“The Most Troubled Times Ever”. Everyday Life in the 1940s Romania
Abstract. This article presents some fragments of everyday life in Romania in the 1940s just as they were caught in the light of the journal of Mărgărita Ioana Vulcănescu, wife of Mircea Vulcănescu, and the “mood” of the population through the police department reports. The research shows the way in which the traumatic changes in Romania in the 1940s are perceived and rationalized by the members of Bucharest’s elite, in parallel with the way in which the police defined and identified the “internal enemy” of the state on the brink of war and at the beginning of it.
Keywords: the Second World War, the Gusti School, Mircea Vulcănescu, everyday life
In this article I will present slices of daily life during the period leading up to the world war and the beginning of it, as they were experienced, perceived and retold in Romanian society. This period was a particularly traumatizing one due to the events, changes and bewildering situation reversals which happened in a relatively short period of time. In less than a year, Greater Romania experienced the handover of Bessarabia and Bucovina towards the USSR, Northern Transylvania to Hungary, the resignation of King Carol II, followed by a reorientation of external politics towards the Axis forces, the establishment of the “National Legionary State” through the collaboration of Ion Antonescu and Horia Sima, the chief of the Legionnaire Movement, as well as a civil war that lead to the removal of the legionnaires from power and the establishment of the Antonescu autocratic regime.
The sources I have used are the journal of Vulcănescu’s wife, Mărgărita Ioana, different manuscripts from the private Archive of the same family, as well as the “population mood” reports made by the police departments between 1938 and 1940. Therefore, we have in front of us both the experiences and the rationalization of the astounding events rendered by social actors from a relatively upper class of Bucharest, but also the processing of different social conversations made by the specially trained “eyes” of the police in order to distinguish the position of different social classes and ethnic groups in relation to the internal and international developments.
The Vulcănescu family is connected to the large historical disturbances in a direct way, as the positions held by Mircea Vulcănescu in the administration (director of the Public Debt, then state undersecretary of the Ministry of Finance). In June 1940, when the German army was assaulting Paris, Vulcănescu was in London where he was negotiating a loan for the Romanian state and the conditions of relaunched commercial relationships, as part of a last attempt to strengthen the relationships with western allies. Right after his return in the country, in August 1940, he was participating at negotiations related to cede the Cadrialter (Quadrilateral – Southern Dobruja), then, in December, at the negotiations surrounding the ceding of Transylvania. Two of his professors which he claimed they were his mentors, die in the same year: Nae Ionescu (March 1940) and Virgil Madgearu (November 1940), the last in tragic conditions, assassinated in the Jilava prison.
The beginning of the year 1939 shows nothing special in Mărgărita Ioana’s journal. Days passing with the usual routine, from the Matei Basarab High School where she was a teacher, home and from there, in the very frequent visits and occasions to socialize that were specific to the Bucharest social class of the time. The notes, in French, are short, expeditious and although the conversation partners are often important people, ministers, ambassadors, friends who were members of the Gusti School, the content of the discussions is not reflected, although it is impossible for the daily events not to be noted down during the conversation. The tone changes with the first reflections of the big historical disturbances in daily life. Therefore, in March 1939, she notices that at the school “many professors were concentrated; there is an atmosphere of leaving, of stupor, but also of bravery and determination”. At the same time, at the English Institute, the young Jewish girls “are very alarmed” (Vulcănescu 2013, 339).
For the first time, in a more accentuated way, the other is perceived in its ethnic identity and in the increasingly precarious condition caused by the hardships of the time. For Jews, these are times of persecution, and Mărgărita Ioana is sensitive to this aspect. In June 1940, when the situation had worsened at an accelerated rate, she notes that
“the Germans have started to impose themselves, and behold that a huge injustice is being done to the Jews. Without being a Philo-Semite, this injustice is disgusting and revolting to everything that has an arbiter, illogical and absurd. All of their rights are being lifted, although there are amongst them so many which are “well deserved in the homeland” (idem, 481).
It is also noteworthy the perception that the wave of anti-Semitic laws is a direct consequence of the German influence in the country. Furthermore, after a few months, after a visit to an acquaintance, she resumes, maybe a bit more attenuated, but with the same spirit of empathy and contradiction towards the dominant atmosphere:
“I have gone to drink tea with Olga Seligmann. It is not opportune to go to Jews, but I broke up with opportunity and am friendlier than ever with Jews, because I know they are persecuted and scared. Of course, a lot of them have done much evil, but how can one pick good from evil? Finally, fate is now against them, we can try to soothe them a little” (idem, 547).
