Founded in 1927, Romania’s Legion of the Archangel Michael was one of Europe’s largest and longest-lived fascist social movements. In Holy Legionary Youth, Roland Clark draws on oral histories, memoirs, and substantial research in the archives of the Romanian secret police to provide the most comprehensive account of the Legion in English to date. Clark approaches Romanian fascism by asking what membership in the Legion meant to young Romanian men and women. Viewing fascism “from below,” as a social category that had practical consequences for those who embraced it, he shows how the personal significance of fascism emerged out of Legionaries’ interactions with each other, the state, other political parties, families and friends, and fascist groups abroad. Official repression, fascist spectacle, and the frequency and nature of legionary activities changed a person’s everyday activities and relationships in profound ways.
Clark’s sweeping history traces fascist organizing in interwar Romania to nineteenth-century grassroots nationalist movements that demanded political independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It also shows how closely the movement was associated with the Romanian Orthodox Church and how the uniforms, marches, and rituals were inspired by the muscular, martial aesthetic of fascism elsewhere in Europe. Although antisemitism was a key feature of official fascist ideology, state violence against Legionaries rather than the extensive fascist violence against Jews had a far greater impact on how Romanians viewed the movement and their role in it. Approaching fascism in interwar Romania as an everyday practice, Holy Legionary Youth offers a new perspective on European fascism, highlighting how ordinary people “performed” fascism by working together to promote a unique and totalizing social identity.
What people are saying about it:
“Roland Clark’s Holy Legionary Youth is a truly remarkable book. … Without detracting from the movement’s criminal nature, Clark’s book brings to our attention their sincere idealism and thirst for spiritual fulfillment. In this way, he helps us better understand not only this movement’s appeal in the interwar and World War II periods but also the endurance of Legionaries’ myth in Romania today.”
“In a field progressively dominated by a tendency to over-theorize what fascism is or is not, it is refreshing to read an assessment of what fascists did and how they lived in a country like Romania. The outcome is an excellent, carefully researched and well-written monograph that adds a much needed nuance to current scholarship.”
“Clark’s book is a fresh, reflexive, witty, and well-documented exploration of the Legion of the Archangel Michael, the central fascist movement in interwar Romania, in its own context, doubled by an attempt to approach Romanian ultranationalism on its own terms.”
“Holy Legionary Youth is more than just a book about the meaning of fascism for rank-and-file activists in the legionary movement; its achievement is a social history of the Iron Guard, an organization that is considered to be among “the biggest fascist movements in Europe (p. 15) in terms of the number of members per capita. Roland Clark is interested in how fascism transformed the lives of ordinary people, and it is no accident that the book begins with the funeral of a young girl from Craiova, Maria Cristescu, a teenage sympathizer of the legionary movement: her funeral mobilized hundreds of people in a ceremony with specifically legionary motifs, including political ones.”
“Highly interdisciplinary, analytically comprehensive, and informed by a prodigious array of both primary sources and secondary literature, Clark’s book is a much-awaited reading for researchers, university professors, and students alike.”
See other reviews in H/Soz/Kult, H-War, European History Quarterly, The Slavonic and East European Review, Patterns of Prejudice, Historische Zeitschrift, Europe-Asia Studies, The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, History, Revista Istorica, Observator Cultural, Revista 22, Ramuri, and Diacronie.
For more background on how the book was researched and written, you can also listen to my interview with Amanda Swain on the New Books Network.
‘European Fascist Movements, 1918-1941’ is an AHRC-funded project that consolidates recent innovations in the study of right-wing extremism. It brings together an international team of specialists on fascist movements in interwar Europe to produce a collection of key resources for the teaching and research of fascist movements.
This chapter explores how radical right activists exploited images of crisis to stir up moral panics. Right wing newspapers, pamphlets, and speeches warned that the very existence of the Romanian nation was threatened by the spread of Communism, at the same time that antisemitic students were rioting about Jews stealing cadavres for their medical classes. Activists complained that the judiciary was biased against patriotic Romanians when student leaders were put on trial for murder. The Depression sparked fascist panics about foreigners taking Romanian jobs, disadvantaged social groups, and corruption at the highest levels of government, as well as complaints that Freemasons dictated international policy through the League of Nations. Alongside the two best known fascist parties in interwar Romania – A. C. Cuza’s National Christian Defense League and Corneliu Zelea Codreanu’s Legion of the Archangel Michael (also known as the Iron Guard) – were a large number of small, short-lived movements established either through splits within fascist parties or as new ventures by established politicians. Broadsheets edited by Nae Ionescu, Nichifor Crainic, and others set the tone for the images of crisis promoted by most far right parties, bringing them together into a recognizable milieu.
