Background: Jews on the Romanian lands face Romanian Nationalism
The Jewish population in the Eastern Europe had begun, as we all do knowm the Great Migration towards West in the second half of the 19th century, driven out by Russian Anti-Semitism. Their first stop on the way was the Northeastern Romania(province of Northern Moldavia) where a lot of them, mostly from Russian-occupied Poland and Ukraine, had settled voluntarily.
The situation of the freshly-independent(from 1877) Romania was quite dangerous: Extreme Northern Moldavia(Bukovina) had been occupied by Austria-Hungary, Transylvania had the same status, Bessarabia(Eastern Moldavia) had been occupied in 1812 by the Russians, and following the Independence War of 1877, the Russians had extended further South, taking the Southeastern Moldavia till the Danube.
The small kingdom could not afford any international troubles, so the ruling class had tried to maintain internal stability at any costs. They had to play a dangerous game between Austria-Hungary and Russia(potential enemies) and France(ally). So the Jews, present in large number(over 300,000) and who hadn’t citizenship, were treated with suspicion by the Romanian politicians and press, many people seeing in them agents of the surrounding hostile countries. The ordinary citizens did not like them also, because their welfare in a cronically underdeveloped country aroused envy.
The Jewish question had been settled after WWI, when almost all Jews in Romania(most of whom had fought on the battlefield) got citizenship. They were by then over 800,000(counting also those from the re-gained Transylvania and Bessarabia).
The newly-united Romanian Kingdom had to face many problems(monetary and financial unity, unification of the civil services etc) but the worst of them was the open hostility from both Hungary and Soviet Russia. In 1917, the Romanian State Treasury, the National Bank of Romania and the Crown had sent their valuables to Russia to protect them from the approaching German armies. Following the Russian Revolution from 1917, the Bolsheviks had agreed to give them back. But in 1917, following Communist agiotation among the Russian and Romanian troops in Moldavia, the Romanian Army had disarmed the Russians. As reprisals, Lenin ordered the confiscation of the Romanian valuables. He promised to give them back when Romania will adopt Communism(which happened, but only a fraction had been regained). So, in 1919-1920-1922, the Romanian Kingdom was on the edge of the blade. Turbulent politics, worker strikes, Communist agitation were the norm. Only in 1922 the political situation had stabilized.
The future Leaders enter scene
After the reunification of 1918, the dominant doctrine in Romania was Liberalism, and the Liberal Party had formed solely the Goverment for a few years. But there were also some Nationalist groups, which had grown to parties. A Law Professor from Jassy/Iasi, A.C. Cuza, had formed in 1923 a party known as Liga Apararii National-Crestine(“National Christian Defense League”) who claimed to fight for the Romanian culture, values and against Communism, defending the Christian Orthodox Church. Cuza supported numerus clausus or the limitation of the number of Jews in universities.
A disciple of Cuza was Corneliu Zelea Codreanu(1899-1938). Born in Jassy/Iasi, in a family of Polish heritage (his father’s real name was Iohan Antec Zelinsky, later changed to Ion Zelea Codreanu), the boy had been baptized after St. Cornelius, whose anniversary was on September 13th, his birthday. Codreanu had graduated from high school in 1919, during the turmoils of reunification, Communist agitation and Romanian intervention in Communist Hungary. The same year, he and a few friends had held a meeting, and agreed to form a militia nucleus in the event of a Russian Communist invasion. In 1925, Codreanu, graduate in Law from the Jassy/Iasi State University, had established a small political nucleus asking for an alliance between Romania and Italy. The organization was repelled by the pro-French Government, and some of the members tried. Codreanu acted as defense attorney. During a clash with the Police, on the stairs of the Municipal Court in Jassy/Iasi, there was a gunfight, in which Codreanu’s bullet mortally wounded the Municipal Police Chief. He was tried and acquitted on ground of self-defense, after violent street demonstrations.
