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Michael I, former king of Romania dies at 96

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One of the last surviving WWII leaders who fought communism and fascism his entire life

The former King of Romania, Michael I, passed away Tuesday evening at the age of 96. He was one of the last surviving world leaders from the WWII era, and was responsible for Romania’s change in sides, moving to support the Allies, in 1944.

Michael’s reign began when he was just five years old, in 1927, after a love affair caused his father Carol I to renounce his claim to the throne. Three years later, Prince Carol returned and reclaimed the throne, ruling until 1940 when he was ousted by the fascist Ion Antonescu, who lead the military run government.

Michael resumed his place as King of Romania at the age of 19, and for the next five years he used his position to fight the fascist regime of Antonescu. In 1944, at the age of 22, Michael was involved in a coup which removed Antonescu and changed the allegiance of Romania to the Allies.

Michael remained king of Romania until 1947, when the country’s communist party forced him to abdicate the throne and sent him into exile. The communists held power over the Romanian government until the revolution of 1989, and the end of the Cold War. BBC explains how the communists blackmailed Michael to relinquish his power:

The communist leaders threatened to carry out mass executions if he refused to go. In a BBC interview, he described how the authorities had blackmailed him.

“If you don’t sign this thing now, we’re going to have to shoot or kill 1,000 people that are already in prison.”

While in exile, the royal family settled in Geneva, Switzerland, where the deposed king lived a normal life, finding jobs and supporting his family. One of his favorite jobs was as a test pilot for private airplanes in Europe and the US.

Michael was unable to return to Romania until 1997, when the last of the communists lost office. He never again held position as King of Romania.

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