What belonging to the Deutsche Studentenschaft involved in the 1920s varies widely depending on which sources one reads. According to newspaper sources and victim accounts, Austrian Burschenschaften spent their time attacking Jewish students. Sources published by the students themselves, on the other hand, make little or no mention of either violence or Jews. Why? Was violence the work of isolated thugs and not a central element of Burchenschaften life, or were the students trying to hide their “true motives”? To what extent is it possible to discover the everyday actions of Viennese students through what they wrote down and what others reported about them?
Roland Clark. “Spectres of Fascism: Anti-Communist Resistance and the Legacy of the Legion of the Archangel Michael in 1940s Romania.” In Michael Gehler and David Schriffl eds., Violent Resistance: From the Baltics to Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe, 1944-1956. Leiden: Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, 2020, 307-330.
Scores of armed resistance groups formed in the wake of General Ion Antonescu’s resignation as the ruler of Romania on 23 August 1944 and the gradual establishment of Communist rule. Although the most famous of these groups were tightly coordinated bands firmly ensconced in the mountains under the leadership of charismatic individuals such as Ion Gavrilă-Ogoranu and Toma Arnăuțoiu, the majority were small, loosely-organized networks of people who took up arms for a variety of reasons, including out of fear that they would be targeted by the Communists because of their fascist pasts. Supporters of hostile pre-war political parties came together in fluid alliances in these groups, but the one shibboleth that either united or alienated potential anti-communists was the Legion of the Archangel Michael, a fascist group that had been active between 1927 and 1938. National Liberals and Peasantists were reluctant to join forces with former legionaries even though they were happy to cooperate with antisemites who had been affiliated with other extremist right-wing parties such as the National Christian Party. For others, being a legionary was the epitome of what it meant to be anti-communist.
A host of antisemitic social movements emerged after the war, however, populated primarily by shopkeepers, teachers, and leaseholders. The most important of these movements included the Guard of the National Conscience, the National Romanian Fascists (FNR), Romanian Action, and the National Christian Defence League (LANC). To these one could add the Veterans’ Union, the Reserve Officers’ Union, the Former Guards’ Association, and the Human Rights League, among others. Whereas Romanian politics had formerly been the domain of a handful of elites, after the war groups such as this mobilized tens of thousands of Romanians into ultranationalist organizations. The sudden appearance of so many social movements with similar grievances needs to be explained. Why did these people choose to organize through social movements rather than political parties, why was it antisemitism that united them, and why did it happen immediately after the war?
Roland Clark. “The Salience of “New Man” Rhetoric in Romanian Fascist Movements, 1922–44.” In: The New Man in Radical Right Ideology and Practice,1919-1945, edited by Matthew Feldman, Jorge Dagnino, and Paul Stocker. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018. pp. 275 – 294.
Most fascist movements spoke about creating new men in interwar Europe, but they frequently meant different things by the term. This chapter examines the history of the Legion of the Archangel Michael in Romania to show how fascist activists appropriated to achieve specific ends in various contexts. It treats ‘new men’ as a floating signifier that activists employed strategically rather than as an ideologically-driven aspiration that shaped fascist behavior. During the early 1920s, right-wing student activists in Romania spoke of themselves as a new generation of heroes. They transferred this rhetoric of newness into the Legion in 1927 and legionary intellectuals explicitly spoke about ‘new men’ in 1933 as a way of associating themselves with fascist movements elsewhere in Europe. New man rhetoric featured strongly in legionary propaganda between 1935 and Codreanu’s death in 1938, only to be revived for different purposes by the National Legionary State in 1940-41.
