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In November 1940, after a brief period of nominal neutrality under King Carol II, the Kingdom of Romania joined the Axis Powers. Soon after, Romania became a member of the Axis under the government of Ion Antonescu. "When it's a question of action against the Slavs, you can always count on Romania," declared Antonescu ten days before the start of Operation BARBAROSSA. Under this new regime, Romania provided equipment and oil to Nazi Germany as well as more troops than all the other Axis powers combined during Germany's invasion of the Soviet Unionmarker . Romanian forces played a large role during the fighting in Ukraine, Bessarabia, Stalingrad, and elsewhere. The Allies bombed Romania, particularly its oil production, from 1943 onward. Romanian forces were responsible for the persecution and massacre of hundreds of thousands of Jews inside and outside of Romania , though (albeit under harsh conditions) a significant part of the Jews living within Romanian borders survived the Holocaust. After the tide of war turned against the Axis, Romania was invaded in 1944 by advancing Soviet armies.

In August 1944, a coup d'état led by King Michael I deposed the Antonescu dictatorship and put Romania on the side of the Allies for the remainder of the war. Despite this late association with the winning side, "Greater Romania" was not to survive, with territory lost to both Bulgariamarker and to the Soviet Unionmarker following the end of the war. Approximately 300,000 Romanian soldiers were lost during the conflict.


On April 13, 1938, Francemarker and the United Kingdommarker had pledged to guarantee the independence of the Kingdom of Romania. But negotiations with the Soviet Unionmarker concerning a similar guarantee collapsed when Romania refused prudently to allow the Red Army to cross its frontiers.

On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviets signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Among other things, this pact stipulated the Soviet "interest" in Bessarabiamarker (which had been ruled by Imperial Russiamarker from 1812 to 1918). This Soviet interest was combined with a clear indication that there was an explicit lack of any German interest in the area.

Eight days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Second Polish Republicmarker. Romania officially remained neutral, but granted refuge to members of Poland's fleeing government. After the assassination of Prime Minister Armand Călinescu on 21 September, King Carol tried to maintain neutrality for several months more. But the surrender of the Third French Republic and the retreat of British forces from continental Europe rendered meaningless the assurances that both countries had made to Romania.

In 1940, Romania lost territory in both the east and the west. In July, after a Soviet ultimatum, Romania agreed to give up Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. Two thirds of Bessarabia were combined with a small part of the Soviet Union to form the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The rest (Northern Bukovina and Budjak) was apportioned to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Shortly thereafter, on 30 August, under the Second Vienna Award (or Vienna Diktat/Vienna Arbitration), Germany forced Romania, with the consent of Fascist Italy, to a compromise with the Kingdom of Hungary, giving half of Transylvania to this country. The Hungarians received a region referred to as "Northern Transylvania", while "Southern Transylvania" remained Romanian. Hungary had lost all of Transylvania after World War I in the Treaty of Trianon. They had never surrendered the ambition of regaining the territory. On 7 September, under the Treaty of Craiova, the "Quadrilateral" (the southern part of Dobrudja), under pressure of Germany, was ceded to Bulgariamarker (from which it had been taken at the end of the Second Balkan War in 1913). Given the relatively recent unification of all the territories Romanians have felt as historically belonging to them on one hand, and on the other hand the fact that so much land was lost without a fight, these territorial losses shattered the underpinnings of King Carol's power.

On July 4, 1940, Ion Gigurtu formed the first Romanian government to include an Iron Guardist minister: Horia Sima. Sima was a particularly virulent anti-Semite who had become the nominal leader of the movement after Codreanu's death. Sima was one of the few prominent legionnaires to survive the carnage of the preceding years.

Antonescu comes to power

In the immediate wake of the loss of Northern Transylvania, on September 4, 1940, the Iron Guard (led by Horia Sima) and General (later Marshal) Ion Antonescu united to form a "National Legionary State" government, which forced the abdication of Carol II in favor of his 19-year-old son Mihai. Carol and his mistress Magda Lupescu went into exile, and Romania, despite the recent betrayal over territorial cessions, leaned strongly toward the Axis.

In power, the Iron Guard stiffened already harsh anti-Semitic legislation, enacted legislation directed against Armenian and Greek businessmen, tempered at times by the willingness of officials to take bribes, and wreaked vengeance upon its enemies. On October 8, 1940, Nazi troops began crossing into Romania. They soon numbered over 500,000.

