The Tragedy of the Romanian Iron Guard: Codreanu
Bucharest, March 1938
The car is leading us outside the suburbs of the city via a long, wretched B road, under a grey and rainy sky. It suddenly turns left, enters a country lane, and stops in front of a small villa with a sharp outline: the “Green House’, the headquarters of the ‘Iron Guard’. “We have built this with our own hands’, the officer of the Legionaries who is accompanying us tells us, not without a certain pride. We make our way into the building, walk across a sort of guardroom, and reach the first floor. A group of Legionaries make way for us as we are approached by a tall and slender young man, with an uncommon expression of nobleness, frankness and energy imprinted on his face. His azure-grey eyes and open face reveal a genuine Roman-Aryan type; mixed with his virile traits there is also something contemplative and mystical in his expression. This is Corneliu Codreanu, the leader and founder of the Romanian ‘Iron Guard’, he who is being called an ‘assassin’, “Hitler’s henchman’ and an ‘anarchist conspirator’ by the world press, for since 1919 he has been challenging Israel and the forces more or less in cahoots with it that are at work in Romanian national life.
Of the many national leaders we have met during our journeys across Europe, few, perhaps none, have made such a favourable impression on us as Codreanu. With few were we able to converse with such a perfect agreement of ideas; in few we found the same capacity to rise so resolutely from the plane of the contingent and to base the desire for political-national renewal on premises of a gen- uinely spiritual nature. Codreanu himself did not conceal his satisfaction in meeting someone he could speak to without confining his conversation to the stereotypical formula of “constructive nationalism’ – a formula which fails to grasp the essence of the Romanian Legionary movement.
Our meeting took place at the time of the fall of the Goga cabinet, of the direct intervention of the King, of the promulgation of the new Constitution, and of the plebiscite. We were aware of all the real details behind these upheavals. In a lucid synthesis, Codreanu contributed to the picture we had of the situation. He had much faith in the future, and, indeed, in the imminent victory of his movement. If the latter hadn’t reacted or shown any signs of opposition, this was for precise tactical reasons. ‘If there had been regular elections, as Goga had in mind, we would have won with an overwhelming majority, Codreanu told us, verbatim. “But faced with the alternative of saying yes or no to a fait accompli such as the Constitution, a project inspired by the King, we refused to take up the fight.’ Codreanu also added, “We have first seized the front line of trenches, then the second and the third, and our adversary, shut up in his retreat, in the safety which it offers, is now firing at us, not knowing that we would like nothing better than to come to his aid against the real enemy.’ We should also mention another statement from Codreanu in answer to our question about his attitude towards the King: ‘Well, we are all monarchists; it is just that we cannot renounce our mission and strike compromises with an outdated and corrupt world.’
Codreanu offered to take us back to our hotel in his own car, with no concern for the sensation this might have stirred. Nor, on our part, did we heed the warning given by our legation, which had told us that anyone who met with Codreanu would be expelled from the Kingdom within twenty-four hours. Taking his leave from us, know- ing that we were headed for Berlin and Rome, Codreanu told us, “Send my regards to all those who are fighting for our cause and let them know that Romanian Legionarism is and will be uncondition- ally on their side in the anti-Jewish, anti-democratic and antiBolshevik struggle.’
As had already been intimated to us in Bucharest, an Italian translation of Codreanu’s book, entitled The Iron Guard, has recently been published as part of the Europa Giovane series (Casa Editrice Nazionale, Roma-Torino, 1938). This is the first part of a work which simultaneously serves as Codreanu’s autobiography and as a history of his struggle and of his movement, interwoven of course with an expo- sition of his doctrine and of his nationalist programme. This book may be fruitfully compared to the first part of Mein Kampf without the risk of it losing any of its value through the comparison. Indeed, it is the very power, or even tragedy of things which contributes to make Codreanu’s narrative particularly suggestive. Through it, we believe that all Fascists may become aware of the tragic and painful vicissitudes of a struggle which, on Romanian soil, has mirrored the struggle of our own anti-democratic and anti-Jewish revolutions. It is high time for the truth to be known about such things, for so far it has been concealed or distorted by a biased press. Nor is it possible to get a clear idea of what changes may be in store for Romania in the future if one ignores the Legionary movement, which, while suffering repression, is certainly far from extinct.
