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Romania between August 23, 1944 and the Paris Peace Treaty

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Ion Antonescu’s defenders regard the act of King Michael I as a tragic mistake (Baciu 1990), some as an “act of high treason” and others as a “big political error” (Historia 2014), stating that the King should have he had waited another month or two for the Marshal himself to ask for an armistice. During this time the Western Allies would have advanced further into Eastern Europe by reducing the Soviet sphere of influence (Baciu 1990). In practice, the second Iasi-Chisinau offensive was already underway for three days, making the rapid invasion of Romania by the Soviet Union as an enemy country inevitable, risking exposure to the worst treatment. In addition, even if the Western Allies had penetrated more into Central Europe, it would have been very unlikely to reach Romania, the easternmost of them all: “Eastern countries could only be the first to be conquered and occupied by the Soviets” (Duțu, Retegan, and Stefan 1991, 35–39).

“By arresting Antonescu and capitulating the entire army, by order of King Mihai, before signing the armistice with the Russians, Romania lost the legal and moral basis of defending its rights, it dishonored itself.” (Historia 2014)

One of the King’s mistakes, according to Tudor Curtifan, was that the King had erroneously announced that Romania had accepted an armistice offered by the USSR, Great Britain and the USA. The real lack of such an armistice led to the disarmament of the Romanian military who were taken prisoner by the Soviets. (Curtifan 2019)

The historian Neagu Djuvara stated that those “easier conditions” that Ion Antonescu would have obtained “are pure fables”, in reality Antonescu intended to give the Germans a break to leave Romania (Djuvara 2012).

Ioan Scurtu states that “August 23, 1944 was not a spontaneous act”, but “a long and thoroughly prepared act, which was carried out in accordance with a meticulously elaborated political and military plan, which synthesized the platform on which the national consensus was reached.” (Scurtu 1984)

German General Johannes Frießner, commander of the Southern Army Group, considered the act of August 23 as a betrayal of the Romanians (Friessner 1956). Alan Brooke, the head of the British Imperial General Staff, states that by the act of August 23, 1944, Romania contributed to the liberation of the Balkans by shortening the war by 6 months and thus sparing hundreds of thousands of lives (Churchill 2013).

There was no treaty or convention between Germany and Romania that recorded the duties and rights of each partner. Joakim von Ribbentrop, Germany’s foreign minister, had said that the blood shed together was stronger than all the pacts, so the Germans “did not want to assume any obligations to the minor partners of the Axis” (Constantiniu 2011, 389–90) (Duțu 2016). This attitude of Germany exempted Antonescu from any non-reciprocal obligation in terms of military honor.

In a round table organized by the Institute for Political Studies of Defense and Military History with specialists in the field of research on the history of the Second World War in the country and abroad, 65 years after the act of August 23, 1944 (ISPAIM 2009), the guests were asked several common questions, including “How do you appreciate, today, the gesture of Romania from August 23, 1944?”, “What is your opinion on the role of the main actors involved in the events of 65 years ago (monarchy, army , political parties, the Antonescu regime)? ” and “In recent years, the idea that the change of alliance of August 23, 1944 has determined and accelerated the process of occupation of the country by the Red Army has been credited. How much truth is there in such a statement?”. Three answers emerged from these discussions: the act of August 23, 1944 was a legitimate act, the King and the army were the main characters of this act, and the actions of the Soviets would have continued at least as badly in any of the variants would have ended Romania’s alliance with Germany.

Thus, Alesandru Duțu says that General Ilie Șteflea, the head of the Romanian General Staff until August 23, 1944, considered in the spring of 1945 that the situation of Romanian troops “no longer allowed the restoration of defense on the fortified front even if our troops continued to fight” (Dutu 2009, 6–8)  Academician Dinu C. Giuresco considers that the army was the decisive factor on August 23 (Giurescu 2009, 9–10). Dorin Matei states that the main advantage of the act was the reunification of Transylvania (Matei 2009, 10–11). Petre Otu considers the act of August 23 to be a perfectly legal change of government (Otu 2009, 11–13). Ioan Scurtu criticizes the insufficient preparation of the act and the non-existence of an armistice, and considers that the King should have given Antonescu a respite (Scurtu 2009, 11–15). Ottmar Trască says that August 23 was an act of national salvation, but considers it a mistake to falsely claim that there is an armistice, and he notices the loyalty of the army to the King (Trașcă 2009, 16–18). Cristian Troncotă states that the act of August 23 was the only possible solution for the recapture of northwestern Transylvania (Troncotă 2009, 19–24).

