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National Legionary State

The National Legionary State was a totalitarian fascist regime which governed the Eastern European country of Romania for five months, from 14 September 1940 until its official dissolution on 14 February 1941. The regime was led by the Iron Guard in partnership with General Ion Antonescu. While the Guard had been present in the Romanian Government since 28 June 1940, it was only on 14 September when it achieved dominance, leading to the proclamation of the National Legionary State.

National Legionary State

Statul Național Legionar
Romania 1940 1941 ro.svg
Common languagesRomanian
GovernmentFascist one-party totalitarian dictatorship under a constitutional monarchy
• 1940–1941
Ion Antonescu
Horia Sima (leader of the Iron Guard, on an equal footing with the Conducător)
• 1940–1941
Michael I
• Established
14 September 1940
• Disestablished
14 February 1941
• Total
195,000 km2 (75,000 sq mi)
• 1941
13.5 million
ISO 3166 codeRO
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kingdom of Romania
Kingdom of Romania
Today part of Romania



The first time when the Iron Guard formed an alliance with the Romanian Government was in early 1938. The then-Prime Minister of Romania, Octavian Goga, concluded an agreement for limited cooperation with the leader of the Guard, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, on 8 February. This political move, however, displeased the King of Romania, Carol the Second, causing him to dismiss Goga on 11 February and replace him with Patriarch Miron Cristea.[1][2][3]

The Iron Guard was properly brought to power with the advent of Ion Gigurtu's cabinet, which took power on 4 July 1940, after the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. Three Guardists were present in the new government: Vasile Noveanu as Minister of Public Wealth, Horia Sima as Minister of Cults and Arts, and Augustin Bideanu as Undersecretary of State at the Minister of Finance. Although Sima resigned within days due to being denied a purely Guardist cabinet, his two colleagues retained their posts. It is also noteworthy that, between 28 June and 4 July, Sima had served as Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Education. An Iron Guard supporter and ideologue, Nichifor Crainic, became Minister of Propaganda.[4][5] Following Horia Sima's resignation on 7 July, he was replaced by another Guardist, Radu Budișteanu.[6]

Territory and populationEdit

The territory of the National Legionary State amounted to roughly 195,000 square km (or just over 75,000 square miles). It had the same territory as modern day Romania, with the exception of Northern Transylvania, which had been ceded to Hungary in the aftermath of the Second Vienna Award.[7] It also possessed several islands in the Danube Delta, as well as Snake Island in the Black Sea. These have been part of Ukraine since 1948.[8]

A Romanian census was conducted on 6 April 1941. Even though this was done almost two months after the dissolution of the National Legionary State, Romania's borders were the same. The census recorded a population of 13,535,757.[9]


Ion Antonescu and Horia Sima, the leaders of the National Legionary State

On 6 September, King Carol II was forced to abdicate and was replaced by his son, Michael. The first act of the new King was to grant General Ion Antonescu unlimited power as Leader of the Romanian State, thus relegating himself to a ceremonial role. An 8 September decree further defined Antonescu's powers.[10] To maintain his grip at the helm of the country, while at the same time conceding the leading role to the Iron Guard, Antonescu had King Michael proclaim Romania a National Legionary State on 14 September. Horia Sima became Deputy Prime Minister to Antonescu, and the Legionary Movement/Iron Guard became the "only movement recognized in the new state", thus making Romania a totalitarian country. Five other Guardists became ministers, among them Prince Mihai Sturza (Minister of Foreign Affairs) and General Constantin Petrovicescu (Minister of Interior). Legionary Prefects were appointed in all of the fifty Romanian counties.[11] Together with Horia Sima, who served as vice-Prime Minister, the Iron Guard held a total of five ministries, the remaining four being: Interior, Education, Foreign Affairs, and Cults. In addition, most of the permanent secretaries and directors in the ministries were also Guardists. As the dominant political force, the Guard also controlled the press and propaganda services.[12]

