain gets with Germany, the more Hitler's need for our petrol grows. And in the Straits, one hasn't seen any British man-of-war so far! Malcolm tells me that Van [Vansittart] thinks only at destroying the Italian fleet. That's why there are no [British] men-of-war in the Straits. One cannot do everything at once. Matters must be straightened up, as Gambetta said, if I'm not mistaking. Lebrun arrives tomorrow with the first day of spring. Malcolm left me at the Ritz. Behind the steering wheel, Mason kept silent, although he was quite worried about Romania's fate. He believes that after Prague, Romania will be just perfect for waking up the British. At a quarter to four, Charley Londonderry takes me to the House of Lords to listen to Halifax's speech. Charley tells me that Hitler has gone crazy. He adds that they will have to beat the Germans again. Such words are extremely significant coming from him, for he had thought for a long time that his mission was to mediate between his London and Hitler's and Goering's Berlin. We are waiting outside while the lords are saying the prayer. Then, I sit comfortably in one of the fourteen armchairs of red Morocco leather brought by Charley. I look around, at the gentlemen assisting and at the thrones [meant for the royal pair] that are now covered. A handsome milord is scratching his back, right between his shoulders, with perfect offhandedness, like dogs: he is at home, in the family, isn't he? The first who takes the floor is [the diplomat and English writer] lord Crewe, who says that the Prime Ministers would better stop wandering abroad and let the diplomats do their job. Then, Lord Halifax rises, as if made up of several pieces, like a carpenter's meter. He is as thin as a greyhound. He defends Chamberlain. Ministerial solidarity. Violet Bonham-Carter[xxi] invented a nickname for Lord Halifax: Holyfox. For, although he looks like a saint, he is a shrewd saint, a Mr. Fox. Just as Saint Paul, in my opinion, the one with the epistle to the Corinthians. Talking about Neville Chamberlain's reaction to the conquest of Czechoslovakia, Lord Halifax says that the former was shocked and that so was he. Since these gentlemen are shocked, it means that Hitler's prestige is diminishing. It is true that [besides this] the British taxpayer loses the money he gave to Czechoslovakia, or, at least, to the earthly remains of the latter, after September 1938. The accounts are closed. Les bons comptes font les bons ennemis.[xxii] Lord Halifax states that everything must be taken into account again, stressing every word. The Romanian government denies the rumors about the economic ultimatum declared by Germany. Bucharest had to invalidate this and I think it regrets. The German newspapers accuse Tilea and Vansittart of having planned the lie with the economic ultimatum. London, March 21st, 1939 The first day of spring – the day when President Lebrun and his wife arrived in London. K. [Walter Eliot] takes me to the Ministry of Health in Whitehall to see Lebrun's arrival, welcomed by the king and the queen. The convoy makes its appearance. The beautiful Welsh Guards. The king [George VI] and Lebrun on the purple pillows of the landau. In the carriage, on the right, Mrs. Lebrun, dressed in silver-gray, on the left – the queen in mauve and, in front of Mrs. Lebrun, the duchess of Kent. Of all three, the third is the only one with a queen's appearance: she looks like a tigress carried beside a sheep and a cat in a cage.Mrs. Lebrun is ridiculous: she sends kisses to the crowd. From both sides of the carriage the king is in, two horsemen are hopping at a trot, each of them with an axe in his hand. "For chopping Hitler's head off," I hear somebody behind me saying. My host and my friend K. Walter Eliot, Minister of Health, tells me that the cabinet meeting is owed to me. [Robert] Bearnays [undersecretary of state in the Ministry of Health] remarks that thanks to me Lord Halifax learned about the news from the Ministry of Health before the Foreign Office transmitted it to him. After the convoy passes, I hear a kid from France who says: "I found a topic for the composition in French." The boy's father must be the Frenchman to whom K. explained while he was introducing us, that my name was not Elisabeth, but Martha Bibescu. "Are you the great writer?" he asked. Dinner at Amery, whom Lord Thomson[xxiii] brought to Mogoşoaia once, and who became since then First Lord of the Admiralty and secretary of state for India. He asks me all sorts of questions about what is happening in Romania. London, March 22nd, 1939 Lunch at Philip Sassoon for those who accompany Lebrun. They are serving it in the golden dishes belonging to Charles II [Stuart] and in rosy porcelain plates. I am sitting next to the duke of Devonshire and Sir Robert Vansittart. Today, Romania has signed the economic agreement with Germany. Tilea was called to Bucharest to "present his report." His precipitated departure made a very bad impression in London. As soon as lunch is served Vansittart advises me to write home so that Tilea should be sent back to London immediately. He