Corneliu Zelea Codreanu

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Corneliu Zelea Codreanu

St. Corneliu Zelea Codreanu born Corneliu Zelinski (September 13, 1899 - November 30, 1938) was a Romanian Nationalist and founder of the Legion of Michael the Archangel, an organization also called the Iron Guard (Garda de Fier). Codreanu was a dedicated fighter for the Romanian nation as well as a devout Christian. He had begun his battle against the Jewish-Communist menace as a member of the Guard of National Conscience and later as a member of Cuza's National Christian Defense League. Finally, he broke from Cuza's party in 1927 and formed the Legion of Michael the Archangel, which quickly attracted many young nationalists. The Legion immediately developed a revolutionary doctrine centered around Christian spirituality, national affection, sacrifice, hierarchy, and personal responsibility in order to eradicate political corruption and purify the nation. Enduring heavy persecution in the years in which the Legion grew in popularity, Corneliu Codreanu was eventually imprisoned and murdered in 1938 by the dictatorship of King Carol II. After his death, the Legionary Movement, still dedicated to his teachings, would establish the National Legionary State as well as continue its battles against its enemies beyond the end of World War II.

Controversy over Zelinski-Zelea

See the Discussion section on "Controversy over Zelinski-Zelea" for more information on this topic

The ancestry of Ion Zelea Codreanu (father of Corneliu Codreanu) has often been disputed due to the fact that his initial name, Zelinski, appears to be Polish or Ukrainian. This is sometimes used as anti-Legionary propaganda, which claims that thus Codreanu was not a true Romanian. However, as it has been indicated by Lisette Gheorghiu, Bukovina was under Polish control during the Austrian occupation of Romania in the XVIII century, and thus Romanian names were often transformed by school or army authorities into Polish-sounding names. This is how the Codreanu family, which was genuinely Romanian, had its original name changed from Zelea to Zelinski. [1]

It is known that the maternal grandfather of Codreanu was a Bavarian who migrated to Romania in the XIX century, as other Bavarians did at that time. However, even if it were true that Ion Codreanu were of Polish or Ukrainian ancestry, as his wife (mother of Corneliu) was partly of Bavarian ancestry, it is evident from Corneliu Codreanu's book For My Legionaries, as well as from other sources, that both Ion Codreanu and Corneliu Codreanu considered themselves Romanian, they were absolutely Romanian in the cultural and linguistic sense, they grew on Romanian soil, certainly both had an amount of Romanian blood, and they were loyal to Romania, as they both fought at the Romanian side during the Great War (1914-1918). [2]

Mr. Gheorghiu notes that many significant Romanians were descended from another European ethnicity, an example being Nicolae Iorga who was of Greek ancestry. Yet, since they were culturally Romanian, they were considered to be Romanian by most people. It is therefore clear that by the standards of the vast majority of Romanians, Ion and Corneliu Codreanu are obviously to be considered Romanian, in spite of whatever mixture in their ancestry they might have had from other European ethnicities. [3]

Early Life

Ion Codreanu and his son Corneliu at the Manastirea Dealului Military Academy in 1913

Origins and childhood of Corneliu Codreanu

Corneliu Zelea Codreanu was born on 13th September 1899 in the small town of Husi, in Moldavia. His father Ion Zelea Codreanu (originally named Zelinski and a natural of Bukovina, when this region was a part of Austria-Hungary) had been a teacher, and he remained a nationalist fighter all his life, while the grandfather and great-grandfather of Corneliu had been foresters. The mother of Corneliu was Elizabeth Brunner, daughter of a Bavarian immigrant. Corneliu received education for five years at the Manastirea Dealului (The Monastery on the Hill) Military Academy, from 1911 (being of eleven years of age) to August 1916 (being almost seventeen). Corneliu Codreanu years later explained how his time there affected him: " military education will be with me all my life. Order, discipline, hierarchy, molded into my blood at an early age, along with the sentiment of soldierly dignity, will constitute a guiding thread for my entire future activity. Here too, I was taught to speak little, a fact which later was to lead me to hate 'chatter boxing' and too much talk. Here I learnt to love the trench and to despise the drawing room."[4]

Romania joins the Entente in the Great War

After Romania declared war on Austria-Hungary in August 1916, father and son joined the Romanian army moving into Transylvania. Corneliu, being aged not yet seventeen, was not old enough to be formally accepted as a volunteer, but he still fought with the army in its advance and retreat across the mountains. Having been the father wounded in battle in late 1916, he insisted to his son for returning home, so that they do not both die in the war and leave Corneliu's mother unsupported. In spite of this, Corneliu Codreanu joined in 1917 the Infantry Military School at Botosani in Bacău, and there he completed his military formation in 1918. Although Codreanu the son was now also formally a part of the Romanian Army, like his father was, the young military man did not get a chance to join the front before the situation in the Great War became difficult for Romania, after the Russian Revolution and subsequent Russian surrender to the Central Powers, followed by the Treaty of Bucharest in 1918, which effectively ended the war for Romania.[4]

Codreanu fully perceives the Jewish menace

After graduating from the high school at Husi in 1919, Corneliu Codreanu was accepted into the University of Iasi, thus leaving Husi for Iasi. He had already read many works by professors Nicolae Iorga and A.C. Cuza, which taught him the ideals for Romania: "1.The unification of Romanian people. 2.The elevation of peasantry through land reform and political rights. 3. The solution of the Jewish problem." After arriving to Iasi, Codreanu found that the city and university was heavily influenced by Communist agitators and that even many professors were Marxists. The Romanian workers were experiencing terrible working conditions and had very low wages, so they had been drawn to Communism by Marxist propagandists. Students at the University of Iasi were also largely converted to Communism, and Communist student meetings often attacked the Army, the administration of Justice, the Orthodox Church, the Royal Crown, and other traditional institutions, essentially propagating anti-Romanianism in their call for a "revolution of the proletariat". [4]

