Iron Guard (Romania)

The Iron Guard (in Romanian , Garda de Fier ) was a movement fascist , ultranationalist , clericalist and antisemitic Romanian , then become a political party, which existed from 1927 until 1941 .

The movement was founded by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu the 24 of July of 1927 under the name Legion of San Miguel Arcángel , 1 leading it until his death in 1938 . The adherents and members of the movement were called “Legionaries”. In March of 1931 Codreanu formed the Iron Guard, a paramilitary and political branch of the Legion, whose name came to be applied to the entire Legion. 1 Later, in June of 1933 , the Legion officially changed its denomination, happening to be called party ” Totul pentru Ţară ” (” Everything for the Country “). 1 He was also known simply as “Legionary Movement” (in Romanian , Mişcarea Legionară ). 1

Its members wore green uniforms (considered symbol of rejuvenation, and by that they were nicknamed ” green shirts “) and greeted each other like the Romans , similar to other similar movements in Europe . The main symbol used by the Iron Guard was a triple cross, representing prison bars (as a symbol of martyrdom), sometimes called ” The Cross of the Archangel Michael “.

In 1941 , after carrying out a failed coup against dictator Ion Antonescu , the movement was persecuted and dissolved with the support of Hitler .


After World War Romania grew enormously in territory and population, but often in the new provinces new minorities still monopolized the main educational positions, 2 in a country with limited private enterprise, was the way to get a job middle class In the public administration or dependent on it. This situation gave rise to a nationalist reaction of the Rumanian students, who tried to displace the minorities. The leaders of these student movements of nationalist protest came from the petty bourgeoisie: Codreanu was the son of a secondary school teacher in Bucovina , Ion Moţa was the son of a priest, and so on. 2 The danger of marginalization of the young people of the low bourgeoisie and their situation of maladjustment became virtues among the followers of the student movement. 3

When in 1923 the movement began to dissolve, the most extremist of the students, including Codreanu and Moţa, planned a final attack on Jewish politicians and bankers. 2 Discovered by the police, they were locked up in the monastery of Văcăreşti . 2 A campaign of support for those arrested, however, caused them to be soon released, with the exception of Moţa, who was arrested for another 6 months for the murder of one of the conspirators, allegedly for betraying them. 2 Although the plan was a failure, served to publicize to students across the country and convert the movement of university protest in a nationalist and anti – Semitic political movement, which was modeled the Action française , preaching similar values in France . 2

The 25 of October of 1924 Codreanu killed the prefect of police Constantin Manciu for having repressed the student movement. 3 Again Codreanu was acquitted and his trial served as propaganda to his movement. 3 Their action and subsequent acquittal made him a national figure, increasing popularity. 3

Until 1927 the students depended on the LANC, a nationalist and anti-Semitic formation led by university professor AC Cuza , an anti-Semitic veteran. 3 Cuza, however, did not share the rebellious tendency of the students and conceived of their formation as a traditional political party, which led to a gradual estrangement between him and the student chieftains. 3

Foundation and rise

Corneliu Zelea Codreanu was the founder and leader of the Iron Guard.

In 1927 Corneliu Zelea Codreanu left his important position in the ” League of National Christian Defense “, political party (led by Professor AC Cuza ) to found the ” Legion of St. Michael the Archangel .” This group was different from the other fascist movements of its time because of its religious character , its way of accepting and applying Romanian Orthodox Christianity . According to Ioanid, the Legion ” voluntarily inserted various elements of orthodox Christianity into its political doctrine, to the point of becoming one of the few modern political movements in Europe with a religious ideological structure .”

In 1929 the formation, with structure of religious commune of young, counted on less than 1,000 members and was established in Iaşi . 4 In the same year Codreanu ordered his followers to begin their expansion, through the participation in the elections in Moldova and Bessarabia , as well as the use of complex propaganda with great use of religion. 4

In 1930 was officially founded the military branch of the Legion, the “Iron Guard”, which would become synonymous with the Legion. 5

Characteristics and ideology


The Legion was characterized because its base of supporters and militants was formed mainly by peasants and students, and not massively by veterans of war. However, the legionaries had in common with the European fascists their violent character, a feature that was further accentuated when, at the end of 1933 , a moderate authoritarian government was established that promised the dismantling of fascism in Romania . In these circumstances, the Legion units counterattacked organizing direct action , called echipa mortii , 6 the same as the 29 of December of 1933 assassinated the Prime Minister of the newly elected government, Ion Duca , the leader of the Liberal National Party . The emphasis of the Iron Guard on sacrifice and suffering, in addition to its fanaticism, gave it a violent and terrorist character. 6 Salvation of the members, converted to a new way of life indicated by Codreanu, came through actions of fanatical and violent surrender. 6

