The Antonescu government was initially formed with the support of the Iron Guard, an antisemitic ultra-nationalist organisation who had helped to whip up anti-Jewish feeling in Romania since their founding in 1927. The International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania concluded that “direct responsibility for the Holocaust in Romania falls squarely on the Antonescu-led Romanian state.” Romanian troops took part in the massacre of more than 260,000 Jews in the occupied USSR, leading Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg to declare that “no [other] country, besides Germany, was involved in massacres of Jews on such a scale”. Yet the number of Romanian Jews who survived the war is actually higher than in other Axis nations. As the Commission noted, Romania’s Jews were “killed first and foremost in territories that had changed hands and were annexed to these countries”, while the Jewish population of older Romanian territories were more secure.
Before the attack on the Soviet Union, Adolf Hitler received the Romanian Head of State Ion Antonescu on 12 June 1941 in the Führerbau in Munich, in order to negotiate a joint military approach. Hitler and Antonescu are pictured here with General Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel and Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (far right).
Photographer: Scherl/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo
Open opposition to Antonescu’s brutal regime was somewhat muted in Romania. While individual Romanians stood bravely in defence of Jewish and Roma people facing deportation to concentration camps, there was little in the way of organised opposition and resistance networks, aside from small groups of pro-Soviet communist saboteurs. Widespread anti-Soviet feeling dampened enthusiasm for military coordination with the Allies, and opposition victories were more often achieved by diplomatic and bureaucratic means, with individual Romanians dragging their feet in implementing the regime’s will.
Only when significant Allied bombing and Soviet invasion made a military defeat look inevitable did King Michael lead a coup to depose Antonescu on 23rd August 1944, backed by most opposition groups at the time, at which point Romania switched back to supporting the Allies. Antonescu was executed in 1946 for war crimes.
Nicolae Ceausescu and Constantin Agiu meet at the entrance of the Red Army in Bucharest (Colentina) on 30 August 1944.