Iron Guard

Iron Guard
Iron Guard
Garda de fier
Leader Corneliu Zelea Codreanu
(July 24, 1927 - November 30, 1938)
(executed in Tâncăbeşti, Bucharest while in custody in Jilava prison by the Jandarmeria Română)
Horia Sima
(November 30, 1938 - January 24, 1941)
Founded July 24, 1927 - Banned after Legion-inspired military coup against Conducător Ion Antonescu on January 24, 1941
Headquarters Formerly Bucharest, Kingdom of Romania
Ideology Legionarism
Political position Far right
International affiliation N/A
Official colors Green

The Iron Guard (Romanian: Garda de fier pronounced [ˈɡarda de ˈfjer]) 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. The Iron Guard was ultra-nationalist, anti-communist and promoted the Orthodox Christian faith. It is also considered an antisemitic organization, an ideology even going so far as to demand the introduction of “state anti-semitism”.[1]

Originally founded by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu on July 24, 1927, as the Legion of the Archangel Michael ("Legiunea Arhanghelului Mihail"), and led by him until his death in 1938, adherents to the movement continued to be widely referred to as "legionnaires" (sometimes "legionaries"; Romanian: legionarii) and led to the organization of the "Legion" or the "Legionary Movement" ("Mişcarea Legionară"), despite various changes of the (intermittently banned) organization's name. In March 1930 Codreanu formed the "Iron Guard" ("Garda de Fier") as a 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".[2]




Stamp bearing the symbol of the "Iron Guard" over a green 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."[3] The Legion contrasted with most other European fascist movements of the period in its overt religiosity (in the form of an embrace of the Romanian Orthodox religion). According to Ioanid, the Legion "willingly inserted strong elements of Orthodox Christianity into its political doctrine 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 mystic who aimed at a spiritual resurrection for the nation.[3] 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 fanatical and violent actions that would condemn him to damnation, which was considered the ultimate sacrifice for the nation.[3] Like many other fascist movements, the Legion called for a revolutionary "new man". 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.[3] The movement considered its main enemies to be present political leaders and the Jews.


Its members wore green uniforms (meant as a symbol of renewal, and the origin of the occasional reference to them as the "Greenshirts" - "Cămăşile 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, violence, and self-sacrifice. They had an action squad that was called Echipa morţii, 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-Borşa (who was a Christian Orthdox priest), Sterie Ciumetti, Petre Ţocu, Tache Savin, Traian Clime, Iosif Bozântan, Nicolae Constantinescu[4] 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. These groups observed rituals that included both the drinking of and writing oaths in blood.[3]


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. [5]

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 fascist penchant for violence, up to and including political assassinations.

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 its anti-Communist, anti-Semitic, anti-liberal, and anti-parliamentary philosophy, the League presented itself as an alternative to corrupt, clientelist parties including the NCDL. 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.

Like other clerical fascist movements of the time, the Iron Guard was vividly 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.[6]

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.

A bloody 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 (not, as some claimwho?, simply due to the influence of his mistress Elena "Magda" Lupescu, a Roman Catholic whose father had been Jewish) 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 was brief. 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.

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.[7]

Sima's brief ascendancy

In the first months of World War II, Romania was officially neutral. However after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 23, 1939, stipulated, among other things, Soviet "interest" in Bessarabia. When Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland, Romania granted refuge to members of Poland's fleeing government, 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.

On September 4, 1940, the Legion formed a tense alliance with General (later Marshal) Ion Antonescu. Using popular outrage at Romania being forced to give up 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. More than 60 former dignitaries or officials were executed in Jilava prison while awaiting trial; historian and former prime minister Nicolae Iorga and economist Virgil Madgearu, also a former government minister, were assassinated without even the pretense of an arrest.

The Iron Guard have become infamous for their participation in the Holocaust. In The Destruction of the European Jews, Raul Hilberg writes, "There were... instances when the Germans actually had to step in to restrain and slow down the pace of the Romanian measures." The annihilation of the Jews of eastern Romania (including Bessarabia, Bukovina, Transnistria, and the city of Iaşi) had more the character of a pogrom than of the well-organized transports and camps of the Germans.

