I think just about everyone knows the general outline of the events (in Europe) of World War 2. A strident Adolf Hitler leads Nazi Germany to expand into Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia and then invades Poland in 1939. This triggers Britain and France to enter the war. The Nazis and their allies in Italy sweep over the entirety of the European continent before attacking the Soviet Union. The Americans ally themselves with the Soviets, British and French to join the fight against the Germans and their allies and by 1945 the whole thing is over.
But something curious happened at the end of the war. Instead of just demanding reparations (which used to be called “tribute” when victors such as the Ancient Romans or Tiglath-Pileser III defeated another army), the “winners” of World War 2 did something unique in history – they set up a court to prosecute the losers for violating the “laws” of warfare.
Many surviving Nazi leaders were taken to their (former) cultural headquarters in Germany for the trial and so the court cases became known as the Nuremberg Trials. It was while I was reading through transcripts of these documents that I realized that something significant was missing, only addressed twice in passing, and yet should have been an integral part of the case.
A lesser evil
What’s strange about the Nuremberg Trials is that they exclusively deal with German leaders. Not a single Italian fascist leader or any of the other European fascist groups that actively collaborated with the Nazis was ever put on trial by the “victors” of World War 2. The Allies let each country decide what to do with their fascist organizations and military high command during the war even though there was clear and compelling evidence that they had equaled the Nazis in committing genocidal atrocities.
Nonetheless, as the American/French/British (and allies) military swept towards Germany from the west and the Soviet army from the east, vast numbers of Nazi allies were arrested and interred in prisoner camps. These were eventually traded back to their home countries, many of which (including Romania) had a Communist government now in place and so faced prosecution and/or execution at the hands of their fellow countrymen.
What’s really strange however is that while many members of the pro-Nazi “Iron Guard” of Romania had been captured by the Allies in their push towards Germany, not a single one was ever repatriated to Romania. In fact, they were released almost immediately after being rounded up by the Allies, and were never considered for prosecution or even condemnation.
Free to travel where they wished in western Europe after the end of the war, the Iron Guard began a strange odyssey that leads to a tale that I don’t think has ever been told in English before.
The Archangel Michael
In the run-up to the war, Romania was divided into several warring factions. King Carol II represented a constitutional (democratic) monarchy until 1940, when he changed the constitution to give himself dictatorial powers. Meanwhile the recent (1917-1920) revolution in nearby Russia had inspired a Communist movement in Romania (members of which included both the young Ion Iliescu and Nicolae Ceausescu, who would one day each become the dictator of Romania).
The third faction was inspired by Benito Mussolini and is now called fascism, an encapsulation of industry and state under a single command to strengthen the authoritarian unity of the government. After launching a coup d’etat against the king, “Marshal” Ion Antonescu led the fascist government of Romania during the war until he was deposed and (later) executed.
Concomitant in these turbulent times was the uniquely Romanian Iron Guard. Combining standard fascist beliefs with a hyper virulent form of Orthodox Christianity that venerated the extra-biblical stories told by the church about the Archangel Michael, the Iron Guard believed that they were ordained by God to cleanse Romania of “Jews, Communists and Freemasons”. A portion of the atrocities that the Iron Guard committed (particularly against Jews) in Romania is told in my post Fury Unleashed.
Originally founded by “Captain” Corneliu Codreanu in 1927, they competed with the monarchists (both pro-democracy and pro-Carol II as dictator factions) and Communists in a struggle for power. Eventually they aligned themselves with Ion Antonescu but the “marriage” was short-lived as Antonescu recognized that a parallel military organization with a charismatic leader was a threat to his own plans. Antonescu had Codreanu arrested and thrown in jail, where he died under mysterious circumstances, the official story being that he had been shot while trying to escape.
The Iron Guard and Antonescu were then officially at war. A young man who had joined the Iron Guard at its inception in 1927, Horea Sima, then took over the leadership of the Guard. Antonescu had Sima and several other Iron Guard leaders arrested and then deported to Germany, where they were sent to the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp.
