|King Carol II & Crown Prince Michael|
One element that soon became central to such celebrations was the youth organization established by the King known as Straja Tarii or ‘Sentinel of the Motherland’. With their uniforms, beret headgear and Roman salutes many in the democracies of Western Europe thought noted their similarity to the Opera Nazionale Balilla of Italy or the Hitler Youth of Germany. In Romania, however, the creation of the organization was mostly seen as a reaction by King Carol II to the growth of the Iron Guard and its youth movement. This organization, first known as the Legion of the Archangel Michael, is typically labeled as “fascist” because members wore uniforms, used the Roman salute and were not communists. However, they were different in a number of ways from the actual Fascist Party, in good ways and bad ways but probably most noticeably in being almost as much a spiritual movement as a political one. One of the original requirements was that members had to be willing to die for Christ. They were also generally monarchist, though with the King wielding political power that meant that any political movement could be seen as a potential rival, if not to monarchy in principle then at least to the King.
|The royal regime|
With the start of World War II in Europe, with its string of early German victories, Hitler became more demanding toward the Kingdom of Romania. He wanted a Nazi-friendly government firmly in power so as not to jeopardize his access to the Romanian oil fields. Considering that, having been on the winning side in World War I, much territory had been ceded to create the “Greater Romania” that then existed, the country had plenty of enemies with Hungary and Bulgaria both longing for territory within Romania’s borders. Isolated on the world stage, King Carol II had no choice but to agree to a demand from Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to hand over Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to Russia. When Antonescu protested, the King had him arrested and from then on Antonescu was seized upon as Hitler’s man in Romania. He promised Hitler secure and unfettered access to Romanian oil if the Nazi Fuhrer would back him and Hitler agreed. In a very short time, Germany pressured Romania to hand over further territory in Transylvania to Hungary and land in the south to Bulgaria. Thus, by the time Antonescu was back on the scene, the popularity of King Carol II had fallen dramatically as the Romanian people saw gains from the last war being signed away.
|King Michael and Antonescu|
The only individual Hitler had to worry about was the young King Michael who was as firmly in favor of the Allies as Antonescu and his government were of the Axis. And, it seems, Hitler was worried about the King but Antonescu was not. The Marshal of Romania was convinced that he was in control, the King was just a young man (he still thought of him as a boy) who was not at all interested in politics. And, true enough, at the outset of his (second) reign there was little the King could do, Romania being firmly in the Nazi grip. However, he would bide his time and slowly build up a network of reliable royalists who were loyal to him. He secretly kept himself informed by way of the BBC and various informants and was much more aware of what was going on both inside and beyond the Romanian borders than the dictator thought. Divisions in the country still existed, between the government and the Iron Guard as well as within the government itself between those loyal to Antonescu and those who opposed him. These spread to Germany as well with some of the Nazi leaders backing the Iron Guard and others, along with the army, backing Antonescu. In the end, there was an Iron Guard rebellion but Antonescu emerged victorious and had the organization wiped out, after which he firmly held control of the country. Hitler trusted him as he did no other.
It took time to get everything in place, to be sure that he had loyal people available at the right time to support him. The advancing Russians also had to be considered and whether the Allies would support the King as he tried to switch camps. Finally, in 1944, it was time for King Michael to act and launch his own royalist coup against Antonescu. The Allies, however, remained a cause for concern as the King had secretly sent out messages to them asking if they would grant Romania an armistice only to receive no reply. This was, in all likelihood, because Winston Churchill (whom he had contacted) had already agreed that Romania would be placed in the Soviet sphere of influence in exchange for Greece being reserved for the British sphere. Nonetheless, the King boldly went ahead, requesting Antonescu to meet with him on the afternoon of August 23. The Marshal arrived alongside a general who was party to the conspiracy and a group of royalist army officers waited secretly in the next room as Antonescu was brought before the King.
|King Michael speaks|
Loyalist troops began rounding up the Germans in the country over the next few weeks as Romania put itself in the Allied camp but the Soviet troops who crossed into the country did not come as liberators but killed and pillaged as they went, taking prisoner all Romanian troops they encountered who had been ordered not to resist since the Soviets were then supposed to be their allies. The Soviets also began picking out communist traitors who would be subservient to them to form a new socialist regime when the country was completely taken over as it was in due course. In the meantime, King Michael ruled by royal decree until a new parliament could be elected and in September of 1944, in Moscow, he formally signed the armistice with the Allied nations and pledged Romania to the Allied cause. However, the Soviets demanded crippling reparations and the return of Bessarabia and Bukovina as well as ordering the King to choose a new prime minister. King Michael did so but, in an act of defiance, chose a prominently anti-communist one. Red Army troops terrorized, intimidated and stirred up trouble which they then offered to put down so long as the King appointed the leader that Stalin preferred. He had no choice but to comply.
|King Michael, his situation showing on his face|
World War II was a conflict that the Kingdom of Romania did not want to fight. King Carol II declared neutrality when it started and the country only joined in when all power was in the hands of Antonescu. King Michael took the country out of the Axis and out of the war but was undercut by the post-war settlement that gave Eastern Europe to Stalin. Yet, his action, which so shocked everyone, proved the value of monarchy. It was only because of the existence of the Romanian monarchy and the person of King Michael and the loyalty that he, an inexperienced but intelligent young man, commanded as monarch that he was able to bring down a dictator who had seemed totally unassailable. That was the power, not of an individual young man, but the power of monarchy. Happily, the era of Soviet domination did finally come to an end and King Michael was returned to his country. It is only unfortunate that his country has not been returned to him.