Because of its very nature, Codreanu’s book is difficult to sum up. Here, we shall only mention some of its general and doctrinal points, in order to help define the character of Codreanu’s movement. Already in 1919 or 1920, just over the age of twenty, Codreanu rose up against the Communist peril in the name of the Romanian nation, not so much with words as with action worthy of a squadrista, fighting workers in revolt and replacing the red flags they had raised in their factories with national ones. A follower of A. C. Cuza, the father of Romanian nationalism and a forerunner of the anti-Semitic struggle, Codreanu by that time had already learned what the victory of Communism would really have entailed: not a Romania led by a proletarian Romanian regime, but rather the enslavement of the country, right from day two of the revolution, to ‘the dirtiest tyranny: the Talmudic, Jewish tyranny’ Israel, however, never forgives those who unmask its plans. Already at that time, Codreanu was made into the béte noire of the press sponsored by Israel and the object of a sav- age smear and hate campaign – one launched not only against him, but against the national faith of an entire people. More or less in this period, Codreanu wrote, ‘I learned enough anti-Semitism in one year to last me three lifetimes. For one cannot strike the sacred beliefs of a people or what their heart loves and respects, without hurting them to the depths and without blood dripping from their wound. Seventeen years have passed since and the wound is still bleeding.’ Codreanu was then fighting against those singing the praises of the Red Inter- national. His followers smashed the printing houses of Jewish rags which insulted the King, the army, and the Church. Later, however, it was precisely in the name of the King, of the army, and of order that a Romanian press, with an expert’s skill in jumping on the bandwagon, was to resume the same campaign against Codreanu himself, piling hatred and contempt upon his movement…
Codreanu writes: I could not describe how I entered this fight. Perhaps as a man who, walking down the street with his worries and thoughts, is surprised by the fire which consumes a house, takes off his coat, jumping to the aid of those engulfed by flames. I, with the mind of a youth of 19-20 years of age, understood from all that I saw that we were losing our country, that we were no longer going to have a country, that by the unconscious collaboration of the poor Romanian workingmen, impoverished and exploited, the ruling and devastating Jewish horde would engulf us. I acted on orders from my heart, from an instinct of defence possessed by even the least crawling worm, not out of an instinct for mere personal preservation, but one for defending the people of whom I was a part. That is why, all the time, I had the feeling that the whole people was behind us, with all the living, with all those who have died for their country, with its future gen- erations; that our people fights and speaks through us, that the enemy numbers, no matter how large, faced with this historic entity, are but a handful of human wretches that we will scatter and vanquish. …
The individual within the framework and in the service of his people. The people within the framework and in the ser- vice of their God and of God’s laws. Whoever shall understand these things will be victorious even if he be alone. Whoever shall not understand will be defeated.
This was Codreanu’s profession of faith in 1922, at the end of his stud- ies at university. As President of the Nationalist Association of law students, he summed up the main points of the anti-Semitic campaign as follows:
a) The identification, at every step, of this Judaic spirit and mentality, that has stealthily infiltrated the thinking and feeling pattern of a large portion of Romanians.
b) Our detoxification: namely, the elimination of Judaism that was introduced into our thinking through books in schools, literature, and professors, as well as through lectures, theatre and cinematography.
c) The understanding and the unmasking of the Jewish plans hidden behind so many forms. For we have political parties, led by Romanians, through which Judaism speaks; Romanian newspapers that are written by Romanians, through which the Jew speaks for his interests; Romanian lecturers and authors, thinking, writing and speaking Hebrew in the Romanian language.
Codreanu simultaneously engaged with practical problems of a political, national and social nature, namely: the problem of vast tracts of Romanian land literally colonised by an exclusively Jewish popula- tion; the problem of Jewish control of vital centres in larger cities; the problem of the alarming percentage of Jews in schools, to the point where they often constitute an overwhelming majority – a percentage amounting to a preparation for a takeover and an invasion of the professional field open to the new generation. Finally, a simple action of unmasking: just as in the Communist period, Codreanu had revealed that the leaders of the so-called Romanian proletarian movement were all Jews, so later, as a member of Parliament, he did not hesitate to prove that most members of the government were receiving ‘money loans’ from Jewish banks.
