1946: Ion Antonescu

Add comment June 1st, 2015 Headsman

Romania’s wartime fascist dictator Ion Antonescu was shot on this date in 1946.

Antonescu (hand raised) and Adolf at Nazi headquarters in June 1941. Behind them are Ribbentrop and Keitel.

An army officer who worked his way up to the brass via his exploits in the Second Balkan War and then in World War I, Antonescu emerged as a major nationalist politician in the interwar period. He was the elite political figure who allied with Corneliu Codreanu‘s Iron Guard movement.

Antonescu became the Defence Minister in a a far-right government, was temporarily shouldered out of the state by King Carol II‘s coup, and then re-emerged as the leading alternative when Carol’s government was undone by the tectonic political crises in the run-up to World War II. After territorial concessions wrung by Romania’s neighbors triggered protests against the king in Bucharest, Antonescu on September 5, 1940, forced Carol to transfer dictatorial power to him — and shortly thereafter, he forced Carol to abdicate altogether.*

That left Carol’s son Michael the figurehead of state, and Ion Antonescu the actual strongman — at least, once he tamed the Iron Guard.

Antonescu oriented Romania towards Hitler’s Germany, including a fairly enthusiastic involvement in the Holocaust.**

For Germany, it was an important alliance: Romania’s oil fields were essential to powering the Reich’s mechanized army. And Romania ultimately fielded the largest Axis army other than Germany and Italy themselves with well over one million men under arms by the summer of 1944. For Romania, well, opportunism is as opportunism does: as Antonescu put it, echoing an ancient argument, “in today’s circumstances a small country which is under threat, such as ours, does not do what it wishes, but what it can.”

The Romanian “General Antonescu Army Group” joined the fateful invasion of the Soviet Union. Romanian divisions were prominent at Stalingrad where some 150,000 were lost as casualties or prisoners.

The turn of the war’s tide put Romania in a grievous dilemma whose parameters ran something like this:

  • Maintain Antonescu’s personal grip on power
  • Maintain the territorial expansion Romania had achieved early in the war
  • Exit the war without going down in Germany’s Gotterdammerung

… pick one of three. Provided it’s the last one.

As the Red Army approached from the northeast and American bombers struck from Italy and North Africa, Antonescu scrambled to sound out what kind of a deal he could cut with the Allies.

Antonescu might perhaps have negotiated without the desperation due his position,† and dilated with his decreasingly patient enemies while the Germans flattered him with the dream that he could still retain conquered Bessarabia (present-day Moldova). Only with the Soviet army on his doorstep was Antonescu finally disabused of the statesman’s dream and office both — when King Michael ousted Antonescu and immediately switched Romania to the Allied side.‡ This move accepted the Soviet occupation that was about to become a fait accompli, and put Romanian soldiers into the field for the last months of the war fighting against their former German allies.

It also put Antonescu into Soviet custody. He rode out the war under guard in Moscow, then was shipped back to postwar Romania where he would serve as the feature attraction of the People’s Tribunals.

One hundred eighty-seven people answered war crimes charges to these bodies; there were 13 death sentences, but only four were actually executed.§ All four — Transnistria governor Gheorghe Alexianu, Interior Minister Constantin Vasiliu, and Foreign Minister Mihai Antonescu (no relation — were shot on this date at Jilava. The executions were filmed.

* Carol went into exile, never to see his native soil again. He died in Portugal in 1953.

** “Of all the allies of Nazi Germany, Romania bears responsibility for the deaths of more Jews than any country other than Germany itself,” according to a 2003-2004 commission. “Efforts to rehabilitate the perpetrators of these crimes are particularly abhorrent and worrisome. Nowhere else in Europe has a mass murderer like Ion Antonescu, Hitler’s faithful ally until the very end, been publicly honored as a national hero.” (The full report is available here; the quoted lines come from its executive summary.)

† Berlin was keeping an eye on Romania’s separate-peace feelers, too, and had prepared a plan to occupy Romania should it attempt to desert the Axis. This is precisely the fate that befell Nazi-allied Hungary … but in Romania’s case, Germany never had the moment to implement the plan.

‡ Michael was, like his father, forced into exile in 1947; he did not return to Romania until after the collapse of Communism. Now in his nineties, King Michael is still alive as of this posting and remains the claimant should Romania ever re-establish its monarchy.

§ Six of the 13 death sentences were delivered in absentia. Notable among those fled souls was the Hungarian writer Albert Wass: Wass had escaped to the United States, which refused repeated appeals by Communist Romania to deport him. There is a running struggle in both Hungary and Romania over whether to rehabilitate Wass or posthumously rescind his death sentences. (Postwar Hungary condemned him, too.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Heads of State,History,Infamous,Notable Jurisprudence,Politicians,Romania,Shot,War Crimes

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1940: Jilava Massacre

1 comment November 26th, 2010 Headsman

On the night of November 26-27, 1940, the Romanian Iron Guard massacred sixty-plus political prisoners of the pre-fascist regime at Jilava — the Jilava Massacre.

This incident marked the interregnum of the National Legionary State, and the friction between the fascist Legionaries under Horia Sima and Prime Minister Ion Antonescu.

An authoritarian right-wing dictatorship by any standard, but like any polity it had its own internal conflicts. Of moment for this date: the detention of people whom the Legions considered implicated in the execution of fascist martyr Corneliu Zelea Codreanu two years before, as well as miscellaneous other undesirables who had prospered under the abdicated King Carol II.

Antonescu, who had a thing about rectitude, proposed to ornament these men’s inevitable deaths with the formalities of investigation and trial. Long story short, Sima and the Legionaries didn’t trust Antonescu; when Antonescu ordered some of the prisoners transfered to a different prison, the Guard refused — and when replacement jailers were consequently slated for the Guard, the Guard took matters into its own hands by slaughtering its charges this night.

Antonescu was furious.

the handful of reprobates who have committed this crime will be punished in an exemplary manner. I will not allow that the country and the future of the nation be compromised by the action of a band of terrorists … I was reserving the punishment of those held at Jilava for the justice system of the country. But the street decreed otherwise, proceeding to implement justice itself

By the following January, the conflict between the National Legionary State factions came to a head. With the support of the Third Reich, Antonescu mastered the Iron Guard, took control of the state, and sent Sima into exile.

And he did indeed punish — up to and including execution — several of the Guard members involved in this date’s massacre.

On the other hand, as a prize for serving as wartime Prime Minister of an Axis-aligned state, Antonescu himself was shot for war crimes not far from Jilava Prison in 1946. Sima, on the other hand, had a few in absentia death sentences, but checked out comfortably in Madrid at the age of 85.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,Execution,History,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Romania,Shot,Summary Executions

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