After doing some research, Codreanu discovered that the leaders of the Romanian Communist workers were neither Romanians nor workers. At Iasi, the so called "workers' movement" was led by Doctor Ghelerter, along with agitators such as Gheler, Spiegler and Schreiber. At the capital, Bucharest, the leaders were Ana Pauker and Ilie Moscovici. Codreanu found that all of them, without exception, were Jews. Perceiving that the revolutionary events in Romania were following a very similar pattern to what was happening in Russia since February-March 1917 (abdication of the Czar Nicolai II Romanov), and since October-November 1917, where a largely Jewish-led Bolshevik revolution had overthrown the moderate regime of President Kerensky (and shortly later had destroyed the Mensheviks and other revolutionary parties that opposed the Bolsheviks), Codreanu realised that Romania was in danger of being taken over by Jewish Communists who would destroy everything Romanian. He commented:

"If these had been victorious, should we have had at least a Romania led by a Romanian workers' regime? Would the Romanian workers have become masters of the country? No! The next day we should have become the slaves of the dirtiest tyranny: the Talmudic, Jewish tyranny. Greater Romania, after less than a second of existence, would have collapsed."[4]

Early Political Activity

Portrait of Corneliu Codreanu

The Guard of National Conscience

Observing that the conservative teachers and students at the University of Iasi were little more than passive spectators in a campus agitated by leftist slogans and Marxist propaganda, Codreanu concluded that it was quickly needed to take strong action against the Communist movement, before the situation could drift too far. He joined a small organisation called the Guard of National Conscience, which had been recently created by Constantin Pancu, a steel-worker well known nationwide. Codreanu was gifted with charismatic powers of oratory, and in a short time he became the second man in the rank of the Guard, immediately after Pancu. In an interesting historical comparison, the meteoric rising of Codreanu inside the small Guard is similar to what happened to Adolf Hitler after joining in 1919 the small Deutsche Arbeiter Partei, which had been founded by Anton Drexler shortly before, and where Hitler quickly rose to prominence due to his oratory and organising skills, eventually becoming the leader. However, differently from Anton Drexler, Karl Harrer, and other early members of the German DAP, who were no orators, Pancu possessed some ability for public speeches, and thus it became a common activity for the Guard the organisation of rallies where Pancu and Codreanu addressed the crowd, with other members of the Guard of National Conscience keeping order, distributing leaflets, or performing other support tasks. The Guard was at first more or less ignored by the leftists, then it was ridiculed, and finally it was confronted. The growing organisation continued delivering speeches, always with Codreanu and Pancu at the head, and always strongly attacking the dogmas of Communism. Eventually, of course, the Guard clashed with radical leftists, when members of the Nationalist organisation became engaged into physical battles against violent Communist groups.

Episode of the Nicolina Industry

The anti-Communist activities of the Guard of National Conscience were not limited to the university campus, but were becoming increasingly present in other places where leftist agitation was rife. At the Nicolina railway works, an industry where nearly all of the workers were Communist and where a considerable number of Jews also were present, a general strike began. Pancu and Codreanu then led a march of the Guard, followed by some Romanian conservatives, onto the extensive facilities of the Nicolina factory. They boldly marched from one building to another inside the industrial complex, removing Communist flags and placing on each building the National Flag of Romania, of which they carried a good supply. In an act of defiance, Codreanu even performed the heroical deed of climbing to the top of one of the factory buildings to throw off the red flag and put the Romanian one in its place. The Communist workers, who had in the meantime been summoned by their leaders and were quickly coming in huge numbers with clubs and other improvised weapons, felt so impressed by the efforts of Codreanu that they allowed him, Pancu, the handful of men of the Guard, and the other comparatively few followers, to leave the Nicolina premises without a fight. Everywhere across Romania news of this event were quickly carried and commented. The episode can well be regarded as the commencement of the political life of Codreanu as a public figure, amply discussed at that time in Romania, and increasingly controversial later. As a consequence of this and other episodes staged by the Nationalists of Codreanu and Pancu, the Communist movement soon was reduced in some areas and had no chance of success in them, even though still formally continuing in existence.[4]

The Guard becomes well known

The Guard of National Conscience took opportunity of the public attention that had provoked, by declaring its doctrine and its programme for the improvement of the Romanian nation. The doctrine was called "National Christian Socialism" (another parallel with the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei of Adolf Hitler, although with the important difference that the German NSDAP is a racial and political organisation, not a religious one. Religion is perfectly accepted, but it is seen as a personal belief, neither encouraged nor oficially endorsed by the Party). In his doctrinal documents Codreanu explained that " is not enough to defeat Communism. We must also fight for the rights of the workers. They have a right to (obtain their daily) bread, and a fight to honour. We must fight against the oligarchic parties, creating national organisations of workers who can gain their rights within the framework of the state, and not against the state."[4]

The above quotation taken from Codreanu strongly resembles the Italian "Stato Corporativo Fascista" then being proposed by Benito Mussolini, which years later would take legal form for purposes of labour in the Italian "Legge dei Lavoro", imitated in other countries. It will later be seen how this similarity of Romanian National Christian Socialism with Italian Fascist Corporativism and with German National Socialism (also written in English as National-Socialism or Nationalsocialism, in German "Nationalsozialismus"), is not merely coincidental. Although quite distinctive in a number of aspects, the three Nationalist movements (and others) share common characteristics.

