Horia Sima (1938-41)
|Founders|| • Corneliu Codreanu|
• Radu Mironovici
• Ion I. Mo?a
• Corneliu Georgescu
• Ilie Gârnea
|Founded||24 June 1927|
|Dissolved||23 January 1941|
|Headquarters||4th Gutenberg Street, Green House, Bucharest|
|Youth wing||Brotherhood of the Cross|
|Proletarian wing||Corpul Muncitoresc Legionar|
|Iron Guard (1930-41)|
|Membership||272,000 (c. late 1937)|
• Romanian nationalism
• Greater Romania
• Christian nationalism
• Christian mysticism
• Revolutionary nationalism
• Economic nationalism
• Third Position
|Religion||Romanian Orthodox Christianity|
|International affiliation||1934 Montreux Fascist conference|
|Colours||Green, black and white|
("Holy Legionary Youth")
|Seats in the|
|Seats in the|
Chamber of Deputies (1937)
^ a: The Iron Guard was also antisemitic, antimagyar, antiziganist, anti-Marxist and anti-capitalist.
The Iron Guard (Romanian: Garda de Fier) was a militant revolutionary fascist movement and political party in Romania founded in 1927 by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu as the Legion of the Archangel Michael (Legiunea Arhanghelul Mihail) or the Legionnaire Movement (Mi?carea Legionar?). It was strongly anti-democratic, anti-capitalist, anti-communist, and anti-Semitic. It differed from other European right-wing movements of the period due to its spiritual basis, as the Iron Guard was deeply imbued Romanian Orthodox Christian mysticism.
In March 1930, Codreanu formed the Iron Guard as a paramilitary branch of the Legion, which in 1935 changed its official name to the "Totul pentru ?ar?" party--literally, Everything For the Country Party. It existed into the early part of the Second World War, during which time it came to power. Members were called Legionnaires or Greenshirts because of the predominantly green uniforms they wore.
When Marshal Ion Antonescu came to power in September 1940, he brought the Iron Guard into the government, creating the National Legionary State. In January 1941, following the Legionnaires' rebellion, Antonescu used the army to suppress the movement, destroying the organization; its commander, Horia Sima, along with other leaders, escaped to Germany.
Founded by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu on 24 June 1927, as the "Legion of the Archangel Michael", and led by him until his assassination in 1938, followers of 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", 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 ?ar?" party, literally meaning "Everything For the Country" party.
The name of the League appears to have been inspired by the Black Hundreds, an anti-Semitic group in the Russian Empire (particularly the regions bordering Romania) that often used the name of the archangel.
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), and founded the Legion of the Archangel Michael.
The Legion 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". Romania had a very large intelligentsia relative to the general 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 worldwide Great Depression, Romanian universities were producing far more graduates than the number of available jobs and the Great Depression in Romania 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 policies were going to industrialize Romania. The national Great Depression seemed to show the literal bankruptcy of these policies and many 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 which 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 antisemitic 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 Francophilia 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.
The Iron Guard was purposely anti-Semitic, promoting the idea that "Rabbinical aggression against the Christian world"--which manifested through Freemasonry, Freudianism, homosexuality, atheism, Marxism, Bolshevism, and the civil war in Spain"--were undermining society.
The Vaida-Voevod government[disputed ] outlawed the Iron Guard in January 1931. On 10 December 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 29 December 1933, by assassinating Duca on the platform of Sinaia railway station.
In the 1937 parliamentary elections the Legion came in third with 15.5% of the vote, behind the National Liberal and the National Peasant Parties. King Carol II strongly opposed 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 10 February 1938, the king dissolved the government and initiated a royal dictatorship.
Codreanu advised the Legion to accept the new regime. However, Interior Minister Armand C?linescu did not trust Codreanu and ordered him arrested on 16 April. Realizing that the government was looking for an excuse to have him executed, Codreanu ordered the Legion's acting commander, Horia Sima, to take no action unless there was evidence that he was in immediate danger. However, Sima, who was known for his violent streak, launched a wave of terrorist activity in autumn. Codreanu got wind of this and ordered the violence to end.
