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February 9, 2015
President: Corneliu Zelea Codreanu (1927-1938); Horia Sima (1938-1941)
Founded: 24 July 1927
Dissolved: 1941 (suppressed)
Split from: National-Christian Defense League
Headquarters: Bucharest, Kingdom of Romania
Paramilitary wing: Corpul Muncitoresc Legionar
Ideology: Clerical fascism; Anti-semitism
Political position: Far-right
Religion: Romanian Orthodoxy
Colours: Green, White, black
The Iron Guard (Romanian: Garda de fier pronounced [ˈɡarda de ˈfjer] ( listen)) is the name most commonly given to a far-right movement and political party in Romania in the period from 1927 into the early part of World War II. The Iron Guard was ultra-nationalist, fascist, anti-communist, anti-capitalist and promoted the Orthodox Christian faith. It is also considered an antisemitic organization, an ideology even going so far as to demand the introduction of "state anti-semitism".
When Ion Antonescu came to power in September 1940 he brought the Iron Guard into the government. The Guard launched a murderous attack on Jews. In January 1941, however, Antonescu used the army to suppress a revolt of the Iron Guard. He destroyed the organization, as its commander Horia Sima and some other leaders escaped to Germany.
Romanian antisemitism had deep roots in the teachings of certain influential extremist ideologues within the Romanian Orthodox Church. Even as the Iron Guard moved beyond traditional religious antisemitism to promote economic and racial antisemitism and violence against Jews, they did not abandon religious belief and religious language and symbolism was used in the speeches, poetry and songs of the Iron Guard. The youth movement had its stronghold in the Faculty of Theology of the University of Bucharest.
Originally founded by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu on June 24, 1927, as the Legion of the Archangel Michael ("Legiunea Arhanghelului Mihail"), and led by him until his assassination in 1938, adherents to the movement continued to be widely referred to as "legionnaires" (sometimes "legionaries"; Romanian: legionarii) and led to the organization of the "Legion" or the "Legionary Movement" ("Mişcarea Legionară"), despite various changes of the (intermittently banned) organization's name. In March 1930 Codreanu formed the "Iron Guard" ("Garda de Fier") as a paramilitary political branch of the Legion; this name eventually came to refer to the Legion itself. Later, in June 1935, the Legion changed its official name to the "Totul pentru Ţară" party, literally "Everything for the Country", but commonly translated as "Everything for the Fatherland" or occasionally "Everything for the Motherland".
Stamp bearing the symbol of the "Iron Guard" over a white cross that stood for one of its humanitarian ventures
Historian Stanley G. Payne writes in his study of Fascism, "The Legion was arguably the most unusual mass movement of interwar Europe." The Legion contrasted with most other European fascist movements of the period in its overt religiosity (in the form of an embrace of the Romanian Orthodox religion). According to Ioanid, the Legion "willingly inserted strong elements of Orthodox Christianity into its political doctrine to the point of becoming one of the rare modern European political movements with a religious ideological structure." The movement's leader, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, was a religious mystic who aimed at a spiritual resurrection for the nation. According to Codreanu's heterodox philosophy, human life was a sinful, violent political war, which would ultimately be transcended by the spiritual nation. In this schema, the Legionnaire might have to perform fanatical and violent actions that would condemn him to damnation, which was considered the ultimate sacrifice for the nation. Like many other fascist movements, the Legion called for a revolutionary "new man". As for economics, there was no straightforward program, but the Legion generally promoted the idea of a communal or national economy, rejecting capitalism as overly materialistic. The movement considered its main enemies to be present political leaders and the Jews.
Its members wore green uniforms (meant as a symbol of renewal, and the origin of the occasional reference to them as the "Greenshirts" - "Cămășile verzi"), and greeted each other using the Roman salute. The main symbol used by the Iron Guard was a triple cross (a variant of the triple parted and fretted one), standing for prison bars (as a badge of martyrdom), and sometimes referred to as the "Archangel Michael Cross" ("Crucea Arhanghelului Mihail").