On 6 October, Antonescu attended an Iron Guard rally while dressed in Legionary uniform. On 1 December, another Iron Guard rally took place at Alba Iulia to celebrate 22 years since the Union of Transylvania with Romania. Antonescu was once again attending, and he gave a speech.[13]

After the National Legionary State was proclaimed in 14 September, the Legion became the ruling party but had to share executive power with the Army. The new Legionary regime had a ritual basis based on the cult of the Guard's dead leader (Codreanu) and other Legionary martyrs. Exhumation, public burial and rehabilitation of Legionary "martyrs" was retrospectively regarded by Sima as the most important task justifying the Legion's accession to power. The exhumation of Codreanu's remains and subsequent reburial (21-23 November) reaffirmed Condreanu's charisma as the foundation of Legionary ideology. On the day of Codreanu's reburial, the main Legionary newspaper, Cuvântul (The Word), wrote: "It is the day of the Captain's resurrection. He is resurrected, as he promised, according to the Gospel. He is resurrected, rising from the grave to present to us Romania itself, buried by this sinful age.". A young Emil Cioran in his twenties strongly endorsed Codreanu's cult: "With the exception of Jesus, no other dead being has been so present among the living. Has anybody even thought about forgetting him? This dead man spread a perfume of eternity over our human dung and brought back the sky over Romania." Soon after Codreanu's reburial, however, the Legion committed the Jilava Massacre, killing over 60 former dignitaries. The Legion thus achieved its goals: the old order collapsed under its blows and all of the Legion's enemies were punished.[14] The reburial of Codreanu's body took place on 30 November, in the attendance of Antonescu, Sima, von Schirach, Bohle and 100,000 Iron Guardists.[15]

The decree which established the National Legionary regime on 14 September placed Antonescu and Sima on an equal footing. On 28 October, Sima accused Antonescu of violating the decree by allowing democratic parties to function. He asserted that such political diversity was contrary to the principles of a totalitarian state. Sima also wanted to apply Nazi principles to Romania's economy in order to bring all of it under centralized control. He addressed a letter to Antonescu in this sense on 16 October, but the latter rejected the idea. Relations between Antonescu and the Guard reached the breaking point after the fore-mentioned Jilava massacre. Despite the mounting tension, the two parties achieved a truce for the moment, which allowed a Legionary to keep the post of Bucharest Police Chief but provided for the public condemnation of the Jilava murders.[16]

Several antisemitic decrees were enacted by the National Legionary State. Jewish-owned rural property was expropriated on 4 October, followed by forests on 17 November, and finally by river transport on 4 December.[17]

On 10 November 1940, the National Legionary State faced a massive earthquake which destroyed 65,000 homes.

Outside developmentsEdit

In early October 1940, 15,000 German troops were deployed to Romania for the protection of the oil refineries at Ploiești, which were essential for the German war effort. This unilateral German action, carried out without consulting Benito Mussolini (Hitler's Axis ally and leader of Fascist Italy), prompted the latter to launch an invasion of Greece. The ensuing Greco-Italian War resulted in a military blunder, as the Greeks counter-attacked and occupied parts of Italian-ruled Albania for half a year.[18] The entrance of German troops in Romania was not an invasion, however, as it occurred with Antonescu's approval.[19] The first German troops arrived in Romanian on 10 October, partly as a response to Antonescu's request for military assistance, in addition to their main goal of defending the Romanian oil fields.[20] Romania subsequently joined the Tripartite Pact and the Anti-Comintern Pact on 23 November and 25 November, respectively.[21] Despite this tightening of relations with Germany, the German minority in Romania (numbering 300,000 after Romania's territorial losses) was not entirely spared the process of Romanianization. While few Germans from Banat and Transylvania were repatriated to the Reich, the number of ethnic Germans from Southern Bukovina and Dobruja who were repatriated amounted to 76,500. The German-Romanian convention which sanctioned these repatriations was signed on 22 October 1940. According to the convention, the Romanian state received the real estate previously possessed by the repatriated Germans in exchange for paying compensation to the Reich. The newly-acquired property (lands and houses) would be used by the Romanian state to accommodate ethnic Romanian refugees from Bulgaria, displaced in the aftermath of the Treaty of Craiova.[22] On 4 December, a ten-year trade agreement was signed between Romania and Germany, providing for the "economic reconstruction" of Romania.[23]

