Ion Antonescu

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Ion Antonescu
Ion Victor Antonescu II.jpg

Marshal Antonescu

Born 15 June 1882
Piteşti, Wallachia, Romania
Died 1 June 1946 (aged 63)
Jilava, Wallachia, Romania
Nationality Romanian
Occupation statesman, soldier
Religion Romanian Orthodox
Spouse ∞ 1927 Maria Niculescu

Term 5 September 1940 – 23 August 1944
Predecessor Ion Gigurtu
Successor Constantin Sănătescu

Conducător of Romania
Term 6 September 1940 – 23 August 1944

Ion Victor Antonescu (14[1] or 15[2] June 1882 – 1 June 1946) was a Romanian military officer who had served in World War I, a general, and then a marshal (mareșal[3] since 23 August 1941), who was Prime Minister and Conducător of Romania during most of World War II.


Romania's Antonescu.jpg

Ion Victor Antonescu was born in Piteşti, Romania, near Bucharest in 1882. Antonescu came from a military background and was dedicated in his work, serving early on in the Second Balkan War. When Romania entered World War I on the side of the Triple Entente, he was involved in decision-making for the Romanian campaign. They were defeated and signed the Treaty of Bucharest on 7 May [O.S. 25 April] 1918 and it was ratified by the Chamber of Deputies on June 28th and by the Senate on 4 July 1918. However, King Ferdinand refused to sign or promulgate it.

After the war Antonescu served for a time as the Romanian military attaché to France, the United Kingdom, and Belgium. After returning home, he served as Secretary-General of the Defence Ministry in the Vintilă Brătianu cabinet and was then made Chief of the Romanian General Staff.[4]

Rise to Power

In 1927, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu had created an anti-semetic and highly religious Christian nationalist organization known as the Legion of Michael the Archangel (also known as the Iron Guard), which was determined to create a permanent spiritual and ultimately political revolution in Romania. Throughout the 1930s, in the face of strong oppression from the government the Legionary Movement grew larger and larger. In February 1938, King Carol changed the Romanian Constitution and established himself as a quasi-dictator, ruling with his Minister Armand Calinescu. In March of that year, Codreanu was imprisoned in unfair and biased trials and in a few months murdered by order of Calinescu.[5]

After the fall of France in June 1940, King Carol's policy changed towards re-alignment with Germany in the hope of gaining German guarantees for Romania. He was however not aware of the secret clauses of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact between Germany and the Soviet Union that would see Romania lose significant parts of its territory. So-called Greater Romania was now fragmented by the enforced ceding of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to the USSR, Northern Transylvania to Hungary and southern Dobruja to Bulgaria. Although after which, a German guarantee was finally achieved, the situation had a disastrous effect on the reputation of Carol II. The reorientation of Romania's foreign policy towards Germany, however, would not prevent his regime from collapsing, and he was forced to abdicate by General Ion Antonescu, the newly appointed (September 4th) Prime Minister. Carol was again succeeded by his son King Michael.

Antonescu decided to work with the Legion of Michael the Archangel in forming a new government. On that day Horia Sima had been chosen by the top Legionaries as the new Commander of the Legion.[5]

In these circumstances, Sima became Vice-President and ruled jointly with Antonescu, who was Prime Minister (although he gave himself the title of Conducător or Leader). The new government, made up of a mixture of military members and Legionaries, was proclaimed the National Legionary State. Although it was technically a constitutional monarchy with King Michael, Antonescu and Sima were the true rulers of the state.[6]

Of the establishment of the National Legionary State, Horia Sima said in his book Era Libertaţii - Statul naţional-Legionar ("Freedom - National Legionary State", vol.1) that "Rarely in our people's history has there been experienced a moment of collective exaltation of impressive enthusiasm as that of the popular masses after the expulsion [sic] of King Carol from the country. You cannot even compare the intensity of national sentiment with that rush of joy in the annexed provinces, when the Union of 1918 was formed."[6]

Sima and Antonescu then proceeded to nationalise the Romanian national economy, trade, industry, and mass media, where Jewish influence had been very large.[7] See also Jewish influence: Romania.

Joining the Axis

In November 1940, Legionary Romania joined the Tripartite Pact of National Socialist Germany, Italy, and Japan, bringing Romania into World War II on the side of the Axis powers. However, the dual leadership of Sima and Antonescu was imperfect, since Antonescu was extremely ambitious and wanted to gain complete power by personally becoming the leader of the Legionary Movement. In 1941, Antonescu had a personal meeting with Adolf Hitler, without notifying Sima or any other Legionary leaders, having left for Berlin on January 13th. Antonescu discussed with Hitler the possibility of a war with the Soviet Union and the conditions for Romania's participation in that war. Antonescu argued that the Romanian army was on his side and if Hitler wanted Romania to join in the fight against the U.S.S.R., Germany must agree to remain neutral in the internal conflict between him (Antonescu) and the Legionary Movement.[5]

