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Burton Y. Berry, Romanian Diaries, 1944-1947 (Reviewed by Russell Pittman

May 30th, 2005 · No Comments · Books, Reviews, Uncategorized

Russell Pittman: REVIEW:

Burton Y. Berry, Romanian Diaries, 1944-1947

(ed. Cornelia Bodea). Iasi: The Center for Romanian Studies, 2000. 715 pp.,
ISBN 973-9432-07-7.
Price: £ 32.95


Romanian joke: The first post-1989 commercial American ship arrives at the Romanian harbor of Constanta. A dockworker asks the captain:

“What took you guys so long?”

The captain replies,

“You know, travel by sea is always slow.”

The dockworker responds,

“Yes, but we’ve been waiting since 1945!”

Romanian Diaries, 1944-1947 is a remarkable book by the highest-ranking U.S. civilian diplomat in Romania in 1944-47 that describes in great detail the early years of this painful wait. The book is long, slow, and repetitive, but those with an interest in what it felt like to watch the beginnings of the Cold War – especially what it felt like for Romanian democrats to do so – will be fascinated by it. Much that appears obvious now did not appear so then. Burton Berry is a virtually powerless observer and futile resister as the Iron Curtain descends.
As the narrative begins in November 1944, Romania has just surrendered to the Allies and immediately declared her intent to join them in fighting the Axis powers. (Her alliance with Hitler had not been exactly voluntary.) The U.S., U.K., and the U.S.S.R. take tripartite control of the country as the war continues west, but it is the Red Army that has invaded the country, and it is the U.S.S.R. that is first among equals in the tripartite administration of the country.
It quickly becomes clear that the U.S.S.R. has plans for Romania that are different from the plans of the Western Allies. The rest of the book consists of one extended appeal for help from Berry to Washington, as he hears the cries of despair of both the pro-Western King Michael and the leaders of the “historic parties”, the National Liberal and the National Peasant Parties. The Red Army has the guns; the Soviets have both de jure and de facto control of the tripartite administration; and they slowly, gradually, inexorably use their power to
• bleed the defeated country’s economy (for example, by continuing to ship critical agricultural supplies like wheat and flour to Russia as war reparations, even as shortages ravage Romania – including actual famine in Moldova),
• install an extremely unpopular and unrepresentative government of their own liking, and
• harass and imprison the democratic opposition (November 18, 1946: “The weapons of fear, fraud, moral and physical oppression have been used by the [Soviet-installed] Groza Government in pre-election period to a degree beyond what we were capable of imagining a year ago”).
Hopes placed on comforting Soviet assurances at both Yalta and Potsdam are quickly realized to be groundless.
Berry’s constant protests are futile, and he is as fully and as painfully aware of this as anyone else. He makes it clear to the State Department in Washington throughout these years that the Romanian democratic forces are counting on the U.S. to protect them, and that the U.S. must choose either to take strong action to do so (possibly risking war with the Soviets) or abandon its friends to their fate and lose its influence in the country. Two poignant examples among many:
• August 22, 1946: “Mr. Maniu [Peasant Party leader] asked me this morning if I realized the courage his party was showing in persisting in its preparation for elections in face of murderous aggressions of [Groza] Government. He reviewed long sad story of flaunting of freedoms by Government and said if we could do nothing to force Government to respect its pledges we could at least interest ourselves in condition of persons who had suffered because they believed they could count upon us to make good our guarantees.”
• March 29, 1947: “Opposition greatly discouraged at lack American recognition of its present plight. Those imprisoned realize impossibility of assistance from their parties and firmly believe only hope their eventual release is in strong American demarche.”
As in Hungary in 1956, the U.S. chooses the safer course.
Berry is not naive. He knows that Romania is only one part of a much larger picture. (One example close to home is described on January 12, 1946: “General Schuyler reported this morning the recent departure to Bulgaria of a first echelon of troops of the Soviet 57th Army quartered at Craiova. … Soviet officers and men talk more and more of their objective as Turkey.”) He does not really expect the U.S. to take the riskier path; he simply repeats, as often as he can, what the consequences for Romania and Romanians of not taking that path will be. The book is worth buying simply for his “Top Secret Report Upon Romania, September 1946”, and its appendix, “Soviet Methods at Work in Romania, 1944 Spring – 1946 July,” both reprinted in full here.
As any Romanian will attest, the country is unfortunate in its history and geography. Even pro-Soviet premier Groza, apparently frustrated by orders from Moscow, complains to Berry that “We are too small to be master of our destiny, as always in our history.” (May 27, 1946) An earlier book from the same publisher (Alexandru Cretzianu, Relapse into Bondage: Political Memoirs of a Romanian Diplomat, 1918-1947) describes the slow descent into World War II, as Romania, caught between the advancing Hitler and the waiting Stalin, begs in vain for help from the Western democracies — in this case mainly France rather than the U.S. France, of course, had its own problems and concerns in the interwar years, as Margaret MacMillian describes cogently in her new book, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (published in the U.K. under the title Peacemakers). The domestic political situation in Romania during the difficult interwar years is well described in two unforgettable books: Nicholas Nagy-Talavera, The Green Shirts and the Others, and Mihail Sebastian, Journal, 1935-1944.
Romanian Diaries, 1944-1947 is a primary document of recent history. It is appalling and fascinating, and it is highly recommended.



Read more about the Romanian Political Landscape in:

Blouse Roumaine – The Unsung Voices of Romanian Women

(Centre for Romanian Studies, London, 2009)

(1,100 pages, 160 Biographies, 600 quotations)


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