In 1927, Codreanu established the Legion of the Archangel Michael, political-cultural movement, whose aims were:
– strong opposition to Communism in all foorms;
– emphasis on traditional Romanian values and Orthodox Christianity;
– limitation of the power of Jews, who werre totally dominant in all liberal professions (doctors, lawyers, professors, officials etc);
– unification of the Romanian people arounnd the nationalist ideals.
The leader’s title was “the Captain”, while the members were known as Legionnaires.
The majority of the Romanian inter-war intellectuals had been attracted by the Legion’s ideals: Mircea Eliade(1907-1986), Emil Cioran, Constantin Noica etc. Some are known in the West, some are not. The most brilliant of them might have been Nicolae C. “Nae” Ionescu(1891-1940), one of the smartest and most cultured Romanian philosophers. Born in 1891 in Braila, son of a Police officer and grandson of a peasant, he graduated from the high school in his native city. He studied Philosophy at the Bucharest State University, later he studied at Munich and Vienna. A fierce Nationalist, defender of the Romanian culture, Ionescu had become until the late 1920s one of the most renowned Romanian philosophers, journalists and politicians, being a private advisor to King Carol II. He did also use his former connections in the German intellectual and business world to become a successful businessman, representative for Romania of the biggest German companies, including I.G. Farben.
The Great Depression and beyond
During the 1929-1933 Great Depression, the Romanian economy, cronically undercapitalized and based mainly on agriculture, suffered horribly. The vast majority of the farmers were on the edge of disaster, and in cities the unemployed were rioting(somehow like in Argentine today). The government tried desperately to maintain the order, using also violent methods. On February 16, 1933, in the Grivita Railcar Workshops, some workers had also mounted a great strike, which later ended in violence, many of them being shot in the clashes with the Police and Gendarmes. In those conditions, the Legion raised her head. As a Deputy in the Romanian Parliament, Codreanu had held brilliant speeches regarding the fate of the people. His popularity grew day by day, and this was not liked by the Government.
On November 15, 1933, the Liberal Government led by prime Minister I.G. Duca had come to power. There had been plenty of alarm signals from the Western European governments and banking systems, who had granted huge loans to the Romanian economy, and who did not want, at any costs, a new Nationalist movement to get power. The Prime Minister had ordered the disbanding of the Legion, known by then also as Iron Guard, and the arrest of top members.
On November 22, a Legionnaire was shot dead by the Police while stricking electoral posters. Six days later, another Legionnaire was shot dead.
November 24, 1933: The Captain published a denunciation of the crimes committed by the Government’s men, indicating the Prime Minister as the driving force behind.
December 10, 1933: The reply comes from the Government: to prevent the participation of the Iron Guard in elections, 20,000 Legionnaires had been arrested and badly beaten by the Police. The agents also searched for the Captain, who had hidden himself.
December 12, 1933: another two Legionnaires, in two different cities, had been shot.
December 29: a Legionnaire released from the prison was shot dead.
The next day, December 30, the Legionnaires replied. Three of them had shot the Prime Minister Duca in Sinaia Railroad Station. The same day, a new Legionnaire had been shot in retaliation, followed by another on January 12, 1934.
The Black Years: 1935-1940
During 1935-1938, the Government had apparently suppressed the Legion. The Captain and another top members had tried to publicize their movement outside Romania, searching for support from Germany and Italy. A lot of top intellectuals had also tried to make the movement’s ideals known in the world.
Professor Nae Ionescu had been the force that supported them all the time. His classes attracted not only the regular students, but also common people wanting to widen their cultural horizon. During the 1930s, there was some financial support from Hitler’s Government. The same time marked Hitler’s repeated attempts to gain an alliance with Romania. Once, in 1936, he even gave up the diplomatic language and said to the Romanian Ambassador openly: “Dear Sir, if Romania treats Germany with less hostility, both countries will gain more advantages from this” (or something like this, I can’t remember the exact quote). The Ambassador’s answer was so nebulous that I couldn’t understand it.
In 1938, King Carol II, an accomplished Anglophile, had routed the leaders of the democratic parties amd established a personal one-pary dictatorship. The same time, he began a fierce anti-Legion campaign. Many governments had been changed by the King in just two years, but it was obvious that none of them could lead efficiently, nor could gain popular support.
