"Majesty, mother cries at all hours because her brother is a prisoner. He just received a postcard that says he will die of hunger. Your Majesty, if you would like to send him to Switzerland ... because Mama is going to get sick safely. Majesty, I thank you in advance. Your servant Sylviane [8 años, Francia, abril de 1917]" "Dear young lady, I will try my best so that your mother does not cry; therefore, kindly give me precise news of your uncle so that I can find out. Alfonso XIII, King" Achille Delmonte, a French soldier held prisoner in Hannover (Germany), was thus found and finally taken to a Swiss medical commission. "Result", concludes the file that has been kept for more than one hundred years in the Madrid's royal palace, "positive".
The exhibition Letters to the King. The humanitarian mediation of Alfonso XIII in the Great War. Monograph 2018, which will continue at the Royal Palace until March 31, 2019, tells the story of a man trapped between two worlds facing death: the Austria-Hungary, which represented his mother, Maria Cristina de Habsburgo-Lorraine, and the British , that of his wife, Victoria Eugenia de Battenberg.
Alfonso de Borbón and Habsburgo-Lorraine, related to all the kings and queens of Europe, the same ones whose armies faced (10 million lost human lives) in the battlefields of the First World War he mediated diplomatically and humanely to avoid disaster. For this, it created the European War Office, which depended directly on its Particular Secretariat, and whose objective was to help the victims. Without distinction: soldiers, civilians or princes.
The office was born modestly in 1915 with six people, but the publication in the French newspaper The Petit Gironde of a thank-you note for having found the father of a girl, caused thousands of letters demanding help from all over Europe to arrive in Madrid. More than 200,000 (140,000 relatives of soldiers) have found the experts who for eight years have been working on the project to recover the memory of one of the most spectacular events of Spanish diplomacy. The real office had to expand its workforce to the 48 people who were required to master the languages. Among the translators, the historian Julián Juderías, who worked in 15 languages, stood out until the day of his death, that he worked gravely ill.
"In the name of Jesus, I beg you to intercede with the Emperor so that my father can return." "He was my only son, my only consolation, my only hope in old age." "He was the best of husbands, but if he gave his life for my Old, Old England, I think I'll be able to stand it." And so thousands of letters that were read after opening a file to try to resolve them. They came with photos attached ("the photo will help you find it, it's your tattoo), with heartbreaking messages (" if I could find my dear dad ... "" or was the best man, my life ") and all were answered thanks to what Juan José Alonso Martín, director of the General Archive of the Palace, describes as "a primitive computer system." "They were sorted and classified by colors according to the motives of the letter and nationality, they were labeled, copies were made and It sent the answer to the senders and the corresponding authorities, and they printed them, in addition, a stamp according to the importance of the message ... ", describes Alonso Martín.
And it is that everything could be treated in that office of the Royal Palace: even the liberation of the Tsar of Russia Nicholas II and his family, who had been imprisoned by the Bolsheviks in Yekaterinburg. In one of the files found on the shelves of the palace - made up of 90 documents - two telegrams were kept sent to the plenipotentiary of St. Petersburg trying to negotiate a visit to the tsars (the envoys of the office visited during the First World War more than 4,000 prisoners throughout Europe). Alfonso XIII also offered that they could go into exile in Spain. The Spanish king was one of the first to learn of the murder of the Tsar and his son, but not of the Tsarina and her daughters. For that reason, he insisted again, thinking that women lived, in bringing them to Spain. But the file ends abruptly, without further details.
Prisoners of war were one of the main concerns of King Alfonso XIII. He proposed to suspend the death sentences of German and French soldiers. It is estimated that his pleadings saved almost a hundred people and 5% of those sought. There is proof that he telegraphed the ambassadors of Paris, Vienna, London, Berlin, Rome, Petrograd, Constantinople, Bucharest, Sofia and The Hague demanding the exchange of prisoners.
And constancy was also that his mediation was essential to lift the fence of food to Belgium, where nine million people could be fed because the King interceded so that the provisions of the United States could reach the population.
When the war ended, "the humanitarian work of Spain was recognized internationally," recalls Antonio Escámez Torres, president of the Banco Santander Foundation, which has financed research together with Patrimonio Nacional. The diplomatic staff of that epic received the medal Reconnaissance Française, the women of the Red Cross, the rest of the workers, the Silver of Isabel la Católica. And Alfonso XIII, the gratitude of the Belgian and Italian peoples in 1923.
History - with its photographs, films and letters - can be seen from today in the Royal Palace of Madrid. On its walls are also represented the metal files where the files were kept and where they can be read: De Rzbiere A. M. a Lucien Rocer, Alfred; from Vojtech, Vladimir to Vorus, Janus ... And so hundreds and hundreds of boxes. More than 200,000 stories full of hope and a king who wanted to help them.