Prince Mihai and King Carol II in 1940

Prince Mihai and King Carol II in 1940

(Sept. 4, 2020) This week, 80 years ago, Romanian general, Ion Victor Antonescu, became prime minister of the Kingdom of Romania. Not bad considering that only a few weeks prior, the general had been an involuntary guest of the king, Carol II. Within a day of naming the general prime minister, King Carol II had abdicated in favor of his 18-year-old son, Mihai (Michael) I, who, on Sept.14, 1940, declared the general the “Conducător” of the State.

This is a Romanian word for “Leader,” or “National Leader.” With that he joined Italy’s Duce, Germany’s Führer, Greece’s Arkhigos, Spain’s Caudillo, and Turkey’s Milli Şef. They would be joined by Slovakia’s Vodca, Croatia’s Poglavnik, Norway’s Fører, Hungary’s Nemzetvezetō, Burma’s Naingandaw Adipadi, and India’s Netaji, as the Axis ship was sinking.

The ascension of Gen. Antonescu to the position of prime minister came because of his alliance with the Romanian fascist party, “Iron Guard,” which united with the military. The Guard then became the only legal party in Romania and its leader, Horia Sima, deputy prime minister. Other Guard members were also named to high government posts, such as Prince Michel Sturdza as foreign affairs minister and Gen. Constantin Petrovicescu as interior minister.

The Iron Guard was characterized by virulent anti-Semitism, fascism and nationalism. The way was paved for this alliance by the king’s plummeting popularity, caused by the kingdom’s loss of immense territory to the USSR., Hungary and Bulgaria.

First was the grab by the Soviet Union, in June, of Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and the Hertza region, which contained more than 20,000 square miles and 4 million residents. Next came the loss of Northern Transylvania to Hungary, pursuant to the Second Vienna Diktat in August, with another 16,643 square miles and 2.5 millon residents. Finally, was the loss of Southern Dobruja, and another 2,703 square miles, to Bulgaria formalized in early September by the Treaty of Craiova.

The king had never really enjoyed much popularity since his marriage to a commoner, Johanna “Zizi” Lambrino (which was annulled within a year by a Romanian court), subsequent marriage to Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark (Mihai’s mother), and an affair during that marriage with Elena “Magda” Lupescu.

As a result of the last affair, he renounced his right to the throne in favor of his infant son and left the country with Magda. A regency was established to govern the country until 1930, when, dissatisfied with the Regency, Parliament recalled Carol and proclaimed him, again, King.

The new government, formed by the alliance between Gen. Antonescu and the Iron Guard, in September 1940, was called the “National Legionary State.” The title was derived from the group known as “The Legion of Archangel Michael,” of which the Iron Guard was the political party and paramilitary arm.

“The National Legionary State” lasted until Jan. 21,1941, when the Iron Guard attempted to seize complete control and was instead outmaneuvered and defeated, leaving Gen. Antonescu as truly the Conducător of the Kingdom of Romania.

A week earlier, the Romanian Conducător had met with the German Führer and, in exchange for the Conducător’s promise of Romanian assistance in a war against the USSR, secured der Führer’s support for his attempt to eliminate the Iron Guard from the Romanian government. In the meantime, the Wehrmacht had been invited to help protect the oil fields in Ploieşti and to give training to the Armata Româna.

In late November 1940, the Conducător traveled to Berlin to sign the Tri-Partite Pact which joined it with Germany, Italy, Japan and Hungary. He executed the pact, on Romania’s behalf on Nov. 23. Slovakia, Bulgaria and Croatia would join later. In response, Great Britain declared a blockade of Romanian ships.

After executing the pact on his country’s behalf, the Romanian Conducător met with the German Führer, who informed him of the German plans for the invasion of Greece, and the role expected of Romania. The next day, Gen. Antonescu met with Wehrmacht chief Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel.

When, on June 6, 1941, in Munich, the Conducător was asked if the Kingdom of Romania wished to join Germany and Slovakia in the invasion of the USSR,the Conducător replied, “When it’s a question of action against the Slavs, you can always count on Romania!”

Although this was not enough time for the Armata Româna to prepare for such an undertaking, the Conducător was not going to pass up this opportunity to recover Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and the Hertza region! In addition, the Conducător saw this as an opportunity to further ingratiate his country with the German Reich with an eye to receiving the Reich’s aid in recovering Northern Transylvania from Hungary and Southern Dobruja from Bulgaria.

