Corneliu Zelea Codreanu|
|Founded||24 July 1927|
|Split from||National-Christian Defense League|
|Headquarters||Bucharest, Kingdom of Romania|
|Paramilitary wing||Corpul Muncitoresc Legionar|
|Part of a series on|
|Fascism in Romania|
The Iron Guard (Romanian: Garda de fier pronounced [ˈɡarda de ˈfjer]) 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. It is also known as the Legion of the Archangel Michael (Legiunea Arhanghelului Mihail) or the Legionnaire movement (Mișcarea Legionară). The Iron Guard was ultra-nationalist, antisemitic, anti-communist, anti-capitalist and promoted the Orthodox Christian faith. Its members were called "Greenshirts" because of the predominantly green uniforms they wore.
When Ion Antonescu came to power in September 1940 he brought the Iron Guard into the government. Under the dictatorial rule of Horia Sima, 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 organisation, as its commander Horia Sima and some other leaders escaped to Germany.
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".
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, especially when talking about its understanding of nationalism, which it believed should never be separated from the faith that people were born into. According to Ioanid, the Legion "willingly inserted strong elements of Orthodox Christianity into its political ideology 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 patriot 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 actions beyond the simple will to fight, suppressing the preserving instinct for the sake of the country. Like many other fascist movements, the Legion called for a revolutionary "new man". However, this new man was very different in conception. The Legion didn't want a physical superhuman like the Nazis did. Instead, they wanted to recreate and purify the way of thinking in order to bring the whole nation closer to God.
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 the present political leadership and the Jews."
Its members wore dark 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 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.
The Iron Guard and Gender
According to a police report from 1933 8% of the Iron Guard's members were women while a police report from 1938 stated that 11% of the Guards were women. Part of the reason for the overwhelming male membership of the Iron Guard was because a disproportionate number of the Iron Guards were university students and very few women went to university in Romania during the interwar period. In the Romanian language there are plurals attached to most nouns that have either a masculine or feminine form. Thus words in English like Romanian, youth or member that are gender-neutral are used in Romanian to refer either to Romanian men or Romanian women, young men or young women, and male members or female members. The Iron Guards almost always used the masculine plurals in their writings and speeches, which suggests that they had a male audience in mind.
In interwar Romania, the Jewish minority played a role very similar to that of the Armenian and Greek minorities in the Ottoman Empire and the ethnic Chinese minorities in modern Malaysia and Indonesia, namely that of a minority widely envied and disliked for its commercial success. The Iron Guard explained that the problem of poverty in Romania was due to the Jews having "colonized" Romania, and thereby preventing Christian Romanians from getting ahead economically. The solution to this perceived problem was to drive the Jews out of Romania, which the Iron Guard claimed would finally allow Eastern Orthodox Romanians to rise up to the middle class.
As to why Romania had been allegedly "colonized" by the Jews, the Iron Guard's answer was that most Romanian men were simply not manly enough to protect their interests. In strikingly sexualized language, the Iron Guards argued that most Romanian men had been "emasculated" and were suffering from "sterility", which one Iron Guard Alexandru Cantacuzino called the "plague of the present" in a 1937 essay. Again, the term Cantacuzino used was the masculine sterilitate rather than the feminine stearpǎ.This is wrong, because "sterilitate" is also a feminine noun. The Iron Guards constantly spoke in viscerally sexualized rhetoric of the need to create a "new man" who would be "virile" and "strong", and end the "emasculation" of Romanian men. Beyond that, the Legion's obsession with violence and self-sacrifice were both subjects that were traditionally considered to be male subjects in Romania.
Codreanu paid little attention to women's concerns. In his 123-page long book The Booklet of the Nest Chief, Codreanu wrote only two paragraphs dealing with the role of his women in his party, and he recommended that a woman Legionnaire be a good wife and mother, attend church, and learn how to master cooking and sewing.
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 that 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 general fascist "respect for the war veterans" idea. Romania had a very large intelligentsia relative to its share of the population with 2.0 university students per one thousand of the population compared to 1.7 per one thousand of the population in far wealthier Germany, while Bucharest had more lawyers in the 1930s than did the much larger city of Paris.
