The notebook of Hospital 355

Modern History
Writing, photography, printing, binding, gluing
H = 20 cm, W = 15 cm

    The Notebook of Hospital 355 of the Circle of Finances, Industry and Commerce in Bucharest, 1916-1918

    Text: Cristina Păiușan-Nuică

    At the end of 2017, the National History Museum of Romania included in its collection a document from the period 1916-1918: a notebook of 15/20 centimeters, with approximately 50 pages, out of which some are written and others have various documents stuck or attached to them, entitled “The Notebook of Hospital 355 of the Circle of Finances, Industry and Commerce in Bucharest”.

    According to the notes it contains, the notebook belonged to Elena D. Z. Furnică. 100 years later, it was discovered by Oana Ilie, Ph.D. and introduced in the patrimony of the National Museum of Romanian History with the inventory number 367571. 

    Elena Furnică, born on 16 February 1893, was the daughter of Dumitru Z. Furnică, a merchant in Bucharest, the owner of the “La Furnica” shop, and Ana, born Ionescu. Ana Furnică was a member of various charity committees and, at the beginning of the world war, she raised funds in the amount of 2,602,366 lei for purchasing a submarine. 

    Before 1916, little had been known about Elena D.Z. Furnică, but, at the age of 23, she became a voluntary nurse at the Hospital 355 of the Circle of Finances, Industry and Commerce. Throughout the war, she continued her activity as a voluntary nurse.  

    After the war, Elena D.Z. Furnică married the diplomat Ioan Condurachi and had a daughter, Oana.  

    The notebook is a novel and interesting piece, a testimony of life in a hospital of occupation during the Great War. The hospital had been in use since August 1916, when Romania entered the war, throughout the entire German occupation of the Capital, under extremely difficult circumstances and with great sacrifices made by the medical staff that remained in an occupied city. 

    The first pages of the notebook are dedicated to Queen Marie, an example for all the voluntary nurses. On the first page, there is the poem entitled “Worship”, written by Second Lieutenant Ion Al. George for the “Queen Marie” calendar and dated 21 October 1917, together with a photo of Queen Marie dressed in the uniform of a nurse.  

    On the following page, there is a picture of Queen Marie in a traditional Romanian costume, together with King Ferdinand in uniform. After this photo, there are 5 pages with the signatures of the doctors, of some patients and of the ladies who were working as volunteers for the hospital.   

    We have deciphered a part of these signatures: Anna Browne (?), Elenuța J. Armășescu, Viola Fortunescu, Sofia Furnică, Lilly Vasiliu, Aneta Locq, Consuela Cohen, Eleonora Mănescu, Lucia dr. N. Anghelescu,  C. Schonfehr, Ana D. Furnică, Walberg Gia Christecu, Angela Dobriceanu, Max Finter (?), Florica Dobriceanu, Jana Davidescu (?), Paul Cohen (?) E. Al. Zissu,  I.Th. Schwitzer, Second Lieutenant I. Prager (from the 4th Regiment of Cavalry), who signed with his left hand, as he no longer had his right hand, which had been amputated, Elena Dobriceanu, Second Lieutenant Becheanu, from the 33rd Regiment of Infantry, captain N. Ionescu (the 20th Regiment of Infantry), Second Lieutenant in reserve C. Tomescu, from the 10th Regiment in Putna, Marina I. Martinescu (?), Elena D. Furnică, Nathalie Schor, Giselle Mischonzniky,  Cecilia Demetrescu, Dr. Nicolae Braun (?), Lenuța Sfetea, Valerie Wenberg Vianu, Speranța Bosse, Camelia Ionescu, Mărioara N. Tomescu, dr. Ion Tomescu, L. Marcu (?), nurse V. Niculescu, nun Magdalena Galeș, Aurelia D. Ionescu, Elena G. Velluda, Mercedes Cohen, A. Popescu-Dolj, Emilie Mischonzniky, S. Bobeș, City Arvănescu (?), Marin C. Năstase, Lucia Hagi Ilie, Florica Ionescu, S.H. Schener (?) with thanks for the services brought to … the hospital of the Chamber of Commerce, Elisa Bedeniei (?), L. Basarabescu, dr. Juchtei (?), lieutenant Petru Ghițeș. 