Despite its communal propaganda, the Iron Guard had an authoritarian hierarchical structure, a pyramid of caudillos with Codreanu at its apex. 5 Its base was formed by cells of about 3 to 13 members called “nests” (in Romanian , cuiburi ). 5 Nests were grouped together to form “garrisons” which, in turn, united in “sectors”, “counties” and “regions”. 5 The leaders of the nests and the garrisons were not chosen by the leadership of the party, but they were the chiefs of the other levels. 5 These were directly responsible to Codreanu. 5

Before the growth of the organization, in 1934 a test period was established for the new militants and a series of obligatory processes that had to reinforce the discipline of the group. 5 The leadership of the party also grew and new offices and select groups, such as the “Knights of the Annunciation” were created in 1936 . 5 Internal structural reform, however, failed to prevent the emergence of factions in the party leadership. 5 In 1934 there were already four of them, faced by Codreanu himself to maintain his power. 7


The “Captain” Codreanu was his charismatic leader, 6 being the Legion known for his skillful propaganda , 4 including the show, using marches, religious processions (with “miracles” and included visions), 4as well as patriotic and partisan hymns, voluntary work In the countryside and charitable campaigns in rural areas. All this action was oriented to impose the typical philosophy of the third position , that is, anticommunist, anti-Semitic, anti-liberal, anti-capitalist and anti-parliamentary, in order to present itself as a patriotic alternative to “corrupt and clientelist” parties, 4 including the League of The National-Christian Defense . The declared purpose of the Legion was the creation of a “new man,” 6 who should put his whole country and religion before the petty interests of liberalism and communism . Codreanu appeared as a new Messiah, sent by the archangel Michael to achieve the regeneration of the Romanian people according to their dictates. 6 Moţa, the ideologue of formation, fostered the cult of Codreanu ‘s personality . 6

The formation united two central ideas of Romanian politics: nationalism and religion, obtaining a great power of social attraction. 4 Despite the pseudoriginal activities of the Iron Guard and its frequent use of religious symbols, their relationship with the Romanian Orthodox Church was ambiguous, alternating periods of cooperation with others of confrontation and discrepancies. 8 By 1937 about 20 percent of the Romanian Orthodox priests belonged to the Iron Guard, despite the fundamental difference between the views of the Orthodox Church and the Guard, essentially for the defense of the use of violence by it. 8 The ephemeral approach of Romania’s Orthodox Church hierarchy to the Iron Guard was due to its sense of crisis and threat from other confessions and its desire to gain support in political formations. Referring to Fig.

Like other fascist and religious movements of his time, as LANCIERI (lancers), with which frequently clashed in street violence, the Iron Guard was actively anti – Semitic , promoting the idea of constant “aggression rabbinical against the world Christian, “under such forms as Freemasonry , Freudianism , Homosexuality , Atheism , Marxism , Bolshevism , or the Civil War of Spain , which, according to them, were intended to undermine Spanish society.

Persecution and tolerance

Given the hostility of the traditional parties, the electoral support of the Iron Guards until 1933 was scarce, although the global economic crisis benefited, becoming a mass party. Referring to Fig.

The October to December of 1933 the Prime Minister liberal Ion Duca outlawed the Iron Guard. In response, members of the same he was assassinated the 29 of December of 1933 , on the platform of the train station of Sinaia , while returning from an interview with the then king of Romania Carlos II .

Despite being the Romanian organization ideologically closest to Nazism , in the mid-1930s German support for Codreanu was very limited. 10 Only the Auslandsorganization (AO) of the NSDAP maintained certain contacts with the Iron Guard, preferring the government of Adolf Hitler a more stable representative as a party of government in Romania . 10

Vasile Marin , one of the outstanding personalities of the Legion, 11 died in 1937 in the Spanish Civil War .