At the advent of Mussolini, Codreanu acknowledged him as a ‘bright North Star giving us hope; he will be living proof that the hydra can be defeated; proof of the possibilities of victory’. He added, “But Mussolini is not antiSemitic. You rejoice in vain”, whispered the Jewish press into our ears. It is not a matter of what we rejoice in say I, it is a question of why you Jews are sad at his victory, if he is not anti-Semitic. What is the rationale of the worldwide attack on him by the Jewish press?’ Codreanu rightly saw that Judaism has managed to dominate the world through Freemasonry and Russia through Com- munism. ‘Judaism has become master of the world through Masonry, and in Russia through Communism. Mussolini destroyed at home these two Judaic heads which threatened death to Italy: Communism and Masonry’, Codreanu argues. “There, Judaism was eradicated through its two manifestations.’ The new anti-Semitic turn of Fascism has proven Codreanu completely right.
In order to bring Codreanu’s anti-Semitic outlook fully to light, it is worth quoting the following passage from his book in its entirety, for its vision is a particularly clear one: Whoever imagines that the Jews are some poor unfortunates who arrived here haphazardly, brought by winds, pushed by fate, etc., is mistaken. All Jews over the entire world form a great collectivity bound together by blood and by the Talmudic religion. They are constituted into a very strict state, having laws, plans, and leaders making these plans. At the foundation, there is the Kehilla.*
So, we do not face some isolated Jews but a constituted power, the Jewish community. In every city or market town where a number of Jews settle, the Kehilla, the Jewish community there is immediately formed. This Kehilla has its own leaders, separate judicial set-up, taxes, etc., and holds the entire Jewish population of that locality tightly united around itself. It is here, in this tiny Kehilla of a market town or city, that all plans are made: how to win over local politicians and authorities; how to infiltrate certain circles of interest to them, such as magistrates, officers, and high officials; what plans to use to take over such and such branch of commerce from the hands of a Romanian; how to destroy a local anti-Semite; how to destroy an incorruptible representative of local authority who might oppose Jewish interests; what plans to apply when, squeezed beyond endurance, the populace would revolt and erupt into anti-Semitic movements.
Besides this are far-reaching general plans:
1. They will try to break the spiritual ties of the Romanian to heaven, and to earth. To break our ties with heaven they will engage in widespread dissemination of atheistic theories in order to separate the Romanian people or at least some of the leaders from God; separating them from God and their dead they can destroy them, not by sword but by severing the roots of their spiritual life. To break our ties binding us to the land, the material source of a nation’s existence, they will attack nationalism, labeling it ‘outmoded’, and everything related to the idea of fatherland and soil, in order to cut the thread of love tying the Romanian people to their furrow.
2. In order to succeed in this, they will endeavour to get control of the press.
3. They will take advantage of every opportunity to sow discord in the Romanian camp, spreading misunderstandings, quarrels, and if possible to split it into factions fighting each other.
4. They will seek to gain control of most of the means of livelihood of the Romanians.
5. They will systematically urge Romanians on to licentiousness, destroying their families and their moral fiber.
6. They will poison and daze them with all kinds of drinks and other poisons. Anyone wishing to conquer and destroy a people could do it by using this system.
From the immediate aftermath of the War down to the most recent past, in all sectors and by all available means, Codreanu’s movement has sought to counter the Jewish offensive launched in Romania by the two and a half million Israelites present on its soil and by the forces affiliated to or financed by Israel.
The plague of political schemers and the necessity of creating a ‘new man’ are other central points in Codreanu’s thought. This kind of man who is alive today in Romanian politics we earlier met in history’, Codreanu wrote. ‘Nations died under his rule and states collapsed.’ According to Codreanu, the greatest national peril lies in the fact that the pure type of the DacioRomanian race has been deformed and disfigured and has been replaced by the ‘political schemer’ – this ‘moral freak who no longer possesses any trace of the nobleness of our race, and who is dishonouring and killing us’. As long as political schemers exist, hidden anti-national forces will always find suitable tools and will always be able to weave intrigues to serve their plot. While the Romanian Constitution of 1938 has put an end to the party system, many years ago Codreanu already had developed an approach to the matter so radical as to claim that, ‘No youth must ever enter the gate of a political party; he who does so is a traitor to his generation and his nation.’