    These are the names of the voluntary nurses who worked for this hospital, of some of the wounded soldiers under their care, of doctor Ion Tomescu, who is also mentioned in the verses that describe the life in the hospital.   

    In the works published during the past few years and dedicated to the women’s participation in the war, the names of the nurses from Hospital no. 355 are not mentioned, because they took part in the war in the occupied Romania, so this novel document refers to some new heroines who remained in the occupied Bucharest and, for two years, treated the wounded and the war prisoners.  

    The identification of these people has just started, but each of these names represents a novel story from the Great War. 

    This object of patrimony tells the story, yet unwritten, of some volunteer nurses who chose to remain in Bucharest, which was under the German-Austrian-Hungarian-Bulgarian-Turkish occupation, and to take care of the wounded – Romanians, Russians or of other nationalities – to fight against the misfortunes, the occupiers’ harassment and the lack of food, wood or drugs and to hope that Romania would regain its independence and would become a unified state. 

    Elena D. Furnică’s memory notebook is an optimistic document, which expresses hope for freedom and victory. Most of the notes are in verses, the hospital life being turned into poems created by the wounded, the doctors or the nurses and written down by Elena Furnică. In our opinion, there is only one person who has written all these, as there is a single handwriting, excepting the pages with the signatures of the people from hospital: doctors, wounded soldiers of all ranks, sisters and nurses.

    The notebook is a chronicle in humorous verses of the life in a Romanian hospital during the occupation, in a terrible moment for the Romanian history, when a big part of the Romanian territory was occupied and the situation of the refugees in Moldavia was tragic, as tens of thousands of people were on the road, hungry and dirty.  

    Besides Elena Furnică’s notes, the notebook also contains some documents attached with paper clips or glued, as well as some photos of herself and her co-workers. 

    Out of these documents, it is worth mentioning a notification with the number 530 from the National “Red Cross” Society of Romania, signed by Elisa Brătianu, through which Elena Furnică is informed that, in the case of mobilization, she will have to work for the Central School Hospital, under the coordination of Mrs. Romniceanu and Mrs. Brătianu. 

    This notification is dated 11 February 1916 and sent to Mrs. Elena Furnică, 65, Lipscani Street. It is the proof that, as early as the beginning of 1916, the Romanian Red Cross was preparing for war, organizing hospitals and canteens, which started their activity in August 1916, when Romania entered the war. 

    Attached with paper clips, there are the two Red Cross armbands that belonged to Ana Furnică and Elena Furnică. They are accompanied by two authorizations with photos, issued by the Ministry of War, the Central Sanitary Commission. Elena Furnică’s authorization is dated “7 September 1916”, her capacity being that of an “honorary nurse of Hospital 111”, although it bears the stamp of Hospital 355 CFI, where she worked during the war. Ana Furnică’s authorization is dated “5 October 1916”, her capacity being that of an “honorary nurse of Hospital 355 CFI”. Both of them bear the red-ink stamp of the National “Red Cross” Society of Romania, as well as the stamp of the Ilfov-Bucharest Regional Committee of Action and the holders’ photos. A black stamp, added later, writes: “Valid on all the routes of the Communal Society of Tramways in Bucharest up to 31 December 1916; General Manager, illegible signature”. 

    The mother and the daughter were voluntary nurses at the same hospital, no 355, within the Palace of the Chamber of Commerce, which later became a building of the National Library of Romania and today is the Palace of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on 4 Ion Ghica Street. 

    Among the photos attached to the notebook, at the beginning, there is a photo of Elena Furnică, who wrote below it that it was the most frequently used for the passport, which was necessary for refuge. However, from the other pages we find out that she did not take refuge in Moldavia, but remained in Bucharest, where she was a voluntary nurse up to the spring of 1918. 

    The pages 40-42, according to our counting, contain the text “The Christmas celebration. A story in verses” –  “to remember the Christmas celebration that took place at hospital no. 355 on 24 December 1917”. 

    This rhymed presentation of the Christmas celebration is accompanied by a picture taken at this event, in which there are the wounded soldiers and officers, the nurses and doctors. Above the photo, there is the annotation “The Christmas meal of 1917” and it is accompanied by a typed choir program, the first of the three attached to the notebook. 

