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The Top Secret Athenee Palace

23 Jun 2014

Lush, pretentious, art nouveau-style, frequented by the high society of the interwar Europe, Athenee Palace was immediately connected to the Secret Service, as well as the world’s newspapers looking for first-hand information, straight from the source. Built in 1912 by a French corporation led by a Baron Marseille, Athenee Palace was fairly young compared to the top hotels in Rome, Paris and London. It caught up quickly, however, according to Ernst Latham: ‘Athenee Palace was instantly popular both during the First and the Second World Wars. Somehow, it has always managed to secure a key place in history.’

During World War One, Ernst Latham adds, Athenee Palace was a front-page hotel: ‘Romania was a country with a fantastic historical positioning and the only European country where journalists from the neutral or allied parties could work in.’ If the German army was going South, it had to do it via Romania. If it was going East, it had to take the USSR route and set camp in Romania. In fact, Romania might have been one of history’s capitals. Here, at Athenee Palace Hotel, there was considerable political intrigue.’ The information overload at Athenee Palace Hotel is portrayed by Newsweek correspondent in Bucharest, Baroness Rose De Waldeck, who lived in the hotel throughout the most traumatizing 7 months in the history of Romania. Ernst Latham relates: ‘De Waldeck checked in in 1940, the day when France surrendered, which was a tragic event for Romania, historically connected to the West through France. Following this, France ceased to be a military force and flees Romania at the end of January 1941, soon after the rebel legion.

On the 28th of June 1940, Romania received USSR’s ultimatum requiring the government to give up Bessarabia, Bucovina and Herţa and recall their troops in 4 days. De Waldeck was at Athenee Palace looking out the window at the lights of the Royal Palace when Antonescu told King Carol II that he must step down from the throne. He learned very quickly what a king’s entrance would mean.’ Baroness Rose De Waldeck’s courage to go to a country occupied by the Nazis determined the FBI to keep a close eye on her. De Waldeck, who was of Jewish origin, fled Germany in 1931, acquired American citizenship in 1937 and now, strangely enough, she was back amongst the Nazis.

Writer Ioana Ieronim talks about the great advantages of the hotel’s building, mentioned in Rose de Waldeck’s book about Bucharest: ‘There are orifices in the ceilings and floors through which one can hear from one floor to another. Some parts of Athenee Palace Hotel are said to echo the sound perfectly, even when one whispers in the opposite corner of the room. American journalists would reportedly use those spaces to whisper what German espionage believed to be confidential information but which was, in fact, false information. De Waldeck could overhear conversations taking place in other rooms from her own room through places like the fireplace opening, for instance. The building itself was treated as an espionage hotspot – the difference between truth and manipulation, it all happened inside this hotel.’

Rose De Waldeck interviewed a Nazi general at Athenee Palace Hotel whose name she doesn’t disclose, but it is clear from the FBI files that the general under discussion is Von Ravenstein. ‘She had a love affair with him. It’s interesting how, in the midst of World War Two, a Jewish woman and a Nazi general would have a love affair. He was a lieutenant in Romania, made general soon after leaving Romania when, under Rommel’s orders, the general is sent to oversee Afrika Korps tank division.’

In 1941, she was taken hostage in North Africa by the British and New Zealand troops. 'In the 7 months that Rose De Waldeck spends in Bucharest, Romania surrenders the Quad, Bucovina, Bessarabia, Herta and, following the Vienna Treaty, the north of Transylvania. She also witnessed the rebellious legion that broke out when General Antonescu, upon his return from a meeting with Hitler, fires some of the legion leaders. Hell broke loose on the streets of Romania's cities. Robberies, assassinations, massacres, over 1,000 civilians and soldiers killed and 3,000 buildings brought to brick and mortar in the commotion – the damages add up to one billion RON. Rose De Weldeck released her book about Romania titled Athenee Palace only a few months after the US declares war against Germany following Pearl Harbour.

Source: ”București Strict Secret– Athenee Palace, by Stelian Tănase, 23/06/2012

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