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Iron Guard

Iron Guard
Garda de fier
President Corneliu Zelea Codreanu
Horia Sima
Founded 24 July 1927
Dissolved 1941 (suppressed)
Split from National-Christian Defense League
Headquarters Bucharest, Kingdom of Romania
Paramilitary wing Corpul Muncitoresc Legionar
Ideology Romanian nationalism
Clerical fascism
Political position Far-right
Religion Romanian Orthodoxy
Colours              Green, White, black
Party flag
Politics of Romania
Political parties

The Iron Guard (Romanian: Garda de fier pronounced ) is the name most commonly given to a far-right movement and political party in Romania in the period from 1927 into the early part of World War II. It is also known as the Legion of the Archangel Michael (Legiunea Arhanghelului Mihail) or the Legionnaire movement (Mișcarea Legionară).[1] The Iron Guard was ultra-nationalist, antisemitic, anti-communist, anti-capitalist and promoted the Orthodox Christian faith. Its members were called "Greenshirts" because of the predominantly green uniforms they wore.[2]

When Horia Sima and some other leaders escaped to Germany.


  • Background 1
  • Description 2
    • Ideology 2.1
    • Style 2.2
  • History 3
    • Founding and rise 3.1
    • Struggle for power 3.2
    • Sima's ascendancy 3.3
  • In power 4
  • Failure and destruction 5
    • Legacy 5.1
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
    • Primary sources 8.1
    • In German 8.2
  • External links 9


Originally founded by paramilitary political branch of the Legion; this name eventually came to refer to the Legion itself. Later, in June 1935, the Legion changed its official name to the "Totul pentru Ţară" party, literally "Everything for the Country", but commonly translated as "Everything for the Fatherland" or occasionally "Everything for the Motherland".[3]



Stamp bearing the symbol of the "Iron Guard" over a white cross that stood for one of its humanitarian ventures

Historian Stanley G. Payne writes in his study of Fascism, "The Legion was arguably the most unusual mass movement of interwar Europe."[4] The Legion contrasted with most other European fascist movements of the period, especially when talking about the understanding of nationalism, as it should never be separated from the faith you were born in. According to Ioanid, the Legion "willingly inserted strong elements of Orthodox Christianity into its political ideology to the point of becoming one of the rare modern European political movements with a religious ideological structure." The movement's leader, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, was a religious patriot who aimed at a spiritual resurrection for the nation.[4] According to Codreanu's heterodox philosophy, human life was a sinful, violent political war, which would ultimately be transcended by the spiritual nation. In this schema, the Legionnaire might have to perform actions beyond simple will to fight, suppressing the preserving instinct for the sake of the country.[4] Like many other fascist movements, the Legion called for a revolutionary "new man". However, this new man was very different in conception. The Legion didn't want a physical superhuman like the Nazis did. Instead, they wanted to recreate and purify the way of thinking in order to bring the whole nation closer to God. As for economics, there was no straightforward program, but the Legion generally promoted the idea of a communal or national economy, rejecting capitalism as overly materialistic.[4] The movement considered its main enemies to be present political leaders and the Jews.


Its members wore dark green uniforms (meant as a symbol of renewal, and the origin of the occasional reference to them as the "Greenshirts" - "Cămășile verzi"), and greeted each other using the Roman salute. The main symbol used by the Iron Guard was a triple cross (a variant of the triple parted and fretted one), standing for prison bars (as a badge of martyrdom), and sometimes referred to as the "Archangel Michael Cross" ("Crucea Arhanghelului Mihail").

The mysticism of the Legion led to a cult of death, martyrdom and self-sacrifice. They had an action squad that was called Echipa morții, or "Death Squad" who had the mission to go everywhere in Romania and to sing. It was called "Death Squad" because its members had to accomplish their mission even with the risk of being killed by the police, communist or any other enemies of the Legion. The members of it were: Ion Dumitrescu-Borșa (who was a Christian Orthodox priest), Sterie Ciumetti, Petre Țocu, Tache Savin, Traian Clime, Iosif Bozântan, Nicolae Constantinescu.[5] A chapter of the Legion was called a cuib, or "nest," and was arranged around the virtues of discipline, work, silence, education, mutual aid, and honor.