General Vasiliu Rășcanu, a participant in the events, commented in July 1974 in the presence of relatives: “Let’s end with the statements that the merit and accomplishment of the act of August 23, 1944 belong to the PCR, because the insurrection was conceived and carried out only by the Army “and – Rășcanu underlined -” I do not know other PCR representatives involved in these actions besides of Pătrășcanu and Bodnăraș, the only ones who had contingency with the insurrection”. (Aparaschivei 2021) After August 23, 1944, the local communist group formed by Lucrețiu Pătrășcanu, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, Ion Gheorghe Maurer and Nicolae Ceaușescu begins to distance themselves and isolate themselves as much as possible from Moscow and its group of internationalist “Romanian” communists (Aparaschivei 2021).

Dennis Deletant said about the Marshal: “Ion Antonescu’s career is full of paradoxes. He was an honest politician in a society that was not known for its integrity in politics. He seems to have been one of the few leaders of the Axis whom Hitler respected or even allowed to contradict. On the other hand, he was never a Germanophile … he was a war criminal who sent tens of thousands of Jews to death in Transnistria”. Antonescu allegedly stated that “I went with Germany because I found the country employed in this politics and no one then, whoever he was, could have given it another direction without the risk of ruining the whole country” (D. Deletant 2006, 51 and “I am an ally of the Reich against Russia. I am neutral in the conflict between Great Britain and Germany. I am for America against the Japanese” (Deletant 2006, 92). Deletant’s conclusion is that after 1940 any Romanian policy could only be a military policy (Deletant 2006, 52). The Antonescu regime was conducted in a military manner, “in which senior officers received orders only from him and usually ignored any decision taken by other government ministers” (Deletant 2006, 69).

The Germans were surprised by the sudden change of regime. Their armed forces withdrew to Hungary, but Adolf Hitler ordered the occupation of Bucharest and the installation of a new pro-Nazi government (Hitchins 1994, 500) (Erickson 2015, 363). On the night of August 23-24, Sanatescu met with two German commanders and asked them to withdraw. One of them, General Alfred Gerstenberg, asks permission to withdraw his people to Ploiesti to organize the evacuation. In Ploiești, however, he did not continue with the evacuation (Axworthy, Scafeș, and Crăciunoiu 1995, 179), joining other German units to attack Bucharest and take control of the city from the Romanians (Ceaușescu, Constantiniu, and Ionescu 1985, 44–45). On the morning of August 24, a first German attack on Bucharest is repulsed (Erickson 2015, 363). A few hours later, a ground offensive led by General Gerstenberg had the same result as other attacks from various directions. Gerstenberg tried to obtain the capitulation of Bucharest by subjecting it to an intense aerial bombardment, around 11:00, with 150 German planes, partially destroying the royal palace, but the Romanian forces resist (Nagy-Talavera 1970, 337). A Waffen-SS commando led by Andreas Schmidt, a Transylvanian Saxon, Gottlob Berger’s son-in-law, was then parachuted into Bucharest to try to free Marshal Antonescu, but his mission failed. Schmidt and the commando were captured and handed over to the Soviets (Sănătescu 2006). Hitler tried to seize power with the help of Iron Guard leader Horia Sima, imprisoned in Germany in 1941, who formed a puppet office in Vienna in late December 1943, but failed to provide an alternative to the regime of Michael I. (Ceaușescu, Constantiniu, and Ionescu 1985, 92).

Between August 24-26, the Romanian army defeated the last points of German resistance, with the help of civilian volunteers (Constantinescu-Iasi 1968, 49). Until August 28, there were no more German troops in Bucharest and its surroundings, and until August 31, all German troops in the country were expelled. The German armed forces tried to stabilize the front along a fortified line on the Eastern Carpathians, Siret and the Lower Danube. Heavy fighting then took place, until the end of August, around Ploiești and Prahova Valley. These events accelerated Romania’s official declaration of war against Germany, which was made official on August 26 (Erickson 2015, 364). The German army was forced to withdraw on the morning of August 28 (Hitchins 1994, 500), so that Romanian forces managed to drive out the Axis troops until the beginning of September.

The Soviets rejected Constantin Sănătescu’s request to limit Romania’s occupation by the Soviet Union in Moldova and Dobrogea, with Soviet troops entering Bucharest (Erickson 2015, 365) on August 30-31, still considering Romania an enemy territory.

