While the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was underway, on November 15, 1918 the negotiations between the Romanians in Transylvania and a Hungarian delegation led by Oszkar Jaszi failed. The Romanians in Transylvania were determined to forge their own path and immediately after the failure of these negotiations, the Romanian National Council decided to convene a large National Assembly in Alba-Iulia to resolve upon the fate of the Romanians in Transylvania. But at the same time in Transylvania, the German army, commanded by field marshal Mackensen, was in full retreat.
The summons to convene a large National Assembly in Alba-Iulia was drafted by Vasile Goldiş (1862-1934), the director of the Românul [The Romanian] newspaper, which was outlawed by Budapest in March 1916, but which began to reappear in November 1918. The words of Goldiş’s call are eloquent: “In the name of eternal justice, the Romanian nation has to have a say regarding its fate. For this purpose, we convene the National Assembly of the Romanian nation in Alba Iulia, the historic city of the nation, on Sunday, December 1, 1918, at ten o’clock”. Order was maintained during the Great National Assembly of Alba lulia by Romanian military guards.
The Romanian guards were also involved in another event, the negotiations with field marshal Anton Ludwig August von Mackensen. The withdrawal of his troops from the former occupied territory of Muntenia to Germany was to take place through Transylvania. Thus, the field marshal telephoned the Romanian National Council in Arad for an agreement. Following discussions between German delegates and representatives of the Romanian National Council in Transylvania, German troops were allowed to transit the territory. It is worth mentioning that Mackensen respected the authorization and the wishes expressed by the National Council of Arad to stop the movement of German troops during the Great National Assembly of Alba Iulia.
“The German army was withdrawing from Romania, cannon by cannon, in the tight grip of silence”
The Romanian writer Lucian Blaga, who accompanied his brother to the Great Assembly of Alba Iulia, wrote about the encounter with Mackensen’s troops: “Like a beacon, the Romanians (ed. from Transylvania) travelled to Alba-Iulia (towards Bălgrad, as we called it, with its old name) on foot and in carts. […] It was a cold winter morning (ed. December 1, 1918). Our breath took the shape of invisible crystals. On one side of the road Romanian carts, creaking through the snow, with a lot of cheer and joy, forming a single file, were headed to Alba-Iulia and on the other side, the German army was withdrawing from Romania, cannon by cannon, in the tight grip of silence”. In those very days, the defeated German army, led by Marshal von Mackensen (who had command of the German front of Mărăști, Mărăşeşti and Oituz and who had occupied Bucharest), was now retreating to Germany, reaching Alba-Iulia near Unification Day. To avoid a conflict, Ștefan Cicio-Pop sent a personal letter to the former enemy, demanding that the troop withdrawal be stopped for three days. Promptly, the general answered the letter, accepting the proposal “provided that the people do not attack and disarm the troops”. The same promise was given by captain Medrea, who phoned the general, demanding that the withdrawal of the defeated troops should not pass through Alba-Iulia.
Mackensen spent the night of December 2, 1918 in Arad. At lunchtime, Mackensen’s car parked in front of the Central Cafe. The news of Mackensen’s arrival rapidly spread in Arad, and the people became agitated, curious. At six o’clock, Mackensen served dinner with three of his officers. The German general left Arad the next morning to Oradea, accompanied by six military cars.
After leaving Romania, the passage through Hungary of Mackensen’s troops did not go as smoothly. Due to French pressure, Count Mihaly Karolyi accepted to disarm and to intern the German troops. The field marshal would spend a period in captivity, initially in a private villa on the outskirts of Budapest, and afterwards he was detained in several other places, until December 1, 1919, when he returned to Germany.
Henri Prost, Destinul României: (1918-1954) [The destiny of Romania: (1918-1954)], Compania Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006.
Florin Constantiniu, O istorie sinceră a poporului român [A sincere history of the Romanian people], Encyclopaedic Universe Publishing House, Bucharest, 2008
I.G. Duca, Memorii [Memories], vol. I, Expres Publishing House, Bucharest, 1992.
Translated by Laurențiu Dumitru Dologa