A group of 105 inmates at Romania’s Aiud prison produced a collective memoir in 1964 entitled On the Legionary Organization: Mysticism, Massacres, Betrayal. In it, they retold the history of the Legion of the Archangel Michael, a fascist movement these men had been imprisoned for allegedly supporting. They wrote this two-volume memoir as part of their “reeducation” before being released into Romanian society, which was now under communist rule. Unlike most –isms, fascism had no creedal or doctrinal statements that prisoners could recant in order to demonstrate that they had turned their backs on the movement. Instead, they systematically slandered themselves and other former activists, arguing that they had never truly exhibited virtues that legionaries believed had defined fascism in Romania. On the Legionary Movement dwells at length on sexual deviancy, superstition, hypocrisy, betrayal, and violence as key characteristics of Romanian fascism from 1922 until 1964 and praises the brutal prison system as the only way that the social ills of fascism could be remedied.
The involvement of members of the Legion of the Archangel Michael in the Romanian Army during World War II illuminates the relationship between fascist social movements and the state. Legionaries served even though the Legion was suppressed following an unsuccessful coup against dictator General Ion Antonescu. Legionaries could nonetheless reconcile their loyalties because the movement and the government shared core values. Serving either the Conducător or the Legion amounted to “fighting for the Romanian nation,” and military service offered Legionaries a serendipitous opportunity to participate in mass violence against Jews and Roma, sometimes instigating pogroms and at other times simply following orders.
Romania’s President Ion Iliescu caused an international uproar on 13 June 2003 when he stated publicly that it was ‘unjust to link Romania to the persecution of the Jews in Europe’ because his country had had nothing to do with the Holocaust. Despite the fact that between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews and 11,000 Roma perished as a direct result of genocidal measures carried out by the Romanian army in the occupied in the territory of Transnistria between 1941 and 1943, Iliescu was simply expressing what most Romanians believed. Between 1944 and 1989 historians and intellectuals in both the Romanian and Moldovan Socialist Republics distorted and minimized the mass murder of Jews during the Second World War, encouraging people to speak of ‘fascist crimes’ against the Romanian people with little or no discussion of the killers’ racist motives. Silence also characterized the Romanian historiography of the 1990s, and Holocaust deniers continue to have their voices heard in the mainstream press and even in the Romanian Academy. Given that only a handful of studies on the Romanian Holocaust had been written at this time, mostly by scholars based in Israel or the United States, and with the topic ignored within the educational system, Iliescu’s ignorance should have come as no surprise.
Large numbers of Aromanian immigrants in Southern Dobruja joined the fascist Legion of the Archangel Michael during the early 1930s. Deterritorialised by population transfers and state-building in Greek Macedonia, they reterritorialised themselves as ethnic Romanians ‘coming home’ to colonise Southern Dobruja. This article situates the Aromanian turn to fascist politics within the problems they faced during migration. It argues that Aromanians used fascism to assert their identities as Romanians and to claim ethnic privileges that had been denied them as immigrants.
The Romanian fascist group known as the Legion of the Archangel Michael, or the Iron Guard, made extensive use of collective singing to articulate its ideology and to create a sense of group unity. This article examines legionary music and the contexts in which legionaries sang to show how fascist social movements used culture to mobilize people behind their cause. Fascist music initially drew on folk roots as well as a genre of patriotic anthems learned in school and in the army. Once the Legion became stronger and more self-confident, these songs developed into a unique fascist style written by professional poets and composers.
Roland Clark. “Die Damen der Legion: Frauen in rumäischen faschistischen Gruppierungen.” Trans. Andreas Rathberger. In Inszenierte Gegenmacht von rechts: Die “Legion Erzengel Michael” in Rumänien 1918-1938, edited by Armin Heinen and Oliver Jens Schmitt. Munich: Oldenberg Verlag, 2013, 193-216.
Women contributed to Romanian fascist communities not only as activists but also as mothers, wives and girlfriends. Female students participated in anti-Semitic student organizing during the 1920s while rich society women provided land and funds. After a quick overview of the 1920s, in this chapter I examine the lived experiences of mothers, wives and activists associated with the Legion of the Archangel Michael during the 1930s and under the National Legionary State of September 1940 – January 1941. I use the lives of Marietta Sadova and Maria Iordache as case studies to shed light on how some women participated in Romanian fascism, emphasizing that the options available to them were often determined by class and education as much as by gender. Finally, I contrast the ideal fascist woman with the fascist ideal of women, drawing on legionary publications and pro-legionary newspapers to show that while ideologues promoted motherhood and domesticity, there were actually a wide variety of fascist discourses about women in interwar Romania.