The imminence of the war is perceived as a horror, bad news being recorded at a crescendo appropriate to the surrender of west European countries attacked by Germany: “this morning, as usual, I read the newspapers: the Netherlands have surrendered! On my god! Oh my God!” (idem, 461). The specter of the German force’s victory is felt as a global calamity in different circles with which the Vulcănescu family has relationships: “we leave together, out little group, talking about the sad future of humanity if the Germans will win the war” (idem, 464). After only a few days, the offensive was heading towards France, and news was being expected with held breath. The state of revolt is emphasized also by the sympathy that Mărgărita has towards France, doubled by an anti-German stance.
After the resignation of King Carol II and the establishment of the “legionary state” regime, in September 1940, Mărgărita writes in her journal:
“We’ve wondered if Antonescu is a legionary or if he is only allowing the legionaries to state their opinion, holding them as much as possible on a leash, if he will be able to rule, if we will be throwing ourselves blindly in German arms. I don’t understand the crazy love for the Germans in the name of patriotism and for the good of the country. I have often heard legionaries saying that it’s better to be under German rule than the current disarray. God spare us! Better our own disarray than foreign order” (idem, 534).
The negative feelings towards the Germans were manifested emotionally: “German cars are aligned in front of the school. I loathe them, I hate them and I turn around so that I won’t see them, obviously” (idem, 569). Mărgărita also has strong anti-legionnaire feelings and attitude. Their public manifestation is seen with concern. On October 6, 1940, the day of a large legionary parade, which she watches as a show, from the balcony of her husband’s office for Public Debt, after she describes the passing of thousands and thousands of Romanians dressed either in the green uniform, either in the national costume, she adds:
“once in a while, a swastika appears on the flag. You can then see, with horror, that behind all of these things is the terrible figure of Hitler” (idem, 525).
She often enters contradictory discussions with those close to her, or even friends, especially in moments in which they acted triumphant, after King Carol II ran away and the establishment of the legionary moment: “at my mother-in-law, some ladies are drinking their tea. Amongst them, Nella Ciocâltău, legionary. I profit from criticizing them, but regret, a little that I have given up on the pleasure of annoying them” (idem, 570); she argues with Emil Cioran, who had recently returned from occupied Paris, because he is a legionary (idem, 590). Another close family friend, Herbert Silber, Jew, obviously has a different mood: “this night, Silber’s visit, scared. Dines with us and leaves at 11 and a half. Mircea walks him home” (idem, 587).
We encounter the same mechanism, now in a mirror, when it comes to the perception of the difference, similarly to the one above, when it comes to the Jews. Namely, if before September 1940 the names of those who frequented Vulcănescu’s house or those with which she is in frequent social contacts are simply mentioned, during and after the events where they are in the foreground, Mărgărita starts to identify the legionaries after their ideological affinities. The social environment of the Vulcănescu family is a broad one from every point of view, both ideologically and ethnically, but these differences become manifested only in certain circumstances. Therefore, “Jew” and “legionary” are not statically perceived identities, but are “seen” as such depending on the context that emphasizes them, either in the depiction of victims, or of “winners”.
The contact with the administration, brought about by different bureaucratic necessities, stirs a revolt towards the mechanism perceived as abusive, chaotic and impersonal, despite her husband’s position: “the human seems to not matter any longer, nor does the job he does. A jumble, a chaos, a terrible indiscretion, an intimidation by any order that comes from above”. In the middle there is a continuity that manifests at a daily level regardless of the changes registered at a political level: “this is how people have usually proceeded, as they lose their head when it comes to the first decision that has come from those above. No judgment, no criticism, no common sense” (idem, 552-553).
The territories lost by Romania during this period from which these moods are captured provoke long meditations linked to auto-critical attitudes. When Bessarabia is lost, Mărgărita wonders: “haven’t we actually not earned Greater Romania?” (idem, 482). The feeling of frustration is strongly felt especially considering that Mircea Vulcănescu participates both at the negotiations to hand over Transylvania, but also those related to the Quadrilateral. The turmoil, for him, is provoked not only by a huge change to the borders, but also to the painful failure of an ideal from youth, as it becomes apparent from this conversation shown in the journal:
“When he came last week, Mircea told me what bitter days he experienced when he knew we were giving away a part of Transylvania. I don’t know what others would have done, but I know I didn’t deserve this – that I’ve worked honestly my entire life, day and night, to be of use to my country – and I believe that’s how many others have done… And I told him but now we will have a new purpose to fight for, he replied – but don’t we had a purpose? Our purpose was a type of person that had to be achieved, the Romanian type, a human ideal” (1) (idem, 537).