On November 23, 1940, Romania joined the Axis Powers. On November 27, 1940, 64 former dignitaries or officials were executed by Iron Guard in Jilavamarker prison while awaiting trial (see Jilava Massacre). Later that day, historian and former prime minister Nicolae Iorga and economist Virgil Madgearu, a former government minister, were assassinated.

The cohabitation between the Iron Guard and Antonescu was never an easy one. On January 20, 1941, the Iron Guard attempted a coup, combined with a pogrom against the Jews of Bucharestmarker. Within four days, Antonescu had successfully suppressed the coup. The Iron Guard was forced out of the government. Sima and many other legionnaires took refuge in Germany; others were imprisoned.

The war on the Eastern Front

Romanian cavalry and infantry in Russia.
Country study: Romania, c. 1990.

On June 22, 1941, Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, attacking the Soviet Union on a wide front. Romania joined in the offensive, with Romanian troops crossing the River Prut. After recovering Bessarabia and Bukovina (Operation München), Romanian units fought side by side with the Germans onward to Odessamarker, Sevastopolmarker, and Stalingradmarker. The Romanian contribution of troops was enormous. The total number of troops involved in the Romanian Third Army and the Romanian Fourth Army was second only to Nazi Germany itself. The number of Romanian troops sent to fight in Russia exceeded that of all of Germany's other allies combined. A Country Study by the U.S. Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress attributes this to "morbid competition with Hungary to curry Hitler's favor... [in hope of]... regaining northern Transylvania."

Romania instituted a civil government in occupied Soviet lands immediately east of the Dnistermarker. After the Battle of Odessa, this included the city of Odessa. The Romanian armies advanced far into the Soviet Union during 1941 and 1942 before being involved in the disaster at the Battle of Stalingradmarker in the winter of 1942-1943.

Romania's most important general, Petre Dumitrescu, was commander of the Romanian Third Army at Stalingrad. In November 1942, the German Sixth Army was briefly put at Dumitrescu's disposal during a German attempt to relieve the Romanian Third Army following a devastating Soviet offensive.

Romanians near Stalingrad.
Romanian anti tank gun on the Eastern front (early 1944)

Prior to the Soviet counteroffensive at Stalingrad, the Antonescu government seriously considered a war with Hungary over Transylvania as an inevitability. Of course this new war would have to wait until after the expected victory over the Soviet Union.

The bombing of Romania

Throughout the Antonescu years, Romania supplied Nazi Germany and the Axis armies with oil, grain, and industrial products. Consequently, by 1943 Romania became a target of Allied aerial bombardment. One of the most notable air bombardments was the attack on the oil fields of Ploieştimarker (Ploesti) on August 1, 1943. Bucharest itself was subjected to intense bombardment on April 4 and 15, 1944.

Unfortunately for Romania, most of the products sent to Germany were provided without monetary compensation. As a result of these "uncompensated exports", inflation in Romania skyrocketed. Quoting again from that same Country Study: "Even government officials began grumbling about German exploitation."

Romania and the Holocaust

According to an international commission report released by the Romanian government in 2004, between 280,000 to 380,000 Jews in the territories of Bessarabiamarker, Bukovina and Transnistria were systematically murdered by Antonescu's regime.

Though much of the killing was done in war zone by Romanian troops, there were also substantial persecutions behind the front line. During the Iaşi pogrom of June 1941, over 12,000 Jews were massacred or killed slowly in trains traveling back and forth across the countryside.

Half of the 320,000 Jews living in Bessarabia, Bukovina, and Dorohoi district in Romania were murdered within months of the entry of the country into the war during 1941. Even after the initial killing, Jews in Moldavia, Bukovina and Bessarabia were subject to frequent pogroms, and were concentrated into ghettos from which they were sent to concentration camps, including camps built and run by Romanians. The number of deaths in this area is not certain, but even the lowest respectable estimates run to about 250,000 Jews (and 25,000 Roma) in these eastern regions, while 120,000 of Transylvania's 150,000 Jews died at the hands of the Germans later in the war.

Romanian soldiers also worked with the Einsatzkommando, German killing squads, to massacre Jews in conquered territories. Romanian troops were in large part responsible for the Odessa massacre, in which over 100,000 Jews were shot during the autumn of 1941.

Nonetheless most Jews living within the pre-Barabarossa borders survived the war, although they were subject to a wide range of harsh conditions, including forced labor, financial penalties, and discriminatory laws. Jewish property was made a part of the state for protection from loss during the war.