General Antonescu then prepared for a coup d'état against the Legion by having anti-Legionary propaganda spread with rumours claiming that Legionaries are undisciplined, are engaging in scuffles with military members, and are of questionable use in war. Antonescu then took various anti-Legionary actions, including removing various prominent Legionaries from government positions and eventually beginning to arrest and imprison Legionary leaders. On 21 January 1941, Horia Sima and a large number of Legionaries rebelled against Antonescu, and although they later tried to reach an agreement, Antonescu harshly repressed the Legionaries. In another meeting with Hitler, Antonescu convinced the German leader that the Legionaries were "fanatics" that needed to be suppressed. The Romanian government under Antonescu then became highly authoritarian and began to arrest and kill numerous Legionaries. By April 1941, Horia Sima and many other members of the Legion had fled into German territory and were then interned in compulsory quarters in camps, although treated well by the Germans.[5]

Romania took part in Operation Barbarossa, as part of the Crusade against Bolshevism, which led to the recovery of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. Antonescu also became Marshal of Romania, was awarded the German decoration, the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, and despite some early successes in Transnistria, the situation began to turn after the Battle of Stalingrad. Aerial bombing attacks on Romania by the Allies occurred in 1944 and Romanian troops suffered heavy casualties on the Eastern Front generally, prompting Antonescu to open tentative peace negotiations with the Allies, ending with inconclusive results. The Red Army was soon on the borders of Romania. On 23 August 1944 King Michael I requested Antonescu to an audience in the Royal Palace in Bucharest, where He presented the Marshal with a formal request to take Romania out of the Axis alliance. The Conducător refused, and was promptly arrested by soldiers of the Royal Guard upon the orders of the monarch. He was replaced as Premier with General Constantin Sănătescu, who presided over a national government. Two days later Romania betrayed her brothers in arms and joined the Allies.

Following the occupation of Romania by the forces of the Soviet Union Antonescu spent some time in Moscow as a prisoner, under reasonable conditions, but was returned to Bucharest in 1946, where he was tried and executed by a Communist kangeroo-court.[4]

Horia Sima on Antonescu's Rule

Marshal Antonescu was an historical calamity. In the final analysis he caused Rumania as much evil as did Carol. He created the climate in which the conspiracy of August 23, 1944, was born and prospered. He allowed contacts to be established between irresponsible persons and organizations and the enemy, in the absurd hope that the country's independence could be saved that way. He allowed himself to be surrounded by people in the service of the adversary, and he gave them access to the most confidential State affairs and to the management of military operations. By his lack of reaction to the activities of the enemy agents he favoured defeatism, he weakened the inner resistance of the State, disorganized its institutions, and permitted thereby the carrying out of the coup d'etat of August 23. By removing the Legionaries from his Government and keeping them in prison until the outbreak of the catastrophe, he sabotaged the last possible means of saving his country. Finally, he was himself the victim of the political system he had created. He was devoured by the sharks he had gathered around himself.[8]


After the war, Antonescu was convicted of alleged crimes at a "People's Tribunal" in the Soviet-occupied Kingdom of Romania and executed.

Awards and decorations (excerpt)

Ion Victor Antonescu III.png
  • Romanian Medal of Military Virtue (1st Class in Gold) in 1913 (Southern Dobruja)[9]
  • Order of Michael the Brave, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st Class
    • 1st Class in 1919 (Tisza River, Hungary)[10]
  • Combined Pilot/Observer Badge in Gold with Diamonds in June 1941
    • Bestowed to honor exceptional success, presented to Antonescu by Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring.
  • Iron Cross (1939), 2nd, and 1st Class on 6 August 1941
    • Awarded for bravery in battle as well as other military contributions in a battlefield environment.
  • Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 6 August 1941
    • First Romanian to receive the award.
  • Grand Cross of the Finnish White Rose of Finland with Swords in January 1942
  • Order of the German Eagle, Grand Cross in Gold with Star on 11 February 1942
  • Romanian Commemorative Medal for the Crusade Against Communism
  • Crimea Shield (Krimschild) in Gold on 3 July 1942
  • Grand Cross of the Finnish Order of the Cross of Liberty with Swords on 10 November 1943

See also

External links



  1. Dennis Deletant: Hitler's Forgotten Ally – Ion Antonescu and His Regime, Romania, 1940–1944, Palgrave Macmillan, London 2006, p. 37
  2. Nina Maria Horbath: [file:///C:/Users/AJV/Downloads/33798.pdf Holocaust und Vergangenheitspolitik in Rumänien], 2015, p. 20
  3. Mareșal (marshal) is the highest rank in the Army of Romania, the Romanian Armed Forces. It is the equivalent of a field marshal in other countries.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Deletant, Dennis. Hitler's Forgotten Ally: Ion Antonescu and His Regime, Romania, 1940–1944. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2006.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Ronnett, Alexander E. and Bradescu, Faust. "The Legionary Movement in Romania." The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 193-228.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Sima, Horia. Era Libertaţii - Statul naţional-Legionar vol. 1 ("It was Freedom - National Legionary State vol. 1"). Editura "Miscarii Legionare", Madrid, 1982.
  7. Sima, Horia. Sfarşitul unei domnii sângeroase ("The End of a Bloody Reign"). Editura "Miscarii Legionare", Madrid, 1977.
  8. Horia Sima: Cazul Iorga-Madgearu, Editura Carpaţii, Madrid 1961.
  9. Romania's highest military decoration at the time. Only received by one other officer in the army during the Second Balkan War.
  10. Romania's highest military decoration. Upon crossing the River Tisza during the Hungarian–Romanian War, King Ferdinand took the Order of Michael the Brave from his own uniform and presented it to Antonescu, saying "Antonescu, no one in this country knows better than the King how much they owe you."