By 1941, the fascist leader “Marshal” Antonescu and his Nazi German allies seemed to be winning the war and it looked liked the Iron Guard was done for.
Members of the Iron Guard (although not Horea Sima himself) spoke fluent German and maintained regular correspondence with the Nazi high command. Eventually the tide turned in the Guard’s favor as Hitler became increasingly dissatisfied with Antonescu, particularly for his refusal to properly deal with the king (the son of Carol II, still alive today) and the pro-monarchist elements in Romania.
Hitler then decided it would be strategic to support the Iron Guard and so let them set up a government-in-exile in Vienna. Horea Sima became the exiled Prime Minister and had a full cabinet of fellow Iron Guard members with him, including a Minister of War (now styled “defense” in modern times) and most importantly, a Minister of Propaganda. Since I’ve never seen this information listed before in English, I’ll include it here:
Prime Minister – Horea Sima
Foreign Minister – Mihail Sturdua
Interior and Labor Minister – Vasile Iasinschi
War Minister – General Platon Chirnoaga
Finance Minister – Corneliu Georgescu
Agriculture Minister – Vladimir Cristi
Press and Propaganda Minister – Grigore Manoilescu
It’s easy to dismiss an Iron Guard “government-in-exile” as a comical farce but they (and their Nazi backers) took the idea very seriously. They built a powerful radio transmitter, calling their station “Radio Donau” and began to broadcast pro-Guard and pro-Nazi messages into Romania.
The Iron Guard “government-in-exile” also used their connections with the Nazi government to have many Romanian prisoners released from German work/concentration camps. They also worked to organized displaced Romanians throughout Europe, preparing for an Axis victory and the establishment of an Iron Guard government in Bucharest.
The German military also flew a few dozen Iron Guard members to parachute onto Romanian soil where they could work “behind the lines” with sympathizers and continue the fight against Communists, Jews, pro-monarchists and of course the Antonescu government.
The Iron Guard escapes the Nuremberg Trials
Eventually the pro-Communist forces united to overthrow Antonescu and install young King Michael on the throne, who officially “welcomed” the Soviet Army into the country. The king then ignominiously fled the country and the Communists, as told in the Lonesome Death of Cicerone Ionitoiu, rigged the 1946 elections and imprisoned, tortured or executed their opponents, including any remaining Iron Guard members that they could find.
Meanwhile, the Allied forces rolled into Austria. The Iron Guard “government-in-exile” (along with a similar Bulgarian “government”) fled Vienna and made their way to the Austrian city of Alt Ausee. Realizing that the Soviets were closing in from the east and the Americans from the west, Horea Sima and his fellow “ministers” had to decide what to do.
Some stayed behind, deciding to voluntarily capitulate themselves to the Americans in the hopes that they would receive better treatment from the Americans than they would from the Soviets. The captured Iron Guard members were taken to a prisoner of war camp in Austria until the Allies could decide what to do with them.
And this is where we get to the unique testimony of Mihai Fotin Enescu, one of the captured Iron Guard members. From a pro-Guard website online, we get this strange assertion, comments in [brackets] are my addition:
Skipping some details, on September 25, 1945, part of the members of the Diplomatic Corps of Eastern European [pro-Nazi “governments in exile”] countries were imprisoned in the American concentration camp for “war criminals” Marcus W. Orr (named so after the first American soldier who died upon landing in Europe), at Glasenbach-Salzburg. The members of the Mission of the Romanian National Government [Iron Guard] were set free.
On the very day of May 6, when the preparations for the capitulation of Germany were announced for the first time, in a radio broadcast, I began to write a presentation of the Iron Guard’s stand, which included, as it was seen, the Jewish problem.
When they [the Americans] arrested me they took away from me all my papers, including the memorandum about the Iron Guard. That memorandum was sent to the American authorities of Austria, which were then stationed at Salzburg (waiting to be transferred to Vienna), and hence it was sent on to the Instructing Commission of the International Tribunal of Nuremberg that was to decide the fate of those tried as possible “war criminals.” I learned later that my memorandum had made some impression.
