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Marshal Ion Antonescu National Hero or Traitor and War Criminal

Perhaps in every nations folklore there is a proverb saying, tough times require tough characters. The same is true for Romania who also had some brave personalities when history has required. Many of them remain unknown; others have entered the pantheon of Romanian heroes. Names like Decebalus1, Stephen the Great2, Michael the Brave3, and King Ferdinand I4 are engraved on monuments, memorial plaques, street labels and institution frontispieces. They have remained enshrined in the memory of Romanians as true leaders who inspired and led people in difficult times. They were either victorious or defeated in the battles against their enemies but still considered as role models for future generations. However, there is a figure5 in Romanian modern history who might rise to the level of the personalities mentioned above, but his name is mentioned neither on monuments nor in the history books as a hero. The figure is Marshal Ion Antonescu, the Romanian head of state and government from 1940 for1944, whose decisions drove Romania during World War II. Equally adulated and blamed, considered a true national hero by Romanians or a traitor and a war criminal by Jews, Gypsies and Communists, Marshall Ion Antonescu was a controversial personality as were the times he lived in. On a summary examination, it appears that Ion Antonescu possessed the skills of a great military commander but he failed as political leader; his strategic vision for Romania during World War II followed sound military logic in accord with Romanian national interests but contradicted the political evolution and outcome of the conflagration. He has not been considered a hero because he lost the War in the East6; neither a traitor nor a war criminal as the Communists judged him in the trial of 1946 when they sentenced him to death. In an attempt to synthetize all these points of view, this paper aims to recognize those leadership traits that Marshall Antonescu might be credited with as well as defects/errors that likely led to his failure. However, all these

aspects must be thoroughly analyzed in conjunction with some concepts, theories, and analytical tools provided by old and modern scholars who have investigated the domain of leadership. The appointment of Marshal Ion Antonescu as chief of the Romanian state in 1940 came as a natural option for that in extremis period (marked by profound politico-military and socio-economic unrest) and a culmination of an outstanding military career. Born on June 14, 1882, Ion Antonescu followed the profession of arms as had his father, a veteran of the War of Independence (1877-1878). According to a biography written by Romanian historian Gheorghe Buzatu7, Ion Antonescu received the best military education possible at that time and graduated all courses with top grades. Completely committed to his career, Antonescu ascended the military hierarchy from platoon to General Headquarters level faultlessly; veritable proofs of his professionalism and competence are the major contributions he had to the reorganization and modernization of the Romanian Armed Forces8 and the Romanian victories during World War I9, which eventually led to the achievement of Greater Romania.10 LTC (at that time) Ion Antonescu did not just provide office solutions for combating the expansion of communism but actively engaged in the liquidation of Russian cells in the territory of Romania (1917) and fought in the campaign against Hungary, designed to restore the Romanian historical rights on Transylvania (1918). A spiritual disciple of Marshall Constantin Prezan, Ion Antonescu learned quickly about the influence of personal qualities on the battlefield and knew how to motivate subordinates to unitarily subscribe to common (war) objective and believe that success is possible11. The interwar period marked not only the military consecration of Ion Antonescu but also his introduction to the political and diplomatic environment; as a negotiator in the Paris Peace Conference (1919-1920) or military attach in Paris, London and Brussels (1922-1926), he

completed his professional training. Furthermore, this period shaped the personality and character of the person who later became the third Marshal of Romania. The personality and character of Marshal Antonescu equally fascinated and annoyed Romanians and foreigners. The amalgam of qualities and defects existing in a single person captivated those who encountered him12. The forgotten ally of Adolf Hitler13, as some (perhaps erroneously) defined the Marshal, proved to be an uncomfortable partner even for the Fhrer. How could Hitler forget the ally who dared so often to confront and contradict him on war matters?14 Likely, the confidence inspired by Antonescu led Hitler to avoid any interference in the internal politics of Romania despite all German-Romanian disagreements regarding the level of economic and military involvement of Romanians in the war against the USSR15. Antonescu also proved to be a realistic analyst understanding perfectly the complicated context16 of the Romanian position in the early 1940s. From the perspective of facing a war on three fronts (Germany in the West, USSR in the East and Bulgaria in the South), he chose the lesser evil the alliance with the Nazis most likely with the hope that he would be able to recover at least the territories occupied by the Soviets. In this respect, the Marshal demonstrated real cooperative negotiation abilities,17 bargaining Romanias entrance in the war against the USSR with the restoring of Eastern historical boundaries. Furthermore, he never renounced Transylvania, insisting that Romania is an European island in a Slav sea, while Transylvania represents the largest rock of this island.18 But the alliance with Germany was made in the terms of a verbal agreement without written consent. Blindly confident in the German war machine, Antonescu did not require guarantees from Hitler and did not ask for conditions. As head of the Romanian state, he had the obligation not to engage the country in the conflict with a minimum diplomatic basis. The relationship with Hitler also exacerbated Antonescus nationalistic and

