Ion Antonescu

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Ion Antonescu
Ion Antonescu

Ion Antonescu (June 15 1882 PiteştiJune 1 1946 near Jilava) was the prime minister and conducător (Leader) of Romania during World War II from September 4, 1940 to August 23, 1944.


Early life and military career

Antonescu was born into a bourgeois family with some military tradition. He attended military schools in Craiova and Iaşi, and graduated the Cavalry School as top of class in 1904, then, in 1911, the military academy.

As lieutenant, Antonescu took part in the repression of the 1907 peasants' revolt in and around the city of Galaţi. In 1913, he participated in the Second Balkan War against Bulgaria, winning Romania's highest military decoration. During Romania's involvement in World War I (1916-1918), Antonescu acted as chief-of-staff for Marshal Constantin Prezan. In this position, he was the architect of the Romanian army's successful defense against the attempted invasion of Moldavia by German troops headed by Field Marshal Mackensen, in the second half of 1917 (the rest of Romania had already been occupied by the Germans in late 1916).

Antonescu had the reputation of a very skilled and practical military commander. His ruthlessness gained him the name Cinele roşu (the red dog).

Missing image
Ion Antonescu in his youth

Between 1922 and 1926 he was a military attach of Romania in France and Great Britain. After returning to Romania he was the commander of the "Şcoala Superioară de Război" (Upper School of War) between 1927 and 1930, chief of the Great Headquarters of the Army between 1933 and 1934 and Defence Minister between 1937 and 1938.

Political power

General Antonescu was appointed Prime minister by King Carol II in September 1940, after Romania was forced to surrender Bessarabia and northern Bukovina to the USSR (June 28, 1940), and the northern half of Transylvania to Hungary (August 30, 1940). Only two days after his appointment, he forced King Carol to abdicate. Carol's son, Mihai, became the new King. Antonescu named himself Conducător (Leader) and assumed dictatorial powers, relegating the King to a merely decorative role.

Facing the prospect of war on three fronts (Germany to the west, the Soviet Union to the east, and Bulgaria to the south), Antonescu sought an alliance with Nazi Germany, hoping to at least gain back the territories lost to the Soviets. This partnership was equally interesting to the Germans, because of Romania's important oil reserves.

Antonescu approached the Fascist, anti-Semitic Iron Guard party and offered them seats in the Government (September 15, 1940). Antonescu desired to bring the Iron Guard under his direct control, because their paramilitary activities were undermining the authority of the state. The ensuing period was known as the 'National Legionary State' ('Statul naţional-legionar'). Eventually, after their demands for extended powers were repeatedly turned down by Antonescu, the Iron Guard rebelled (January 21, 1941). Antonescu quickly crushed the rebellion (with the consent of Germany, whose economic interests demanded stability in Romania), outlawed the Iron Guard and had their top leaders imprisoned or expelled from the country.

Antonescu and Hitler
Antonescu and Hitler

Romanian troops joined the German Wehrmacht in their attack against the Soviet Union (June 1941) and reoccupied lost territories as well as the city of Odessa. In this city, Antonescu ordered one of the most brutal massacres in history, the Odessa Massacre. Even after the recapturing of Bessarabia and northern Bucovina, Antonescu took the Romanian army deeper into Soviet territory. This decision was met with disapproval both by Romanian politicians and by the Allied powers. After the Romanians suffered huge losses in the Battle of Stalingrad, Antonescu's popularity declined sharply.

In the summer of 1944, as the Soviets were pushing the Germans closer and closer to Romania's eastern borders, Antonescu refused to change his stance and request an armistice (presumably because of his sharp sense of honour, but also because of his lack of political skills). Thus, on August 23, 1944, King Michael, supported by Romania's top political parties, dismissed him and put him under arrest.

Trial and death

After being arrested, Antonescu was turned over to the Soviets. In May 1946 he was put on trial by the Communist government in Bucharest, for having supported the German invasion of the USSR. He was sentenced to death, and executed on June 1, 1946.

The official report stated "Ion Antonescu asked to be executed by the army, not by prison guards, but he was refused, to which he replied: Scumbags, scumbags!"