In the mid-1930s Romanian society became radicalized, which, along with the crisis of traditional parties, favored the Iron Guard. 12

In 1936 the Iron Guard underwent its first excision when one of its main caudillos, Mihai Stelescu , left to form a rival grouping, although soon was brutally assassinated by its old companions. 7 At the beginning of 1937 Ion Mota and Vasile Marin , two of the leaders of the faction of the văcăreşteni , who had founded the Legion with Codreanu, died in the Spanish Civil War in an attempt to regain power in the organization through a spectacular action ( 13 as January as 1937 ). 7 His death and subsequent propagandistic use by the organization stopped the reorganization of the training, which took a pietistic turn. 7

The growth in popularity of the Iron Guard led the Romanian monarch, Charles II , to weigh the possibility of taking control of the formation as the basis of a regime of monarchical dictatorship. 7 The secret negotiations between the sovereign and Codreanu in February 1937, however, failed. 7 The failure led to an open confrontation between the king and Codreanu. 7

The electoral agreement of late 1937 between Iuliu Maniu , Codreanu and other formations to avoid the traditional manipulation of the elections by the party in power gave a page of respectability to the Iron Guard, while weakened to Maniu. 13 The German attempts to approach the Iron Guard and the also anti-Semitic and pronazi National Christian Party failed. 13

The struggle for power

Codreanu in 1937 along with more members of the Iron Guard.

In the parliamentary elections of 1937 the Legion rose as the third most voted political force, after the National Liberal Party and the National Peasant Party , with 15.5% of the votes. 7 The king strongly opposed the political aims of the legionaries and managed to keep them out of government until 1940 , when he was forced to abdicate given the national and European political situation, wrapped in World War II . Despite his electoral success, Charles II appointed a government of the main organization of the Romanian ultra-right, the National Christian Party . Given the chaotic situation created and this alliance with Codreanu their leaders for elections in March of 1938 , King Charles dismissed Prime Minister Octavian Goga and established a monarchic dictatorship on October of February of 1938 . 7

The power of the Iron Guard was rapidly weakened by the persecution of the new regime. 7 In mid- April Codreanu was arrested. 7 After two successive trials he was sentenced to 10 years of forced labor. 7 Fearing the use of the Iron Guard by Nazi Germany after the Munich crisis of the autumn of 1938 , Charles II ordered the execution of Codreanu ( 29 of November of 1938 ). 7 He was strangled along with other legionaries by the gendarmes that escorted to them during their transfer of the prison. 7 The Romanian Government invented an attempt of escape of the legionaries to justify the elimination of Codreanu like main opponent.

During this period the Legion was harshly persecuted from power.

The 7 as March as 1939 a new government was formed with Armand Călinescu as prime minister; the 21 of September of 1939 Călinescu was assassinated by a group of Legionnaires who avenged Codreanu , 14 thus joining other acts of violence in Romania . The government repression was brutal: the assassins were shot in the square where the prime minister had been killed and their bodies were left as a warning to the Iron Guard. 14 On the following days, and by order of the king, 253 legionaries were executed without trial, a wave of terror spreading to oppose that of the legionaries. 14 This eliminated the old leadership of the party, which had been headed by the death of Codreanu, since he had not appointed successor at the head of the Iron Guard. 14

The Iron Guard was thus divided into factions, in which new leaders played a prominent role. 14 By the end of 1940 there were three main and conflicting currents: 14

  • The most pragmatic, led by Horia Sima , leader of Banat , who ended up taking control of training.
  • That of those close to the father of Codreanu and his brothers.
  • That of the followers of Moţa and Marin.

After a long dispute Horia Sima took control, although unstable, of the Iron Guard. 14

Leadership of Horia Sima and dissolution

During the first months of World War II Romania was officially neutral . However, after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 of August of 1939 , which stipulated, among other things, the Soviet “interest” in Bessarabia , the promises of France and the United Kingdom were not more helpful to Romania than Poland .

When Nazi Germany invaded Poland , Romania offered asylum to members of the Polish Government and even after the assassination of Călinescu, King Charles II attempted to maintain neutrality. However, the approach to the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis became inevitable after the capitulation of France and the British retreat of Europe .

Given these events, the political situation became favorable for the legionaries. The government of Ion Gigurtu , formed 4 of July of 1940 , included a legionary member. But before the coming to power the legionary movement had been losing most of its charismatic chiefs. Horia Sima , a convinced anti- Semite who became the nominal leader of the movement after Codreanu ‘s death , was one of the few prominent legionaries who had survived to confront their commitment to power.