It is not a matter of new parties or formulae, but of creating a new man. It is this view that gave rise to Codreanu’s Legion, which is primarily a school of life for the forging of a new type displaying ‘all the possibilities of human grandeur that are implanted by God in the blood of our people’. The first Legionary organisation was called “The Legion of Michael the Archangel’. Its very name points to the mystical, religious and ascetic aspects of its nationalism. The creation of this new type of man is the essential thing, according to Codreanu; the rest is only of secondary importance and will follow as an inevitable consequence in a natural and irresistible process. Through this regenerated man, the Jewish problem will be solved and a new political order will be established, awakening the kind of magnetism that is capable of carrying crowds away, of bringing victory, and of leading the race along the path of glory. A particular and distinguishing aspect of the Romanian Legionary movement is the fact that, through its very structuring in ‘nests’, it was chiefly concerned with establishing a new form of shared living, based on strict ethical and religious criteria. It may come as a surprise to discover that Codreanu had imposed the discipline of the fast two days a week, and it is also interesting to note his thoughts on the power of prayer, thoughts which sound more like those of a religious than a political leader: Prayer is a decisive element for victory. … Wars were won by those who knew how to summon the mysterious powers of the unseen world from above and to ensure their help. These mysterious powers are the souls of the dead, the souls of our ancestors who too were once attached to this land, to our furrows, and who died in the defense of this land, and who today also are attached to it by the memory of their life here, and through us – their children, grand-children and great-great-grandchildren. But above all the souls of the dead stands God. When these powers are summoned, they come to our aid and encourage us, to give us strength of will and everything necessary to help us to achieve victory. They introduce panic and terror into the hearts of the enemy and paralyse their actions. In the last analysis, victory does not depend on material preparation or on the material strength of the belligerents, but on their capacity to ensure the support of the spiritual powers. … By the justness and morality of your actions, and by appealing fervently and insistently to these powers, invoke them, attract them by the strength of your soul and they will come. The power of attraction is the greater when the appeal, the prayer, is made by many people assembled together. Here is another characteristic passage by Codreanu: If Christian mysticism aiming at ecstasy is man’s contact with God, through a ‘jump from human nature into the divine one’ (Crainic), national mysticism is nothing more than man’s contact, or that of the multitude, with the soul of their people, through a jump outside of personal preoccupations into the eternal life of the people. Not intellectually, for this could be done by any historian, but living, with their soul.
Another typical aspect of the Legionarism of the ‘Iron Guard’ is a sort of ascetic commitment on the part of their leaders: they must refrain from going to dance halls, cinemas or theatres and must avoid any display of wealth or even mere affluence. A special assault corps of 10,000 men, named after Mota and Marin (the two leaders of the ‘Iron Guards’ who fell in Spain), like one of the ancient knightly or- ders, enforced the rule of celibacy upon its members for as long as they remained in the corps, for no mundane or family occupation was to diminish their readiness to embrace death at any moment. While Codreanu twice served as a member of Parliament, right from the start he took a firm stance against democracy. To quote him verbatim, democracy breaks the unity of the race through party factionalism; it is incapable of continuity in terms of effort and responsibility; it is incapable of displaying authority, since it lacks the power of sanction and turns the politician into the slave of his partisans; it serves the interests of big finance; and finally, it makes millions of Jews Romanian citizens. In contrast, Codreanu asserted the principle of social selection and of elites. He clearly foresaw the new politics of nations striving for reconstruction, whose underlying principle is neither democracy nor dictatorship, but rather the relationship between nation and leader — potency and act, obscure instinct and expression. The leader of these new forms of government is not elected by the crowd; rather, the crowd, or nation, lends its consent to him and recognises its own ideas in his.
The premise here is a sort of inner awakening, starting from the leader and the elites. It is worth quoting Codreanu’s words: Without defining them one must admit that they represent a new form of government, sui generis, in the modern states. It has not been encountered up to now and I do not know what name it will be given.
I believe that it has at its basis that state of spirit, that state of elevated national conscience which, sooner or later, spreads to the outskirts of the national organism.