xenophobic tendencies, which released him in a racial policy almost identical to the German model. Even though at the end of the war Antonescu nuanced the policy against Jews and Gypsies, he seemed determined in the early 1940s to adopt the Final Solution.19 However, despite any (presumed or proved) nefarious intentions and initiatives, Ion Antonescu represented probably the only solution for Romania to prepare, initiate and carry out along with Germany the war against the USSR. Ion Antonescu was obviously propelled to the top of the political arena, not by outstanding political leadership qualities but by extreme circumstances existing in Romania in 1940. On 6 September, when the Marshal took over Romanias destiny, the country had the image of living its last days. Under the Antonescu regime, theft and robbery were restrained, diligence and honor spread; unnecessary expenses were suppressed and the Marshall was the first to set the example by returning his funds. But immediately after he reached the peak of the hierarchy he also faced the ethical dilemma of duty and loyalty20 duty to the country and loyalty to the monarchy. First, as Minister of Defense, then as chief of state and the government, Antonescu expressed his disagreement with the royal family on political matters. Flagrant dissentions21 on issues like cessation of Romanian territory to Hungary and the USSR without fighting and the engagement of Romania in the war against the Soviets led to a gradual separation between the Marshal and the King. Eventually, Antonescu finished by replacing Carol II with the Kings very young son Michael I and trying to subordinate the young monarch to his ideas. This disconnection between Antonescu and his civilian leaders22 together with his inability to accept political compromise cost him his career and ultimately his life. On 23 August 1944, due to his refusal to change his attitude against the Communists and his stubbornness not to ask the USSR for armistice, Antonescu was dismissed, arrested and eventually handed over to

the Soviets. Two years later, he faced a trial organized in a pure Stalinist style, found guilty for war crimes and the countrys disaster,23 and executed by firing squad on June 1, 1946. Vae Victis as Romans would say, meaning Woe to the vanquished ones. Limited available space does not allow for an extensive analysis of such a topic, which made and still makes flowing rivers of ink. Obviously, Marshal Ion Antonescu possessed the skills of a great military commander but was not the ideal political leader for Romania during World War II. This was probably not possible in a country facing numerous and serious problems and in a time of world conflict. However, nobody denied his exceptional education, superior intelligence and courage, expressed to the last moment, when he commanded his own execution. As exceptional were the qualities Marshal Antonescu possessed, his defects were neither few nor insignificant and all these defects together determined his failure as a political leader. He was neither a hero nor a traitor nor a war criminal but a controversial personality living in controversial (in extremis) times. His strategic vision for Romania followed the countrys national interests but contradicted the political evolution and outcome of the conflagration. In his political testament, the Marshal wrote: Dear Romanian people [...] I fought in two wars for your glory! [...] I leave as inheritance all the best of my governance. The worst I will take on me; everything beside murder! This war, which ended with the defeat of Nazi Germany, will not end the world conflict opened in 1914. [...] Tomorrow, you and your successors will do what I tried to do today, but I was defeated! If I had been a winner, I would have statues in every city in Romania.24


