February 1943. Nazi Germany and its allies, including Romania, lost the Battle of Stalingrad. They were crushed by the Soviet troops. In front of an irreversible disaster, the Romanian authorities are taking very seriously the removal of the country from the war. Therefore, negotiations with the Allies are taking place.
A 23-year-old took the responsibility for the fate of an entire nation. It happened in the most difficult moment of Romania’s recent history. The Romanian Royal Army was allied with an odious regime, Nazi Germany, and was trapped in a hopeless war with the Soviets. However, the Soviets were also fighting for a criminal regime.
On the afternoon of August 23, 1944, alone, King Michael I of Romania made a decision that changed the fate of Romania.
The king of Romania at that time had an honorary role. All the power was concentrated in the hands of a military dictator, Marshal Ion Antonescu. He was appointed as the Prime Minister of Romania in September 1940. Antonescu entitled himself the State Leader, just like Adolf Hitler. He was responsible for Romania’s entry into the war at the side of Nazi Germany.
Take the fate into your own hands
In the summer of 1944, it was almost clear the Germany will lose the war and the Romanian politicians were trying to find a way out of the war. The opposition and King Michael I negotiated with the Western Allies at Cairo and the government was negotiating with the Soviets at Stockholm. Because the situation on the front threatened to turn into a catastrophe, the king asked Antonescu to immediately bring Romania out of the war against the Allies. Antonescu refused while he invoked his “officer’s word” that he had given to Adolf Hitler.
As a result, the king ordered the arrest of Ion Antonescu. The military law experts are saying that Antonescu’s refusal couldn’t be justified in any logical way. First of all, he had sworn an oath of faith to the king. Secondly, Antonescu refused to obey the order of a superior. Both king and Antonescu had the rank of Marshals of the Romanian Royal Army, but the king held his rank since 1940 while Antonescu since 1941. According to the military regulations at that time, the oldest in rank was superior.
The “betrayal” against the Nazis, on August 23, 1944, was considered at that moment the most appropriate decision. Besides, no one can explain what would have happened if Romania went further with the Germans.