Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Antonescu, Ion (1882–1946)

Title: Ion Antonescu
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Romanian marshal and dictator (1940–1944). Born to a prominent military family at Piteştion 14 June 1882, Ion Antonescu graduated from Romanian military schools in Craiova (1902) and Iaşi (1904). A cavalry lieutenant during the 1907 Peasant Revolt, he fought in the second Balkan War and in World War I. From 1922 to 1927 he was military attaché in Paris, Brussels, and London. He was named chief of the General Staff in 1933, but his opposition to King Carol II's corrupt and sycophantic cabal led him to resign in December 1934. In 1937, Antonescu became minister of national defense in the short-lived government of Octavian Goga, a German-backed regime with strong links to the Romanian fascist organization the Iron Guard. When King Carol announced a royal dictatorship in 1938 and took action to squelch the Iron Guard, Antonescu retired from public life for two years.

In 1940, regional crises climaxed with the Soviet Union's seizure of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina, Bulgaria's retrieval of southern Dobruja, and, with the Vienna Award of 30 August 1940, Hungary's reannexation of northern Transylvania. Before abdicating in favor of his son, Michael, King Carol was obliged to recall Antonescu to form a government. Initially, Antonescu's National Legionary regime was a coalition dominated by the Iron Guard, which, however, soon lost popular support through its incompetence and violence that culminated in an attempted coup in January 1941.

Antonescu then moved in, supported by Romanian and German military forces. The Iron Guard leaders fled to Germany, where they were interned. On Antonescu's invitation, German troops arrived on 10 October 1940, ostensibly to train the Romanian Army but, more important, to guard the Romanian oil fields and to launch the Balkan and Soviet campaigns the following spring.

Antonescu, convinced that Germany would win the war, hoped that German leader Adolf Hitler would revise the Vienna Award in return for Romania's military support. Viewing Operation barbarossa (begun on 22 June 1941) as an opportunity to regain Bessarabia and northern Bukovina, he commanded Army Group Antonescu and reclaimed the territory in question within a month of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. He then commanded the Romanian Fourth Army's assault on Transnistria, a region that came under Romanian administration and to which some 100,000 Bessarabian and Bukovinan Jews were deported. Despite Antonescu's refusal to participate outright in the German Final Solution, at least 250,000 Jews and Gypsies died as a result of his policies.

Soon after the German defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad in early 1943, Antonescu authorized contacts with the Allies for Romania to leave the war. Their answer was clear: Romania would have to negotiate this with the Soviet Union. Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov announced Soviet conditions on 2 April 1944. These called for Romania to switch sides and join the Allied war effort, relinquish Bessarabia and northern Bukovina, and pay reparations to the Soviet Union. The Vienna Award would be nullified, and northern Transylvania would be returned to Romania. Antonescu foolishly refused these conditions and resumed direct command of his troops shortly after the Soviet offensive along the Romanian border on 20 August 1944. Returning briefly to Bucharest, Antonescu was summoned to the royal palace on 23 August, where King Michael asked him to sign an armistice. Antonescu refused and was arrested. He was then transferred to the Soviet Union. Brought back to Romania, he was tried on war crimes charges during 4–17 May 1945 before a People's Court. Found guilty, he was executed at Jilava prison near Bucharest on 1 June 1946.

Anna Wittman


Further Reading
Hitchins, Keith. Rumania, 1866–1947. Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1994.
 

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