The report commissioned and accepted by the Romanian government in 2004 on the Holocaust concluded:
Of all the allies of Nazi Germany, Romania bears responsibility for the deaths of more Jews than any country other than Germany itself.
The murders committed in Iasi, Odessa, Bogdanovkamarker, Domanovka, and Peciora, for example, were among the most hideous murders committed against Jews anywhere during the Holocaust.
Romania committed genocide against the Jews.
The survival of Jews in some parts of the country does not alter this reality.

See also: Antonescu and the Holocaust.

War comes to Romania

German and Romanian troops in a transport, August 1944.
Prior to Antonescu's capitulation to the Axis Powers, in July 1940, a small group of Ally-sympathizing Romanian diplomats defied the Antonescu regime and sold railroad cars of the national Romanian railway system to neutral Switzerland. This prevented the German army easy passage throughout Romania.

In February 1943, with the hugely successful Soviet counteroffensive at Stalingrad, it was growing clear that the tide of the war had turned against the Axis Powers.

By 1944, the Romanian economy was in tatters because of the expenses of the war, and destructive Allied air bombardments throughout Romania and even in the capital, Bucharest. Resentment of the heavy hand of Nazi Germany was growing in Romania. This was even true among those Romanians who had once enthusiastically supported the Germans and the war.

During April–May 1944 the Romanian forces led by General Mihai Racoviţǎ, together with elements of the German Eighth Army were responsible for defending Northern Romania during the Soviet First Jassy-Chisinau Offensive, and took part in the Battles of Târgu Frumos. This first Soviet attempt to invade Romania failed and so forth the Soviets did not manage to break the Axis defensive lines in Northern Romania until the Second Jassy-Chisinau Offensive, which took place in late August 1944.

The royal coup

Romanian Allied campaign
On August 23, 1944, King Michael led a successful coup with support from opposition politicians and the army. Michael, who was initially considered to be not much more than a "figurehead", was able to successfully depose the Antonescu dictatorship. The king offered a non-confrontational retreat to German ambassador Manfred von Killinger. But the Germans considered the coup "reversible". The Germans tried to turn the situation around by military attacks. The Romanian First Army, the Romanian Second Army (forming), and what little was left of the Romanian Third Army and the Romanian Fourth Army (one corps) were under orders from the King to defend Romania against any German attacks. The king then offered to put Romania's battered armies on the side of the Allies.

This resulted in a split of the country between those that still supported Germany and its armies and those that supported the new government, the latter often forming partisan groups and gradually gaining the most support. To the Germans the situation was very precarious as Romanian units had been integrated in the Axis defensive lines: not knowing which units were still loyal to the Axis cause and which ones joined the Soviets or discontinued fighting altogether defensive lines could suddenly collapse.

In a radio broadcast to the Romanian nation and army on the night of August 23, 1944, Michael issued a cease-fire just as the Red Army was penetrating the Moldavian front, proclaimed Romania's loyalty to the Allies, announced the acceptance of an armistice (to be signed on September 12) offered by Great Britainmarker, the United Statesmarker, and the USSRmarker, and declared war on Germany. However, this did not avert a rapid Soviet occupation and capture of about 130,000 Romanian soldiers, who were transported to the Soviet Union where many perished in prison camps. The Soviets, acting as if Romania was still an enemy, allegedly robbed and raped at will. Although the country's alliance with the Nazis was ended, the coup speeded the Red Army's advance into Romania. The armistice was signed three weeks later on September 12, 1944, on terms the Soviets virtually dictated. Under the terms of the armistice, Romania recognized its defeat by the USSR and was placed under occupation of the Allied forces with the Soviets, as their representative, in control of media, communication, post, and civil administration behind the front. The coup effectively amounted to a "capitulation", an "unconditional" "surrender." It has been suggested that the coup may have shortened World War II by six months, thus saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Some attribute to the complexities of the negotiations between the USSR and UK the postponement of a formal Allied recognition of the de facto change of orientation until September 12 when the Armistice was signed in Moscow.

In October 1944 Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, proposed an agreement with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin on how to split up Eastern Europe in spheres of influence after the war. The Soviet Union was offered a 90% share of influence in Romania.

