The day when time stopped in Bucharest
by Daniel Dragomirescu
On April 4th 1944, as a major event of World War II, the British-American air forces bombarded for the first time, the Romanian Capital. Until August 23rd 1944, two bombardments a day were registered. It was then, that the King decided to set Antonescu aside and withdraw from the Axis (made up of Germany, Italy and Japan). After Rommel had lost the war in North Africa, the allies disembarked in Europe and continued the battle in the territory of its enemy. The Allied Aircrafts were leaving from an airbase in South Italy, they were crossing the Balkan Mountains (both protected by their hunting aircrafts) and not only were they dropping their bombs over Bucharest, but over other cities as well, especially, over Ploiești and over the petroliferous areas. The Eastern Romanian cities were also bombarded by the Soviet air force, but compared to the British-American, the Soviets had a weaker air force and, therefore, the damages had not been that important.
Not only were the British-Americans bombarding military objectives, but civilian ones as well – and this was not a simple coincidence, but a deliberate action meant to generate terror among the people (Wikipedia even calls them ‘terror bombings’) and to weaken the troops’ resistance offered to the enemy. And, at that moment, Romania’s sole enemy was the Red Army, that had again occupied Bucovina and was reaching for Bessarabia as well. The Americans were bombing Bucharest during the day (generally at noon), while the British completed the Americans work during the night. Everything very well planned and executed.
My mother was working as a shop assistant at the well-known ‘Sora’ store, the one near the North Railway Station, an area aimed at by the 4th of April Bombing. Luckily, she was not there when the bombs were released. She faced the disaster the next day, when heading, as usually, towards the store, she could no longer advance because of the disaster provoked by the bombs. In the railway station, there were laying hundreds of Bessarabian refugees who paid, with that occasion, a bloody tribute. They had died, being burnt alive, crushed or turned into pieces on the rails, in the proximity of which they were found, on the platforms or in the waiting rooms. There were old people, women with children that had come to Bucharest in railway carriages, on railway carriages and under railway carriages, in such conditions that were dramatic beyond our imagination, just to save themselves. According to someone’s confession, in this horror journey, a woman travelled for hundreds of kilometres on some wood boards under the railway carriages and she had to see her youngest child dying, crashed by the wheels of the train. We are still mourning the Syrian boy drowned in the Mediterranean Sea and we think that the evil comes from one part only, because we have taught ourselves to judge unilaterally. The Bessarabian refugees feared that if they had remained in the occupied area, the special troops of NKVD, representing the Red Army, (which were similar to the German famous Einsatzgruppen, but more powerful and feared than these, since Stalin was not risking a Nürnberg after the war) would have killed them or would have deported them in cattle railway carriages to the Siberian working camps just because they were Romanians. No western eco-pacifist organization would have protested for their cause. This was also the story of those ten thousands Bessarabians, who could not leave their country. Those who were more successful, almost never came back. All Russians’ actions were hiding a real genocide. The extent of it is still unknown and will, probably, remain so forever.
Sometimes, as soon as the bombings ended, the air crafts did not return to Italy, but firstly, they headed to the Soviet Union, where they were provided with airports for refuelling. Back over the same objectives, they were again releasing bombs, while reaching for South Italy from where, they were coming back to drop even more bombs over Romania. During my childhood, a distinguished old man, who had been working in the USA, but had returned to Romania, had a house on Griviței Street, near to the rail ways that were connecting the North Railway Station to Basarab Railway Station, was showing me a wooden table which he kept in his small yard besides a wall of a destroyed house, telling me that there had fallen a bomb.
In 1944, my father’s youngest sister and her fiancée were studying at the Conservatory. Next autumn, she would have probably, become a Music teacher, but on the 4th of April, she was eating at a students’ canteen near the North Railway Station. When the alarm went off, she and her fiancée found refuge in a closed-by anti-aircraft shelter which they shared with hundreds of other people. But that day, the bombs of Arthur Harris, Marshal of the Royal Air Force, (also known as Bomber Harris or Butcher Harris, 1892 - 1984) worked without mistake and destroyed everything in their way. One bomb was dropped over a building under which laid the anti-aircraft shelter. The remains of that building covered the only air duct of the shelter and all the people hiding there (mostly students) died asphyxiated. ‘Universul’ newspaper published during the next days, lists with the names of the hundreds and thousands of dead people in the destructive British-American raid.
Commemorating 72 years that have passed since that event, I have found, this month, some document photos from April 1944. One is downloaded from the Internet and it manages to depict very well the aftermath of the bombing in an area near Herăstrău Park, shortly after the 4th of April raid. The other two were taken with the occasion of my father’s sister funeral. It took place two weeks later, on April 20th, close to Bucharest, where she was born. On the faces of the participants at the funeral – many peasant women and peasants’ children, whose fathers were fighting on the front line, dead, alive, disappeared or taken as prisoners – you could read one thing: Romanians deep lack of hope in an era when the war started shredding the lives of people without any consideration. Even though, they were all saying that they were fighting for people’s sake.
Traducere de Iulia Andreea Anghel
Universitatea din Bucureşti