Almost four months later, in mid-February 1946, an American officer came to Glasenbach from Nuremberg bringing 400 forms belonging to the Instructing Commission of the International Tribunal of Nuremberg.
Among those 400 forms, there were some for us those who belonged to the Mission of the National Government, for Iasinschi, General Chirnoagã, and Commander Bãilã. The purpose of those Nuremberg forms was to establish the identity of those who could not be accused of any wrong-doing and who did not belong to any organization that was considered collectively guilty of “war crimes”, of “crimes against humanity”, or of “collaborationism”, either.
On April 15 1947 we were set free, those who belonged to the Consular Diplomatic Mission, and Commander Bãilã; and a month later, in May, the other two were set free, namely Vasile Iasinschi and General Chirnoagã.
At the same time when we were exonerated of any guilt, the Instructing Commission of the International Tribunal of Nuremberg also exculpated the organizations we represented: the Legionary Movement, the National Romanian Government, and the Romanian army. Those entities are not guilty of either “war crimes,” or “genocide”; and they are not “fascist”, or “nazi”, or “collaborationist” either.
So there you have it. Several members of the Iron Guard “government-in-exile” were detained in Austria by the Americans and were potentially considered for prosecution for war crimes and then all were let go. Indeed, in the transcripts of the Nuremberg Trials there are only two mentions of the Iron Guard and both of those are incidental references.
Many Romanians, including political organizations alive and well today in this country (such as Noua Dreapta) took Enescu’s assertions to create a false logic, believing that since no Romanians had ever been prosecuted for war crimes or genocidal acts against the Jews, they must not have happened. Indeed, current cabinet member and long-time friend of Prime Minister Victor Ponta, Dan Sova, had to apologize in 2012 for denying that Romanians had played any part in massacring Jews during the war.
So how exactly did a virulently anti-Semitic group that had clear ties to the Nazi government, operating with their open support, escape any condemnation or punishment from the Allies, particularly the Americans?
The amazing luck of Horea Sima
Not all members of the Iron Guard capitulated to the Americans at the end of the war. Horia Sima, along with two of his closest companions, Traian Borobaru and Petre Ponta, had been given three forged passports from the Nazi government. The passports had German names (Horia Sima’s was “Josef Weber”) and were designed to make it look like Horea Sima and his companions were ordinary German (Saxon) citizens of Romania who had been sent to Austria by the Nazis to work.
The fake passports worked as the American military let Sima and his two companions go after a short detainment. With Sima and Borobaru keeping their mouths shut (lest they reveal that they only spoke rudimentary German), they let Petra Ponta (who was fluent in German) lead them to a storehouse where they had cached a large number of cigarettes.
In the chaos at the end of the war, money was of little value and Sima recounts in his biography how the cigarettes were “better than gold”, allowing them to eventually make their way to the city of Freising in southern Germany. They were poring over maps and trying to figure out a way to cross the Rhine River into France when a serendipitous event occurred that Sima later called “proof that God supported our glorious destiny”.
Sima and his fugitive Iron Guard members met several other Romanians in Freisburg, including fellow Iron Guard members, because the Allies had established a refugee center in the city. Among the refugees they met a Romanian young man named Vasile Velescu who had been an engineer before the war but had spent several years in concentration camps and had lost several members of his family.
Somewhere along the way, Velescu had met a Romanian woman who had also been imprisoned in German work camps and he poured his heart out to her, telling her about all the suffering and privation he had endured. Although Velescu had never been a member of the Iron Guard, he was sympathetic to their cause. After meeting them in Freisburg, he informed them that his lady friend knew some important people who might be able to help them.
That meeting was soon arranged and a short while later, the Allies formally dropped all consideration of prosecution (or even condemnation) of the Iron Guard.