Universities change their colour

It was at that time, by 1920, that Codreanu started focusing on the problems at Iasi University, when he definitely realised that Romanian universities were swarming with Jews, as it was revealed by the studies of professor I. Gavanescul. The Jews, an alien people hostile to Romanian culture, formed about five percent of the population in Romania, and yet at Iasi well over thirty percent of the students were Jews. Codreanu knew that the schools, which had an unreasonable number of Jews when compared to Romanians, were the main places for the formation of the next leading class in Romania. In a hypothetical but not improbable dystopia, if the Jewish presence could really reach an overwhelming power in the Romanian leading class, then Romania's national culture would certainly be corrupted and finally destroyed, because, as professor Cuza taught, Jews were an alien people culturally and racially, and would only distort the culture of the nation in which they lived. Any nation. This menace disturbed Codreanu and others who loved their Romanian nation, its culture, and the Orthodox Christian religion.[4]

The Jewish students at the University of Iasi continued encouraging Communism, but after his victory with Pancu, Codreanu could now put an end to the bullying of Nationalist students that was often perpetrated by Jewish and Marxist students. Students who wore the characteristic conical cap of Russian Bolsheviks, as a sign of support for the Red Revolution of Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924), were beaten by the Nationalists and their Bolshevik caps were burnt. A Marxist student strike was then defeated by Codreanu and his comrades, when they seized the dining hall and insisted that students who do not work, do not eat either. Soon afterwards, newspapers owned by Jews insulted King Ferdinand I Hohenzollern (1865-1927) and Codreanu. The King did nothing, in spite of having legal reason even for expelling the offenders out of the country, but Codreanu responded by leading a group of comrades to the printing facilities of those newspapers, to wreck the printing machines. [4]

Codreanu and the Cross

In 1922 Codreanu graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Iasi. By then he and his Guard had made almost the entire university Nationalist (or at least the Communists were sunk into forced silence), as well as he had spread pro-Romanian and anti-Jewish ideas to other Romanian universities. In that same year, professors A.C. Cuza and Nicolae Paulescu (whom Codreanu regarded as being some of the greatest intellectuals that could teach Romanians about the Jewish Problem), published two articles in the magazine Apararea Nationala ("The National Defence"): "The Science of Anti-Semitism" (by Cuza) and "The Talmud, The Kabal, Freemasonry" (by Paulescu, an excerpt from a book). Of this influential publication Codreanu wrote: "The articles written by Professors Cuza and Paulescu were religiously read by all the youth, and had everywhere upon students a resounding impact, in Bucharest as well as in Cluj". Cluj-Napoca is the historical capital of Transylvania, region disputed between Hungary and Romania that in 1918 passed to Romania (in spite of the Treaty of Bucharest, signed a short time before), because of the Hungarian defeat in the Great War. Thus Cluj (called Kolozsvár in Hungarian, Klausenburg in German) became the second city in importance in the expanded Romania, after Bucharest. Codreanu continued: "We considered the publication of each issue a triumph, because it was for us another load of ammunition for attacking the arguments given by the Jewish press." [4]

Codreanu on Hitler and Mussolini

Codreanu continued studying political economy, and in the Autumn of 1922 he travelled to Germany with the intention of registering at the University of Berlin. While he was in Berlin, he spoke with German Nationalists and taught them what he knew of the Jewish problem. He also heard at that time first-hand information on Adolf Hitler, who was becoming prominent in Germany. Codreanu thought of Hitler as a great anti-Jewish Nationalist leader. This comment of Codreanu was said over a year before the NSDAP attempted with a force of two thousand men the Bier Halle Putsch in München, on 9th November 1923, which although it failed to conquer Power, it served to demonstrate the charismatic capability that Hitler had for mustering enthusiasts to the Nationalist Cause. It was also in Berlin in those days, Autumn of 1922, that Codreanu received recent news of the victory of Benito Mussolini in Italy. This was the March on Rome in October 1922, whose immediate consequence was the decision of Italian King Vittorio Emmanuel III di Savoia of calling Mussolini to Power as Head of the Italian Government. Codreanu declared: "I rejoiced (for Mussolini's victory) as much as if it had been my own country's victory. There is, among all those in various parts of the world who serve their people, a kinship of sympathy, as there is also such a kinship among those who labour for the destruction of peoples."[4]

The League of National Christian Defence

Codreanu standing with his Comrades

Anti-Jewish strike at Romanian universities

In December 1922 the studies of Codreanu in Germany were suddenly halted, because a nationwide anti-Jewish Nationalist movement had exploded in Romania provoked mainly by students, and Codreanu felt that he had to return to join them at that crucial moment. A general strike was then being made by the students with the purpose of obtaining better conditions in Romanian universities, as well as of limiting the number of Jews in them. While the strike was rampaging, Codreanu, Cuza and a few other comrades decided to hold a rally in Iasi on 3rd March 1923, with the intention of creating a new organisation that they agreed to call "The League of National Christian Defence" (LANC). The idea was to create the League at the time when thousands of students would be meeting at the rally. Codreanu later explained the meaning of symbols and colours in the Banner of the League: "The cloth of the flag was black, as a sign of mourning, in the center there was a round white spot, signifying our hopes surrounded by the darkness that they will have to conquer, in the center of the white spot there was a swastika, which is the symbol of anti-Semitic struggle throughout the world, and all round the banner there was a band of the Romanian Tricolour Flag, red, yellow and blue"[4]

The Swastika is also known as Fylfot or Gammadion, an ancient Aryan symbol cherished in Brahmanic India as full of religious significance. It is probable that the choice by Codreanu of the Swastika in the Banner of the League had been inspired by the prominent use of this ancient symbol by the German NSDAP of Adolf Hitler, organisation with which Codreanu had been in contact during his stay in Germany.