Around the same negotiations, Mărgărita Ioana writes down in the journal: “Good Lord, we are living in the most troubled times that have ever been. You try to turn in some direction and find a straight path, only to see that there is none” (idem, 529). Also, in sharp contrast to the atmosphere from Mărgărita Ioana’s journal, the atmosphere presented by some of the legionary friends in the moments when, after King Carol II’s resignation, it looked as if a long sought after green “victory” had come. Moreover, Mircea Vulcănescu refuses offers from the liberal official Mircea Cancicov to work as a state undersecretary at the Ministry of Economy in the national legionary state (Vulcănescu 2005, 531). Vulcănescu saw the Legionary Movement as one under the influence of Nazi Germany, that would have tried to use it as a “pivot” in internal Romanian politics (idem, 525, 526). Moreover, although the legionaries “insisted a lot around me that I should come with them under any conditions, I did not accept, as I do not like terrorism on one hand, and on the other, did not want to alienate my personal judgement under any circumstances” (idem, 531). In addition to all of these motives, Vulcănescu told Cancicov that the legionaries had “their own program”, therefore conflicts of authority would have been inevitable between a high-ranking official and a minister controlled by them. He also considers that the splitting between the legionaries and Antonescu originated exactly in Canciov’s politics to eliminate the commissions of Romanization through which the Movement had sought to “take control of economic life in their own hands” (Ibid.). During the time of the national legionary state, anti-Semite politics were being brutally applied. Vulcănescu’s attitude regarding this is captured by one of the Jewish peoples’ leaders of the time. Making a list of the people from the Romanian administration where Jews found an open door where they could “state their views”, Alexandru Șafran recalls, together with Mircea Canciov, Professor Gheorghe Leon (Minister of Economy in the Legionary government) and Vulcănescu, “an active engineer in financial problems” (Șafran 1996, 60).
Following the legionary rebellion, Vulcănescu is once again contacted to become state undersecretary, this time at the Ministry of Finance. Initially, Vulcănescu refuses the position again in a telephone conversation that he seems to have had with General Antonescu himself, telling him that if he is not forced by an order, he would prefer to stay at Public Debt (2) (Vulcănescu 2013, 609). He also recalls the same arguments in a letter this time addressed to Mihai Antonescu (Butoi 2014). Such an ad-hoc console is convened in the family, the two girls – Mariuca and Sandra – also being asked for their opinion. The scene indicates a mixed public mood, in which the attraction of a sizeable promotion in the social life is doubled by the restlessness caused by the implied risks of such an important decision position. Vulcănescu’s older daughter, only 10 years old, at first asks him to refuse as “important people are in grave danger now” (Vulcănescu 2013, 610). The mood apparent in Mărgărita Ioana’s journal and in some of Vulcănescu’s letters varies from desperation and perplexity to the urgent feeling of having to “save the country”. “At least from now on, we save what can still be saved”, notes Mărgărita Ioana (idem, 558). In the same context as the one described above, in which territory losses alternated with traumatic changes of the political regime, all in the background of the war, getting involved in the government was felt as a duty, a mission for the collective good was being put above personal and family safety.
The political violence in which Romania had sunk was perceived as a vicious cycle which poisoned the public atmosphere:
“The wheel of luck is spinning in a hurry worthy of the era in which we are living. Those who were yesterday in prison are now great, but prisons don’t remain empty, instead they are filled with those who were in power yesterday. Much time and energy is lost to revenge. Revenge had never been useful, nor fruitful – its result is evil. And more importantly, it is not Christian” (idem, 532).
These feelings were consistent with Vulcănescu’s behavior. As a member of the Christian Association of Romanian Christian Students, he publicly condemned the anti- Semitic violence from the 1922s, and as a dignitary voted against Carol II’s Constitution due to the stipulations regarding the death penalty. In the second part of the forth inter-war decade, the king’s suppression of the legionnaires and their revenge had drowned the country in a “gloomy and police-like” atmosphere, as he was describing it (Vulcănescu 2005, 522). In addition, one of his mentors, Virgil Madgearu, also fell victim to one such retribution (Vulcănescu 1941). Therefore, the statement attributed to Vulcănescu as a final word before his death in the Aiud prison, “Do not avenge us”, beyond the hagiographic dimension, could also reflect older attitudes and conviction regarding the Romanian public life and the appropriate ways to exit the slough of violence.