The shadowy powers that be
From 1937-1939, a rising star of the State Department, Robert Daniel Murphy, was the American ambassador to France. Speaking fluent French, he enjoyed an extremely good relationship with the French government and made many contacts with influential general, politicians and businessmen in that country.
After the Nazi German military invaded France in 1940, they created a puppet government known as the Vichy government. While officially the Allies only recognized the government-in-exile of Charles de Gaulle (who spent most of the war in London), the American State Department also maintained diplomatic relations with Vichy France. Although he was just called the “charge d’affairs” instead of ambassador, it was Robert Murphy who was still in charge of relations between the United States and the (pro-Nazi) government of France.
Once the Americans officially entered the war, their first plan was to invade North Africa and drive out German (and Italian) forces from that continent before an invasion of Europe could be contemplated. Most of North Africa, including the original landing ports used in Operation Torch (the Allied invasion), were colonies under the jurisdiction of the Vichy French government.
Therefore it became absolutely crucial to gain the cooperation of the Vichy French government. American President Roosevelt promoted Robert Murphy to “Minister to French North Africa” and he successfully used his contacts in the French military to gain their permission and aid for the Allied invasion.
Robert Murphy then became attached to General Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the (western) Allied forces as they invaded Europe (with critical support from Charles de Gaulle’s French forces). And thus Robert Murphy was with Eisenhower’s command staff in Frankfurt at the same time that Horea Sima’s fugitive Iron Guard members were in Freisburg.
Back when Robert Murphy had been the American Ambassador to France, he had employed a Romanian secretary whose last name was Sangiuleanu. During the war, she had been arrested by the Gestapo on suspicion of being a spy and was kept in a series of concentration camps, including the one at Ravensbruck.
After Ravensbruck had been liberated by Allied troops, she had made her way to Freisburg, where she had listened to the woeful tales told her to by Vasile Velescu. She became sympathetic to him and offered to introduce Velescu to her old boss, Robert Murphy.
I’ve never seen Horea Sima’s biography translated into English so what follows, including any mistakes, is my work:
Mrs. Sangiuleanu told Velescu that she was willing to bring the Iron Guard’s problems to Murphy’s attention and set up a meeting. Velescu quickly wrote down a summary in French in which he described how the Iron Guard had equally suffered at the hands of both Antonescu and the Nazis. Mrs. Sangiuleanu, who had known Robert Murphy for a long time, was easily able to set up a meeting with him in Frankfurt.
During the meeting, Robert Murphy first read the summary and then, in a friendly manner, asked Velescu a number of questions. Velescu was able to answer all of his questions thoroughly, explaining all of the tragedies that had befallen the Iron Guard.
As the meeting concluded, Robert Murphy told Velescu that he [Murphy] was convinced of the rightness of our cause and that he would be able to convince Eisenhower to make an exception for the Iron Guard, removing them from the list of [pro-Nazi] “collaborationist” groups. He advised Velescu to tell the Iron Guard members currently being held by American forces in Germany to hold tight and not to cause any provocations.
General Eisenhower followed Robert Murphy’s recommendations and removed the Iron Guard from the list of [Nazi] collaborators. Eisenhower’s order was immediately transmitted to all American forces in Bavaria. As a result of this, the Iron Guard members were not only not supervised anymore but were given full aid and assistance by the [Allied] refugee organizations.
While I can find no independent history of what happened, it is indisputably true that the Iron Guard never suffered any penalty or punishment by the Allies for their actions before and during the war.
Given clean papers and a new identity by the refugee aid organizations, Sima first went to Italy and eventually to France.
After the OSS disbanded and the CIA was created (as I discussed in my post Me and the CIA), and the Soviets (and their Communist allies) became the new enemy, western intelligence agencies realized that Sima and his Iron Guard might be useful.
From the book MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Stephen Dorril (page 179):
He [Sima] was surprised to discover that his colleagues had not perished but had ‘regrouped and organised committees to help the refugees in all the occupied zones’.