The weak Government yields to the Jews

As a counter-balance to the strike, a few weeks later the weak Romanian Government fell under the pressure exerted by influential Jews in Romania as well as abroad, and promoted a change to the Romanian Constitution, in order to allow almost all Jews to become Romanian nationals with full legal rights (until this time Jews had the legal status of foreign residents). This legal change allowed an alien body in Romania, which was markedly different in racial type, language, religion, culture, dress, customs, and soul, to infiltrate Romanian society even further and undoubtly influence Romanian culture with Judaic elements. Numerically, Jews were about five percent of the population, but this apparently small number included a sizeable proportion of owners of printed media, professors, jurists, politicians, rich merchants and entrepreneurs, and other influential individuals. Romanian nationalists were shocked at this outrage against Romanian patriotism, and Codreanu so much that he cried loudly. After explaining this situation in his book For My Legionaries, Codreanu reflects on how the great and highly respected Romanian leaders in 1879 (shortly after Romania had won independence from the Ottoman Empire), took action to make sure that Jews would not gain any significant power in Romania, even though they were somewhat forced to give Jews a theoretical right of nationality that depended on qualification through military service, thus making only a few Jews as legal Romanian nationals, since most Jews did not want to fight in war. These early Romanian leaders, whose works were read by all Nationalist students, were Vasile Conta, Vasile Alecsandri, Mihail Kogalniceanu, Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu, Costache Negri, Mihai Eminescu and Alexandru Dimitrie Xenopol.[4]

Reaction against governmental cowardice

The larger parties ruling the Romanian Government refused to take any action against the increasing number of Jews flooding into universities, seriously jeopardising the future of the nation. Codreanu wrote of them "Fundamentally there was no distinction amongst (those parties), other than differences of form and personal interests. (They all were) the same thing in different shapes. They even lacked the (minimal) justification of differing opinions. Their only real motivation was the religion of personal interest". Having been educated by the works of Nicolae Paulescu, Codreanu also knew that the Jews used their control of much of the press and other public media (gramophone, cinematography), as well as their power on financial, economic or legal institutions, to influence the activities of the Government. Finally, filled with despair at the almost complete failure of the National student movement, Codreanu, Ion Mota and other close friends, took the firm decision that they needed to assassinate some of the top Romanian politicians, the top Jewish rabbis, and the most noted Jewish bankers. [4]

Codreanu later wrote this, explaining why he was more concerned with going after the politicians:

"We unanimously agreed that the first and greatest culprits were the treacherous Romanians who for the silver pieces of Judah betrayed their people. The Jews are our enemies, and as such they hate, poison and exterminate us. Romanian leaders who cross into their camp are worse than enemies: they are traitors. The first and fiercest punishmment ought to fall first on the traitor, second on the enemy. If I had but one bullet and I were faced by both an enemy and a traitor, I should (shoot at) the traitor" [4]

In that quotation, Codreanu makes allusion to a story of Jewish-Christian Mythology, where a follower of the sect of the Nazarenes (also known as the Christian sect), called Judah Iscariot, betrayed Jesus Christ and his disciples, receiving some silver as a reward.

Codreanu saluting at Legionary ceremony

A traitor betrays Codreanu and his men

In a replay of the ancient Jewish-Christian story of Judah Iscariot, it was now Vernichescu, one of the members of the conjured would-be assassins, who took the dishonourable step of betraying them. Thus they were all arrested before they could take any action. Upon being interrogated by the police, Codreanu firmly decided that honesty was the only noble way to deal with the situation, and took full responsibility for the assassination plot. They spent some time in jail, where they felt a living spiritual force in the icon of Saint Michael the Archangel at the prison church, which led them to decide that a new organisation that they would create should be named The Legion of Michael the Archangel. [4]

The trial for the assassination plot was held at Bucharest. Codreanu and his comrades were all acquitted, since the jurors were all Romanians and sympathetic with the actions of Codreanu and his followers, due to the general anger that had been provoked by the betrayal of the will of the Romanian people, as it had been perpetrated by its Government in changing the Constitution and accepting resident Jews as legal nationals. However, upon leaving the court of justice, the hot-blooded Ion Mota felt that they could not succeed in their efforts without first killing their betrayer (they had recently discovered that the betrayer had been Vernichescu). Thus Mota shot Vernichescu in the cell, on the day of the trial, and thus Mota remained in prison for a longer time, to be tried for murder. Later he was acquitted as well, since few persons had sympathy for the traitor. [4]

This decided and brave activist, Ion Mota, is the same who went with other Romanian volunteers to Spain in 1936, to help the Nationalist side during the Spanish Civil War. Ion Mota and his comrade Vasile Marin died holding their lines against a Republican attack in Majadahonda, near Madrid, on 13th January 1937. Their bodies were carried back to Romania and honoured by thousands of uniformed Romanian Legionaries. See also Mota-Marin Martyrdom

