Ion Antonescu

Ion Antonescu

Ion Victor Antonescu (; June 15, 1882 – June 1, 1946) was a Romanian soldier, authoritarian politician, and convicted war criminal. The Prime Minister and Conducător during most of World War II, he presided over two successive wartime dictatorships. A Romanian Army career officer who made his name during the 1907 peasants' revolt and the World War I Romanian Campaign, the antisemitic Antonescu sympathized with the far right and fascist National Christian and Iron Guard groups for much of the interwar period. He was a military attaché to France and later Chief of the General Staff, briefly serving as Defense Minister in the National Christian cabinet of Octavian Goga. During the late 1930s, his political stance brought him into conflict with King Carol II and led to his detainment. Antonescu nevertheless rose to political prominence during the political crisis of 1940, and established the National Legionary State, an uneasy partnership with the Iron Guard's leader Horia Sima. After entering Romania into an alliance with Nazi Germany and the Axis and ensuring Adolf Hitler's confidence, he eliminated the Guard during the Legionary Rebellion of 1941. In addition to leadership of the executive, he assumed the offices of Foreign Affairs and Defense Minister. Soon after Romania joined the Axis in Operation Barbarossa, recovering Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, Antonescu also became Marshal of Romania.

An atypical figure among Holocaust perpetrators, Antonescu enforced policies independently responsible for the deaths of as many as 400,000 people, most of them Bessarabian, Ukrainian and Romanian Jews, as well as Romani Romanians. The regime's complicity in the Holocaust combined pogroms and mass murders such as the Odessa massacre with ethnic cleansing, systematic deportations to occupied Transnistria and widespread criminal negligence. The system in place was nevertheless characterized by singular inconsistencies, prioritizing plunder over killing, showing leniency toward most Jews in the Old Kingdom, and ultimately refusing to adopt the Final Solution as applied throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.

Confronted with heavy losses on the Eastern Front, Antonescu embarked on inconclusive negotiations with the Allies, just before a political coalition, formed around the young monarch Michael I, toppled him during the August 23, 1944 Coup. After a brief detention in the Soviet Union, the deposed Conducător was handed back to Romania, where he was tried by a special People's Tribunal and executed. This was part of a series of trials that also passed sentences on his various associates, as well as his wife Maria. The judicial procedures earned much criticism for responding to the Romanian Communist Party's ideological priorities, a matter that fueled nationalist and far right attempts to have Antonescu posthumously exonerated. While these groups elevated Antonescu to the status of hero, his involvement in the Holocaust was officially reasserted and condemned following the 2003 Wiesel Commission report.

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