The same year, the King’s men had mounted a conspiracy to put the much-too-popular Codreanu behind bars. One of the members of the conspiracy was Nicolae Iorga, famous Romanian historian, Freemason, and a former friend of Coreanu’s father. The Professor had used an insulting letter Codreanu had sent to him, and sued him. At the Legions’ Green House, the Police discovered, during the trial, documents allowing the court to sentence the Legionnaires for anti-State activity to ten years in prison.
In November 1938, the King had attended a meeting with Hitler at Berghof. Hitler asked the King to put the Iron Guard in power. Carol’s answer was swift: he ordered the execution of the Legion’s leaders. Codreanu and thirteen other Legionnaires had been shot by the prison guards, under the charge of trying to escape.
During 1939, the Legion, led by the new chief, a man named Horia Sima, endured countless abuses. Hundreds of them had been beaten by the Police, tortured and persecuted. They retaliated by shooting Prime Minister Armand Calinescu. His death was paid with reprisals that took the life of more than 300 Legionnaires.
The Legion and the Jews
I would wish to blow up here a few myths:
– There were no anti-Jewish attacks from tthe Legionnaires; the Captain had friendly relationships with the Chief Rabbi, Dr. Alexandre Safran, who became after WWII Chief Rabbi of Geneva; his testimony was among the facts that helped the Legion to not be deemed a “criminal organization”;
– The biggest enemy the Legion had among tthe Romanian citizens was the King’s mistress, Elena Lupescu; this lady, although born Orthodox from an Orthodox-baptized Jew father, was still Jewess according to the Three-Generations rule, and an open enemy of Germany; she had a tremendous influence over Carol II;
– The Captain had proposed to the Chief Raabbi to encourage the immigration of the Jews after they will gain power; the Rabbi had simulated to agree.
1940 – the worst year for Romania
In 1940, more dreadful events for Romania had happened:
– Bessarabia wass occupied by the Soviets alongside with Northern Bukovina;
– Northwestern Transylvania was granted byy Hitler to Hungary, in the Vienna Award, as a revenge for the Romanian hostility in the 1930s;
– Romania’s main ally, France, was gone; <
In such conditions, Carol II appointed Prime Minister the General Ion Antonescu, on September 4th; The General asked the King to abdicate and to give the crown to Crown Prince Michael, on September 6th. The same day, the General associated the Legion into power, proclaiming Romania “National-Legionnaire State”.
Why did the General this thing, against his own interests? Well, I’ll make a supposition: he was a renowned Anglophile, and so a potential enemy to Hitler, who asked him to prove his loyalty to the Reich. So the General had to swallow the bitter pill.
During the winter 1940-1941, there were many underground fights for power between the General and the Legionnaires, who wanted full power.
In January 1941, Antonescu had talked with Hitler, who informed him about the plans to attack the USSR, and asked him to do everything possible to maintain order in the country. On January 21-23, 1941, the Legionnaires had acted openly against the Government, mounting a rebellion to rout Antonescu. They were defeated after two days of streetfighting with the Army.
110 dead Jews
During the rebellion, there were found 110 dead Jews in Bucharest. They had been shot, then hanged in meathooks with a plate reading Kosher meat. The Legionnaires were blamed with committing this atrocity. However, it’s hard to imagine that those men, fighting for their lives against an Army using tanks in the street, would have left their positions and wandered through the city shooting Jews. The author might have been usual bandits and thieves, some dressed in stolen green Legionnaire uniforms.
After the rebellion, all Legionnaires had been driven out of the offices, their businesses confiscated, and the men firstly imprisoned, then sent to the front in the summer offensive, to the most dangerous sectors. Most of them had perished, except for a few who had flown to Germany, including Horia Sima, who died in Spain in 1993.
Some of the surviving Legionnaires had mounted a Resistance movement against the Soviet troops after 1944. Those who did survive the combat actions and the Communist prisons, were released in the 1960s. A few of them, in their 80s, are still alive.