Even before the Great Depression, Romanian universities were producing far more graduates than the number of available jobs and the Great Depression had further drastically limited the opportunities for employment by the intelligentsia, who turned to the Iron Guard out of frustration. Many Orthodox Romanians, having obtained a university degree, which they expected to be their ticket to the middle class, were enraged to find that the jobs they were hoping for did not exist, and came to embrace the Legion's message that it was the Jews who were blocking them from finding the middle-class employment they wanted.
Beyond that, Romania had traditionally been dominated by a Francophile elite, who preferred to speak French over Romanian in private and who claimed that their policies were leading Romania to the West, with the National Liberal Party, in particular, maintaining that their economic polices were going to industrialize Romania. The Great Depression seemed to show the literal bankruptcy of these policies, and much of the younger Romanian intelligentsia, especially university students were attracted by the Iron Guard's glorification of "Romanian genius" and its leaders who boasted that they were proud to speak Romanian. The Romanian-born Israeli historian Jean Ancel wrote from the mid-19th century onward, that Romanian intelligentsia had a "schizophrenic attitude towards the West and its values".
Romania had been a strongly Francophile country starting in 1859 when the United Principalities came into being, giving Romania effective independence from the Ottoman Empire (an event largely made possible by French diplomacy who pressured the Ottomans on behalf of the Romanians), and from that time onwards, most of the Romanian intelligentsia professed themselves believers in French ideas about the universal appeal of democracy, freedom and human rights, while at the same time holding anti-Semitic views about Romania's Jewish minority. Despite their antisemitism, most of the Romanian intelligentsia believed that France was not only Romania's "Latin sister", but also a "big Latin sister" that would guide its "little Latin sister" Romania along the correct path. Ancel wrote that Codreanu was the first significant Romanian to reject not only the prevailing Franophilia of the intelligentsia, but also the entire framework of universal democratic values, which Codreanu claimed were "Jewish inventions" designed to destroy Romania.
In contrast to the traditional idea that Romania would follow the path of its "Latin sister" France, Codreanu promoted a xenophobic, exclusive ultra-nationalism, where Romania would follow its own path and rejected the French ideas about universal values and human rights. In a marked departure from the traditional ideas held by the elite about making Romania into the modernized and Westernized "France of Eastern Europe", the Legion demanded a return to the traditional Eastern Orthodox values of the past and glorified Romania's peasant culture and folk customs as the living embodiment of "Romanian genius."
The leaders of the Iron Guard often wore traditional peasant costumes with crucifixes and bags of Romanian soil around their necks to emphasise their commitment to authentic Romanian folk values, in marked contrast to Romania's Francophile elite who preferred to dress in the style of the latest fashions of Paris. The fact that many members of Romania's elite were often corrupt and that very little of the vast sums of money generated by Romania's oil found its way into the pockets of ordinary people, further enhanced the appeal of the Legion who denounced the entire elite as irredeemably corrupt.
With Codreanu as a charismatic leader, the Legion was known for skillful propaganda, including a very capable use of spectacle. Utilizing marches, religious processions, patriotic and partisan hymns and anthems, along with volunteer work and charitable campaigns in rural areas, in support of Anti-communism, the League presented itself as an alternative to corrupt parties. 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.
Unlike other fascist movements of the time, the Iron Guard was purposely anti-Semitic, promoting the idea that "Rabbinical aggression against the Christian world" in "unexpected 'protean forms': Freemasonry, Freudianism, homosexuality, atheism, Marxism, Bolshevism, and 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
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 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. In the aftermath of Carol's decision to crush the Iron Guard, many members of the Legion fled into exile in Germany, where they received both material and financial support from the NSDAP, especially from the SS and Alfred Rosenberg's Foreign Political Office.