After the declaration of King Michael I on August 23, 1944, General Rodion Malinovsky, commander of the Ukrainian 2nd Front, sent to Bucharest a echelon of the 1st Volunteer Division “Tudor Vladimirescu”, a unit established on October 2, 1943 in the U.R.S.S. of Romanian prisoners of war and who had been kept in the reserve of the 2nd Ukrainian Front since May 1944, considered traitors in Romania, together with the 703rd Regiment of the 375th Infantry Division led by Major General Vasili Karpuhin. Because the soldiers of the 1st Volunteer Division “Tudor Vladimirescu” were still considered traitors in Romania, Marshal Rodion Malinovski requested in December 1944 the intervention of King Michael I for their consideration as equal in rights with Romanian army soldiers who became disabled in the war, and for widows and their war orphans. On January 5, 1945, General Nicolae Rădescu approved four temporary solutions, which became permanent after the inclusion in the Romanian army, in August 1945, of the two divisions created by the Moscow authorities (Opriş 2020).

Stalin postponed the signing of the armistice until September 12, 1944, in Moscow. By delaying the signing of the armistice, the Soviets intended to continue their destructive plan on Romania, annihilating Romania’s fighting force in three ways: 1) taking prisoners in total (over 170,000 soldiers and officers); 2) reduction and purification of police and security institutions; 3) taking over all military resources for “liberation from fascism” (Aparaschivei 2021). The armistice was signed under conditions practically dictated by the Soviet Union of unconditional surrender, with the Soviet Union as the representative of the Allied forces, following the negotiations between the USSR and Great Britain (Constantiniu 2011). The armistice provided 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 Avalon Project 2016) The annex to Article 18 stated that “Control over the exact execution of the armistice terms is entrusted to the Allied Control Commission to be established in conformity with Article 18 of the Armistice Agreement. The Rumanian Government and their organs shall fulfill all instructions of the Allied Control Commission arising out of the Armistice Agreement. The Allied Control Commission will set up special organs or sections entrusting them respectively with the execution of various functions. In addition, the Allied Control Commission may have its officers in various parts of Rumania.”. In accordance with Article 14, two Romanian People’s Courts have been set up to try war criminal suspects. The agreement stipulated that Romania would pay material compensation to the USSR in the amount of $300 million for 6 years in the form of goods. The 12 Romanian infantry divisions and auxiliary technical services were to operate under the general leadership of the Soviet Allied High Command (The Avalon Project 2016).

In September, Soviet and Romanian forces entered Transylvania and captured the cities of Brasov and Sibiu, heading for Cluj. Between September 5 and October 8, the Battle of Turda took place between the Romanian and Russian forces on the one hand, and the German and Hungarian forces on the other, with heavy losses for both sides. The Hungarian army later entered Arad County, but several battalions of Romanian cadets managed to stop the Hungarian advance in the battle of Păuliș, the Hungarians evacuating Arad itself on September 21. The Romanian Army fought alongside the Red Army in Transylvania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Austria and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. In May 1945, the Romanian army took part in the Prague offensive. Of the approximately 538,000 Romanian soldiers who fought against the Axis in 1944–45, approximately 167,000 were killed, wounded, or missing (Axworthy, Scafeș, and Crăciunoiu 1995).

During the Tolstoy Conference in Moscow in October 1944, Winston Churchill proposed an agreement to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin on how to divide Eastern Europe into post-war spheres of influence. The Soviet Union was offered a 90% share of influence in Romania (Lee 1998, 100). On October 25, the last Romanian localities, Carei and Satu-Mare are released. Romania continues to participate in the liberation of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, taking part in the siege of Budapest and in the battles of the Tatra Mountains. The westernmost points liberated by the Romanian army were the cities of Chotěboř and Humpolec, 90 km east of Prague, on May 4, 1945 (Pascu 1983).

Under pressure from the USSR, the Sănătescu government was dissolved and replaced by the Rădescu government (December 1944 – March 1945). The Soviet Union continued to act in Romania as in a defeated state. The representative of the USSR in Romania, Andrei Vyshinsky, intervened directly in the affairs of the country until the organization of a new coup d’etat on March 6, 1945, when a communist government was imposed, which on December 30, 1947 proclaimed the Romanian People’s Republic. Press releases issued by the Yalta (February 1945) and Potsdam (July-August 1945) Conferences of the leaders of the U.R.S.S., S.U.A. and Great Britain, have only given a fair aspect to the agreements between these powers and the Soviet Union (Băjenaru 2016).