    The program has two sections, one with Romanian names, the other with Russian names, and the repertoire of songs for the Christmas Eve of 1917. 

    There are 14 photos of nurses attached to the notebook. Among them, what drew our attention was the picture of a Moroccan soldier, “Betach Ben Kaddour, 15 Compagne de Tirailleurs Marocains”.

    The historian Vitalie Buzu discovered the existence of four German camps organized at Slobozia and Mărculești, on Dumitru Seceleanu’s estate, as well as at the Argeș Monastery and Turnul Măgurele. Here were a few thousand Black prisoners from the French and British armies.   

    Corroborating the information provided by the historian Vitalie Buzu with the presence of Betach Ben Kaddour’s photo in this notebook, we inferred that this soldier of the 15th Company of Moroccan Riflemen was taken prisoner by the German army, sent to one of these camps in the occupied Romania and, thanks to a fortunate event, got to Hospital no. 355 in Bucharest. 

    Another interesting history is related to a photo dated July 1918, in which, as Elena Furnică mentioned, there were “I. Belcassin ben Mahomed, the 35th Regiment of Infantry, comp. 15, Algeria; II. Charles Patterson (driver-mechanic) (volunteer soldier, 43 years old, taken prisoner in September 1915 at the La Bassée Canal) London, England”. In the picture, besides the two men, there are Elena Furnică, another nurse and a child dressed in a sailor costume.    

    Undoubtedly, the two Black soldiers – the Moroccan Betach Ben Kaddour and the Algerian Belcassin ben Mahomed – were war prisoners who were brought to Romania and, through a fortunate event, did not get to the camps in Bărăgan, but to Hospital no. 355, making the acquaintance of Elena Furnică. 

    Belcassin ben Mahomed is also presented in the rhymed story about the Christmas celebration, thus testifying that he was in Hospital no. 355 in December 1917. The photo in which he is alone is not dated, but, judging by the vegetation around him, was taken in summer or autumn, not in winter, which shows that he spent a longer period in hospital. 

    Several handwritten pages, as well as two postcards that bear the stamp of Iași, signed by Marie and addressed to Elena Furnică (65, Lipscani Street), are attached to the notebook. The first postcard, which is not dated and whose postmark is covered by the stamp, refers to travelling to Iași by a special train, renting a flat in the city and resuming her work as a voluntary nurse at many hospitals. “I left home with so much regret”, Elena Furnică’s friend confessed to her in the postcard. The second postcard is written in French, dated by the postmark on 27 November  1916, Iași, and refers to the life in the capital of free Romania, as well as to the refusal to address the women in the Brătianu family to work as voluntary nurses in the hospital in Iași. 

    On other two pages of the notebook, Elena Furnică copied The Romanian Queen’s Appeal to her People. A Cry of Pain from the Exiled Queen, an article published in the newspapers “Figaro”, “L indèpendance Belge” and “Neues Wiener” in October 1917.

    The highly encouraging article circulated in the occupied Romania and had a great emotional impact:   

    “Bucharest, what do you look like? 

    Are you dressed in clothes of mourning for all your departed children or are you deceitfully smiling, so that you would not draw the anger of the current rulers towards those who have remained? […] Oh, Bucharest, I left you without goodbye, I, who have been for so many times acclaimed by my People on your streets. I had to leave in silence, without being able to show my grief in front of those who were condemned to remain there. […] I believe in the Day of the Return, in the Day of Victory, I believe that the blood of our brave soldiers was not shed in vain. One day, you will open wide your arms, to welcome us back, our beloved Capital” […] Only God can decide if I, your Queen, will share this joy with you, but I beg you from the bottom of my heart: if I am not to come back to our Capital, then take all the flowers that you would have offered me to the burial place of my Little Child and spread them on his grave; fill the Church with flowers, so that the one who has stayed alone for so long would rejoice with you”. 

    The second choir program, undated, is divided into two distinct sections, Romanian choir and Russian choir. It has a tri-colored band glued to it and contains the description of the artistic activities: “drama couple, Ode to the Romanian soldiers, Romanian traditional dances, a Russian traditional dance, arias from operas”, as well as the names of the performers.  