It is a state of inner revelation. That which of old was the people’s instinctive repository is reflected in these moments in the people’s conscience, creating a state of unanimous illumination which is encountered only in the great religious revivals. This phenomenon could rightly be called a state of national ecumenicity. A people in its entirety reaches an awareness of self, of its purpose and destiny in the world. During past history only flashes of such awareness have been noticed, but today we are faced with some permanent such phenomena.
In such a case the leader is no longer a ‘master’, a ‘dictator’, who does as he ‘pleases’, who leads ‘according to his whims’. He is the incarnation of this unseen state of spirit, the symbol of this state of consciousness. He no longer does ‘as he pleases’, he does what he ‘must’ do. And he is guided not by individual or collective interests, but by the interests of the immortal nation which have penetrated the conscience of the people. It is only within the framework of these interests and only in that framework that personal and collective interests find their maximum of normal satisfaction.
Codreanu never ruled out that these new forms of nationalism could be combined with traditional institutions, as is proven by his ideas on the monarchical institution, conveyed through the following words: At the head of peoples, above the elite, one finds the monarchy. I reject the republic. …Not all of the monarchs were good. Monarchy itself, however, has always been good. One must not confuse the man with the institution and draw false conclusions. There can be bad priests; but can we, because of this, conclude that the Church must be abolished and God stoned to death? There are weak and bad monarchs, certainly, but we cannot renounce monarchy because of this. …
To each nation God has traced a line of destiny. A monarch is great and good when he stays on that line; he is small or bad, to the extent that he wanders away from this line of destiny or opposes it. This then, is the law of monarchy. There are also other lines that may tempt a monarch: the line of personal interest or that of a class of people or group; the line of alien interests (domestic or foreign). He must avoid all these lines and follow that of his people.
While in the main these are the ideas of Codreanu and his ‘Iron Guard’, the vicissitudes of his struggle appear tragically incomprehensible; until just recently, they appeared merely to be the result of some wretched misunderstanding. Until recently, that is, because for as long as a purely democratic regime existed in Romania, one known to be subject to all sorts of indirect and masked influences, with the monarchy having a simply symbolic function, it was understandable for a movement such as Codreanu’s to be hampered by all means and at any cost – one day by one formula, the next by the opposite one, according to expediency, provided the same effect was achieved and the dangerous enemy undermined. It was easy to understand then the following bitter observations made by Codreanu:
In 1919, 1920, 1921, the entire Jewish press was assaulting the Romanian state, unleashing disorder everywhere, urging violence against the regime, the form of government, the church, Romanian order, the national idea, patriotism.
Now, as if by a miracle, the same press, controlled by the same men, changed into a defender of the state’s order, of laws; declares itself against violence. While we become: ‘the country’s enemies’, ‘extremists of the Right’, ‘in the pay and service of Romania’s enemies’, etc. And in the end we will hear also this: that we are financed by the Jews. …
We have endured outrage after outrage, ridicule after ridicule, slap after slap, until we have come to see ourselves in this frightening situation: Jews are considered to be defenders of Romanianism, sheltered from any unpleasantness, leading a life of peace and plenty, while we are considered enemies of our nation, with our liberty and life endangered, and we are hunted down like rabid dogs by all the Romanian authorities.
I witnessed with my own eyes these times and lived through them, and I was saddened to the depths of my soul. It is dreadful to fight for years on end for your fatherland, your heart as pure as tears, while enduring misery and hunger, then find yourself suddenly declared an enemy of your country, persecuted by your own kind, told that you fight because you are in the pay of foreigners, and see the entire Jewry master your land, assuming the role of defender of Romanianism and caretaker of the Romanian state, menaced by you, the youth of the country. Night after night we were troubled by these thoughts, occasionally feeling disgusted and immensely ashamed and we were seized by sadness.
The reader will soon realise that these are not mere words by going through Codreanu’s book, which documents the entire via crucis of the ‘Iron Guard’ all the arrests, persecutions, trials, defamation, and violence. Codreanu himself had undergone several trials, but until just recently he had always been acquitted. This was also the case when he was tried for murder for having killed his comrades’ executioners with his own hands; and it is indeed remarkable that on this occasion 19,300 lawyers from all over the country officially offered to defend him.