As far as Mircea Vulcănescu’s relationships and intellectual pursuits are concerned, these remain, despite the intense program at the Ministry, varied and diverse. Vulcănescu is involved in coordinating the Romanian Encyclopedia, whose last volume actually appears during the war (Butoi, 2014), writes The Romanian Dimension of Existence, contributes to the editing of Nae Ionescu’s courses, writes about Virgil Madgearu, holds numerous public conferences on philosophical, religious, social history or current themes. In the Vulcănescu Archive I have identified other research themes which he had started. He also develops The social aspect of the political orientation today (1944-1945), Romanian Society (possibly 1941) and the most well put together file, Karl Marx and the contemporary economy (1945). In the Social Aspect the idea transpires that in relation to the various political orientations such as liberalism, socialism, or in a more general sense, individualism and collectivism, what really matters is the socio-economic layer that exists in a given society, more exactly, the way in which trade relationships are structured. “In the capitalist regime,” writes Vulcănescu, “workers are destined to irredeemable misery, their salary barely being able to cover their day to day living”. In Karl Marx and the contemporary economy, Vulcănescu make an exhaustive, but incomplete, analysis of Marxism as a historical philosophy, sociological and economical doctrine, highlighting both theoretical contributions which have broadened the understanding of socio-economical processes, internal contradictions that have led to later developments (Leninism, for instance), as well as the epistemological limits caused especially by the one-sidedness of the economic factor (an idea also present at Dimitrie Gusti).
The relationship between Vulcănescu and the Gusti sociologists are maintained throughout the entire war period. Moreover, some of them are old family friends, especially Henri H. Stahl and Mitu (Dumitru) Georgescu. This social network had activated in the very difficult moments of Vulcănescu’s arrest and conviction. H.H. Stahl, Mitu Georgescu and Dimitrie Gusti testify in favor of Vulcănescu during the state undersecretary trial. Anton Golopenția, with whom Vulcănescu had collaborated at multiple projects during the war, will visit him frequently and help the family facing very difficult conditions following his arrest. Moreover, Vulcănescu himself gets involved in helping a monographer facing difficulty: Traian Herseni, for who he intervenes after the legionary rebellion to help free him (Vulcănescu 2013, 609). Herseni was not, however, among the monographic circle frequented by Vulcănescu. Lena Constante is a regular presence in the Vulcănescu house during the war, giving painting lessons to the two girls. Other frequent contacts were maintained with Francisc Rainer, Xenia Costa-Foru, Ion Conea, Sabin Manuilă, etc. The relationships also reflected a certain socializing practice which involved the entire family and their interactions surpassing mere collaboration in academic of professional concerns.
In noting the mood of everyday life, an important source is also the reports made by the police departments of the state. It has to be mentioned that the accounts given regarding the moods made through the secret supervision of the population was a probably a widespread practice in the era. At least in Nazi Germany it was practiced in the form of some reports conducted by professional sociologists who “measured” the morale of the population (Schöttler 1995, 144-145). In the Romanian case, the observers’ task was to monitor and identify attitudes of certain ethnic, political, social and religious groups. I have two samples of such reports, one dating from September 1938, carried out on the population from “Bucovina, Bessarabia and Moldavia”, the other from November 1939, done from the “summary of the reports done by the police departments from all of the country’s regions” (ACNSAS – File no. 8740, vol. 1, regarding the mood, 1933- 1941). These reports need to be considered with care, both because they operate with generalizations that are hard to verify, although they have a certain possibility to reflect some common attitudes, but also because they reflect certain ideological predispositions of those who carried them out and then redacted them to be sent to their superiors.
In the first report from 1938, regarding the “Romanian population”, the report records an “obvious unease” amongst the “state officials and private individuals”. For the other social categories, the unease also has actual consequences. Therefore, as far as traders and industrialists are concerned, the observer notes “an obvious stagnation” which is manifested through the restriction of economic activities due to the fear of war and the international evolution. As far as the “intellectuals’” discussions are concerned, it is reported,
“our army’s equipping failure has been discussed and many haven’t shied away to say that in this moment, the Romanian army is equipped worse than in 1916. All intellectuals are unanimous to blame our lack of arming to the democratic politic up until now and the fictive support of the League of Nations” (idem, f. 12-13).