Founding and rise

In 1927, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu left the number two position (under A.C. Cuza) in the Romanian political party known as the National-Christian Defense League (NCDL). It was then he founded the Legion of the Archangel Michael.[6] Its name appears to have been inspired by the Black Hundreds, an anti-semitic group in the Russian Empire (particularly the regions bordering Romania) who often used the name of the archangel.[7]

The Legion also differed from other fascist movements in that it had its mass base among the peasantry and students, rather than among military veterans. However, the legionnaires shared the general fascist "respect for the war veterans" idea.

With Codreanu as a charismatic leader, the Legion was known for skillful propaganda, including a very capable use of spectacle. Utilizing marches, religious processions and patriotic and partisan hymns and anthems, along with volunteer work and charitable campaigns in rural areas in support of Anti-communism, the League presented itself as an alternative to corrupt parties. Initially, the Iron Guard hoped to encompass any political faction, regardless of its position on the political spectrum, that wished to combat the rise of communism in the USSR.

Unlike other fascist movements of the time, the Iron Guard was purposely anti-Semitic, promoting the idea that "Rabbinical aggression against the Christian world" in "unexpected 'protean forms': Freemasonry, Freudianism, homosexuality, atheism, Marxism, Bolshevism, the civil war in Spain," were undermining society.[8]

On December 10, 1933, the Romanian Liberal Prime Minister Ion Duca banned the Iron Guard. After a brief period of arrests, beatings, torture and even killings (twelve members of the Legionary Movement were murdered by the police force), Iron Guard members retaliated on December 29, 1933, by assassinating Duca on the platform of the Sinaia railway station.

Struggle for power

Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, the founder of the Iron Guard

In the 1937 parliamentary elections the Legion came in third, behind the Liberal and the Peasant Parties, with 15.5 percent of the vote. King Carol II was strongly opposed to the Legion's political aims and successfully kept them out of government until he himself was forced to abdicate in 1940. During this period, the Legion was generally on the receiving end of persecution. On February 10, 1938, the King dissolved the government, taking on the role of a royal dictator.

Codreanu was arrested and imprisoned in April 1938, and ultimately strangled to death along with several other legionnaires by their Gendarmerie escort on the night of November 29–30, 1938, purportedly during an attempt to escape from prison. It is generally agreed that there was no such escape attempt, and that Codreanu and the others were killed on the King's orders, probably in reaction to the November 24, 1938, murder by legionnaires of a relative (some sources say a "friend") of Armand Călinescu, then Minister of the Interior in the King's cabinet.

The royal dictatorship lasted just over one year. On March 7, 1939, a new government was formed with Călinescu as prime minister; on September 21, 1939, he, in turn was assassinated by legionnaires avenging Codreanu. Further rounds of mutual carnage ensued.

Corneliu Zelea Codreanu and Iron Guard members in 1937

In addition to the conflict with the king, an internal battle for power ensued in the wake of Codreanu's death. Waves of repression almost completely eliminated the Legion's original leadership by 1939, promoting second-rank members to the forefront. According to a secret report filed by the Hungarian political secretary in Bucharest in late 1940, three main factions existed: the group gathered around Horia Sima, a dynamic local leader from the Banat, which was the most pragmatic and least Orthodox in its orientation; the group composed of Codreanu's father, Ion Zelea Codreanu, and his brothers (who despised Sima); and the Moţa-Marin group, which wanted to strengthen the movement's religious character. After a long period of confusion, Sima, representing the Legion's less radical wing, overcame all competition and assumed leadership, being recognised as such on 6 September 1940 by the Legionary Forum, a body created at his initiative. On 28 September the elder Codreanu stormed the Legion headquarters in Bucharest (the Green House) in an unsuccessful attempt to install himself as leader.[9]

Sima's ascendancy

In the first months of World War II, Romania was officially neutral. However the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 23, 1939, stipulated, among other things, Soviet "interest" in Bassarabia. When Nazi Germany, and later, the Soviet Union invaded Poland, Romania granted refuge to members of Poland's fleeing government and military, and even after the assassination of Călinescu, King Carol tried to maintain neutrality, but France's surrender and Britain's retreat from Europe rendered them unable to fulfil their assurances to Romania. A lean toward the Axis Powers was probably inevitable.

