"War Stories" producer Ayse Wieting sat down with FOX Fan Central to talk about her experience working on — In the Jaws of Hell: Eastern Europe in World War II.
FOX FAN: Much of this episode focuses on Romania, a country that doesn't necessarily spring to mind when people think about World War II. Why was conquering Romania so key to Hitler's victory?
AYSE WIETING: Hitler had two main interests in Romania during World War II: oil and soldiers. The Germans were using their unparalleled economic power to woo Romania even before the official start of the war in September 1939. Germany's aim was to reel in Romania as tightly as possible, to then be able to influence foreign policy. It was genius, and it worked. Most people don't realize that Romania, under the leadership of fascist dictator Ion Antonescu, willingly, albeit reluctantly, joined the war on the side of the Axis powers.
Romanian oil refineries supplied nearly 50% of "Hitler's black gold". Without that Romanian oil, German tanks weren't going to roll and German planes weren't going fly. By late 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had realized that bombing these refineries-most notably the ones in Ploeisti-would cripple Hitler's war machine. Soon, the skies over those oil refineries were black with Allied bombers. Thousands of Americans were shot down, and ended up prisoners of the Romanians. We took one of those survivors back to the very same refinery complex he was sent to bomb during the war.
In addition to the oil, Hitler was also interested in Romania's her potential ability to provide manpower for the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union. Antonescu met with Hitler prior to the offensive and experts seem to agree that in that meeting Antonescu promised to commit Romanian soldiers to the imminent war with the Soviets. Indeed, 500,000 Romanian infantrymen joined 3 million Wehrmacht troops on the battlefield. Some 70,000 young Romanians died, another half million were wounded or captured.
FOX FAN: What was the most surprising or interesting thing you encountered while filming in Romania?
AYSE WIETING: While shooting in various cities throughout Romania, I found myself fascinated with the juxtaposition of modern and traditional. For example, the capital, Bucharest, is a bustling metropolis with a population of 2 million. On any given day, you can see young Romanians clad in designer clothing, toting brand-names bags, driving the latest sports cars. The city's streets are littered with ethnic eateries, including American fast food restaurants. But, travel 50 miles outside of the city limits, and you're in a totally different world: villagers driving down a highway on horse-drawn carts, gypsies selling flowers on the side of the road, and various other glimpses into peasant life.
FOX FAN: Like much of the rest of Eastern Europe, Romania was ravaged twice — first by the Nazis and then by the Soviets. What was the country like today?
AYSE WIETING: Romania today is a country that is still recovering from nearly five decades of oppression. There are daily reminders of their painful past: German gun positions, featureless and grim architecture, and even bullet holes from the 1989 revolution which overthrew the last Communist dictator, Nicolai Ceausescu. But, the wounds are slowly, but surely, healing. Romanians have made incredible progress with respect to human and civil rights, and they now enjoy increasing personal and economic freedoms. Romanian has been negotiating with the European Union for years and remains in track to become a full-fledged member in January 2007.
FOX FAN: In 1947 the Communists forced King Michael from the throne. You spent a lot of time interviewing him for this episode. What were some of his reflections on that era?
AYSE WIETING: Michael was barely 19 years old when he became king following his father's dramatic abdication. Romania was on the verge of war, and he ascended the throne just as it was heating up. He was caught in the middle of two colossal forces. To the west was Adolf Hitler, the obvious enemy. To the east, Josef Stalin, who was officially an "ally", but traditionally and enemy of Romania. Michael himself said that he grew up in a very sheltered household, and that he was never taught how to run a country, or how to dabble in politics and deal with politicians. I think the world is slowly beginning to realize that he was in a very precarious situation.
It was my impression that he felt that he was stuck between "a rock and a hard place." Officially, Michael was head of state, but unofficially, the dictator Antonescu held all the power. They seemed to get along fairly well, but had radically different visions with regard to Romania's position in the war. Michael did the best he could, given the circumstances.