The generalization stands out (“all intellectuals”, “unanimously”), through which the frustrations are accentuated towards “the democratic politics”, term which probably refers to the parliamentary regime that had just been suspended by Carol II. It is hard to differentiate between the real unanimity of the public or an added attribute from the “examiner” to correspond ideologically. In September 1939 the Munich Accord episode was in full swing. Germany’s attitude, the attitude of the Allies and the fate of Czechoslovakia impressed society and aroused worries. As far as the “Romanian population” was concerned, France and England’s surrender in front of Germany’s determined attitude as far as the Czechoslovakia matter was concerned was hotly debated and it was affirmed that such a situation could also be created in Romania”.
In general, the population is eager for peace, “harbors antipathy towards the Germans’ action” and is afraid of the fact that if the war starts “the Soviets will pass through this region” (idem, f. 14). Minority groups obviously relate differently to the same event. According to the report, the Hungarian minority would see Hungary’s claims towards Czechoslovakia as favorable; in turn, the Ukrainians and Ruthenians had divided themselves into two camps: one favorable towards Germany for the future support of an independent Ukraine, another favorable to Soviet Russia. “The German minority represents a danger” in case of a war, having, according to the document, bigger and bigger claims to the status of a minority and confessional schools in their native tongue (idem, f. 16). As far as Jews are concerned, these manifested “fear towards the German success” and fear towards the possibility that the anti-Semite currents from Italy and Germany to extend in Romania, as well. The document notes that “it is affirmed that the Jewish population, in case of a war against Germany, if Romania would fight together with the USSR against Germany, it would help. USSR is considered the only protector” (idem).
As far as political life is concerned, the report observes the complete failure of the suppression and the fight against the influence exercised by the Legionary Movement: “the recent searches, raids and arrests, as well as the found evidence have proved that the movement is not stifled, instead it enjoys the sympathy of the masses. Manifests and the book “The truth about Codreanu’s trial” have spread everywhere. The following rumors have been launched and spread: the Legionary Movement will facilitate His Majesty Michael’s ascend to the throne”. Exactly a year before Armand Călinescu’s assassination, the report records “Mr. Minister A. Călinescu’s assassination has been planned”. Regarding the international situation, “the representatives and sympathizers of the Legionary Movement will not fight against Germany” (idem, f. 18). The success of the movement was registered especially amongst pupils and students: “the school and university youth especially are almost unanimously sympathizing with this movement (legionary – A/N). This movement is being confused with the nationalist movement”.
At the conclusion, the analysis retains the fact that “the psychosis of a new war has influenced the attitude and activity rhythm of the population”. Among the monitored groups, according to the observer, “Jews”, “Ukrainians”, “Communist” and “Legionaries” are designated as having a favorable attitude, for obviously different reasons, towards the start of the war. In general, “all (minorities – A/N) are opportunists and we cannot count on any minority, even if their interests are consistent with the orders and instructions from the different external circles” (idem, f. 20).
In the other report from November 1939, conducted as a summary from all of the areas of the country, an evaluation is made of the “state of affairs” that stir discontent among the people: the difficulty of completing agricultural work due to the requisitions, the stagnation of commerce, the lack of credits, small salaries for functionaries and workers, the existence of some work conflicts and strikes (idem, f. 27). Rumors are recorded regarding the surrender of Bessarabia (f. 45) and about the outbreak of inflation (f. 55) and the rationing of food (f. 49). “Serious” sources draw attention towards the danger of “communization” of the peasant classes due to the famine. The communist danger is mentioned in relation to the Legionary Movement as well, which would have been infiltrated by agents sent from the USSR:
“from the missions received by soviet propaganda agents caught in the Eastern frontier area, as well as in the rest of the country, it becomes clear that the Soviets tend to insert communists in legionary organizations, with the aim to supervise and sublimate these organizations. These infiltrations are done especially in the worker’s legionary organizations” (f. 295).
The minorities are seen even more intensely as a potential subversive presence: “special attention to the minorities, which in the current situation – as is mentioned in the police department reports – is worth following as it has been observed that the basis of their activities is not the loyalty towards the Romanian State”. As far as Jews are concerned, these
“are presented according to regions: those from the areas currently bordering the Soviet Union can barely hide the happiness caused by this neighboring. Only those with a good situation are looking for shelter and to move in the Old Kingdom, selling off the goods they had in those regions (Bukovina). Those from Bessarabia are indifferent, but believe in the occupation of this province by the Soviets” (idem, f. 51).