In 4 of September of 1940 the Legion filed a not without tensions alliance with General (later Marshal) Ion Antonescu , forming the government of ” National Legionary State ” after the forced abdication of King Charles II . Romania came that way even more to the Axis , which officially joined in June of 1941 . Horia Sima was appointed vice-president of the Council of Ministers. 15 The Iron Guard, ill – prepared to take power at the time, was internally divided into fractions. 16 Although Sima, a short-lived leader who was trying to present himself as the representative of the late Codreanu, led by his father and siblings, while a third was centered in Transylvania , which was more socialist and anti-German. 16 Only a few hundred veterans of the formation were still alive, but the Iron Guard received a large number of new, often opportunistic, members known as “Septembrists,” whom Sima estimated at about half a million. 16 Few of these belonged to the Romanian middle class. 17

Once in power, from the 14 of September of 1940 to the 21 of January of 1941 , the Legion toughened legislation antisemitic and began a campaign of pogroms and political assassinations against those responsible for repression against the Iron Guard in the years As well as blackmail and extortion of Jewish commercial and financial sectors. More than 60 former officials and officers were massacred in Jilava prison (the same where Codreanu was imprisoned) as revenge for the murder of Codreanu and other legionaries who died with him while awaiting trial; Other opposition figures such as the historian and former prime minister Nicolae Iorga or economist Virgil Madgearu , former minister, were murdered without being previously detained.

The Iron Guard gained notoriety for its extreme cruelty during the Holocaust . In his book The Destruction of the European Jews , Raul Hilberg wrote: ” There were … instances when the Germans actually had to step in to restrain and slow down the pace of the Romanian measures .” (” On some occasions the Germans had to intervene to slow down the Romanian measures “). The annihilation of the Jews of eastern Romania (including here Bessarabia , Bucovina , Transnistria and the city of Iaşi ) had rather the character of a pogrom than that of deportation and detention in well-organized concentration camps like those of the Nazis.

But the 24 of January of 1941 General Ion Antonescu managed to avoid coup legionnaire, expelling them from the government. In spite of the role played by the Iron Guard in the Holocaust, Hitler decided to support Antonescu in the repression of the legionary uprising, since he considered it a valuable ally in the future German invasion of the Soviet Union .

During these clashes, which led Romania to the brink of civil war , the Iron Guard was responsible for a pogrom in Bucharest , including the massacre dozens of Jews in a slaughterhouse, where the murderers hanged the bodies of the hooks and mutilated . Many legionaries took refuge in Germany , while others were imprisoned.

Horia Sima fled to Spain , where he collaborated with the Franco dictatorship and published several books. He would die in Madrid in 1993 .

After the fall of Antonescu and the liberation of Rumania by the Soviets, in 1944 , the already almost disarticulated Iron Guard was officially outlawed by the new authorities.


The name Guardia de Hierro was used by a Romanian neo-fascist terrorist group that emerged after the fall of Ceauşescu .

There is also a contemporary right-wing organization , Noua Dreaptă (“The New Right”), who is considered heir to the Iron Guard and maintains a cult of personality dedicated to Corneliu Zelea Codreanu . However, its members do not declare themselves as a political party and currently only function as part of civil society.

From the 1970s , Mircea Eliade ( 1907 – 1986 ), a well-known historian of religions, was criticized for having supported the Iron Guard in the 1930s .

Notes and references

  1. ↑ Jump to:a b c d Iordachi (2004) , p. fifty
  2. ↑ Jump to:a b c d e f Iordachi (2004) , p. 24
  3. ↑ Jump to:a b c d e f Iordachi (2004) , p. 25
  4. ↑ Jump to:a b c d e f Iordachi (2004) , p. 32
  5. ↑ Jump to:a b c d e f g h i Iordachi (2004) , p. 37
  6. ↑ Jump to:a b c d e f g Iordachi (2004) , p. 29
  7. ↑ Jump to:a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Iordachi (2004) , p. 38
  8. ↑ Jump to:a b c Iordachi (2004) , p. 35
  9. Back to top↑ Iordachi (2004) , p. 33
  10. ↑ Jump to:a b Shapiro (1974) , p. 53
  11. Back to top↑ Weber, 1966 , p. 110.
  12. ↑ Jump to:a b Shapiro (1974) , p. 55
  13. ↑ Jump to:a b Shapiro (1974) , p. 56
  14. ↑ Jump to:a b c d e f g Iordachi (2004) , p. 39
  15. Back to top↑ Nagy-Talavera, 1970 , p. 310.
  16. ↑ Jump to:a b c Nagy-Talavera, 1970 , p. 311.
  17. Back to top↑ Nagy-Talavera, 1970 , p. 312.