This political alignment was obviously favorable to the surviving legionnaires. Ion Gigurtu's government, formed July 4, 1940, was the first to include a Legion member, but by the time the movement achieved any formal power, most of its leadership was already dead: Horia Sima, a strong anti-Semite who had become the nominal leader of the movement after Codreanu's murder, was one of the few prominent legionnaires to survive the carnage of the preceding years.

In power

On September 4, 1940, the Legion formed a tense alliance with General (later Marshal) Ion Antonescu. Using popular outrage at Romania being forced to return a large block of land as a result of the Second Vienna Award, the alliance forced the abdication of Carol II in favour of his son Michael, and leaned even more strongly toward the Axis. (Romania would formally join the Axis in June 1941.) Romania was proclaimed a "National Legionary State, with the Legion as the country's only legal party. As part of the deal, Antonescu was named the Legion's honorary leader, while Sima became deputy premier.

Once in power, from September 14, 1940, until January 21, 1941, the Legion ratcheted up the level of already harsh anti-Semitic legislation and pursued, with impunity, a campaign of pogroms and of political assassinations. On the 27th November 1940 more than 60 former dignitaries or officials were executed in Virgil Madgearu, also a former government minister, were assassinated the following day. Assassination attempts on the lives of former Prime Ministers and Carol supporters Constantin Argetoianu, Guță Tătărescu and Ion Gigurtu were also carried out, but failed, as the before mentioned politicians were freed from the hands of the Legionary Police and put under military protection.

Failure and destruction

Once in power Sima and Antonescu quarreled bitterly. Sima demanded that the government follow the 'legionary spirit', and all major offices be held by legionaries. Other groups were to be dissolved. Economic policy, said Sima, should be coordinated closely with Germany. Antonescu rejected the demands and was alarmed by the Iron Guard's death squads. The issue was who would rule Romania. Sima overplayed his hand. On January 24, 1941, after securing approval in person from Hitler, and with support of the Romanian army and other political leaders, Antonescu moved in. The Guard started a last-ditch coup attempt but in a three-day civil war, Antonescu won decisively with support from the Romanian and German armies.[10]

During the crisis members of the Iron Guard instigated a deadly pogrom in Bucharest. Particularly gruesome was the murder of dozens of Jewish civilians in the Bucharest slaughterhouse. After the victims were killed, the perpetrators hung the bodies from meat hooks and mutilated them in a vicious parody of kosher slaughtering practices.[11][12] Horia Sima and other legionnaires were helped by the Germans to escape to Germany. During the rebellion and pogrom, the Iron Guard killed 125 Jews and 30 soldiers died in the confrontation with the rebels. Following it, the Iron Guard movement was banned and 9,000 of its members were imprisoned.


The name "Garda de Fier" is also used by a small, Romanian nationalist group, active in the post-communist era.

There are also another contemporary far-right organizations in Romania, such as Pentru Patrie (For the Fatherland) and Noua Dreaptă (The New Right). Considering themselves the heir apparent to the Iron Guard, Noua Dreaptă embraces legionnairism and has a personality cult for Corneliu Codreanu but they also use the celtic cross, which is not associated with legionnairism.

Since the 1970s Mircea Eliade, a prominent historian of religion, fiction writer and philosopher, has been criticized for having supported the Iron Guard in the 1930s.