For much of the interwar period, Romania was in the French sphere of influence, and in 1926, Romania signed a treaty of alliance with France. Following the Remilitarization of the Rhineland in March 1936, Carol started to move away from the traditional alliance with France as the fear grew within Romania that the French would do nothing in the event of German aggression in Eastern Europe, but Carol's regime was still regarded as essentially pro-French. From the German viewpoint, the Iron Guard was regarded as far preferable to King Carol. 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. Călinescu favored a foreign policy where Romania would maintain a pro-Allied neutrality in World War II, and as such, the SS had a hand in organizing Călinescu's assassination. Further rounds of mutual carnage ensued.
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. Sima was close to SS Volksgruppenführer Andreas Schmidt, a volksdeutsch (ethnic German) from Romania, and through him become close to Schmidt's father-in-law, the powerful Gottlob Berger who headed the SS Main Office in Berlin. The British historian Rebecca Haynes has argued that financial and organizational support from the SS was an important factor in Sima's rise.
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 Bassarabia. 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. On the 27th November 1940 more than 60 former dignitaries or officials were executed in Jilava prison while awaiting trial; historian and former prime minister Nicolae Iorga and economic theorist Virgil Madgearu, also a former government minister, were assassinated the following day. Assassination attempts on the lives of former Prime Ministers and Carol supporters Constantin Argetoianu, Guță Tătărescu and Ion Gigurtu were also carried out, but failed, as the before mentioned politicians were freed from the hands of the Legionary Police and put under military protection.
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, and was not really ideological; the differences between Sima and Antonescu were more of degree rather than kind. 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 run-up to the coup attempt, different factions of the German government backed different sides in Romania with the SS supporting the Iron Guard while the military and the Auswärtiges Amt supported General Antonescu. Baron Otto von Bolschwing of the SS who was stationed at the German embassy in Bucharest played a major role in smuggling arms for the Iron Guard.
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. The perpetrators hung the Jews from meat hooks, then mutilated and killed them in a vicious parody of kosher slaughtering practices. The American ambassador to Romania Franklin Mott Gunther who toured the meat-packing plant where the Jews were slaughtered with the placards reading "Kosher meat" on them reported back to Washington: "Sixty Jewish corpses were discovered on the hooks used for carcasses. They were all skinned....and the quantity of blood about was evidence that they had been skinned alive". Gunther wrote he was especially shocked that one of the Jewish victims hanging on the meat hooks was a 5-year-old girl. 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. On 22 June 1941, the Iron Guards imprisoned in Iași since January by the Antonescu regime were released from prison and organized and armed by the police as part of the preparations for the Iași pogrom. When it came to killing Jews, the Antonescu regime and the Iron Guard were capable of finding common ground despite the failed coup in January 1941. When the pogrom began in Iași on 27 June 1941, the Iron Guards armed with crow-bars and knives played a prominent role in leading the mobs that slaughtered Jews on the streets of Iași in one of the bloodiest pogroms ever in Europe.
In the period between 1944–47 Romania had a coalition government in which the Communists played a leading, but not yet dominant role. Journalist Edward Behr claimed that in early 1947, a secret agreement was signed by the leaders of the exiled Iron Guard in displaced persons (DP) camps in Germany and Austria and the Romanian Communist Party, under which the all of the Iron Guards in the DP camps except for those accused of the murder of Communists could return home to Romania in exchange for which the former Iron Guards would work as thugs to terrorize the anti-communist opposition as part of the plans for the ultimate Communist take-over of Romania. Behr further claimed that in the months after the "non-aggression pact" between the Communists and the Legion, thousands of Iron Guards returned to Romania where they played a prominent role working for the Interior Ministry in breaking opposition to the emerging Communist dictatorship.
The name "Garda de Fier" is also used by a small, Romanian nationalist group, active in the post-communist era.
There are also other contemporary far-right organizations in Romania, such as Pentru Patrie (For the Fatherland) and Noua Dreaptă (The New Right). Considering themselves the heir apparent of 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 who was a professor at the University of Chicago, has been criticized for having supported the Iron Guard in the 1930s.
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- For "greenshirts" see, for example, R.G. Waldeck, Athene Palace, University of Chicago Press eBook (2013), ISBN 022608647X, p. 182. Originally published 1942.
- "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.
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