On 27 September 1940, Romania's Government announced the country's withdrawal from the Balkan Pact. That same day, a trade agreement was signed with one of the Pact members, Turkey. On 19 December, another trade agreement was signed between Romania and Yugoslavia, another member of the Balkan Pact. During the last days of the National Legionary State, on 10 and 12 February, Britain and Belgium severed relations with Romania.[24]

Border skirmishes with the Soviet Union spanned across the duration of the National Legionary State. In the autumn of 1940, the Soviets occupied several Romanian islands in the Danube Delta. Frontier incidents occurred on a daily basis. Soviet troops were concentrated on the Romanian border, Soviet aircraft made incessant incursions in Romania's air space, and - in January 1941 - Soviet vessels attempted to enter Romanian waters by force.[25] Tensions peaked in January 1941, when the Soviets demanded by ultimatum the control of the Danube Delta. Border clashes ensued near Galați (Covurlui County), where the Romanians were mining the Danube, during which between 26 and 100 were killed on both sides.[26]


The 21–23 January 1941 Legionary Rebellion paved the way for the official abolition of the National Legionary State, in the aftermath of the Rebellions's suppression by the Romanian Army. On 22 January, at the height of the Rebellion, the Iron Guard carried out the ritual murder of 200 Jews at the Bucharest slaughterhouse, while the Guardists were singing Christian hymns, "an act of ferocity perhaps unique in the history of the Holocaust".[27] The suppression of the Rebellion also provided some data on the military equipment used by the Iron Guard, amounting to 5,000 firearms (revolvers, rifles and machine guns) and numerous grenades in Bucharest alone.[28] The Legion also possessed a small armored force of two armored police cars and two Malaxa UE armored tracked carriers.[29] For transport, in Bucharest alone, the Legion also possessed almost 200 trucks.[30]

On 14 February 1941, the National Legionary State was formally abolished. Over 9,000 people implicated in the Legionary Rebellion were subsequently arrested, of which almost 2,000 (1,842, to be exact) were sentenced to various terms, ranging from a few months to life in prison.[31][32][33]


The National Legionary State ushered in Romania's Axis membership, first de facto by welcoming the German Army into the country, and soon afterwards, de jure through the signing of the Tripartite and Anti-Comintern Pacts. It also did away with most of Romania's traditional political class during the Jilava massacre before being suppressed itself in January 1941, then formally abolished in February. Several historically valuable footage survive from the National Legionary State era, such as a joint speech by Antonescu and Sima[34] and the funeral of the Guard's founder, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu.[35]