Decebalus or The Brave (originally named Diurpaneus) was a king of Dacia (ruled the Dacians 87106) and is famous for fighting three wars and negotiating two interregnums of peace without being eliminated against the Roman Empire under two emperors, Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed on October 11, 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/154992/Decebalus 2 Stephen, byname Stephen the Great, Romanian tefan cel Mare (born c. 1435died July 2, 1504), voivod (prince) of Moldavia (14571504), who won renown in Europe for his long resistance to the Ottoman Turks, Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed on October 11, 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/565404/Stephen 3 Michael, byname Michael the Brave, Romanian Mihai Viteazul, original name Mihai Basarab (born 1558 died Aug. 19, 1601, Torda, Walachia), Romanian national hero, prince of Walachia, who briefly united much of the future national patrimony under his rule, Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed on October 11, 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/379802/Michael 4 Ferdinand I (born Aug. 24, 1865, Sigmaringen, Prussia [now in Germany] died July 20, 1927, Bucharest, Rom.), king of Romania from 1914 to 1927, who joined the Allies in World War I in November 1918 and later incorporated Transylvania, Bukovina, part of the Banat, and Bessarabia into a Greater Romanian state, Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed on October 11, 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/204443/Ferdinand-I 5 I have deliberately chosen the title of this paper with the strong belief that behind the two expressions are both leadership traits that Marshal Ion Antonescu might be credited with as well as defects that could have caused his failure 6 As depicted by Gheorghe Buzatu in his book Istoria secret a celui de-al Doilea Rzboi Mondial (English: The Secret History of Second World War), Editura Enciclopedica, Bucharest,1995, p 274: the War in the East (June 22, 1941 - August 23, 1944) was a just one, a holy war to crush the communism and regain historical provinces of Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina occupied by the USSR in the summer of 1940. 7 Gheorghe Buzatu, Romnii in Istoriografia Mondial. Ion Antonescu. Biobibliografie (English: Romanians in the World Historiography. Ion Antonescu. Bio-bibliography), Casa Editorial Pro-Demiurg, Iai 2010: p.12 8 Acording to V. F. Dobrinescu, Horia Dumitrescu, Plata i rsplata istoriei: Ion Antonescu i Rzboiul de rentregire a neamului (English: The Debt and the Reward of the History: Ion Antonescu and the War for Reunification of the Nation , Editura Vrantop, Focani,1997, p. 163, in 1917 Antonescu elaborated Constatri i aprecieri asupra situaiei actuale a Armatei i rii Romneti (English: Findings and assessments on the current situation of the Armed forces and Romania), presenting suggestions for modernization of Romanian Armed Forces and options for engaging in World War I 9 Assisted by then-Lieutenant-Colonel Ion Antonescu, Marshal Constantin Prezan - commander of the Romanian Fourth Army during the Romanian Campaign in 1916 and later on Chief of the General Staff - successfully stopped the German invasion led by Field Marshal August von Mackensen, Enciclopodedia Romniei , accessed on October 14, 2013, http://enciclopediaromaniei.ro/wiki/Constantin_Prezan 10 The Greater Romania (Romanian: Romnia Mare) generally refers to the territory of Romania in the years between the First World War and the Second World War, the largest geographical extent of Romania up to that time and its largest peacetime extent ever (295,049 km); more precisely, it refers to the territory of the Kingdom of Romania between 1919 and 1940. In 1918, at the end of World War I, Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia united with the Romanian Old Kingdom, Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed on October 13, 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/508461/Romania/42872/Romanian-society-between-tradition-andmodernity 11 Swain, Richard. Reflection on an Ethic of Officership. Parameters 37, no. 1 (Spring 2007): p.4 12 Acording to Gheorghe Buzatu, Romnii n arhivele Kremlinului(English: Romanians in the Archives of Kremlin), Editura Univers Enciclopedic, Bucharest, 1996, p. 353-354: The French believed that labor power of Colonel Antonescu made him one of the most distinguished officers of the Romanian Armed Forces and matched him to our best Staff officers. Very sharp intelligence, brutality, great pride, fierce, along with extreme xenophobia are the essential features of this curious figures; he is not trustworth y and must be treated with great caution. While the Germans defined him as an officer in full force and physical energy, proving a fine intelligence; he passed as a fanatic officer with a great deal of work, authoritative and trenchant, jingoistic and very suspicious with foreigners.


Dennis Deletant, Hitler's Forgotten Ally: Ion Antonescu and his Regime, Romania, 1940 -1944 (Romanian: Aliatul uitat al lui Hitler. Ion Antonescu i regimul su, 1940 -1944), traducere Delia Rzdolescu, Editura Humanitas, Bucharest, 2008: p. 397 14 Andreas Hillgruber, Hitler, King Carol and Marshal Antonescu. German -Romanian relationship (1938-1944) (Romanian: Hitler, Regele Carol i Marealul Antonescu. Relaiile germano -romne (1938-1944), traducere Stelian Neagoe, Editura Humanitas, Bucharest, 1994: p 133 15 Acording to Gheorghe Buzatu, Romnia n ecuaia rzboiului i pcii (1939 -1947) - aspecte i controverse (English: Romania in the equation of war and peace (1939-1947) - issues and controversies), Editia a doua, Editura Mica Valahie, Bucharest, 2009: p.19. 16 David J. Snowden and Mary E. Boone, A Leaders Framework for Decision Making, Harvard Business Review (November 2007): p. 3 17 Eisen, Stefan Jr. Practical Guide to Negotiating in the Military (2nd edition). Air Force Negotiation Center of Excellence (NCE) publication, 2012: p. 19 18 Gheorghe Buzatu, Hitler, Stalin, Antonescu, Editura Societatii Culturale, Ploiesti, 2005, p. 242 19 There are not direct proves that Antonescu directly ordered any crimes against Jews and Gypsies but he silently accepted the genocide committed by Nazi Germans and Legionary Romanians on the territory of Romania 20 Coleman, Stephen. The Problems of Duty and Loyalty. Journal of Military Ethics 8, no. 2 (2009): p.111 21 Snyder, Don M., Dissent and Strategic Leadership in the military professions, accessed on October 16, 2013, http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/pub849.pdf 22 Lieutenant Colonel Donald Drechsler and Colonel (ret) Charles D. Allen, Why senior military leaders fail; And what we can learn from their mistakes, Armed Forces Journal, July/August 2009: p. 34 23 Marcel-Dumitru Ciuc, Procesul Marealului Antonescu - Documente (English: The Trial of Marshal Antonescu - Documents), Editura Saeculum, Bucureti, p. 209 24 Marcel-Dumitru Ciuc, Procesul Marealului Antonescu - Documente (English: The Trial of Marshal Antonescu - Documents), Editura Saeculum, Bucureti, p. 161