The mysticism of the Legion led to a cult of death, martyrdom, violence, and self-sacrifice. They had an action squad that was called Echipa morții, or "Death Squad" who had the mission to go everywhere in Romania and to sing. It was called "Death Squad" because its members had to accomplish their mission even with the risk of being killed by the police, communist or any other enemies of the Legion. The members of it were: Ion Dumitrescu-Borșa (who was a Christian Orthodox priest), Sterie Ciumetti, Petre Țocu, Tache Savin, Traian Clime, Iosif Bozântan, Nicolae Constantinescu. A chapter of the Legion was called a cuib, or "nest," and was arranged around the virtues of discipline, work, silence, education, mutual aid, and honor. These groups observed rituals that included both the drinking of and writing oaths in blood.
Founding and rise
In 1927, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu left the number two position (under A.C. Cuza) in the Romanian political party known as the National-Christian Defense League (NCDL). It was then he founded the Legion of the Archangel Michael. Its name appears to have been inspired by the Black Hundreds, an anti-semitic group in the Russian Empire (particularly the regions bordering Romania) who often used the name of the archangel.
The Legion also differed from other fascist movements in that it had its mass base among the peasantry and students, rather than among military veterans. However, the legionnaires shared the fascist penchant for violence, up to and including political assassinations.
With Codreanu as a charismatic leader, the Legion was known for skillful propaganda, including a very capable use of spectacle. Utilizing marches, religious processions and patriotic and partisan hymns and anthems, along with volunteer work and charitable campaigns in rural areas in support of its anti-Communist, anti-Semitic, anti-liberal, and anti-parliamentary philosophy, the League presented itself as an alternative to corrupt, clientelist parties including the NCDL. Initially, the Iron Guard hoped to encompass any political faction, regardless of its position on the political spectrum, that wished to combat the rise of communism in the USSR.
Like other clerical fascist movements of the time, the Iron Guard was vividly anti-Semitic, promoting the idea that "Rabbinical aggression against the Christian world" in "unexpected 'protean forms': Freemasonry, Freudianism, homosexuality, atheism, Marxism, Bolshevism, the civil war in Spain," were undermining society.
On December 10, 1933, the Romanian Liberal Prime Minister Ion Duca banned the Iron Guard. After a brief period of arrests, beatings, torture and even killings (twelve members of the Legionary Movement were murdered by the police force), Iron Guard members retaliated on December 29, 1933, by assassinating Duca on the platform of the Sinaia railway station.
Struggle for power
Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, the founder of the Iron Guard
In the 1937 parliamentary elections the Legion came in third, behind the Liberal and the Peasant Parties, with 15.5 percent of the vote. King Carol II was strongly opposed to the Legion's political aims (not, as some claim, simply due to the influence of his mistress Elena "Magda" Lupescu, a Roman Catholic whose father had been Jewish) and successfully kept them out of government until he himself was forced to abdicate in 1940. During this period, the Legion was generally on the receiving end of persecution. On February 10, 1938, the King dissolved the government, taking on the role of a royal dictator.
Codreanu was arrested and imprisoned in April 1938, and ultimately strangled to death along with several other legionnaires by their Gendarmerie escort on the night of November 29–30, 1938, purportedly during an attempt to escape from prison. It is generally agreed that there was no such escape attempt, and that Codreanu and the others were killed on the King's orders, probably in reaction to the November 24, 1938, murder by legionnaires of a relative (some sources say a "friend") of Armand Călinescu, then Minister of the Interior in the King's cabinet.
The royal dictatorship lasted just over one year. On March 7, 1939, a new government was formed with Călinescu as prime minister; on September 21, 1939, he, in turn was assassinated by legionnaires avenging Codreanu. Further rounds of mutual carnage ensued.