Stamps from the era of the National Legionary StateEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Dennis Deletant, Springer, 2016, British Clandestine Activities in Romania during the Second World War, p. 33
  2. ^ Hans Rogger, Eugen Weber, University of California Press, 1966, The European Right: A Historical Profile, p. 551
  3. ^ Jean W. Sedlar,, 2007, The Axis Empire in Southeast Europe, 1939-1945, p. 20
  4. ^ D. Deletant, Springer, 2006, Hitler's Forgotten Ally: Ion Antonescu and his Regime, Romania 1940-1944, p. 51
  5. ^ R. Haynes, Springer, 2016, Romanian Policy Towards Germany, 1936-40, p. 147
  6. ^ Institute for Historical Review, 1986, The Journal of Historical Review, Volume 7, Issues 1-2, p. 213
  7. ^ Marina Cattaruzza, Stefan Dyroff, Dieter Langewiesche, Berghahn Books, 2012, Territorial Revisionism and the Allies of Germany in the Second World War: Goals, Expectations, Practices, p. 98
  8. ^ Grigore Stamate, Editura Militară, 1997, Frontiera de stat a României, p. 79 (in Romanian)
  9. ^ Enciclopedia de istorie a României, Editura Meronia, 2002, Recensămintele României: 1899-1992, p. 358 (in Romanian)
  10. ^ D. Deletant, Springer, 2006, Hitler's Forgotten Ally: Ion Antonescu and his Regime, Romania 1940-1944, p. 53
  11. ^ D. Deletant, Springer, 2006, Hitler's Forgotten Ally: Ion Antonescu and his Regime, Romania 1940-1944, pp. 57-58
  12. ^ Keith Hitchins, Cambridge University Press, 2014, A Concise History of Romania, p. 204
  13. ^ Gh. Buzatu, Editura Mica Valahie, A History of Romanian Oil Vol II, pp. 366-367
  14. ^ John Lampe, Mark Mazower, Central European University Press, 2004, Ideologies and National Identities: The Case of Twentieth-Century Southeastern Europe, p. 40
  15. ^ Gh. Buzatu, Editura Mica Valahie, A History of Romanian Oil Vol II, p. 367
  16. ^ Keith Hitchins, Clarendon Press, 1994, Rumania 1866-1947, pp. 464-465
  17. ^ Keith Hitchins, Clarendon Press, 1994, Romania 1866-1947, p. 484
  18. ^ Richard Z. Freemann, Jr.,, 2016, A Concise History of the Second World War: Its Origin, Battles and Consequences, p. 100
  19. ^ Raphael Shen, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997, The Restructuring of Romania's Economy: A Paradigm of Flexibility and Adaptability, p. 5
  20. ^ Keith Hitchins, Cambridge University Press, 2014, A Concise History of Romania, p. 205
  21. ^ David Nicholls, ABC-CLIO, 2000, Adolf Hitler: A Biographical Companion, p. 225
  22. ^ S. Ionescu, Springer, 2015, Jewish Resistance to ‘Romanianization’, 1940-44, p. 110
  23. ^ Gh. Buzatu, Editura Mica Valahie, A History of Romanian Oil Vol II, p. 367
  24. ^ Gh. Buzatu, Editura Mica Valahie, A History of Romanian Oil Vol II, pp. 366-368
  25. ^ D. Deletant, Springer, 2006, Hitler's Forgotten Ally: Ion Antonescu and his Regime, Romania 1940-1944, p. 280
  26. ^ Douglas M. Gibler, Rowman & Littlefield, 2018, International Conflicts, 1816-2010: Militarized Interstate Dispute Narratives, pp. 378-379
  27. ^ Norman Manea, Grove Press, 1993, On Clowns: The Dictator and the Artist : Essays, p. 92
  28. ^ Henry Robinson Luce, Time Inc., 1941, Time, Volume 37, p. 29
  29. ^ Auswärtiges Amt, H.M. Stationery Office, 1961, Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918-1945: The aftermath of Munich, Oct. 1938-March 1939, p. 1179
  30. ^ Roland Clark, Cornell University Press, 2015, Holy Legionary Youth: Fascist Activism in Interwar Romania, p. 232
  31. ^ Keith Hitchins, Clarendon Press, 1994, Romania 1866-1947, p. 469
  32. ^ L. Leustean, Springer, 2008, Orthodoxy and the Cold War: Religion and Political Power in Romania, 1947-65, p. 54
  33. ^ Rebecca Haynes, Martyn Rady, I.B.Tauris, 2013, In the Shadow of Hitler: Personalities of the Right in Central and Eastern Europe, p. 283
  34. ^ Horia Sima and Ion Antonescu speech (YouTube)
  35. ^ Codreanu funeral (YouTube)