The Armistice Agreement of September 12, 1944 stipulated in Article 18 that "An Allied Control Commission will be established which will undertake until the conclusion of peace the regulation of and control over the execution of the present terms under the general direction and orders of the Allied (Soviet) High Command, acting on behalf of the Allied Powers. The Annex to Article 18 was made clear that "The Romanian Government and their organs shall fulfill all instructions of the Allied Control Commission arising out of the Armistice Agreement." The Agreement also stipulated that the Allied Control Commission would have its seat in Bucharestmarker. In line with Article 14 of the Armistice Agreement, two Romanian People's Tribunals were set up to try suspected war criminals.

The Romanian Army ended the war fighting against the Wehrmacht alongside the Soviets in Transylvania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Austriamarker and Czechoslovakiamarker, from August 1944 until the end of the war in Europe. In May 1945, the Romanian First Army and the Romanian Fourth Army took part in the Prague Offensive. The Romanians incurred heavy casualties fighting Nazi Germany. Of some 538,000 Romanian soldiers who fought against the Axis in 1944-45, some 167,000 were casualties.

Romanian statistics for western front
Country Beginning End Effectives Casualties
Mountains crossed Rivers crossed Liberated villages From which towns Damages
Romaniamarker 1944-08-23 1944-10-25 >275,000 58,330 900 8 11,000 KIA, WIA
War material
Hungarymarker 1944-10-08 1945-01-15 210,000 42,000 3 4 1,237 14 21,045 POW
9,700 KIA

War material

Czechoslovakiamarker 1944-12-18 1945-05-12 248,430 66,495 10 4 1,722 31
Austriamarker 1945--04-10 1945-05-12 2,000 100 7 1 4,000 KIA, WIA, POW
War material
TOTAL 1944-08-23 1945-05-12 538,536 169,822 20 12 3,821 53 117,798 POW
18,731 KIA
LEGEND: KIA = Killed; MIA = Disappeared; WIA = Wounded in Action; POW = Prisoners of War.


Map of Romania after World War II indicating lost territories.
Border on Danube between USSR and Romania.
Territorial losses from 1940 - 1948
Under the 1947 Treaty of Paris, the Allies did not acknowledge Romania as a co-belligerent nation. Northern Transylvania was, once again, recognised as an integral part of Romania, but the border with the USSR was fixed at its 1941 state, leaving the former Romanian-administered territories of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina outside the country. In these territories the Soviet Union restored the pre-Barbarossa situation, with the extreme north and south included in the Ukrainian SSR and the rest in the Moldavian SSR. Since 1991, these territories are part of Ukrainemarker and of the Republic of Moldovamarker, respectively.

In Romania proper, Soviet occupation following World War II facilitated the rise of the Communist Party as the main political force, leading ultimately to the abdication of the King and the establishment of a single-party people's republic in 1947.


  1. Beevor, Anthony (1998). Stalingrad, page 20.
  2. U.S. government Country study: Romania, c. 1990.
  3. Ilie Fugaru, Romania clears doubts about Holocaust past, UPI, November 11, 2004
  4. Country Studies: Romania, Chap. 23, Library of Congress
  5. Delia Radu, "Serialul 'Ion Antonescu şi asumarea istoriei' (3)", BBC Romanian edition, August 1, 2008
  6. "The Dictatorship Has Ended and along with It All Oppression" - From The Proclamation to The Nation of King Michael I on The Night of August 23 1944, Curierul Naţional, August 7, 2004
  7. "Hitler Resorts To 'Puppets' In Romania", Washington Post, August 25, 1944
  8. "King Proclaims Nation's Surrender and Wish to Help Allies", The New York Times, August 24, 1944
  9. "Bulgaria - Bulgarian resistance to the Axis alliance," Encyclopædia Britannica
  10. Constantiniu, Florin, O istorie sinceră a poporului român ("An Honest History of the Romanian People"), Ed. Univers Enciclopedic, Bucureşti, 1997, ISBN 973-9243-07-X
  11. The dividing up of Europe
  12. The Armistice Agreement with Romania
  13. Third Axis Fourth Ally, p. 214
  14. Teroarea horthysto-fascistă în nord-vestul României, Bucureşti, 1985
  15. Romulus Dima, Contribuţia României la înfrângerea Germaniei fasciste, Bucureşti, 1982


  • Some passages in this article have been taken from the (public domain) U.S. Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress Country Study on Romania, sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Army, researched shortly before the 1989 fall of Romania's Communist regime and published shortly after. [37955], accessed July 19, 2005. The few quotations of opinions from that piece are explicitly cited.

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