OK Economics




National Identity










by David Gemperle


During the late 1930s and early 1940s a myriad of powerful internal and external forces threatened the existence of Romania. Ion Antonescu became the military dictator of Romania during this tumultuous period. The story of Antonescu's political ascension and regime illustrates the complexity and contradictions of nationalism in the ethnically mixed country of Romania during WWII.

German aggression loomed large for Romania in 1938 as the western powers appeased Hitler with Eastern European territory. The legion of Archangel Michael , a militaristic and anti-semitic Romanian Nationalist organization, increased in popularity. The Legion was for Rumanians, not the 11 major ethnic groups in the country. The Magyars, Germans, Poles, Ruthenians, Changoes, Russians, Bulgars, Turks, Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies together made up a sizeable portion of the entire population. King Carol I assumed dictatorial power and tried the legion's founder, Codreanu, for conspiracy. Antonescu, who had previously been the General Chief of Staff, was appointed Minister of War after Carol established his fascist regime. Antonescu sided with the Legionaries and testified on behalf of Codreanu (Watts. 174). For this he was forced to retire to a monastery (Ronnet.205). Codreanu was executed. His organization found more radical leadership in Horia Sima. King Carol faced heavy opposition from the legion's increasingly belligerent military wing, The Iron Guard. Without outside support. he was unable to control the legion's expanding ranks. Anti-government violence caused instability.


In June of 1940 Russia annexed Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. Antonescu resigned from his post in protest. The King wanted to arrest Antonescu but was persuaded that this would hurt relations with Germany. Fabricius, Germany's man in Bucharest, believed that Antonescu would be able to bring Romania over to Hitler's side (Hitchins.466). On August 30, 1940, Germany made Northern Transylvania part of Hungary. This area had a more even mixture of Rumanians and Magyars that other areas. Over a million Rumanians were living in Northen Transylvania while about a half million Magyars were still below the border. (Hitchins 486) In September of 1940, Bulgaria took over Southern Dobruja with aid from Germany (Fisher- Galati  62) Antonescu served as a military attaché in London and was actually pro-west. He wanted Romania to engage in a war against Hungary and Germany. (Watts. 187) However considering the absence of western help and the Soviet expansion into Bessarabia, it is understandable that Antonescu saw joining Hitler as Romania's only chance for continued existence and territory recovery.

Antonescu worked with the Iron Guard and Peasant leader Iuliu Mamu to force Carol to Abdicate the throne in favor of his son. On September 5, 1940 Carol abdicated. The next day his son appointed Antonescu "Conductor" of the State and gave him full power. Antonescu joined Hitler with the signing of the German-Italian-Japanese Pact on November 23. On December 4, he signed an economic agreement that made Romania and its oil and other raw materials part of the German War Machine. Antonescu ordered businesses to replace jewish employees with Rumanians. (Hitchins . 484) Germans were sent into Romania by Hitler. They gained great influence over the economy. The German minority's wealth increased and its education improved. (Hitchins.482)


The Legion dominated many aspects of the state in the begining (Hitchins.457). Vice-Premier Sima's organization destroyed the businesses of Jews and other groups. From January 21-23, 1941, The Iron Guard attempted a coup. Seven thousand people were killed in Bucharest in this anti-Semitic Slaughter (Nagy-Talavira). With Hitler's support Antonescu crushed the legionaries and purged them from the government.

In June of 1941, Antonescu and Michael, the ceremonial King, declared a "Holy War" on Russia (Hitchins. 471). After that Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina were regained. Bessarabia was the location of the worst persecution of Jews by the Antonescu regime. The only death camps not run by Germans were there. (R.D.Kaplan128)

King Michael wanted Romania to leave the war after it had regained the territory it lost from Russia. Antonescu refused. After Hitler's defeat at Stalingrad, it was clear that Germany would lose the war. He saw the Soviets as the biggest threat to Romanian independence. He also believed that "...the war against Russia [is] ... a struggle to preserve European Civilisation. (Hitchins.529)

As the Soviets advanced back into Bessarabia, anti-nazi sentiment rose in Romania. On August 23, 1944, in the palace, with the support of the National Peasants leader Iuliu Maniu, King Michael demanded that Antonescu enter an immediate armistice. Antonescu refused and was arrested. Michael appointed a new Prime Minister and Romania switched sides. The Romanians Captured over 50,000 German soldiers who they had been fighting alongside. By 1946 when Antonescu was put on trial, Russia already controlled Romania. He accepted full responsibility for his actions and was shot on June 1, 1946. (Hitchins.529)



Fisher-Galati, Stephen Twentieth Century Rumania. Columbia University Press New York 1970

 Hitchins, Keith Rumania 1866-1947. Clarendon Press. Oxford. 1994

 Illyes, Elmer National Minorities in Romania. Easter European Monographs Boulder Co. 1993

 Kaplan, Robert D. Balkan Ghosts, A Journal Through History. Vintage Books NY. 1993

 Nagy-Talavera, Nicholas M. The Green Shirts and the Others. Hoover Institution Press. Stanford CA. 1970

 Ronnet, Alexander E. Romanian Nationalism: The Legionary Movement. Romanian American National Congress Chicago IL. 1995

 Watts, Larry L. Romanian Cassandra: Ion Antonescu and the Struggle for Reform 1916-1911. Eastern European Monographs Boulder Co. 1993



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