See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^ For "greenshirts" see, for example, R.G. Waldeck, Athene Palace, University of Chicago Press eBook (2013), ISBN 022608647X, p.182. Originally published 1942.
  3. ^ "Totul pentru Ţară" is translated as "Everything for the Fatherland" in "Collier's Encyclopedia" material that is now incorporated into "Encarta" as a sidebar (1938: Rumania) and in the "Encyclopædia Britannica" article Iron Guard; the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania uses "Everything for the Motherland" in the English-language version of its November 11, 2004 Final Report (PDF). (All retrieved 6 Dec 2005.). Archived 2009-10-31.
  4. ^ a b c d Payne, Stanley G. (1995). A History of Fascism 1914-1945 Madison: University of Wisconsin Press (pages 277-289) ISBN 0-299-14874-2
  5. ^  
  6. ^ Ioanid, "The Sacralised Politics of the Romanian Iron Guard".
  7. ^ Hugh Seton-Watson, The East European Revolution, Methuen & Co. London, 1950, p. 84
  8. ^ Volovici, Nationalist Ideology, p. 98, citing N. Cainic, Ortodoxie şi etnocraţie, pp. 162-4)
  9. ^ Iordachi, p.39
  10. ^ Keith Hitchins, Rumania, 1866-1947 (1994) pp 457-69
  11. ^ Holocaust Encyclopedia.
  12. ^ "New Order," Time magazine, Feb 10, 1941.


  • Chioveanu, Mihai. Faces of Fascism, by (University of Bucharest, 2005, Chapter 5: The Case of Romanian Fascism, ISBN 973-737-110-0).
  • Coogan, Kevin. Dreamer of the Day: Francis Parker Yockey and the Postwar Fascist International (Autonomedia, 1999, ISBN 1-57027-039-2).
  • Ioanid, Radu. "The Sacralised Politics of the Romanian Iron Guard," Totalitarian Movements & Political Religions, Volume 5, Number 3 (Winter 2004), pp. 419–453.
  • Ioanid, Radu. The Sword of the Archangel, (Columbia University Press, 1990, ISBN 0-88033-189-5).
  • Iordachi, Constantin. "Charisma, Religion, and Ideology: Romania's Interwar Legion of the Archangel Michael", in John R. Lampe, Mark Mazower (eds.), Ideologies and National Identities: The Case of Twentieth-century Southeastern Europe, Central European University Press, Budapest, 2004
  • Nagy-Talavera, Nicholas M.The Green Shirts and the Others: A History of Fascism in Hungary and Rumania by (Hoover Institution Press, 1970).
  • Payne, Stanley G.Fascism: Comparison and Definition, pg. 115-118 (University of Wisconsin Press, 1980, ISBN 0-299-08060-9).
  • Ronnett, Alexander E. The Legionary Movement Loyola University Press, 1974; second edition published as Romanian Nationalism: The Legionary Movement by Romanian-American National Congress, 1995, ISBN 0-8294-0232-2).
  • Sima, Horia The History of the Legionary Movement, (Legionary Press, 1995, ISBN 1-899627-01-4).
  • Thompson, Keith M. Codreanu and the Iron Guard (2010)
  • Volovici, Leon. Nationalist Ideology and Antisemitism: The Case of Romanian Intellectuals in the 1930s, by, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1991.
  • Weber, Eugen. "Romania" in The European Right: A Historical Profile edited by Hans Rogger and Eugen Weber (University of California Press, 1965)
  • George L. Mosse (SAGE Publications, 1979, ISBN 0-8039-9842-2 and ISBN 0-8039-9843-0 [Pbk]).

Primary sources

In German

  • Heinen, Armin. Die Legion "Erzengel Michael" in Rumänien, (Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1986, ISBN 978-3-486-53101-5) - one of the major historical contribution to the study of the Romanian Iron Guard.
  • Totok, William. „Rechtsradikalismus und Revisionismus in Rumänien“ (I-VII), in: Halbjahresschrift für südosteuropäische Geschichte Literatur und Politik, 13-16(2001-2004).

External links

  • Influential Sicilian Traditionalist rightist Julius Evola's analysis of the Iron Guard: The Tragedy of the Romanian Iron Guard: Codreanu
  • Website about the Iron Guard, produced as a class project at Claremont College. Essays on that site provide a detailed picture of the growth of the Iron Guard and the legionary movement, the cultural aspects of the movement, and the involvement of the Iron Guard in the Holocaust, as well as a year-by-year chronology of the Iron Guard, its antecedent groups and rival fascist and proto-fascist movements, beginning in 1910.
  • Facing the Past. Information on the Holocaust in Romania, including the role of the Iron Guard, from a report commissioned and accepted by the Romanian government.
  • An untold footnote to World War II. An aborted 1945 mission of the Aromanian Iron Guardists in Greece.
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