    The third program, partially typed, partially handwritten, was dated “22 April 1918, the first Easter day”, and signed Lenuța; it contains 14 choir songs and the recital of Mrs. Barbelian from the Conservatory of Music. 

    Another annex to the notebook contains a poem in French, transcribed by Elena Furnică. It is entitled Les doigts coupes, it was written by the French poet Miquel Zamacois and it is about the atrocities of war, about the way in which war turns people into beasts. The story in the poem is terrible, as it is about a German soldier, who died on the battlefield and in whose pocket were found a few cut human fingers, with rings on them, which he had taken from the dead soldiers. 

    The impact of this poem on the French public, as well as on the Romanian one, was huge, as it circulated on the entire battlefield of the allies as a symbol of the atrocities committed by the German soldiers.  

    On one of the annexes to the notebook, there is another satire of a German ordinance. In April 1918, in the occupied Romania, while the Romanian authorities were negotiating with the Central Powers, whose representatives were asking not only for territories (Southern Dobruja for the Bulgarians, the peaks of the Carpathians for Austria-Hungary), but also for the economic enslavement of Romania (the German monopoly on the trade with wood and grains), the nurses from the Hospital of the Circle 355 in Bucharest, the former capital of Romania, were writing this satire on a page attached to the notebook by means of a paper clip:

    “Copy of the Ordinance 3521 

    We, by the grace of Old God, the Head of Censorship, order the following: 

    1. From now on, the press shall be free. 

    2. Cooking recipes, obituaries, Mr. Ariton’s interviews, von Kulhmann’s discourses and Mr. Stere’s articles shall be published without the intervention of Censorship. 

    3. The telegrams received from abroad will be submitted only to small corrections, meant to better inform the public. For example, instead of “the Germans lost the battle”, they will say “they have gained ground” or instead of “they are withdrawing in chaos”, they will say “they are marching on victoriously”.

    4. Also for better informing the public on the number of prisoners (according to Nancu) a zero or even two if necessary shall be added. 

    5. The articles meant to inform the public on the 4820 caliber cannon and its disastrous effects on the population of San Francisco shall be published without any censorship.   

    6. Words like Honor, Bravery, Delicacy shall be printed in capital letters – of course, when they are determined by adjectives such as: German, Austrian or Bulgarian.

    7. Sententious words like: Mărăști, Mărășești, Oituz, Jiu, Stephen the Great, Michael the Brave, Romanian soul, our grieves, ideal, dignity, pride, patriotism, dreams, hopes, expectations shall be banned forever and replaced with their equivalents: Gott mit uns, […] Komandatur, Hindenburg, Kronprinz, Mackensen, Kaiser Wilhelm.

    8. The inappropriate word “deserter” shall be banned forever and replaced with its equivalent “a candidate for the Chamber of Deputies”.

    Issued and approved in România liberă”

    April 1918”

    The humor and optimism revealed by the verses, the annotations, the content of the entire notebook were unshakeable. 

    The study of “The Notebook of Hospital 355 of the Circle of Finances, Industry and Commerce in Bucharest”, 1916-1918, which entered the patrimony of the National Museum of Romanian History at the end of 2017, brought new information about the existence and the activity of Hospital no. 355, about some ladies who remained in Bucharest to work as voluntary nurses and, for two years, took care of the wounded, about the presence, amongst the wounded, of two Black soldiers, a Moroccan one and an Algerian one, as well as of an English driver, about the way in which these brave women lived during the occupation and war years, coming to the hospital every day, working hard and saving the lives of hundreds of wounded soldiers.  

    Their names will be added to the hundreds of names of voluntary nurses that we have known so far. Elena Furnică has remained in history by writing this notebook-document, to which she attached photos and documents from the Great War.  

    Her story continues, because, finding out about her notebook, Narcis Ispas purchased and donated to the National Museum of Romanian History another notebook, signed Helene Condurachi - 1920-1939, a collection of quotes in French from the inter-bellum period.  

    After the war, Elena Furnică married the diplomat Ioan Condurachi and signed her second notebook with the name Helene Condurachi.