The order came too late. On the night of 29-30 November 1938, Codreanu and several other legionnaires were strangled to death by their Gendarmerie escort, 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 24 November 1938 murder by legionnaires of a relative (some sources say a "friend") of C?linescu. 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 7 March 1939, a new government was formed with C?linescu as prime minister; on 21 September 1939, he, in turn was assassinated by legionnaires avenging Codreanu. C?linescu 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 C?linescu'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 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 Mo?a-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 23 August 1939, initially a secret document, stipulated, among other things, Soviet "interest" in Bessarabia. After the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany on 1 September, joined by the Soviet Union on 17 September, Romania granted refuge to members of Poland's fleeing government and military. Even after the assassination of C?linescu on 21 September, King Carol tried to maintain neutrality, but the later surrender by France 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 favourable to the surviving legionnaires, and became even more so after France fell in May 1940. Sima and several other legionnaires who had taken refuge in Germany began slipping back into Romania. A month after the fall of France, Carol restructured his regime's single party, the National Renaissance Front, into the more overtly totalitarian "Party of the Nation," and invited a number of legionnaires to take part in the restructured government. On 4 July, Sima and two other leading legionnaires joined the government of Ion Gigurtu. However, they resigned after only a month due to mounting pressure for Carol to abdicate.
The Second Vienna Award, which forced Romania to cede much of northern Transylvania to Hungary, angered Romanians of all political shades and all but destroyed Carol politically. Despite this, a legionnaire coup on 3 September failed.
At the 1927 and the 1931 elections the movement stood for the Chamber of Deputies as Legion of the Archangel Michael. In 1932 it stood as the Codreanu Group, winning five of the 387 seats. It did not compete in the 1928 election and was banned in 1933. At the 1937 election it stood as Everything for the Country Party, winning 66 of the 387 seats. At the 1939 election, all opposition parties were banned.
|1927||10,761||0.4%||8th||Extra-parliamentary opposition to PNL government (1927-1928)|
|1928||did not compete||-||Extra-parliamentary opposition to PN? government (1928-1931)|
|Extra-parliamentary opposition to PND minority government (1931)|
|1931||30,783||1.1%||12th||Extra-parliamentary opposition to PND minority government (1931-1932)|
|Extra-parliamentary opposition to PN? government (1932)|
|1932||70,674||2.4%||9th||Opposition to PN? government (1932-1933)|
|1933||party banned||-||Extra-parliamentary opposition to PNL government (1933-1937)|
|Supporting PNC minority government (1937-1938)|
|parliament suspended||Extra-parliamentary opposition to Miron Cristea's monarchist government (1938-1939)|
|1939||party banned||-||Extra-parliamentary opposition to FRN monarchist government (1939-1940)|
|parliament suspended||LAM government (1940-1941)|
More or less out of desperation, King Carol II named General (later Marshal) Ion Antonescu as prime minister, partly because of the general's close ties with the Legion. Unknown to Carol, however, Antonescu had secretly reached an agreement with other political figures to force out the king. Amid popular outrage at the Second Vienna Award, Carol's position became untenable, and he was forced to abdicate in favour of his son Michael, who quickly confirmed Antonescu's dictatorial powers and granted him the title of Conduc?tor (leader) of Romania.
Although Antonescu was an archnationalist and authoritarian, his first preference was to form a government of national unity, in which all parties would have accepted him as dictator. However, with the exception of the Legion, the other parties at least wanted to maintain the appearance of parliamentary rule. The Legion, in contrast, fully supported Antonescu's vision of an ultranationalist and authoritarian regime. With this in mind, Antonescu formed an alliance with the Legion on 15 September. As part of the deal, Romania was proclaimed a "National Legionary State," with the Legion as the country's only legal party. Antonescu became the Legion's honorary leader. Sima became deputy premier, and four other legionnaires joined Sima in the cabinet.
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 political assassinations. On November 27, 1940 more than 60 former dignitaries or officials were executed in Jilava prison while awaiting trial. The following day, historian and former prime minister Nicolae Iorga and economic theorist Virgil Madgearu were assassinated; assassination attempts were made on former prime ministers and Carol supporters Constantin Argetoianu, Gu T?t?rescu and Ion Gigurtu, but they were freed from the hands of the Legionary police and put under military protection.
As a paramilitary force, the Iron Guard had no shortage of firearms while in power. At the start of 1941, in Bucharest alone, the Legionnaires had 5,000 guns (rifles, revolvers and machine guns) as well as numerous hand grenades. The Legion also possessed a small, mostly symbolic armored force of four vehicles: two police armored cars and two Renault UE Chenillettes from the Malaxa factory. The Malaxa factory had been licence-producing these French armored vehicles since mid-1939, and aside from the two such machines, the factory also supplied the Legion with machine guns and rifles. For transport, the Legion possessed almost 200 trucks in Bucharest alone.
Once in power, Sima and Antonescu quarreled bitterly. According to historian Stanley G. Payne, Antonescu intended to create a situation analogous to that of Francisco Franco's regime in Spain, in which the Legion would be subordinated to the state. He demanded that Sima cede overall leadership of the Legion to him, but Sima refused.