Activity of the League and split with Cuza

The League's Brotherhood of the Cross

After Codreanu returned to Iasi in May 1924, he again started working for the League of National Christian Defence. Codreanu was a part of the youth wing of the League, known as the Brotherhood of the Cross, which was very low of monetary resources as well as of labour, and was no longer allowed to hold meetings in universities. They resorted to holding meetings in old wooden barracks, until they finally decided to build a "Christian cultural home" by their own work at Ungheni. With picks and shovels, even making their own bricks with the help of local brickmakers, they built this meeting house of the Brotherhood, which inspired local villagers and simultaneously taught them about the ideas of regeneration of Romania. [4]

While they were doing their construction work, they were brutally beaten several times by truculent policemen, without any legal reason. Codreanu and other students were arrested and hauled off to the police station in Iasi, where the Police Prefect Manciu had them tortured while hanging upside-down with chains. The students of the Brotherhood were finally freed after the intervention of Cuza and other leading persons of Iasi. The Jews in the area were extremely happy over the predicament of the students, and rewarded Manciu by buying him a car, while making sure that the abusive Police Prefect would receive no legal punishment for his rash actions. Some months later, in October 1925, Codreanu was defending at court a student who had been arrested at the raid on the Ungheni site. Into this courtroom Manciu durst to show the impudence of bursting with several tough gendarmes of the police, once again with the intention of harming Codreanu. But Codreanu reacted quickly, refusing to be illegally beaten and humiliated, by taking out his revolver and shooting Manciu. [4]

Corneliu Codreanu with his wife Elena

Absence of Codreanu. Split in the League

Codreanu was transferred for trial at Tunul Severin, as far South from Moldavia as possible, in order to make sure that he would not be in an area where everyone sympathized with him. But even in Tunul Severin, while several policemen (supposedly former subordinates of Manciu) denied having tortured the students, the jury knew the truth of what had happened and proclaimed Codreanu innocent. Shortly after this trial he returned to Iasi and there he married Elena Ilinoiu. Thence he and his wife travelled to France, where he would earn his doctorate in political economy at the University of Grenoble. [4]

In May 1927, Codreanu returned from France and found that the League had become split into two factions, due to a general lack of coordination and unity, and more specifically because of a confusion over the expulsion of a deputy. Codreanu felt that the situation inside the League was the prelude of failure and disaster. He found that Cuza, being the leader of one of the two factions, was perfectly happy with the situation, which caused Codreanu to realise that, although Cuza was a good doctrinaire, he was not a good leader. He bitterly commented on the leadership abilities of Cuza: "If the doctrinaire be expected to master the science of researching (facts) and of formulating truth, then the leader of a political movement is expected to master the science and art of the organisation, the education, and the leadership of men. Professor Cuza, (who is) excelling and unsurpassed on the (plane of doctrine), when he was brought down on the practical (plane of leadership), he showed himself ignorant, awkward..." [4]

Leaving the League. Founding the Legion

Of the two factions into which the League had become divided, the other was led by Professor Sumuleanu. Codreanu pressed on Cuza and on Sumuleanu for coming to an agreement, but he was unable to make the two obstinate professors see the gravity of the situation, each professor thinking that he represented the true spirit of the League, and that in a short time nearly all members would naturally follow his line. Besides this problem, Codreanu also perceived the willingness that Cuza showed of cooperating to some extent with corrupt politicians from other parties, a policy that Codreanu decidedly opposed.

After having failed in his efforts of reconciliation, Codreanu finally decided to abandon the League. He thought that the youth should become a completely new and separate organisation, which in fact was already beginning to happen, since the younger members of the League had formed a faction of its own, distanced from the disputes between Cuza and Sumuleanu. Codreanu believed that the secession of the youth would form the base for a very different kind of organisation, better led and more unified than the League had been under Cuza or Sumuleanu.

Thus, Codreanu and his best friends visited Cuza as well as Sumuleanu, and declared to them their firm intention of creating a movement on their own. The students met at the "Christian cultural home", which had been the meeting place of the Brotherhood of the Cross as a part of the League of National Christian Defence, and there they founded their own fully independent organisation, what would become internationally known as the Legion of Michael the Archangel (or Legion of Archangel Mihail, in a more literal translation). The Banner of the Legion displayed the icon of Saint Michael as its main symbol. [4]

The Legion of Archangel Michael

See also: Legionary Doctrine
Corneliu Codreanu with Legionary Friends

Overview of doctrine and of main activities

The Legion of Archangel Michael (or Michael the Archangel) did not present a party programme, and Codreanu did not even consider the Legion to be properly a political movement, but rather a spiritual movement whose aim was to improve Romania. He asserted that even the best political programmes would be compromised if the Romanian were corrupted by the influence of Jews and greedy politicians. In his Cărticica Şefului de Cuib of 1933, known in English as The Nest Leader's Manual, Codreanu wrote: "The goal of the (corrupt) politician is to build a fortune, ours is to build our homeland flowering and strong. For our homeland we shall work and we shall build. For her we shall make each Romanian a hero, ready to fight, ready to sacrifice, ready to die."[5]

The Legion was to be more of a school and an army for the creation of a New Man (Omul Nou), a generation of Romanians who, through their Christian spirituality and nationalism, would create a Greater Romania freed from darkness and oppression. A spiritual revolution would be the prerequisite for a political revolution. He declared in For My Legionaries:

"From this Legionary school a new man will have to emerge, a man with heroic qualities, a giant of our history to do battle and win over all the enemies of our Fatherland, his battle and victory having to extend even beyond the material world into the realm of invisible enemies, the powers of evil. Everything that our mind can imagine more beautiful spiritually, everything the proudest that our race can produce, greater, more just, more powerful, wiser, purer, more diligent and more heroic, this is what the Legionary school must give us! A man in whom all the possibilities of human grandeur that are implanted by God in the blood of our people be developed to the maximum. This hero, the product of Legionary education, will also know how to elaborate programmes, he will also know how to solve the Jewish problem, will also know how to organise the state well, will also know how to convince the other Romanians, and if not, he will know how to win, for that is why he is a hero. This hero, this Legionary of bravery, labour and justice, with the powers that God implanted in his soul, will lead our Fatherland on the road of its glory" [4]

The Legion, because it needed a strong structure of organisation, was designed as a hierarchical system. The basic unit of the Legion was called a nest, numbering from simply three to thirteen members. At each level of the Legion, from the nest to town, city, county and regional sections, up to the top leader known as Capitanul ("The Captain", title of the leadership rank that Codreanu attained), the leaders were not chosen by election but by bravery and skill. The movement would be opposed to the republican system, which as Codreanu observed did not really represent the will of the people, and replace it with a new form of government in which a leader would be selected rather than elected, and would not be able to do what he personally wishes, but only what is the best course of action for the nation.

All members of the Legion were educated in Christian virtues and in love of their nation, and were taught to be disciplined and disinterested of personal safety when engaged in battle. The Legionaries marched and sang national songs together, along with volunteering to help impoverished lower class Romanians (especially peasants) in building, repairing houses, assisting in farming, and other areas of work. The nests of the Legion were to be self-sufficient, not reliant on buying materials for survival. [4]

Codreanu and other nationalist Romanians had witnessed for many years the Romanian people suffering at the hands of the Capitalists which were largely Jews only interested in profit, having no sympathy for Romanians. The peasants were extremely poor, in some areas even to the point of starving, and barely surviving by borrowing money at interest rates from Jewish money-lenders. Jew-owned companies were chopping down forests at alarming rates, destroying the source of livelihood for certain groups of peasants, such as the Moti. Jewish speculators were buying up land and malnutrition was widespread, making the situation seem grim for the Romanian people. [4]

Codreanu at Legionary meeting

Growth in the late 1920's and early 1930's

The Legionary Movement grew, spreading across all Romania and determined to change the situation of the country by finally banishing the Jews, who usually had little sympathy for "Gentiles" (non-Jews, a term derived from the Hebraic word "Goyim", translatable as "animals in human form". Orthodox Jews consider other races of Homo sapiens as different species). Through charity and volunteer work, the Legionaries revealed that they were not another corrupt party interested in power and money. By 1929, in order to progress further, the Legionaries were forced to create a political branch of the Legion to run for elections. This organisation was called Garda de Fier ("Iron Guard"), which is the name by which the Legionary Movement would later be commonly called. [4]

Throughout the early 1930s Iron Guard members marched through villages, wearing the green-coloured uniform with a white cross sewn on the shirt at the left side (on the heart). Codreanu and other top ranking Legionaries often made public speeches, sometimes torch marches at night, calling for the regeneration of Romania and the expulsion of the Jews. But influential Jews and established political parties were determined to stop the Iron Guard. In certain areas, Codreanu and other top Legionaries were illegally barred from speaking, and often beaten by policemen as well as Jews, usually without provocation. Unfortunately, they also became involved into clashes with members of the League of National Christian Defence, their former comrades in the organisation of Cuza, now also known as Cuzists. The League viewed the Legion as a threat to its own success. [4]

In 1932, Corneliu Codreanu and his father Ion entered the Romanian National Assembly through elections in Moldavia, as the Iron Guard. In spite of this success, the treatment of Legionaries by the authorities or by opposing organisations worsened as time passed, and nearly all members, including girls, were at some time beaten or humiliated. By 1933, the Liberal Party led by Ion Duca was elected into power, and its insolence went so far as wantonly declaring in public that it would "exterminate" the Iron Guard. The Legion was determined to continue the fight, and in face of the bravado of its foes, it prepared for the worst and became ready to retaliate. [4]

The cabinet of Duca, after having already intimidated, terrorised, tormented, tortured, or even assassinated several Legionaries, went ahead in its defiance and, also in 1932, banned the Legion from participating in elections, leading to the arrest of around 18 000 Legionaries (Codreanu succeeded in hiding). The Legionaries Nicolae Constantinescu, Doro Belimace and Ion Caranica then assassinated Ion Duca in fair revenge, and immediately delivered themselves to the police. Following the assassination of the Head of Government, the tortures and assassinations of Legionaries by the regime of the Liberal Party multiplied. [6]

Codreanu saluting Legionaries in 1937

The Legion becomes internationally known

In the Autumn of 1936 the Legion decided to send a symbolic team of eight Legionaries to Spain, to help Generalísimo Francisco Franco and other Spanish generals and political militias in their Nationalist uprising of 18th July against the Second Spanish Republic, which since February that year had become largely dominated by Marxism. Seven members of the team joined the National Forces as a small Romanian contingent with their own Romanian Flag. The leader of the team, General Cantacuzino, acted as a liaison to the Nationalist Headquarters. While fighting in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the Legionaries Ion Mota and Vasile Marin died at Majadahonda, near Madrid, on 13th January 1937. At the funeral, before the bodies of Mota and Marin, Codreanu declared in an "Oath of Ranking Legionaries" (1937): "That is why you are going to swear that you understand that being a Legionary elite in our terms means not only to fight and win, but it also means above all a permanent sacrifice of oneself to the service of the Nation, that the idea of an elite is tied to the ideas of sacrifice, poverty, and a hard, bitter life, that where self-sacrifice ends, there also ends the Legionary elite". There were large funeral processions all over Romania, and in the next year a new elite unit in the Legionary Movement was created with the name of "Mota-Marin Corps". [6]