Although the Aeronautica Regalä Românä participated in Operation Barbarossa from the beginning, the Armata Româna was not ready to advance until July 4, 1941. At that time, the Romanian Third and Fourth Armies commanded by Gens. Petre Dumitrescu and Nicolae Ciuperca, respectively, were joined with the German Eleventh Army, commanded by Gen. Baron Eugene von Schobert, to form “Army Group Antonescu,” under the titular command of the Conducător.

About a week after war began, the Conducător ordered the first Romanian pogrom. On June 27, 1941, he telephoned Col. Constantin Lupu, Commander of the Romanian garrison for the city of Iaşi, which was a city of about 100,000 near the Romanian/Bessarabian border and ordered him to, “...cleanse Iaşi of its Jewish population.” The killing, which began the following night, resulted in 8,000 deaths. More than 5,000 were shoved into overcrowded boxcars and sent on a seven-day trek, without food or water, to a camp in Southern Romania. Little more than 1,000 survived the journey to Călăraşi.

On July 5, 1941, Gen. Ciuperca’s Third Army drove the Soviets out of Northern Bukovina. Before Romanian soldiers attacked Bessarabia, the Conducător addressed them, saying, “Sugary and incorporeal humanism is inappropriate in this situation.

“I think that the Jews should be forced to leave Bessarabia and Bukovina. And Ukranian people must leave the country also....I am not disturbed if the world should consider us barbarians. You can use machine guns if it is necessary.

“And I tell you that the law does not exist....so let us give up all the formalities and use this complete freedom. I assume all the responsibility and claim that the law does not exist.

“Soldiers, I order you to cross the River Prut!”

The river was the border between Bessarabia and Romania.

The Conducător became the first Romanian to receive the Knight’s Cross when it was presented to him by the German Führer on Aug. 6, 1941 in the Ukranian city of Berdychiv. On Aug. 22, King Mihai named him Marshal of Romania.

Meanwhile, on July 17, Romanian troops had crossed the Dneister River, into Ukrainian territory. Many Romanians, although overjoyed to recover those areas grabbed by the USSR a year earlier, were not supportive of advancing further into the Soviet Union.

However, Marshal Antonescu understood that, unless the Soviet Union was defeated, these gains were transitory. He agreed to assist the German ally and administer the area between the Dneister and Bug Rivers. Romanian troops made significant contributions to the battles for Odessa, Sevastopol, Kerch, Stalingrad and Novorossiysk, all of which became Soviet Hero Cities.

Ultimately, in August 1944, with the Red Army at the gates of Bucharest, King Mihai I had the Conducător arrested. The Kingdom then switched sides and joined the Red Army in the invasion of Hungary. After the war, it again lost Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and the Hertza Region to the Soviet Union, but it regained Northern Transylvania from Hungary.

After the war, Marshal Antonescu was tried and convicted of war crimes, crimes against peace and treason, and sentenced to death. The court’s sentence was executed by firing squad on June 1, 1946 outside Jiliva Penitentiary in the village of Jiliva, near Bucharest.

He and three others were marched along a dirt road, unrestrained, to the place of execution, where they faced their executioners without blindfolds. The Conducător raised his right arm, saluting his country, when the order to fire was given, all of which was captured on film.

The cost of the war against the Soviet Union was more than 625,000 casualties, of which almost 400,000 were deaths. Then there were another 170,000 casualties (of which 45,000 were deaths) suffered, in the remaining 10 months of the war, fighting against its former allies, Hungary, Germany and Slovakia.

The Soviet NKVD was responsible for, at least, another 75,000 deaths upon the “liberation” of Romania by the Red Army. This is in addition to the 250,000 Jews and 25,000 Gypsies murdered in Romania and Romanian administered territories.

The Romanian government admitted, in a report issued in 2004, that “Of all the allies of Nazi Germany, Romania bears responsibility for the deaths of more Jews than any country other than Germany itself. The murders committed in Iaşi, Odessa, Bogdanovka, Domanovka, and Peciora, for example, were among the most hideous murders committed against Jews anywhere during the Holocaust. Romania committed genocide against the Jews. The survival of Jews in some parts of the country does not alter this reality.”

Next week: Italians invade Egypt

Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he practices law representing those persons accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and those who have suffered a personal injury through no fault of their own.

He can be contacted at: wimbrowlaw@gmail.com.

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