Ion Antonescu

Ion Antonescu

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Birthday: 
15 June 1882, Pitesti, Romania
Ion Antonescu was born in Pitesti, Romania, on June 15, 1882, to a middle-class family. He was sent to French military academies for his education, and upon returning home enlisted in the Romanian army, being commissioned as a lieutenant in 1907. He made a name for himself in that year when his unit was sent to Galati to put down a peasant revolt. ... Show more »
Ion Antonescu was born in Pitesti, Romania, on June 15, 1882, to a middle-class family. He was sent to French military academies for his education, and upon returning home enlisted in the Romanian army, being commissioned as a lieutenant in 1907. He made a name for himself in that year when his unit was sent to Galati to put down a peasant revolt. His superior officers were impressed by the swiftness with which he helped to suppress the rebels and the ruthless manner in which he did it. They sent him to the Romanian military academy, from which he graduated in 1911. Two years later he led his unit in the Second Balkan War against Bulgaria, and his performance resulted in his being awarded Romania's highest military honors. When World War I broke out the next year, Romania declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary, and Antonescu was appointed Chief of Staff of the army. As the war progressed, he was appointed Chief of Operations of the army general staff. After the Axis Powers were defeated, Romania was rewarded for its participation by being given territory from the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire that resulted in the country more than doubling in size. It also resulted in many foreign and ethnic nationalities being absorbed into the country, especially Jews, leading to an increase in Romanian nationalism and a major increase in anti-Semitism. Antonescu was appointed military attaché in Paris and then in London. Meanwhile, economic and political conditions in Romania gave rise to an ultranationalist, violently anti-Semitic paramilitary organization called the Iron Guard, which engaged in pitched street battles with its opponents and embarked on a spree of political assassinations. The Iron Guard was supported and financed in large part by Nazi Germany, and its leader, Corneliu Codreanu, was elected to Parliament.In 1934 Antonescu was appointed Chief of the General Staff. By 1937 the Iron Guard organization had 66 seats in Parliament and a national membership of 34,000 (it did have opposition in the country, mainly among Communists, who fought bitter battles in both Parliament and on the streets against the organization. Among the Communist street fighters was future dictator Nicolae Ceausescu). The Iron Guard had become so powerful that King Carol II was eventually forced to cede power to a group of far-right-wing, anti-Semitic nationalists allied with the organization who immediately passed laws barring Jews from government employment and forbidding them from buying property. Antonescu was appointed Minister of Defense in that government. However, in 1938 the government, alarmed at the growing power of the Iron Guard, arrested its leader, Codreanu, and other officials of the organization. On April 19 during what was characterized as an "attempted escape", Codreanu and 13 Iron Guard leaders were shot and killed by police.When World War II broke out, Romania tried to remain neutral, but after its Prime Minister was assassinated by members of the Iron Guard, the government was forced to make a deal with German leader Adolf Hitler, which resulted in the loss of much of the territory Romania won after World War I. This caused a fierce backlash against King Carol, and in the face of riots, strikes and a rebellion launched by the Iron Guard, he suspended the constitution and appointed Antonescu as Prime Minister. Antonescu immediately demanded that King Carol abdicate, which he did. Then Antonescu, with support from Nazi Germany, the Iron Guard and a group of senior Romanian army officers, named himself as head of the government and Iron Guard leader Horia Sima as deputy prime minister. On October 7, 1940, Antonescu declared that Romania was entering World War II on the side of Nazi Germany. He allowed German forces to occupy the country and passed strict anti-Semitic laws. Under Antonescu's leadership Romania supplied Nazi Germany with food, fuel (from its huge Ploesti oil fields and refineries) and more than a million troops. He also unleashed the Iron Guard to "pacify" the country, resulting in the assassination of many supporters and associates of the former King Carol and the carrying out of mass killings and massacres of Jews. However, the Iron Guard's brutal tactics and the scale of their killings were too much even for the Nazis, and before long German troops began rounding up and disarming Iron Guard fighters. In 1941 the remaining Iron Guard forces staged a rebellion against Antonescu, and in a rampage that lasted several days murdered hundreds of Jews. The rebellion was finally put down by Romanian and German troops and the Guard was disbanded. At that time Antonescu adopted the title of "Marshal of Romania" and assumed dictatorial powers. In that capacity he introduced even more stringent anti-Semitic measures.When Hitler invaded Russia in June of 1941, Antonescu committed almost one million Romanian soldiers to the invading army. As a reward, Hitler gave back Romania much of the territory it had lost at the beginning of the war. However, many of these territories had large Jewish populations, and Antonescu began to set up detention camps and ghettos to hold the 40,000 Jews he ordered expelled from the towns and cities in the "new" territories. On June 25 German and Romanian troops massacred at least 1000 Jews in the city of Iasi, and within the next several days a series of killings and massacres resulted in the deaths of an estimated 10,000 more Jews. Antonescu had instructed his soldiers to be "merciless" in their expulsion of Jews from the territories, saying, "I am not disturbed if the world should consider us barbarians. You can use machine-guns if it is necessary . . . I assume all the responsibility and claim that the law [preventing such massacres] does not exist."Approximately 300,000 Jews were ultimately removed from the provinces of Bukovina and Bessarabia, and more than 150,000 of that number were killed outright by German and Romanian troops and Ukrainian and Romanian civilians and paramilitaries. Antonescu ordered the survivors removed to an area of the Ukraine known as the "Transnistria". Of that number, only about 50,000 would survive until the end of the war.On 22 October partisans bombed Romanian army headquarters in Odessa. In retaliation, Antonescu ordered that for every Romanian or German officer who died, 200 civilians were to be executed. For every Romanian or German enlisted man killed, 100 civilians would be shot. On October 23 the city was burned by Romanian and German forces and approximately 25,000 of the city's Jews were murdered. It's estimated that of Romanian's pre-war Jewish population of more than 750,000, about 425,000 died in concentration camps or were killed by German and Romanian forces.Meanwhile, the war on the Eastern front was not going well for the Germans and their Romanian allies. Germany had suffered a staggering defeat at Stalingrad when its forces surrendered, and of the almost one million Romanian soldiers involved in the Russian campaign, 400,000 or more were killed. By the end of 1943 the Russians had recaptured much of the Ukraine and moved on Germany and Romania. In August of 1944 their forces entered Romania, and on August 23 the figurehead King Michael, supported by army officers and civilian paramilitaries, seized control of the government and arrested Antonescu. A few days later the Red Army entered Bucharest and Romania signed a peace treaty with the Soviet Union. Antonescu was handed over to Soviet forces and taken to the Soviet Union for "interrogation", then returned to Romania to be tried as a war criminal, the trial occurring in May of 1946. On the 17th of that month he was found guilty of treason and war crimes and sentenced to death, and on June 1, 1946, he was executed by a firing squad at a military prison outside Bucharest. Show less «

Ion Antonescu's FILMOGRAPHY

The World at War - Season 1

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