Radio propaganda was an efficient way of boosting the morale of the army and civilians.
War propaganda was one of the most efficient ways of boosting the morale of the army and the civilian population. It also was a means to justify the course of action and decisions of a particular political regime. Democratic as well as totalitarian regimes have used radio propaganda, which allowed strictly controlled information to reach the public quickly and efficiently.
Radio Donau was set up in order to broadcast information from the German-speaking world to central and south-east Europe. Its head offices were in Vienna, while the transmitters were located in the mountains of Bohemia. From Vienna in June 1940, Radio Donau began its broadcast in Romanian, with the staff made up of several translators. After August 23, 1944, when Romania switched its alliance from the Axis to the Allies, a far-right government in exile was formed in Vienna, headed by Horia Sima. That government’s messages to Romanians were broadcast by Radio Donau’s Romanian service, which was disbanded in May 1945.
In 1942, Iustin Liuba from Timisoara, in western Romania, travelled to Dresden, in Germany, for his university studies. In 1944 Iustin Liuba relocated to Vienna. In an interview that he gave to Radio Romania’s Oral History Centre in 1998, he recalled that Romanians studying in Vienna used to work for Radio Donau:
Iustin Liuba: ”There was a small team made up of three Romanians working for Radio Donau, who translated 2 to 3-minute long commentaries from German into Romanian. Most of their work consisted in the translation of news bulletins. The news bulletins came from the German High Command, reporting, for instance, ‘our submarines sank 50 thousand tonnes in the North Atlantic’. This meant that they had sunk merchant vessels, allied cargos. Similar special announcements would be made every three hours or so. The news was translated into several languages, broadcast languages also included Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Serbo-Croatian, plus Japanese, Italian, the languages of the Axis powers.”
Brief, fifteen-minute programmes were aired, mostly news bulletins. Here is Iustin Liuba once again, with details on the Radio Donau programmes and how people there used to work:
Iustin Liuba: “Recordings were made, which afterwards were rerun several times. Airtime was limited. Some of the programmes came live, while other materials were recorded, not on tape, because there was no such thing back then, but on vinyl discs, just as gramophone discs. The problem with it was that, if you made a mistake, the disc was useless, you had to get a new one. If you made just one mistake, the disk was thrown away and you had to start all over again. So it was complicated. The news came from German sources. The German intelligence services fed Radio Donau with the latest news, but they didn’t say that. They would quote ‘reliable sources’. Usually it was the Deutsche Nachrichten Agentur, the German News Agency, who provided the news. The station also used a team of Germans from Romania, Saxons or Swabians, who spoke Romanian and of course German, which was their mother tongue. They were monitoring the broadcasts, making sure there were no changes in the written text and the texts were read correctly.”
The so-called “national government” set up after August 23, 1944 was made up of Iron Guard leaders. Shortly afterwards, however, tensions emerged between Horia Sima’s government in exile and the other Romanians in Vienna. Radio Donau was the channel used by the Sima government to reach Romanians. Iustin Liuba told us more about those rivalries:
Iustin Liuba: “A ‘national government’ was set up in Vienna. Back then, there was a well-known rivalry between the Iron Guard commander, Horia Sima, and general Ion Gheorghe, who had been Antonescu’s ambassador to Berlin and who was not a member of that far-right organisation. General Ion Gheorghe was an iconic figure of the Romanian army, a symbol of the Romanian people’s anti-communist tradition, whereas Horia Sima was representing the Iron Guard extremist organisation. General Ion Gheorghe was a professor at the War School, the military academy in Bucharest, and a renowned expert on tanks. He used to say: ‘We are at war with the Soviets, but we don’t want to be led by the Iron Guard. The Romanian people, through its army, stood up against this organisation, which had rebelled against the state order.’ This dispute between general Ion Gheorghe and Horia Sima took place in Vienna, and the Germans didn’t know who was the best person to head the new government and to organise the resistance against the Soviet army.”
Iustin Liuba also spoke about the tense meeting between Horia Sima and the Romanian students in Vienna, designed to set up a so-called ‘national liberation army’.
Iustin Liuba: “We were discontent about the government’s extremist leaning, because the Germans eventually decided to choose Horia Sima as head of government. They removed general Ion Gheorghe, who had our support, and who represented the Romanian anti-communist army. The Germans favoured Horia Sima and asked him to go and speak to the students, recruit them, convince them to join the ranks of the national army. It was a failure, nobody volunteered, two or three girls from the Medical School said, ‘We are female doctors, we can work in hospital’, so they signed the papers, but the rest of the students didn’t. Horia Sima got angry, he said, ‘I am ashamed of you, you don’t realise what you are doing!’ We apologised, Horia Sima slammed the door shut behind him, and that was our meeting.”
The Romanian army’s last mission during WW II was to destroy the transmitters of Radio Donau. This mission, successfully accomplished, put an end to Romania’s participation in WW II.