On Monday December 12, 2011, my grandfather H.R.H Prince Paul, Regent of Yugoslavia from 1934 to 1941, was cleared on all counts of war crimes, by the High Court of Serbia. This is a victory for my grandfather and for Serbia – A moment in time, where the light of truth has overturned the condemning distortions of history.
Winston Churchill said that history would be kind to him because he would write it. Well, the opposite was true for my grandfather. His reputation was cruelly destroyed by those who believed, “It is the right of a great power to sacrifice a smaller, neutral state for the sake of ultimate victory” – Winston Churchill again – and who unfortunately had the power to write Paul’s history – Until this past week…
Finally, Paul has been vindicated, his honor restored – 70 years after being branded a traitor and a Nazi collaborator. It seems tragic to me that he will never bask in his own redemption or benefit from knowing that his legacy has been restored. The stigma of these hideous accusations haunted him until the day he died in Paris in 1976.
I wonder how he would feel knowing that his country, Yugoslavia, the country he fought so hard to protect and preserve, the country he was never allowed to set foot in after his exile in 1941, has ceased to exist. A touch of irony, it seems to me.
My mother, Princess Elizabeth is the force behind restoring her father’s legacy. She first returned to Belgrade, Serbia in 1987, the first member of the royal family to do so, and has dedicated the past 20 years of her life to clearing her father’s name. She ran for Presidency in 2004 and my eldest daughter India and I went to help her campaign – she came in 6th out of 16 candidates.
Her battle against the culmination of generations of communist propaganda etched against her father has paid off. After years of disseminating and propagating the facts that had been hidden for so long, the veils of delusion are beginning to loosen their stranglehold.
Her long-time quest will have been fulfilled when Paul, his wife Olga and their son Nicholas’ bodies are exhumed in Switzerland and brought back for an official burial in Serbia.
Mom said she felt both happy and sad – I wondered if it was perhaps because her father couldn’t be here with her – to witness this triumph – this reversal of misfortune. She had succeeded where he had felt hopeless.
“Time reveals truth” was a quote by Seneca I chose as Paul’s dialogue – in the script titled Royal Exile that my husband and I recently wrote. The dialogue was wishful thinking at the time, but now, truth imitates art.
We added dialogue to a pivotal scene between Paul and Hitler, during a 5-hour secret meeting at Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden.
The rest of the dialogue in the scene we transcribed from Paul’s letters, and it was chilling to imagine the actual words being spoken by one of history’s most malevolent figures. This meeting was Paul’s last attempt to negotiate to save his country from being annihilated by the Germans during WW2. According to him, it was the most frightening moment of his life, and he feared, perhaps his last.
Winston Churchill decided that Paul’s policy of neutrality did not suit his needs. He wanted Yugoslavia to invade Germany unprovoked. Paul’s answer,
“Great, then send me troops and reinforcements and we will fight by your side!” Churchill’s reply, “I can’t send any military support, but know that you shall go down in history on the winning side.”
For most men, this might have been a tempting offer, but not for Paul. He knew that this was suicide for his country; they were poorly armed and could never withstand the German war machine. His conscience wouldn’t allow him to sacrifice his people.
Paul refused to attack, predicting that they would be overrun by the Nazis within a week.
The British covertly funded a coup d’etat and Paul was arrested. He was given the choice to abdicate at gunpoint or he and his entire family would be executed. They were given 4 hours to leave the country. My mother was 4-years-old at the time and remembers the horrific events of their exodus. No country would take them and eventually they were sent to Kenya under British house arrest, for the remainder for the war.
Within days of Paul’s departure, Hitler launched Operation Punishment, and as he predicted, Yugoslavia lay in ruins, and over a million countrymen lost their lives. Paul never recovered.
In his memoirs, Churchill later commented that the one thing he regretted was his harsh treatment of Prince Paul.
Now, 70 years later, he is finally being recognized as a peacemaker, visionary and a national hero. He has been exonerated.
If you would like to know more about Paul, you can go to our film, Royal Exile’s website. http://www.princepaulroyalexile.com/