The Legion overplayed their hand, however. On January 24, 1941, Antonescu successfully suppressed a Legion-inspired military coup, resulting in the Legion being forced out of a governing role and losing its government protection. During the three-day civil war, eventually won by Antonescu with support from the German army, members of the Iron Guard instigated a deadly pogrom in Bucharest, the capital city. 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.[8][9] Horia Sima and many other legionnaires took refuge in Germany; others 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 themself 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 a symbol of 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.

Other uses of the term

There was a Peronist faction in early 1970s Argentina known as the Guardia de Hierro (Spanish for “Iron Guard”) which had no connection to Romanian nationalism.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ "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.
  3. ^ a b c d e Payne, Stanley G. (1995). A History of Fascism 1914-1945 Madison: University of Wisconsin Press (pages 277-289) ISBN 0-299-14874-2
  4. ^,%20Intrebari_si_Raspunsuri/Echipa%20mortii.htm
  5. ^ Ioanid, "The Sacralised Politics of the Romanian Iron Guard".
  6. ^ Volovici, Nationalist Ideology, p. 98, citing N. Cainic, Ortodoxie şi etnocraţie, pp. 162-4)
  7. ^ Iordachi, p.39
  8. ^ Holocaust Encyclopedia.
  9. ^ "New Order," Time magazine, Feb 10, 1941.


  • The Green Shirts and the Others: A History of Fascism in Hungary and Rumania by Nicholas M. Nagy-Talavera (Hoover Institution Press, 1970).
  • "Romania" by Eugen Weber, in The European Right: A Historical Profile edited by Hans Rogger and Eugen Weber (University of California Press, 1965)
  • "The Men of the Archangel" by Eugen Weber, in International Fascism: New Thoughts and Approaches edited by George L. Mosse (SAGE Publications, 1979, ISBN 0-8039-9842-2 and ISBN 0-8039-9843-0 [Pbk]).
  • Fascism: Comparison and Definition by Stanley G. Payne, pg. 115-118 (University of Wisconsin Press, 1980, ISBN 0-299-08060-9).
  • Constantin Iordachi, "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
  • Fascism (Oxford Readers) edited by Roger Griffin, Part III, A., xi. "Romania", pg 219-222 (Oxford University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-19-289249-5).
  • The Legionary Movement by Alexander E. Ronnett (Loyola University Press, 1974; second edition published as Romanian Nationalism: The Legionary Movement by Romanian-American National Congress, 1995, ISBN 0-8294-0232-2).
  • The History of the Legionary Movement by Horia Sima, (Legionary Press, 1995, ISBN 1-899627-01-4).
  • The Suicide of Europe: Memoirs of Prince Michael Sturdza by Prince Michel Sturdza (American Opinion Books, 1968, ISBN 0-88279-214-8).
  • Dreamer of the Day: Francis Parker Yockey and the Postwar Fascist International by Kevin Coogan (Autonomedia, 1999, ISBN 1-57027-039-2).
  • The Sword of the Archangel, by Radu Ioanid (Columbia University Press, 1990, ISBN 0-88033-189-5).
  • Nationalist Ideology and Antisemitism: The Case of Romanian Intellectuals in the 1930s, by Leon Volovici, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1991.
  • "The Sacralised Politics of the Romanian Iron Guard," by Radu Ioanid, Totalitarian Movements & Political Religions, Volume 5, Number 3 (Winter 2004), pp. 419–453.
  • Die Legion Erzengel Michael in Rumanien, by Armin Heinen (Munchen: Oldenbourg, 1986, ISBN 9783486531015) - one of the major historical contribution to the study of the Romanian Iron Guard.
  • Faces of Fascism, by Mihai Chioveanu (University of Bucharest, 2005, Chapter 5: The Case of Romanian Fascism, ISBN 973-737-110-0).

External links

  • An excellent web site 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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