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General Ion Antonescu at Alba Iulia

Over the two millennia of its existence, Alba Iulia has been visited by voivodes, kings, emperors and presidents, all of them nurturing a special interest in this city. On 1 December 1940, on the anniversary of 22 years since the unification of Transylvania with Romania, General Antonescu, leader of the state, was present in Alba Iulia. The national assembly was attended by tens of thousands of participants coming from all over Transylvania and Bucharest in a spirit of great excitement.

Greater Romania, arising during 1918, including all provinces inhabited by Romanians and with a total area of 295,000 square kilometres, lasted only 22 years. In the summer of 1940, when the Romanian government ceded more than 100,000 square kilometres to the Soviet Union, Hungary and Bulgaria, the Romanian army posed no resistance: a national humiliation. After suffering these blows, on 5 September 1940, King Charles II appointed General Ion Antonescu Leader (Conducător), an official title resembling that of Adolf Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy. As the leaders of the National Liberal Party and the National Peasant Party refused to support a general who wanted to act as a dictator, the only political force willing to share in the government of the state was the Legionary Movement. On 14 September 1940, Romania was proclaimed a National-Legionary state.

The city was one of the preferred destinations of those who governed the voivodate (dukedom or principality) of Transylvania, the Habsburg Empire and Romania of the twentieth and twenty first centuries. Voivode John Hunyadi, Emperor Joseph II, and the Romanian Kings Ferdinand I, Charles II and Michael I, Communist leaders Petru Groza and Nicolae Ceaușescu, Presidents Ion Iliescu, Emil Constantinescu, Traian Băsescu and recently Klaus Iohannis, have all made visits to Alba Iulia. In his four years of leading the state, from September 1940 to August 1944, the presence of General Antonescu (Marshall since August 1941) in Alba Iulia was a necessity, the city being described by a newspaper of those days as “the fortress and heart of the Romanian people of Transylvania.” The celebrations for the anniversary of the unification of Transylvania with Romania saw grandiose feasts organized in Alba Iulia attended by General Antonescu. Special trains from all over Transylvania and Bucharest were arranged so that on the morning tens of thousands of participants wearing green shirts, typical for the Legionary Movement members, were on Platoul Romanilor (Romans’ Plateau). At 9 a.m. the officials from Bucharest arrived in Alba Iulia railway station where the mayor of the city, Aurel Bozdoc; Alba County prefect Aurel Baciu; Professor Sextil Pușcariu, Rector of the University of Cluj-Sibiu; Bishop of the Army, Partenie Ciopron; Bishop of the Romanians from America, Policarp Morușca; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mihail Sturdza; Chief of Legionary Protocol and General Director of the Press, General Ilie Șteflea and a press corps of Romanian and foreign correspondents were waiting to greet them.

Romania’s alliance with the Axis Powers, signed just one week before, explains the presence of the hundreds of Romanian, German, Italian and Japanese flags that decked the platform, while the façade of the railway station was adorned in green. Ion Antonescu was welcomed in the traditional manner with bread and salt by the mayor of the city, followed by a military salute presented by a Romanian military company and a German detachment. After visiting the seat of the army bishopric, several military units and the museum of Alba Iulia, the entire delegation went to the Coronation Cathedral where, starting at 10.30 a.m., a Te Deum was celebrated. A series of speeches followed, the most important being those given by Ion Antonescu and Horia Sima.

After the speeches, the dignitaries from Bucharest visited the Hall of Unification. Then, before a specially-built-stage, a legionary delegation from the whole country, groups of students and labourers, followed by military detachments marched off in procession. No more than three months earlier Romania had been forced to cede a considerable part of Transylvania to Hungary. For this reason the great assembly at Alba Iulia represented the expression of renewed hope for the region. Tens of thousands of participants displayed an indescribable enthusiasm. At 5.30 p.m., the delegation of dignitaries, led by Ion Antonescu went back to Bucharest by train after attending a reception in the festive room of the Army Bishopric.

In 1946, Marshall Ion Antonescu was executed by firing squad after a Stalinist trial. During the first two decades of the Communist regime he was considered a traitor of national interests and a war criminal having participated in the attack against the Soviet Union in June 1941. He was partially rehabilitated under the Nicolae Ceaușescu regime, mostly due to the desire to emphasize nationalist values. After 1989, the personality of the marshal was again in the ascendant as many saw in him a symbol of patriotism, integrity and military proficiency. Ion Antonescu was both, a patriot and a war criminal: from 1940 to 1944 he was responsible for the deaths of at least 250,000 Jews, especially in Bessarabia and North Bukovina. (S. A.)