This required protection and finances, which was secured from British, French and American intelligence agencies, desperate to discover what was happening in the newly occupied territories in central and eastern Europe.
Taking on yet another identity, Sima made his way to France…
As other Guardists left the DP [refugee] camps, they were helped to emigrate to Canada and the United States under the aegis of the Romanian Orthodox Church and the sponsorship of British Intelligence.
In March 1947 there was a bungled coup attempted organized by ‘a still-active splinter’ of the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS).
While Dorril doesn’t go into details about how that bungled coup happened, other sources describe how Iron Guard members were trained in France and were parachuted into the country by western intelligence agencies in order to overthrow the pro-Soviet Communist government of Romania.
Several other infiltrations occurred until the death of Stalin (which changed the nature of the Cold War), with Iron Guard members given radios and trained in Morse code in order to be able to communicate with their “handlers” in western intelligence. Unfortunately for them, as with almost all CIA plots, they were easily discovered and the last executions of captured Iron Guard members occurred in Jilava prison in 1953.
Horea Sima eventually settled in Madrid, Spain where he enjoyed the protection of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco. Sima enjoyed a good life and was still alive and well in 1989 when the Romanian revolution occurred and Ceausescu was overthrown. Although a small but active group of the Iron Guard (and their sympathizers) hoped Sima would return to Romania, by then he was too old and frail and technically was still at risk of being arrested for his 1946 conviction in absentia by the Communist regime.
In 1993 Horea Sima died peacefully in his bed and was buried near Barcelona, Spain.
As for Robert Murphy, after the war his career continued to prosper and he became an adviser to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. When the first Bilderberg Group meeting was held in 1954, Robert Murphy was on the steering committee, meaning he helped pick and choose who would attend and the topics that they would discuss.
In 1964, he published Diplomat Among Warriors, a memoir of his (open) activities during his long career as a diplomat. I have that book on my shelf and while he goes into great detail about his and Eisenhower’s activities in Frankfurt at the end of World War 2 there is not a single mention of meeting any Romanians, either Velescu or his [Murphy’s] former secretary.
There is, however, a grainy photo on page 220 of Murphy during his time in Frankfurt:
Murphy, whose first posting abroad (1917-1919) had been in the American embassy in Switzerland, recalls in his memoir when he first met Allen Dulles (the brother of John Foster Dulles):
Our legation in Switzerland did have some very capable men during the two years I was stationed there. The ranking career diplomat, Hugh Wilson, possessed private means and could not be intimidated by anyone.
The brilliant Third Secretary was Allen Dulles, who became Director of our gigantic Central Intelligence Agency from 1953 to 1961.
I’m not sure anyone else would describe the retarded and hyper-paranoid Allen Dulles as “brilliant” but he certainly seemed to have made a good impression on Robert Murphy, who remained good friends with him for years, as well as Walter Bedell Smith, a man who had been Eisenhower’s chief of staff during the war and later became the director of the CIA after Dulles was fired (following the Bay of Pigs fiasco).
After a lifetime of working behind the scenes to help the United States gain hegemonic control over the planet, Robert Murphy died peacefully in his bed in 1978.
AND NOW YOU KNOW!
8 thoughts on “The Secret History of the CIA in Romania”
Fascinating.Um, you are aware that the Americans were fairly tangential to the the war, aren’t you? I know they came in near the end and funded part of it, but…
Este foarte interesant ce spui ca dupa razboi au fost parasutati fosti membrii ai Garzii de Fier in Romania de catre Aliati pentru a incerca sa ii rastoarne pe comunisti. Din cate stiam eu, Aliatii nu au ridicat un deget dupa ce Romania a intrat in sfera ruseasca, pentru a-I rasturna pe comunisti. Oricum, daca vroiau cu adevarat lucrul asta, cred ca ar fi putut sa il faca mult mai convingator decat au facut-o. Foarte interesant articolul, ca de obicei. Felicitari!