"Then the command for the execution was given. The weapons were loaded and when they were fired the Marshal saluted by raising his hat with the right hand, after which they all fell down. The Marshal immediately rose up, leaning on his elbow and said: You didn't shoot me gentlemen, fire!, after which the chief guard went with his pistol to Antonescu and shot him in the head. The doctor consulted them and came to the conclusion that the Marshal and Vasiliu were still alive. The chief guard fired another shot in the chest of Antonescu and then of Vasiliu and the doctor examined them and said they still weren't dead. The chief guard went again to Vasiliu, but his pistol jammed when he tried to fire it. He took a rifle from one of the guards and fired one shot in Vasiliu's head, but then it also jammed."

"He changed it with another one and fired another 3 shots in different parts of Vasiliu's body and then went to the Marshal and fired 3 shots in his chest. The doctor examined them and said that Antonescu was dead, but Vasiliu was still alive. Again the guard fired a shot in Vasiliu's head. The result: Vasiliu's brains were coming out of his head, but he was still moving and saying something we couldn't understand. The guard went again to to him and fired two shots in the head and after this the doctor said that Vasiliu too was dead." [1] (

Antonescu and the Holocaust

Antonescu's role in the Holocaust is a very controversial subject. It has been held that Antonescu did not agree with Hitler's racist doctrines about the "master race" and that his anti-Semitism was largely fueled by economical nationalism. However, it is arguable, from his speeches and documents, that he strongly held an anti-Semitism that had not just economical, but metaphysical and thus ultimately racist grounds. Antonescu believed, just like Hitler, that the world was engaged in a dualistic struggle between the forces of Darkness (the Jews/Bolsheviks) and those of Light (the Christians, Aryans), and that it was up to the forces of Light to destroy the enemy.

Missing image
Ion Antonescu and Hermann Gring

Antonescu's policy toward the Jews seems to have been ambivalent. His stepmother, Frida Cuperman, was Jewish, as was his wife, Rasela Mendel, whom he married as a military attach in London in the 1930s. In the Old Kingdom (pre-WWI Romania) there were only sporadic acts of racist violence (an important and horrendous exception being the pogrom of Iaşi, where over 10,000 Jews were killed in July 1941--that is before Hitler's actual Holocaust had started). Until 1942, he allowed and even encouraged the Zionist movement, thinking of solving the "Jewish question" by allowing Jews to emigrate towards British-controlled Palestine. This policy was canceled due to the German pressure and the British refusal to receive Jews from an enemy country in its territory. At the same time, it is certain that Antonescu had prepared massive deportations of Romanian Jews into German death camps in occupied Poland (October 1942); these plans were cancelled when the tide of the war seemed to be turning against the Axis powers.

Meanwhile, most of the Jews in Bessarabia and Bucovina were annihilated. In 1941, following the advancing Romanian Army and alleged attacks by Jewish "Resistance groups", Antonescu ordered the deportation to Transnistria, of all Jews of Bessarabia and Bukovina (between 80,000 and 150,000), who were considered "Communist agents" by the official propaganda. "Deportation" however was a euphemism, as part of the process was to kill as many Jews as possible before deporting the rest in the so-called "trains of death" to the East. Of those who escaped the initial ethnic cleansing in Bukovina and Bessarabia, only very few managed to survive trains and the concentration camps set up in Transnistria. These survivors returned to Romania after the war.

Further killings perpetrated by Antonescu's death squads (documents prove his direct orders and involvement) targeted the Jewish population the Romanian army managed to round up when occupying Transnistria. Several tens of thousands of these were murdered in massacres staged in such places as Odessa (see the Odessa Massacre), Bogdanovka, Akmecetka in 1941 and 1942. To be sure, Antonescu's troops did not proceed with the Germans' precision. As Raul Hilberg writes: "There were also instances when the Germans actually had to step in to restrain and slow down the pace of the Romanian measures. At such times the Romanians were moving too fast for the German bureaucracy.” (Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, p. 759).

About 25,000 Roma people were also deported to Transnistria and it is estimated that about 11,000 of them perished.


  1. Cosmeanu, Marius. Imparatul Iulian revendica potcoave de cai morti, Cotidianul (, 29 March 2005

External links

Video of Antonescu's execution (Йон Антонеску de:Ion Antonescu nl:Ion Antonescu pl:Ion Antonescu ro:Ion Antonescu sl:Ion Antonescu fi:Ion Antonescu sv:Ion Antonescu


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