Special attention is given to the population’s attitude towards the Legionary Movement, most of all during the period of repression carried out as a reaction to Armand Călinescu’s assassination. Therefore, the repressions would have split “public opinion in two camps”.
“Public opinion considered the repressions as an instinctive reaction of His Majesty the King, caused by the rage of being once again hit in the faithful interpret of his achieving thoughts. People outside of political life attached themselves to the repression, to a group that also attached the democratic and ultra-democratic minority (…) The group forming the public opinion against the repression comprises of the legionary world, the sympathizers of the old Iron Guard, political and instinctive adversaries of the King, the faint- hearted who are scared by the repression” (idem, f. 61-62).
The way in which the police described the attitude of different social categories from the time of the old National Legionary State is interesting. The general note of these reports is negative, the disorganization and uncertainty with which the legionaries exercised power being criticized. Therefore, it is reported in a report
“a large majority of the population, although it sympathized with the legionary movement, is worried by the fact that the country’s leadership is put in young hangs without experience. (…) The young legionaries, those who hold important decision-making positions, although they are often put in a situation that they cannot solve, do not resort to the knowledge and experience of the old clerks, instead, either due to a spirit of wariness or due to considering that their love of self is injured by talking with others, or due to the spirit of authority manifested towards their underlings – do not always give practical solutions” (idem, f. 304).
The police and gendarmerie especially were organizations that distrusted the legionaries the most, a mutual attitude, considering the former harsh conflicts between the latter and the police forces from the previous political regimes. After the legionaries rose to power, according to the probably exaggerated reports, the police and the gendarmerie had become “nonexistent”:
„In many places, these two institutions are almost inexistent. Some of the officers and gendarmes have fallen in a sort of apathy; they are not interested in anything and come to work only to be counted as present. This apathy would be due to the trials and investigations that are completed against certain acts, which – they say – they only played the part according to the orders they had received. (…) Others cry about the distrust that the legionary circles manifest towards them, even in work related issues. In truth, this lack of trust not only discourages the personnel of these two, but the lack of experience of the young legionary rulers, despite all the zeal they show – gives birth to failures that could have been avoided if some people’s zeal would have been corroborated with experience. (…) It is this state of affairs that the communist circles seem to try to take advantage of, who on one hand seek to introduce themselves in the legionary organizations, and on the other hand, under the legionary guise spread certain ideas in a way that is not too different from that of the communists” (idem, f. 302).
Within these reports there are also mentions of the abuse committed against the Jews in the period of the “Romanization” of their properties. The record is made, obviously, only in cases in which they had something “novel” and worthy of reporting in the vision of the police inspectors. Therefore, in an informative note from November 1940 regarding Brașov, the consequences of the rivalry between legionaries and the Transylvanian Saxons are described, regarding the takeover of the shops from the Jews. Due to the hurry, “so that the Transylvanian Saxons won’t get ahead of them”, the legionaries pushed people in the shops who had no training in this area, which risked creating a “bottleneck” (idem, f. 330). The Jews, the report continues, would have preferred to negotiate with the Transylvanian Saxons because “they had promised to pay the entire buying price” (idem, f. 332), while the legionaries had the following “offer”: “concluding a sell-buy contract through which a legionary would buy the store together with the entire inventory for the sum of x lei. The Jew would continue to remain in the shop under the leadership of the legionnaire and from the net income: 40% goes to the Jew as payment of the sale price; 60% goes to the legion, and the leader legionary would be an employee” (idem, f. 331). The aggregation of such reports and the strong reluctance felt by the coercive state towards the legionnaires constituted one of the factors which lead to the rift between Antonescu and Sima.
At the start of the war, Romania goes through a series of dramatic and traumatizing events that deeply affect both the Romanian majority and the ethnic minorities. The external enemies become, overnight, old allies, a situation which will occur, again, towards the end of the war. The reports mentioned above reflect who was identified by the police departments as the “enemy within”: ethnic minorities and radical-extremist political movements. This way of perceiving a “threat” towards “national safety” which manifested since 1938 in the eastern parts of the country, but not only, most likely had a significant role in the continuation and increase in repression and persecution politics from the time of the war, with catastrophic consequences and genocides in Transnistria.