Unlike attacks on already stigmatized groups such as Jews and communists, the objects of anti-Masonic attacks had institutional power and were socially respectable. Romanian anti-Masonry was an attempt by politically marginal parties on the extreme right to undermine the authority of their mainstream opponents. Anti-Masonry was a core doctrine for both of the major fascist parties in interwar Romania (A. C. Cuza’s National Christian Defence League and Corneliu Zelea Codreanu’s League of the Archangel Michael) as well as for journalists and writers associated with smaller groups or those attempting to create a united fascist front. Drawing on a large corpus of anti-Masonic texts, they claimed to be opposing a global conspiracy against the Christian world by Freemasons in co-operation with Jews and communists. Fascists slandered specific individuals, including government ministers and leading writers, accusing them of treason and heresy because of their supposed ties to Freemasonry. Romanian Freemasonry’s connections with French lodges led fascists to blame Masons for their country’s pro-French, pro-League of Nations foreign policy, which they saw as evidence that Romania was run by Jews.
Anti-Masonry extended beyond fascist circles and was also adopted by the Orthodox Church, which declared Freemasonry to be heretical and anti-Christian. Not limiting themselves to those who actually were Masons, fascists also accused other fascists of having Masonic connections as a way to undermine the nationalist credentials of political rivals. Anti-Masonic slander continued even after Freemasonry was dissolved in Romania, but decreased in frequency once fascists gained institutional power. For them, anti-Masonry was primarily a way to attack people in power and, once the fascists ruled Romania, anti-Masonry became an excuse to replace representatives of the old regime with new fascist appointees.
Roland Clark. “New Models, New Questions: Historiographical Approaches to the Romanian Holocaust,” European Review of History – Revue européene d’histoire, 19/2 (2012): 257-274.
This essay surveys the historiography on the Romanian Holocaust, focusing in particular on four monographs published by Western historians within the past five years. Earlier research was limited both empirically and theoretically, and these works suggest new research paradigms and raise new questions about the genocide in Romania during the Second World War. Dennis Deletant assesses the rule of General Ion Antonescu in light of his responsibility for the Holocaust and attempts to explain why the General began and ended the Holocaust when he did. Vladimir Solonari argues that the Holocaust should be read in the context of plans for ethnic homogenization which were implemented when the opportunity presented itself in 1941. . Jean Ancel examines the expropriation of Jewish property and shows that, among other things, the Romanian perpetrators were motivated by a desire to enrich themselves at the expense of the Jews. Finally, Armin Heinen reads the Holocaust by looking at how different groups of perpetrators used violence and attempts to recreate the logic which shaped their actions. In addition, the essay discusses Holocaust denial, survivor memoirs, primary source collections, and research into Roma victims in Romania.
Fascist activists who came to be associated with Romania’s Legion of the Archangel Michael planned and built a Cămin Cultural Creştin (Christian Cultural Centre) in the city of Iaşi between 1924 and 1928. The building became central to the movement’s activities in the city throughout the interwar period and provided a place where legionaries could meet, relax, work, and socialize. It also became a site of contention between legionaries and their opponents, including followers of A. C. Cuza and various groups of Romanian policemen. This article draws on approaches from the history of everyday life (Alltagsgeschichte) to show how conflict and conviviality shaped the lives of legionaries within this one building. It emphasizes the importance of geographical space for social movements, the way that practical projects shaped, articulated, and embodied legionary ideology, and how violent contests over territory divide activists and consolidate the new groups that are formed.
Roland Clark. “Printing a Pogrom: Violence and Print Communities in the Case of Captain Keller.” In Understanding Violence: Contexts and Portrayals, edited by Marika Guggisberg and David Weir. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2009, 133-147.
Both printing and violence help create communities. Printing of reports about violence also mutates and expands existing communities created by violent events such as pogroms. During the 1927 annual congress of the National Union of Christian Students of Romania (UNSCR), attendees attacked Jewish residents and destroyed their businesses and places of worship in Cluj and Oradea Mare. Captain Wilfred N. Keller, an American businessman and former YMCA worker, went onto the streets to ask rioters to stop vandalising his office. The severe beating that Keller received put him in hospital and temporarily brought Romanian anti-Semitic violence into the international spotlight.
This article examines how the Oradea Mare violence and the court cases that followed were represented in the Romanian and international press. In particular, it looks at how newspaper reports, police memoranda and diplomatic documents surrounding the Keller case helped to draw nationalist students into the fascist Legion of the Archangel Michael.