In March 1938 Codreanu sent a letter to Nicolae Iorga, complaining of the campaign of calumny that Iorga had launched against the Legion. In the letter, Codreanu tells Iorga that he is a dishonest person, who has taken part in the oppression of innocent people. Iorga, feeling insulted, then files a lawsuit against Codreanu, which results in King Carol II Hohenzollern (who had earlier established himself as a dictator, changing the constitution) and his Minister Armand Calinescu, arresting Codreanu (and thousands of Legionaries), and condemning him to six months in prison. The Romanian Government staged a second trial, closed to the public and extremely biased, in which Codreanu was sentenced to nothing less than ten years in prison for unreasonable and unproven accusations of sedition and treason. A few months later Calinescu gives to the military police secret instructions for murdering Codreanu and other high ranking Legionaries, acting outside of the law. The minions of Calinescu then take the group out of their prison, supposedly for a transference to another location. At some distance the ruffians take the prisoners out of the heavily guarded vehicles and assassinate them, at the forest of Tăncăbeşti, on 30th November 1938. Codreanu was thirty-nine years old. The official version was, as usual with this kind of crimes, that they were "trying to escape" [6]

After the assassination of Codreanu and the other Legionaries, terrible persecutions of the Legion continued, and eventually a group of nine Legionaries assassinated Calinescu. His substitute as new leader in the Romanian Government, General Argeseanu, then ordered the execution of 252 Legionaries and the imprisonment of thousands more, thus intensifying the persecution even more than it had been under his predecessor, Calinescu. By 1940 the Legionaries, under the leadership of Horia Sima, attempted to negotiate with King Carol II. Not having received an acceptable response, they kept fighting to the last consequences. Because the situation in Romania had become unsustainable, being a prelude of civil war, later in that year of 1940 General Ion Antonescu in collaboration with the Legion finally overthrew the tyranny of King Carol, resulting in the implantation of the National Legionary State (1940-1941), ruled jointly by Sima and Antonescu. It must also be noted that in these months the Second World War (still often called "European War"), was already fully engaged. Events in Romania soon would become inseparably entangled with the unprecedented hecatomb that was ravaging the European Continent, and shortly later wreaking havoc in almost the whole World. [6]

Comments About Codreanu from Notable People

Codreanu in the centre of Legionaries celebrating his 34th birthday, on 18th September 1933

Said by Nagy-Talavera

Codreanu was seen by many people as being an extremely charismatic and influential person. Even the Hungarian speaking Jewish historian Nicholas Nagy-Talavera commented:

"There was suddenly a hush in the crowd. A tall, darkly handsome man dressed in the white costume of a Romanian peasant rode into the yard on a white horse. He halted close to me, and I could see nothing monstrous or evil in him. On the contrary. His childlike and sincere smile radiated over the miserable crowd, and he seemed to be with it yet mysteriously apart from it. Charisma is an inadequate word to define the strange force that emanated from this man. He was more aptly simply part of the forests, of the mountains, of the storms on the snow-covered peaks of the Carpathians, and of the lakes and rivers. And so he stood amid the crowd, silently. He had no need to speak. His silence was eloquent, it seemed to be stronger than we were, stronger than the order of the prefect who denied him speech. An old, white-haired peasant woman made the sign of the cross on her breast and whispered to us "The emissary of the Archangel Michael !". Then the sad little church bell began to toll, and the service which invariably preceded Legionary meetings began. Deep impressions created in the soul of a child die hard. In more than a quarter of a century I have never forgotten my meeting with Corneliu Zelea Codreanu" [7]

Said by Julius Evola

The famous Italian Traditionalist intellectual Julius Evola, who inspired in a good part the doctrine of the Fascist Movement, was fascinated with Codreanu as well, and wrote of his meeting with Codreanu upon visiting Romania in his article "The Tragedy of the Romanian Iron Guard: Codreanu":

"Through a group of Legionaries who part comes towards us a young, tall, slender man, with an uncommon expression of nobleness, frankness and energy imprinted on his face: azure grey eyes, open forehead, genuine Roman-Aryan type, and mixed with virile traits, something contemplative, mystical in the expression. This is Corneliu Codreanu, the leader and founder of the Romanian 'Iron Guard', the one who is called 'assassin', 'Hitler's henchman', 'anarchist conspirator', by the world press, because since 1919, he has been challenging Israel, and the forces which are more or less in cahoots with it, at work in the Romanian national life" [8]

Said by Horia Sima

Horia Sima, successor of Codreanu as commander of the Legion in 1940 and co-ruler of Romania, gave in his book Istoria Mişcarii Legionare (History of the Legionary Movement) an insider's description of the appearance and character of Codreanu:

"There is no doubt that, in this world, there are all sorts of people who look nice, but are empty inside, who do not feel either moral or spiritual aspirations in addition to the physical gifts with which nature blessed them... But in Corneliu Codreanu, his magnificient physique corresponds to an exceptional inner wholeness. Exclamations of admiration from men left him indifferent. Praise angered him. He had only a fighter's greatness and the ambition of great reformers... The characteristic of his soul was goodness. If you want to penetrate the initial motive that prompted Corneliu Codreanu to throw in a fight so hard and almost desperate, the best answer is that he did it out of compassion for suffering people. His heart bled with thousands of injuries to see the misery in which peasants and workers struggled. His love for the people was unlimited ! He was sensitive to any suffering that the working masses endured. He had a cult for the humble, and showed an infinite attention to their aspirations and their hopes. The smallest window, the most trivial complaint, were examined with the same seriousness with which he addressed grave political problems" [9]

The Legionary Movement After Codreanu

For information on the Legionary Movement after Codreanu's death, see the following pages: Horia Sima, the National Legionary State, Ion Antonescu, The Pitesti Phenomenon.


