Ion Antonescu: The Paradoxes of his Regime. Romania, 1940-1944
Professor Dennis Deletant (School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College, London, and the University of Amsterdam)
Ion Antonescu was a complex and inconsistent figure. Under his leadership Romania joined the Tripartite Pact on 23 November 1940 as a sovereign state, participated in the attack on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 as an equal partner of Germany, and was never occupied by the Wehrmacht. Antonescu enjoyed Hitler’s personal respect. He headed the third-largest Axis army in the European war: 585,000 Romanian troops participated in the attack on the Soviet Union in June-October 1941. Under his rule Romania sustained the German war effort with oil and other raw materials. All of this places Romania on a par with Italy as a principal ally of Germany and not in the category of minor Axis satellite
Yet Antonescu inherited the Axis alignment, which is not to say that he saw an alternative to it, and he bore no responsibility for the internal political chaos he was called upon to manage in September 1940. This is one major paradox of his regime. There were others. He was a war criminal, sending tens of thousands of Jews to their death in Transnistria, and yet he refused to send other Romanian Jews to the death camps in Poland. He was an anti-Semite and yet, despite the deportations to Transnistria, more Jews survived under his rule than in any other country within Axis Europe. While up to 300,000 Jews were victims of Antonescu’s policies, some 375,000 Jews are estimated to have survived, principally in Wallachia, Moldavia and southern Transylvania He led for five months a Fascist-style government, yet in January 1941 he removed that government in three days of street fighting and replaced it with a military dictatorship. These inconsistencies were known but could not be fully explored until the downfall of Communism in Romania opened archives. This presentation is based on such an exploration.
Dennis Deletant is Professor of Romanian Studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College, London, and at the University of Amsterdam (on secondment). As a graduate of SSEES he studied on a British Council postgraduate scholarship for nine months in 1969, and thereafter visited the country frequently until 1988 when he was declared persona non grata as a result of his adverse comments on the Ceauşescu regime in the British publishing and broadcasting media. At the end of December 1989, he returned to Bucharest as consultant to the BBC during the Romanian revolution. Between 1990 and 1999, he served on the advisory board of the British government's Know-How Fund, set up to fund a transfer of expertise to Central and Eastern Europe in political, social, economic and charitable domains, and was actively involved in the Romanian aspects of its work; for this service he was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1995.
He is the author of several monographs and volumes of studies on the recent history of Romania, among them Ceauşescu and the Securitate: Coercion and Dissent in Romania, 1965-89 (London; New York, 1996), Romania under Communist Rule (Bucharest, 1998), and Communist Terror in Romania: Gheorghiu-Dej and the Police State, 1948-1965, (London; New York, 1999). His most recent monograph is Ion Antonescu. Hitler’s Forgotten Ally (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). He has also co-edited with Ottmar Traşca a volume German Documents on the Holocaust in Romania (Bucharest: ‘Elie Wiesel’ Holocaust Institute, 2007, 830 pp.)