The Nizkor Project

50 Years of Silence

History and Voices
of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria

The Pre-War Years

Hitler's Nazi regime shook the feeble balance of power that existed among European countries after World War I. Germany tried to subvert the development of democratic institutions in some of these countries by setting up a network of intelligence offices and establishing contacts with their anti-Jewish parties. Romania was no exception. In 1934, the Iron Guard established links with certain German agencies. Initially, those links were not close, since Codreanu, although admiring Hitler, did not trust him entirely. Nor did Hitler show any particular enthusiasm for the Legionnaires, as they were too mystical for his taste. Instead, the Germans fostered an alliance between Goga and Cuza. This alliance got the bulk of the German subventions.

The parliamentary elections of December 1937 made the Iron Guard the third-largest political party in Romania. Its leader, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, known to be a primitive, violent and power-hungry man, captured the masses through his mystical devotion to the Christian religion and his commitment to anti-Semitism. However, only after Codreanu's death, did the Legion become fully subservient to Germany. King Carol II was menaced by the rising influence of the Legionary Iron Guard. In an attempt to diminish its power and yet appease the Iron Guard, he set up the anti-Semitic Government of Goga-Cuza. During its short life of only six weeks (December 28, 1937 to February 10, 1938), this government instituted the Citizenship Revision Laws of January 4, 1938. These laws deprived almost 200,000 Romanian Jews of their citizenship, thus officially removing them from the protection of the government. Subsequent governments have built upon these laws, until the Romanian anti-Semitic infrastructure had become pernicious.

Romania before WW II

Romania before World War II
Click for larger image

With the fall of the Goga-Cuza government, a ferocious power struggle ensued between the King and Codreanu the head of The Iron Guard. King Carol decided to approach Hitler for assistance in this struggle. During a meeting in Berlin on November 24, 1938, Hitler refused to give the King any assurances; instead, he cautioned the King against any alliances with the western powers, and demanded close economic cooperation between Germany and Romania.

In March 1938, Hitler annexed Austria, and in March 1939, he completed the occupation of Czechoslovakia. Feeling isolated and threatened by these events, King Carol signed an all-encompassing treaty with Germany, which resulted in the economic enslavement and political subjugation of Romania.

Romania's political position further deteriorated with the signing of the Ribbentrop- Molotov Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union in August, and with the outbreak of World War II in September of 1939.

Romania found itself isolated, standing alone between two greedy expansionistic powers, the Soviet Union and Germany. The King attempted to defend Romania's eastern county of Bessarabia through the so-called 'Carol II Line'-- a line of fortresses along the border with the Soviet Union. This, however, was merely a failed propaganda and disinformation campaign. On June 22, 1940, Soviet troops occupied Bessarabia and northern Bucovina. This was the first of three territorial losses Romania experienced in 1940.

During the year of Soviet occupation, 1940 to 1941, about 50,000 Jew from the ceded territories were deported to Siberia. They were deported as decadent bourgeois elements, unfit for Communist society. Most of them were never heard of again.

In July 1940, soon after the cession of Bessarabia and northern Bucovina, the pro- fascist government of Ion Giugurtu came to power. This government immediately enforced new severe anti-Jewish laws.

Meantime, Hitler informed that he could protect Romania's borders only if the King settles the territorial claims of Bulgaria and Hungary. Complying with this request, in August 1940, Romania ceded northern Transylvania to Hungary. One week later, Romania ceded southern Dobrojea to Bulgaria. Thus, Romania had three large territorial losses within a very short period of time.

Romanians were enraged by these losses, which they perceived as a blow to their national pride. They held the King fully responsible for yielding the dream of a Greater Romania. Having lost his internal support and fallen to Hitler's machinations, the King was in a very vulnerable position. He turned for support to Ion Antonescu, Chief of Staff under General Prezan during World War I, and Minister of Defence, during the time of the Goga-Cuza cabinet. However, relying on the support of the Germans, and that of the pro-fascist political and military circles, General Antonescu forced the King to abdicate the throne in favour of his son, Crown Prince Mihai I [Michael]. The Prince, only nineteen years of age, became a pawn in the political infighting. The real power in Romania rested in the hands of Ion Antonescu. He formed a new government, including several other generals and leaders of The Iron Guard. He assumed dictatorial power, the title of Marshal and that of "Leader of the Country". Thus, Romania became a Legionary state.

Vicious pogroms began to rage throughout the country, and a new series of anti-Semitic decrees further deprived Jews of rights and property. The political turmoil continued with a severe power struggle that ensued between Antonescu and Horia Sima, then Vice-Premier of Romania and leader of The Iron Guard. Antonescu's fear of further Soviet demands, prompted him to appeal to Germany for support. Germany sent two divisions and secured the rich Romanian oil fields - a very valuable resource for the warfare. Shortly thereafter, immense quantities of various goods began to be shipped off to Germany, which by now exercised total control over Romania's economy.

The conflict between Antonescu and Horia Sima reached its climax with The Legionary rebellion of January 21, 1941, which raged for three terrible days. Implementing predetermined strategies, hordes of Legionnaires staged pogroms in many cities and villages. Looting, torture and killing swept through the country. Eventually, the rebellion was suppressed by the army. According to official estimates, 416 people died in the rebellion. Of these 120 were Jews, 70 - military, and the rest Legionnaires. Many historians consider that rebellion the equivalent of Kristallnacht, in Germany.

In a telephone conversation on January 22, Hitler offered the support of German troops in crushing the rebellion, but Antonescu declined. After the rebellion was quelled, German troops helped smuggle a number of Legionnaires (including Horia Sima) out of the country.

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