After the Goga experiment, the democratic regime seemed to have come to an end in Romania and to have been replaced by a new, authoritarian form of government. Few of the details behind these upheavals are known abroad. Although the ‘Iron Guard’ had already been disbanded, in this new phase of Romanian politics, the struggle nevertheless continued between Codreanu and the forces opposed to his conception of the nation and state. The Goga government was supposedly set up both as an experiment and for a precise tactical purpose. By means of Goga’s moderate nationalism and antiSemitism, an attempt was made to sidetrack the forces which Codreanu’s movement was increasingly winning over to his side, by offering a substitute easy to tame. However, to quote the expression Mussolini used for the plebiscite proclaimed by Schuschnigg,» it was soon realised that the experiment was a dangerous one and that the device could go off any minute in the hands of those who had assembled it. People did not regard Goga’s as an ersatz regime with which to be content, but rather as a sign of preliminary assent to the revolutionary nationalist current. Little did it matter that Goga resolutely opposed Codreanu (and this was indeed one of the reasons why he was chosen in the first place); what mattered was rather his programme, which inclined towards nationalism and anti-Semitism – as well as a rethinking of Romania’s place in international politics. Hence, had the elections announced by Goga taken place, it is most likely that he would have been swept away by a current stronger than him, albeit one flowing in the same direction.
Acknowledging this threat, the King decided to personally inter- vene. He put an end to the democratic party system and had a Constitution promulgated, the central feature of which was the centralisation of power directly or indirectly in the hands of the monarch. This has been described as an authoritarian revolution from above, initiated from within the court instead of the public square. In the face of this, the ‘Iron Guard’ moved ahead of its enemy and spontaneously disbanded the party it had founded, “All for the Fatherland’. It then silently withdrew with the aim of essentially focusing its action on the spiritual level, in such a way as to spiritually shape and select the vast number of followers who in this latter period – particularly in view of what was expected to follow Goga’s government – had flocked to join Codreanu’s ranks.
We were in Romania at the time, and the solution which the most serious Romanians considered desirable and likely was the overcoming of the former opposition between the regime and Legionarism, and a collaboration between the two on a national basis. This opinion was not only held by the chief Romanian theoretician of the state, Manoilescu, and by those, such as Nae Jonescu, who had significantly aided the return of the King to his fatherland; the minister Argetoianu himself, the main inspiration for the new Constitution, in a conversation we had with him at the time, did not rule out the possibility of cooperation of this kind, provided – as he put it – that the ‘Iron Guard’ renounced its former methods.
Clearly, we do not wish to deny that under normal conditions, with its power and significance intact, monarchy requires no dictatorial surrogate in order to properly perform its function. This is not the case, however, in a state where traditional fides* has been replaced by political intrigue, in which the Jewish hydra has wrapped its tentacles around the chief vital cores of the nation, and in which electoral democracy has undermined the ethical integrity and patriotic feelings of large sectors of the political world. These conditions call for a totalitarian movement of renewal, something which, through a collective drive, will prove capable of overwhelming, re-founding, transforming and elevating the whole nation, essentially on the basis of a new state of consciousness and the power of an ideal and faith. If present, the institution of the monarchy will not be brought down by a totalitarian national movement of this sort; rather, it will find strength and completeness in it, as the very example of Italy goes to show. In these terms, a collaboration between the new regime and Codreanu’s national Legionary movement was deemed both desirable and possible, particularly since, as we have seen, Codreanu expressly defended the idea of monarchy and never planned to offer himself as the new King of Romania – something which even his opponents have never implied.
The most recent events have shown these hopes to be illusory by precipitating the tragedy. Not long after the final approval of the new Constitution, Codreanu was once again arrested. Why? At first, because many months after the incident it was suddenly recalled that he had once insulted a minister something that, throughout his career, under the pressure of circumstance, he had in fact never been able to avoid doing. Later he was accused of plotting against the security of the state. The truth is that Codreanu’s arrest took place almost the day after the Anschluss. Therefore, it was most probably due to a fear that the National Socialist triumph in Austria might unleash the forces of Romanian nationalism held at bay until then. The leader of these forces had to be eliminated one way or the other. The trial ended with a ten-year prison sentence for Codreanu. At the same time, a group of sub-leaders was arrested, along with a number of people suspected of being members or sympathisers of the ‘Guard’. It became clear that the situation was getting worse and that the national political situation in Romania was far from acquiring stability. It is also evident that while the previous trials against Codreanu had invariably ended with his acquittal – despite the fact that democratic corruption at the time was making things easy for the forces opposing him – he was instead pronounced guilty under the new anti-democratic and ‘national’ Constitution. This sentence effectively amounted to an open challenging of all the forces of national Romanian Legionarism, still as present and numerous as ever, if perhaps concealed and no longer easy to identify. And although few details are known of this new trial, it is clear that the sentence was either too severe or not severe enough: for if Codreanu could really have positively been convicted of plotting against the state, given the animus which had led to the trial, this would have been the finest opportunity to get rid of him once and for all, since the new Constitution punished this crime with the death penalty. Instead, Codreanu was only given ten years.
