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June 1: Romania’s Top Fascist

Lawrence Bush
May 31, 2017

Ion Antonescu, the fascist prime minister of Romania who allied the country with Nazi Germany and eagerly prosecuted genocidal attacks against his country’s Jews and Gypsies, was executed for war crimes on this date in 1946. Antonescu was a lifelong antisemite whose father had divorced his mother to marry a convert to Judaism. He was also a lifelong military man, a veteran of World War I, and an ally and hero to Romania’s fascist militia, the Iron Guard. In September, 1940, Antonescu became dictator of his country following the deposing of its king, Carol II. He built the Iron Guard into a savage military force, and allied the country with Hitler. During his reign, antisemitic legislation was strengthened, Jewish-owned businesses were confiscated, and racial laws were put into effect. Romania joined the Germans (as well as Hungary, Finland, Slovakia, Italy and Croatia) in attacking the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa in June, 1941, and Antonescu’s troops joined the Nazis and other paramilitary allies in roving military squads that slaughtered Jews. Soon after Operation Barbarossa came Romania’s Iași pogrom, which resulted in the murder of several thousand Jewish men, women and children, with thousands more survivors loaded onto sealed trains that drove around in the summer heat, suffocating its passengers. Forced out of office in 1944 as the Soviet Red Army was approaching Romania’s borders, he was handed over and imprisoned in the USSR for a year before being returned to Romania and placed in the docket by a People’s Tribunal.

“We decided to defend our Romanian rights because our all-too-tolerant past was taken advantage of by the Jews and facilitated the abuse of our rights by foreigners, particularly the Jews. . . . We are determined to put an end to this situation. We cannot afford to put in jeopardy the existence of our nation because of several hundred thousand Jews, or in order to salvage some principle of humane democracy that has not been understood properly.”--Ion Antonescu

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.