Corneliu Zelea Codreanu and Iron Guard members in 1937
In addition to the conflict with the king, an internal battle for power ensued in the wake of Codreanu's death. Waves of repression almost completely eliminated the Legion's original leadership by 1939, promoting second-rank members to the forefront. According to a secret report filed by the Hungarian political secretary in Bucharest in late 1940, three main factions existed: the group gathered around Horia Sima, a dynamic local leader from the Banat, which was the most pragmatic and least Orthodox in its orientation; the group composed of Codreanu's father, Ion Zelea Codreanu, and his brothers (who despised Sima); and the Moţa-Marin group, which wanted to strengthen the movement's religious character. After a long period of confusion, Sima, representing the Legion's less radical wing, overcame all competition and assumed leadership, being recognised as such on 6 September 1940 by the Legionary Forum, a body created at his initiative. On 28 September the elder Codreanu stormed the Legion headquarters in Bucharest (the Green House) in an unsuccessful attempt to install himself as leader.
In the first months of World War II, Romania was officially neutral. However the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 23, 1939, stipulated, among other things, Soviet "interest" in Bessarabia. When Nazi Germany, and later, the Soviet Union invaded Poland, Romania granted refuge to members of Poland's fleeing government and military, and even after the assassination of Călinescu, King Carol tried to maintain neutrality, but France's surrender and Britain's retreat from Europe rendered them unable to fulfil their assurances to Romania. A lean toward the Axis Powers was probably inevitable.
This political alignment was obviously favorable to the surviving legionnaires. Ion Gigurtu's government, formed July 4, 1940, was the first to include a Legion member, but by the time the movement achieved any formal power, most of its leadership was already dead: Horia Sima, a strong anti-Semite who had become the nominal leader of the movement after Codreanu's murder, was one of the few prominent legionnaires to survive the carnage of the preceding years.
On September 4, 1940, the Legion formed a tense alliance with General (later Marshal) Ion Antonescu. Using popular outrage at Romania being forced to return a large block of land as a result of the Second Vienna Award, the alliance forced the abdication of Carol II in favour of his son Michael, and leaned even more strongly toward the Axis. (Romania would formally join the Axis in June 1941.) Romania was proclaimed a "National Legionary State, with the Legion as the country's only legal party. As part of the deal, Antonescu was named the Legion's honorary leader, while Sima became deputy premier.
Once in power, from September 14, 1940, until January 21, 1941, the Legion ratcheted up the level of already harsh anti-Semitic legislation and pursued, with impunity, a campaign of pogroms and of political assassinations. More than 60 former dignitaries or officials were executed in Jilava prison while awaiting trial; historian and former prime minister Nicolae Iorga and economist Virgil Madgearu, also a former government minister, were assassinated without even the pretense of an arrest.
Failure and destruction
Once in power Sima and Antonescu quarreled bitterly. Sima demanded that the government follow the 'legionary spirit', and all major offices be held by legionaries. Other groups were to be dissolved. Economic policy, said Sima, should be coordinated closely with Germany. Antonescu rejected the demands and was alarmed by the Iron Guard's death squads. The issue was who would rule Romania. Sima overplayed his hand. On January 24, 1941, after securing approval in person from Hitler, and with support of the Romanian army and other political leaders, Antonescu moved in. The Guard started a last-ditch coup attempt but in a three-day civil war, Antonescu won decisively with support from the Romanian and German armies.
During the crisis members of the Iron Guard instigated a deadly pogrom in Bucharest. Particularly gruesome was the murder of dozens of Jewish civilians in the Bucharest slaughterhouse. After the victims were killed, the perpetrators hung the bodies from meat hooks and mutilated them in a vicious parody of kosher slaughtering practices.
In January 1941 the Iron Guard broke with its allies in the government, and a short but furious civil war was waged in the capital. The Guard used the occasion to slaughter at least 2,000 Jews in the most barbaric fashion. Some 200 Jews were led to the slaughterhouse and had their throats cut in imitation of the Jewish rites of animal slaughter.
