Romania’s National Museum of History stages exhibition to celebrate women who fought in WWII.
Nadia Russo-Bossie was a
female pilot, whose skill, knowledge and bravery helped save human lives during
WWII. She was in fact born in Russia, but had emigrated to Romania in the wake
of the Bolshevik revolution as part of a wave of so-called "white emigration".
In an exhibition staged
by the National History Museum of Romania that pays tribute to the women who
fought in the second world war, Nadia Russo-Bossie features alongside two
legendary figures of Romanian aviation, Smaranda Brăescu and Mariana Drăgescu. The
three of them were part of the Sanitary Squadron or the White Squadron, a unit
of air ambulances piloted by women. Historian Cristina Păiușan-Nuică, who
curated the exhibited, tells us more about Nadia Russo-Bossie, born Nadejda
"Nadia Russo-Bossie was of Russian origin. She was
born in 1901 and fled the country after the Bolshevik revolution, both of her
parents having died by then. She fled with her sister to Chișinău, where they
had relatives, and settled in Bessarabia. She wanted to become an aviator after
studying in Paris, at the School of Fine Arts. In 1936, she took flying lessons
with the help of sponsors, because they were expensive, and got first a licence
for women pilots and then a general licence. She was part of the sanitary
squadron from the very beginning."
Life had not been very good
to Nadia. Her mum died in 1912, when she was just 11 years old, and her dad 3
years later in the war. After she escaped to Romania with her sister, her life
took a dramatic turn, says curator Cristina Păiușan-Nuică:
"Nadia Russo had a
difficult life. After fleeing Russia and before joining the sanitary squadron,
she worked as a teacher and did various other jobs. She got married to a relatively
wealthy man, Alexandru Russo. Being passionate about flying, she bought a plane
through a public fund-raising campaign and with the help of the Romanian state.
She acquired Romanian citizenship after she got married. Between 1940 and 1943
she was part of the sanitary squadron. In 1943 she had a nervous breakdown, and
only flew sporadically until 1945."
Aviation remained Nadia
Russo-Bossie's passion until the end of her life. An aerobatics pilot who took
part in competitions in Romania and abroad and a war hero, when the war ended,
Nadia had to watch helplessly as the communist regime she had fled in her youth
took hold of her adoptive country, not to mention that she ended up in prison
herself. Cristina Păiușan-Nuică:
"The tragedy of her life
began in 1950 when she was arrested. In August that year she was accused of
facilitating a meeting between British pilots from the Allied Control
Commission and Romanian pilots. In 1951 she was convicted together with other
pilots to 8 years in prison. She was released after five years, but was
sentenced again to five years of enforced residence, being sent to live in Lățești,
a village in the Bărăgan region, where she met her second husband, Gheorghe Bossie.
The exhibition showcases a retirement order from 1969 where it is stated that
she was to receive 325 lei per month. After writing to the Securitate asking
that her five years of enforced residence be recognised as work, she received
another 79 lei. Her pension now amounted to 400 lei, which was very little."
Nadia Russo-Bossie was rediscovered
after the fall of communism in Romania, in 1989. Cristina Păiușan-Nuică, who
curated the exhibition of the National Museum of History about women pilots in
WWII, says on display are objects that used to belong to Nadia:
"On display is a photo
album containing several hundred photographs which came into the possession of
the National Museum of History through a series of fortunate circumstances. We also
have some of her notes from May 1981 when she turned 80 and celebrated 45 years
since she got her pilot's licence. The authorities of the day organised an
event and asked her to make a presentation about what it was like to be a woman
pilot 45 years earlier. Unfortunately, she died before 1990, her merits were
not recognised while she was still alive and she never had a pension that would
have allowed her a decent standard of living."
Nadia Russo-Bossie died
in Bucharest in 1988, aged 87. Today, her legacy is recognised and her memory
celebrated in Romania.