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 Sima's demands and was alarmed by the Iron Guard's death squads. He decided to bide his time until he had a chance to destroy the Legion once and for all. On 14 January 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 hanged 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, while 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 Ia?i since January by the Antonescu regime were released from prison and organized and armed by the police as part of the preparations for the Ia?i 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 Ia?i 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 Ia?i in one of the bloodiest pogroms ever in Europe.
Between 1944 and 1947 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 socialist government.
Historian Stanley G. Payne writes in his study of Fascism, "The Legion was arguably the most unusual mass movement of interwar Europe." It was distinguished among other contemporaneous European fascist movements with respect to its understanding of nationalism, which was indelibly tied to religion. 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 nationalist who aimed at a spiritual resurrection for the nation, writing the movement was a "spiritual school...[which] strikes to transform and revolutionise the Romanian soul." According to Codreanu's 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", though this was not defined in physical terms, as with the Nazis, but was aimed at recreating and purifying oneself to bring the whole nation closer to God.
One of the qualities of this new man was selflessness; Codreanu wrote "When a politician enters a party the first question that he puts is 'what can I gain from this?...when a legionary enters the Legion he says 'For myself I want nothing'".
The movement considered its main enemies to be the present political leadership and the Jews.
Members wore dark green uniforms, which symbolized renewal, and accounted for them being occasionally referenced as "Greenshirts" (C?mile verzi). Like fascist counterparts in Italy, Spain, and Germany, legionnaires greeted each other using the Roman salute.
The main symbol of 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 Legion developed a cult of martyrdom and self-sacrifice, best exemplified by the action group, Echipa mor?ii, or "Death Squad". Codreanu claimed the name was chosen because members were ready to accept death while campaigning for the organization.[Note 1] 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.
According to a 1933 police report, 8% of the Iron Guard's members were women, while a police report from 1938 place the figure at 11%. Part of the reason for the overwhelming male membership of the Iron Guard was that a disproportionate number of legionnaires were university students and very few women went to university in Romania during the inter-war period. In the Romanian language, plurals are attached to most nouns that have either a masculine or feminine form. Words in English that are gender-neutral, such as "youth" or "member", 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 Guard almost always used the masculine plural forms in their writings and speeches, which may perhaps suggest that they had a male audience in mind, although in Romanian, like most languages, the masculine plural is also used for mixed-gender groups.
The Iron Guard explained that the problem of poverty in Romania was due to the Jews' ongoing colonization of Romania, which prevented 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 to the middle class. The Iron Guard claimed that this Jewish "colonization" was due to most Romanian men lacking the masculine courage 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. Notably, the term Cantacuzino used was the masculine sterilitate rather than the feminine stearp?.[disputed ] 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 masculine in Romania.
The name Garda de Fier is also used by a small nationalist group active in the post-communist Romania.
There are several contemporary far-right organizations in Romania, such as Pentru Patrie (For the Motherland) and Noua Dreapt? (The New Right), the latter considering itself heir to the Iron Guard's political philosophy, including personality cult centered on Corneliu Codreanu; however, the group uses the Celtic cross, which is not associated with legionnairism.
Through their summer work camps, the Legionnaires performed volunteer work involving the construction and reparation of roads, bridges, churches and schools in rural areas. One notable construction of the Iron Guard is the "Green House" (Casa Verde). Built in the Romanian architectural style, this building on the outskirts of 1930s Bucharest served as the Legion's headquarters and home to Codreanu. The intention of these camps was to cultivate athleticism, discipline, sense of community and elimination of certain societal divisions. Horia Sima stated that the camps "destroyed class prejudice" by bringing together those from different classes. The attendees were not allowed to leave the camp except for emergencies and in their free time were to read literature. Following completion of camp time a diploma was received.
The Iron Guard is currently commemorated in Romania and elsewhere through permanent public displays (monuments and street names) as well as public distinctions (such as posthumous honorary citizenship) dedicated to some of its members. A few such examples include:
The defunct American neo-Nazi Traditionalist Workers Party of the Nationalist Front took influence from Corneilu Zelia Codreanu for their ideology. The group's leader Matthew Heimbach (a Catholic convert to Orthodox Christianity) was photographed wearing a T-shirt promoting Codreanu and the Iron Guard's Archangel Michael's Cross symbol in the aftermath of the August 2017 Charlottesville riots in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Archangel Michael's Cross was among the symbols emblazoned on the firearms used by Brenton Tarrant during the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings.
During a 2018 interview with alt-right Mormon blogger Ayla Stewart, the Canadian white nationalist Faith Goldy recommended Codreanu's book For My Legionaries -- which explicitly called for the extermination of the Jews -- calling it "very, very, very, very spot on, given a lot of what the movement is talking about right now"; she later said she no longer endorsed the book.