King Michael I of Romania, who ascended the throne once as a child, and once more as a teenager, who freed his country from Nazi domination late in World War II at age 22, and was later forced to flee by Communists who had taken power, died in Switzerland Dec. 5. He was 96, and had recently withdrawn from public life after a diagnosis of cancer, according to news reports.
King Michael also was a commercial pilot and a charter member of AOPA.
After Romania became the first Nazi satellite nation to break free of the Axis, however, Michael eventually found himself resisting growing Soviet influence in Romania, and in December 1947 he was forced at gunpoint to abdicate and flee.
In 1948 he married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma in Athens, Greece. They had five daughters and lived mostly in Switzerland. Princess Anne died in 2016.
A futile attempt to return to Romania after the overthrow of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989 was followed in 1992 by a visit in which Michael was warmly received by the Romanian public. More visits followed and eventually, his citizenship was restored. Michael would go on to visit numerous countries to advocate for Romania’s entry into NATO, which occurred in 2004, and for admission to the European Union (2007).
According to a published obituary, Michael trained as a pilot during World War II, and in exile he worked variously as a commercial pilot, stockbroker “and, briefly, a chicken farmer.”
An online biography notes that he was a blood relative of members of numerous European royal families, and was a great-grandson of Britain’s Queen Victoria, and of royals in Germany, Russia, and Portugal, among others.
He was born Oct. 25, 1921, the son of Crown Prince Carol and Princess Helen, a member of the Greek royal family, according to the obituary.
He became king at age 5 in 1927 on the death of his grandfather, King Ferdinand I, because Michael’s father, Crown Prince Carol, had renounced his claim to the throne and eloped with Elena Magda Lupescu.
Carol returned and claimed the throne in June 1930, but was deposed in 1940, when Michael resumed the throne.
His arrest of Antonescu in 1944—when Michael was 22—was hailed in the online biography of a Romanian journalism website as “the most important decision of his reign.” The report added that Michael’s decision to have Romania’s forces subsequently fight side by side with the Allies against the Nazis “reportedly shortened World War II by some six months, helping save hundreds of thousands of lives.”
Michael’s oldest daughter, Margareta, 68, would have been next in line for the throne if the Romanian monarchy had continued, news reports said.