For some members of the young elite from Bucharest, these astounding moments showed that their darkest expectations had been surpassed by reality: Greater Romania, towards whose “prosperity” they had dedicated their lives, had ceased to exist. The reason Vulcănescu got involved as a technocrat in the Antonescu government was based in his belief and that of others in his social circles that he had a duty to “save what could still be saved”. At least in this case, there had been no ideological, “nationalist” or “anti-Semite” reasons or geopolitical sympathies towards the Axis forces as a motivation to enter the Antonescu government. They weren’t doing it from the position of “conquerors” and did not have the feeling that they were approaching a “victory”. On the contrary, their implication was meant as a mission to limit the disaster and a limited recovery following the assaults. At a daily level, life and social relations were the same as before during the war. An example of this is even the social network of monographers, the most reputable of them showing solidarity with Vulcănescu when he was judged in the trial for state undersecretaries of Antonescu’s government (3).
(1) This is not the place for a study of Vulcănescu’s pursuits regarding “the Romanian type” and the Romanian metaphysics. I will do it in an independent study. I will only mention that this “type of Romanian” is a subject of reflection for Vulcănescu in the spirit of cultural typologies, not one of dogmatic definitions or pragmatic ones, as he himself mentions in The Romanian Dimension of Existence (Vulcănescu 2005, 1014).
(2) In a letter from 1943 towards his superior from then, Alexandru Neagu, the moment is evoked like this: “I entered, as you know, in a military government the second day after the rebellion, called to a phone call from Marshall Antonescu – whom I had never seen in my life – at 4 o’clock in the morning and after a bad dream, in a time where everyone was struggling and when the country was at the brink of disaster, I was listening to what seemed to be more of a military call up than a promotion decree in public life. I was then told that the salvation of the country requires the suspension of any political activity” (Butoi 2013, 133).
(3) It is useful to remember that Mircea Vulcănescu was condemned during the trial under subparagraph 2, paragraph a) and subparagraph 1, paragraph b) from the Law 312/1945, or more exactly for “declaring or continuing the war against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United Nations” and respectively “militating for Hitlerism and fascism and having actual political responsibility, they permitted the entry of the German army on the country’s territory” (Mezdrea 2013, 665). In Vulcănescu’s case, as well as that of others, “militating for Hitlerism and fascism” had been inferred simply from participating in the Antonescu government, given that the defense’s evidence showed the exact contrary. It has to be mentioned that even the court that convicted him to 8 years in prison and the seizing of his property detained, in the appeal, “extenuating circumstances” derived Vulcănescu’s independent activity at the Ministry of Finance. No accusation regarding offenses committed against the Jews has been used in his sentencing.
Șafran 1996 | Șafran, Alexandru, Un tăciune smuls flăcărilor. Comunitatea evreiască din România, 1939-1947. Memorii, București, Ed. Hasefer (1996)
Vulcănescu 2013 | Vulcănescu, Mărgărita Ioana, Memorii – Jurnal, vol. 1, București, Ed. Vitruviu (2013)
Vulcănescu 2005 | Vulcănescu, Mircea, Opere I. Dimensiunea românească a existenţei, Bucureşti, Ed. Univers Enciclopedic (2005)
Mezdrea 2013 | Mezdrea, Dora, Nae Ionescu și discipolii săi în arhiva securității. Volumul V: Mircea Vulcănescu, Cluj-Napoca, Eikon (2013)
Vulcănescu 1941 | Vulcănescu, Mircea, Virgil Madgearu – intelectualul, în Revista de studii sociologice și muncitorești, 28 (1941)
Butoi 2014 | Butoi, Ionuț, The Enciclopaedia as a power strategy. A snap-shot of a precarious domination and an unfinnished project: Vulcănescu and the national character în Transilvania, 10-11 (2014)
Butoi 2014 | Butoi, Ionuț, The Young Generation in official clothes. Mircea Vulcănescu’s case în Anuarul Institutului de Istorie „George Baritiu” din Cluj-Napoca, Series Humanistica, XII (2014)
Butoi 2013 | Butoi, Ionuț, O corespondenţă inedită din timpul guvernării antonesciene. Mircea Vulcănescu și Alexandru Neagu, în Sfera Politicii, 175 (2013)
Arhiva CNSAS – Dosar nr. 8740 vol. nr. 1, privind starea de spirit, 1933-1941
photo: Willy Prager, Bucharest, 1940, pinterest.com