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Helen of Greece and Denmark (Greek: Ελένη, Eleni; Romanian: Elena; 2 May 1896 – 28 November 1982) was the queen mother of Romania during the reign of her son King Michael I (1940–1947). She was noted for her humanitarian efforts to save Romanian Jews during World War II, which led to her being awarded by the State of Israel with the honorific of Righteous Among the Nations in 1993.
|Helen of Greece and Denmark|
|Queen Mother of Romania|
|Born||(1896-05-02)2 May 1896|
Old Royal Palace, Athens, Kingdom of Greece
|Died||28 November 1982(1982-11-28) (aged 86)|
(m. 1921; div. 1928)
|Issue||Michael I of Romania|
|Father||Constantine I of Greece|
|Mother||Sophia of Prussia|
|Religion||Eastern Orthodox Church|
|House of Glücksburg|
Daughter of King Constantine I of Greece and his wife, Princess Sophia of Prussia, Helen spent her childhood in Greece, the United Kingdom and Germany. The outbreak of World War I and the overthrow of her father by the Allies in 1917 permanently marked her and also separated her from her favorite brother, the young Alexander I of Greece. Exiled in Switzerland along with most members of the royal family, Helen then spent several months caring for her father, plagued by disease and depression. In 1920, the princess met Carol, Crown Prince of Romania, who quickly asked her hand in marriage. Despite the bad reputation of the prince, Helen accepted and moved to Romania, where she soon gave birth to their only son, Prince Michael, in 1921.
The situation of her family, however, continued to worry Helen, who made several trips abroad to visit her parents when they did not simply reside with her in Bucharest. In doing this, she distanced herself from her husband, whose multiple affairs ended when he fell in love with Magda Lupescu in 1924. Finally, in 1925, Crown Prince Carol abandoned his wife and renounced the throne in order to live openly with his mistress. Distraught, Helen tried to persuade her husband to return to her but eventually she accepted the divorce in 1928. In the meanwhile, Helen was proclaimed "Queen Mother of Romania" in 1927, as her son Michael ascended to the throne under the regency of his uncle Prince Nicolae. However, the political situation in Romania was complicated and Carol took advantage of the increased instability to return to Bucharest in 1930 and be acclaimed as king. Soon, the new ruler forced his ex-wife into exile and only authorized her to see their son two months per year.
In these circumstances, Helen moved to Villa Sparta at Fiesole, Tuscany. Always close to her family, she hosted her sisters Irene and Katherine and brother Paul, who stayed with her intermittently until the restoration of the Greek monarchy in 1935. The outbreak of World War II, the deposition of Carol II and the subsequent dismemberment of Greater Romania in 1940, however, brought Helen back to be with her son in Bucharest. Subject to the dictatorship of General Antonescu and vigilance of Nazi Germany, the king and his mother were cautious in their dealings with the fascist regime. They did not show their opposition to the participation of Romania in the invasion of the Soviet Union and the deportation of Jews. Finally, King Michael organized a coup against Antonescu on 23 August 1944 and Romania turned against the Axis powers; however, the country was, in the end, occupied by the Red Army.
For Helen and her son, the post-war period was marked by the interference of the Soviet Union in Romanian political life. In March 1945, the king was forced to accept a communist government headed by Petru Groza while the following year, the rigged general elections confirmed the hegemony of the PCR in the country. Finally, Michael I was forced to abdicate on 30 December 1947 and the royal family took the path of exile. She then returned to the Villa Sparta, where she divided her time among her family, gardening and the study of Italian art. Increasingly concerned about her finances, Helen finally left Italy for Switzerland in 1979 and died three years later with her son at her side.