What they did not dare to do at that time, however, they did later on; and what could then be foreseen inevitably happened. After an initial moment of bewilderment, the forces loyal to Codreanu embarked upon a terrorist course of retaliation. The ‘death battalion’ went into action and a secret ‘national tribunal’ was set up to pass judgement upon and smite those considered to be the most guilty towards the nation from a Legionary perspective. This upheaval acquired momentum following the capitulation of Prague and the Munich Pact, but unfortunately it only led to an increasingly difficult situation: more and more people were arrested and one act of injustice led to another. Recently, there has been the assassination of the Rector of Cluj University, who was particularly hostile to the ‘Guard’; two provincial governors have been sentenced to the death penalty – to be carried out by January — by the secret Legionary ‘national tribunal’; and such a feeling of insecurity was in the air that high-ranking personalities, including a prince of royal blood and General Antonescu – the former War Minister of the Goga government and current commander of the Second Army Corps – have been removed, banned or arrested. Things have intensified with the two sides becoming increasingly embittered, and we have reached the final stage of the tragedy. On the 30th of November, a laconic official communiqué announced that Codreanu, together with thirty other Legionaries – leading cadres of the movement who had also been arrested – was killed by the police after trying to escape. Their corpses were apparently buried three hours later – that is, almost immediately — thus preventing any further investigation.
We have now reached the breaking point. The impression made by Codreanu’s death throughout Romania, where his supporters numbered in the millions, is huge, and the state of siege which was already in force in various regions has been extended to the whole Kingdom. The situation in Romania appears as murky as it has been only in rare moments of its history. We have seen and noted that either we are to believe that Codreanu was completely in bad faith – something which can easily be ruled out by anyone who ever met him, even just for a few minutes, or who has perceived the faith, enthusiasm and deep sincerity suffusing each of his writings; or we cannot concede that his movement was in any way subversive or that it pursued aims other than those of a national and anti-Semitic reconstruction of the ‘Fascist’ or National Socialist type, respectful of the monarchic principle. What, then? We may legitimately wonder about the real forces which have caused, or at least contributed to the tragedy of the ‘Iron Guard’. At the time of Codreanu’s last arrest, we were in Paris and witnessed the shouts of frenzied joy that accompanied the publication of this news in antifascist and Judeo-socialist rags. We are not going too far if we say that, after Czechoslovakia, in the whole of central-eastern Europe, Romania is the last strategically and economically important area with a wealth of resources to remain outside the web woven by the obscure ‘forces’ at work in the “great democracies’, in high finance, and in Judeo-socialism. For such forces it is a mere trifle to favour the interests of short-sighted individuals as a means and an end while treading upon people’s corpses, even the corpses of noble and generous youths whose only concern was with the good of their country…
(Originally printed in La Vita Italiana, Rome, issue 309, December 1938.)
1 All quotes from The Iron Guard in this essay are taken from the English translation, For My Legionaries (Reedy, West Virginia: Liberty Bell Publications, 2003).
2 Kehillas were local Jewish community leadership councils that existed throughout central and eastern Europe during the first half of the Twentieth century.
3 Kurt Schuschnigg was the Chancellor of Austria just prior to the Anschluss of March 1938. In response to a growing desire by Austrians for a unification
with Germany, Schuschnigg called for a national plebiscite in February 1938 to vote on the issue of Austrian independence, but its terms were manipulated in such a way as to make a vote in favour of unification unlikely. Ultimately, the plebiscite was cancelled, Schuschnigg resigned, and Austria was annexed by Germany.