See also


  1. Gheorghiu, Lisette. "Originea lui Corneliu Zelea Codreanu" ("The Origin of Corneliu Zelea Codreanu") from Adevãrul în procesul Cãpitanului ("The Truth About the Captain"). Ed. by Kurt W. Treptow and Gheorghe Buzatu. Bucharest, 1938.
  2. Codreanu, Corneliu Zelea. For My Legionaries. Third Edition. York, SC: Liberty Bell Publications, 2003.
  3. Gheorghiu, Lisette. "Originea lui Corneliu Zelea Codreanu" ("The Origin of Corneliu Zelea Codreanu") from Adevãrul în procesul Cãpitanului ("The Truth About the Captain"). Ed. by Kurt W. Treptow and Gheorghe Buzatu. Bucharest, 1938.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 4.20 4.21 4.22 4.23 4.24 4.25 4.26 Codreanu, Corneliu Zelea. For My Legionaries. Third Edition. York, SC: Liberty Bell Publications, 2003.
  5. Codreanu, Corneliu Zelea. The Nest Leader's Manual (Carticica Sefului de Cuib). CZC Books, 2005. [Original Romanian first printed in 1933]
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Ronnett, Alexander E. and Bradescu, Faust. "The Legionary Movement in Romania." The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 193-228.
  7. Nicholas Nagy-Talavera, The Green Shirts & The Others: A History of Fascism in Hungary and Rumania. Center for Romanian Studies, 1970.
  8. Evola, Julius. "The Tragedy of the Romanian 'Iron Guard': Codreanu", Thompkins & Cariou, 2004.
  9. Sima, Horia. Istoria Mişcarii Legionare ("History of the Legionary Movement"). Editura Gordian, Timişoara, 1994 [first published 1967].


English Language Works

  • Codreanu, Corneliu Z. Circulars and Manifestos. London: Black Front Press, 2013.
  • Codreanu, Corneliu Zelea. For My Legionaries. Third Edition. Translated and edited by Dr. Dimitrie Gazdaru. York, SC, USA: Liberty Bell Publications, 2003.
    • Fourth Edition: For My Legionaries (London: Black House Publishing, 2015), with an added introduction by Kerry Bolton, historical overview by Lucian Tudor, several new appendices, and photographs.
  • Codreanu, Corneliu Zelea. The Nest Leader’s Manual. London: Black Front Press, 2013.
  • Codreanu, Corneliu Zelea. The Prison Notes. USA: Reconquista Press, 2011.
  • Codreanu et al. Thoughts and Perspectives Volume Five: Codreanu. edited by Troy Southgate. London: Black Front Press, 2011.
  • Crişan, Radu Mihai. "The Secret of the Fire Sword". Bucharest: University Book Publishing House, 2006.
  • Evola, Julius. "The Tragedy of the Romanian 'Iron Guard': Codreanu". Conway, SC, USA: Thompkins & Cariou, 2004.
  • Nagy-Talavera, Nicholas. The Green Shirts & The Others: A History of Fascism in Hungary and Rumania. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press/Stanford University Press, 1970.
  • Ronnett, Alexander E. and Bradescu, Faust. "The Legionary Movement in Romania." The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 193-228.
  • Ronnett, Alexander E. Romanian Nationalism: The Legionary Movement. Chicago: Romanian-American National Congress, 1995.
  • Sima, Horia. The History of the Legionary Movement. Liss, England: Legionary Press, 1995.
  • Sturdza, Michel. The Suicide of Europe: Memoirs of Prince Michel Sturdza, Former Foreign Minister of Rumania. Boston & Los Angeles: Western Islands Publishers, 1968.
  • Tudor, Lucian. "The Romanian Iron Guard: Its Origins, History and Legacy." The Occidental Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Spring 2014).

Romanian Language Works

  • Codreanu, Corneliu Zelea. Circularile Capitanului ("Circulars of the Captain") or Circulari si Manifesti ("Circulars and Manifestos"). Bucharest, 1937.
  • Mota, Ion. Cranii de Lemn: Articole 1922-1936. ("Wooden Skulls: Articles 1922-1936"). Ediţia a II-a, Bucureşti, Editura Totul pentru Ţară, 1937.
  • Crisan, Radu Mihai. Istoria Interzisă (“Forbidden History”). Bucharest: Editura Tibo, 2008.
  • Sima, Horia. Istoria Mişcarii Legionare ("History of the Legionary Movement"). Timişoara: Editura Gordian, 1994.
  • Sima, Horia. Sfarşitul unei domnii sângeroase ("The End of a Bloody Reign"). Madrid: Editura "Miscarii Legionare", 1977.
  • Valenas, Liviu. Miscarea Legionara intre adevar si mistificare ("The Legionary Movement between Truth and Deception"). Timisoara: Editura Marineasa, 2000.

External links