-- Zionism in the Age of the Dictators: A Reappraisal, by Lenni Brenner
Horia Sima and other legionnaires were helped by the Germans to escape to Germany. During the rebellion and pogrom, the Iron Guard killed 125 Jews and 30 soldiers died in the confrontation with the rebels. Following it, the Iron Guard movement was banned and 9,000 of its members were imprisoned.
Antonescu's government took anti-Semitism even further than the Iron Guard and had become infamous for their participation in the Holocaust. In The Destruction of the European Jews, Raul Hilberg writes, "There were... instances when the Germans actually had to step in to restrain and slow down the pace of the Romanian measures." The annihilation of the Jews of eastern Romania (including Bessarabia, Bukovina, Transnistria, and the city of Iaşi) had more the character of a pogrom than of the well-organized transports and camps of the Germans.
The name "Garda de Fier" is also used by a small, Romanian nationalist group, active in the post-communist era.
There are also another contemporary far-right organizations in Romania, such as Pentru Patrie (For the Fatherland) and Noua Dreaptă (The New Right). Considering themselves the heir apparent to the Iron Guard, Noua Dreaptă embraces legionnairism and has a personality cult for Corneliu Codreanu but they also use the celtic cross, which is not associated with legionnairism.
Since the 1970s Mircea Eliade, a prominent historian of religion, fiction writer and philosopher, has been criticized for having supported the Iron Guard in the 1930s.
Joseph Frank analyzes this quite astutely:
Nothing blatantly anti-Semitic can be found in Eliade's postwar writings, but the prejudice is transposed into a much more scholarly key in his theory of religion. One of the cornerstones of his doctrine was that archaic man lived in a world of cyclical time, whose recurrences were marked by festivals of one kind or another in which "sacred time," the time of religious experience, was re-created. The modern world has largely lost this ability to relive "sacred time" because the Hebrews (as Eliade now calls them) broke with the cyclical time of "the eternal return" by linking God with linear time. "The Hebrews," he writes, "were the first to discover the significance of history as the epiphany of God," and this discovery of history ultimately led to all the ills of the modern world. Daniel Dubuisson, a French analyst of Eliade's views on mythology, concludes that this summary notion of history "especially invents a new accusation against the Jews, that of an ontological crime, a capital crime and without doubt unpardonable." Eliade thus remained true to himself in this erudite disguise during his later years, when his worldwide fame reached its apogee and his death was mourned with sanctimonious reverence.
-- Mircea Eliade's Fascism, by Rebecca M. Lesses
1. "The World Reacts to the Holocaust - Google Books". Books.google.de. Retrieved 2013-05-16.
2. Faith,Murder, Resurrection - Paul A.Shapiro, in Antisemitism, Christian Ambivalence and the Holocaust, Indiana University Press, p. 136
3. "Totul pentru Ţară" is translated as "Everything for the Fatherland" in "Collier's Encyclopedia" material that is now incorporated into "Encarta" as a sidebar (1938: Rumania) and in the "Encyclopædia Britannica" article Iron Guard; the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania uses "Everything for the Motherland" in the English-language version of its November 11, 2004 Final Report (PDF). (All retrieved 6 Dec 2005.). Archived 2009-10-31.
4. Payne, Stanley G. (1995). A History of Fascism 1914-1945 Madison: University of Wisconsin Press (pages 277-289) ISBN 0-299-14874-2
5. Codreanu, Corneliu Zelea (1936). "Echipa morții" [Death Squad]. Pentru legionari [For the Legionaries] (PDF) (in Romanian). Retrieved 15 January 2013.
6. Ioanid, "The Sacralised Politics of the Romanian Iron Guard".
7. Hugh Seton-Watson, The East European Revolution, Methuen & Co. London, 1950, p. 84
8. Volovici, Nationalist Ideology, p. 98, citing N. Cainic, Ortodoxie şi etnocraţie, pp. 162-4)
9. Iordachi, p.39
10. Keith Hitchins, Rumania, 1866-1947 (1994) pp 457-69
11. Holocaust Encyclopedia.
12. "New Order," Time magazine, Feb 10, 1941.
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