During the preliminary talks on the Paris Peace Treaty, Romania requested the return of Bessarabia and Bukovina, including through the document entitled Romania’s Main Claim: Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina presented by former Romanian Minister in Moscow Nicolae Dianu. The Peace Treaty draft with Romania was published in Moscow, Washington, London, Paris, on June 31, 1946. In Part I (Borders), the existing borders were established on January 1, 1941, except for the Romanian-Hungarian border where the border was re-established from January 1, 1938: “The Soviet-Romanian border is thus fixed in accordance with the Soviet-Romanian Agreement of June 28, 1940 and the Soviet-Czechoslovak Agreement of June 29, 1945” (Dobrinescu and Constantin 1995). The Romanian delegation, led by Gh. Tătărescu, had as observations only “slight errors in the execution of the cartographic route of the borders” in the “Map of Romania” as an annex to the Treaty printed in Moscow. V. M. Molotov, who put the article to the vote, said: “Article 1. We will proceed to vote on Article 1. No one is asking for the floor. Article 1 shall be adopted.” (Buzatu 1995, 63) (Agrigoroaiei 2015)

On February 10, 1947, the signing ceremony of the Peace Treaty between the Allied and Associated Powers and Romania took place, Romania being represented by Gheorghe Tătărescu, Lucrețiu Pătrășcanu, Ștefan Voitec, and Dumitru Dămăceanu. On August 23, 1947, the Assembly of Deputies unanimously adopted the law on the ratification of the Peace Treaty, which was promulgated on September 15, 1947 (Agrigoroaiei 2015). According to the 1947 Treaty of Paris (United Nations 1950), the Allies did not recognize Romania as a co-belligerent nation, considering it an “ally of Hitler’s Germany” and having to pay $300 million to the Soviet Union for war reparations. The border with the USSR and Bulgaria was fixed in its state in January 1941. But the fact that the Hungarian fascist government of Ferenc Szálasi remained loyal to the Axis until the end will help Romania to recover Northern Transylvania through the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty, through the international commission led by the French geographer Emmanuel de Martonne following the recognition that Romania “acted in the interest of all the United Nations” after August 23, 1944. (United Nations 1950)

The archival material collected at the level of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers (Civil and Military Cabinets) was systematized and, in May 1945, was seized by the USSR. Some of these archives returned to Bucharest after about 15 years (Buzatu 2008). During the communist period, Romanian historiography presents August 23, 1944 as a proletarian revolution of the Romanian peasants, workers. and soldiers under the enlightened leadership of the Romanian Communist Party overthrowing the fascist and imperialist tyranny of the bourgeois-landlord monarchy that served Hitler’s Germany. After the Revolution of December 1989, historians regained their freedom of study and access to archives (Constantiniu 2011).

The act of August 23, 1944 was largely overlooked in Western historiography, which shows the Soviet entry into the Balkans in August-September 1944 as a simple consequence of the second Iasi-Chisinau offensive led by Generals Rodion Malinovsky and Fyodor. Tolboukhine. In this way, events are presented in almost all textbooks. Klaus Schönherr states that “… Romania’s withdrawal from the Axis was not perceived by the Germans as an event as serious as the Anglo-American invasion of France, the loss of or the advance of the Red Army into the Baltic region (Schonherr 2009). West German historians consider that Romania did not play an important role either as an ally of Germany or as an enemy on the Eastern Front. The German memorialists of the time, Generals FrieBner and Fretter-Pico, believed that the 1943-1944 disaster on the southern flank of the Eastern Front was caused by the “lack of will of the Romanian Army” and the betrayal “of Romanian politicians.” (Friessner 1956) (Schonherr 2009)

German General Johannes Frießner, commander of the Southern Army Group, considered the act of August 23 to be a betrayal of the Romanians (Friessner 1956). Alan Brooke, the head of the British Imperial General Staff, states that by the act of August 23, 1944, Romania contributed to the liberation of the Balkans by shortening the war by 6 months and thus sparing hundreds of thousands of lives (Churchill 2013).

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Sfetcu, Nicolae, “Romania between August 23, 1944 and the Paris Peace Treaty”, Telework (April 7, 2022), DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.16128.51200, URL = https://www.telework.ro/en/romania-between-august-23-1944-and-the-paris-peace-treaty/

Email: nicolae@sfetcu.com

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