Bucharest, Romania · June 27, 1940

On this date in 1940 Red Army troops invaded Roma­nia in the wake of Roma­nian King Carol II’s refusal to cede the east­ern terri­tories of Bes­sa­rabia and North­ern Buko­vina to the Soviet Union (see map). These terri­tories had been assigned to the Soviet sphere of in­flu­ence in a secret pro­to­col in the German-Soviet Non­aggres­sion Pact (Ribben­trop-Molotov Pact) of August 1939. The double-dealing Adolf Hitler, eager to bur­nish good rela­tions between Nazi Ger­many, Fascist Italy (his Axis part­ner), Roma­nia, and the Soviet Union, “bro­kered” an agree­ment that left Soviet dic­ta­tor Joseph Stalin holding his booty and pro-German Hun­gary getting forty per­cent of Roma­nian Transyl­vania. (Only Transyl­vania was returned to Romania in 1945 after Germany’s defeat.)

In the wake of these set­backs, King Carol II abdi­cated in favor of his teen­age son, Michael (Mihai), but not before appointing Gen. Ion Anto­nescu (1882–1946) to the office of prime minis­ter. Despite opposing the German-engi­neered terri­torial con­ces­sions foisted on Roma­nia, the 59‑year-old Anto­nescu wel­comed the pro­tec­tion afforded by Hitler’s occu­pa­tion of his coun­try. The dicta­torial Con­du­cător (leader), who also held the offices of Foreign Affairs and Defense, came to admire Hitler and brought his coun­try into the Axis Tri­par­tite Pact in late Novem­ber 1941, pri­marily in hopes of gaining back Bes­sarabia and Buko­vina by backing Germany, now at war with the Soviet Union.

Roma­nia’s army, the third largest after Ger­many’s and Italy’s, played a major role on the Eastern Front. Within days of Opera­tion Bar­ba­rossa’s launch on June 22, 1941—Hitler’s failed attempt to exter­mi­nate the Soviet Union—Anto­nescu placed 17 Roma­nian divi­sions at Ger­many’s dis­posal. Roma­nia’s mili­tary contri­bu­tion, coupled with its oil deli­veries to the Ger­man war machine and the per­sonal respect Anto­nescu enjoyed from Hitler, placed Roma­nia on a par with Benito Mus­so­lini’s Italy as a principal ally of Germany.

The alliance had devastating conse­quences for Roma­nia. With a pre­war popu­lation of more than 18 mil­lion (which included people living in terri­tories forever lost in the war), roughly 370,000 Roma­nian com­bat­ants died. Addi­tionally, 265,000 Roma­nian Jews lost their life. After the country reversed its alle­giance and joined with the Soviets to fight against Axis armies in 1944–1945, 167,000 Roma­nians were killed, wounded, or went missing.

Romania in World War II

Romania, 1930

Above: Map of Romania and its neighbors in 1930. Subjected to mili­tary and diplo­matic threats from its neighbors, Romania in June 1940 ceded to the Soviet Union (Uniunea Sovietica on map) the regions of Bes­sarabia (rose) and Buko­vina (brown). Almost half of Transly­vania (gray) was ceded to Hungary (Ungaria on map) in August 1940 and two coun­ties in Southern Dobro­gea were handed over to Bul­garia the next month, Septem­ber 1940. In all, Romania ceded about 100,000 sq. kilo­meters (38,610 sq. miles) of terri­tory and uprooted about 7,000,000 inhab­i­tants (roughly 33 per­cent of its popu­la­tion), the land grab of its neighbors never drawing the ire of West European democracies.

King Michael (Mihai) I of Romania, 1947Wartime photograph of Ion Antonescu, 1882–1946

Left: King Michael I of Romania in 1947. In 1944 Michael led a suc­cess­ful coup with support from oppo­si­tion poli­ticians and the army that deposed Anto­nescu, abolished his dictator­ship, and placed Roma­nia on the side of the Allies. On Decem­ber 30, 1947, Michael was forced by the Com­munist Party of Roma­nia to abdi­cate to the Soviet armies of occupation and the monarchy was abolished.

Right: Wartime photograph of Ion Anto­nescu. On Septem­ber 5, 1940, Gen. Antonescu became Roma­nia’s Prime Minis­ter. He traveled to Ger­many and met Hitler on eight occa­sions between June 1941 and August 1944. On August 23, 1944, King Michael arrested Anto­nescu. In May 1946, the Roma­nian Com­munist govern­ment prose­cuted the former prime minis­ter in a series of People’s Tribu­nals on charges of war crimes, crimes against the peace, and trea­son. Anto­nescu was executed by a military firing squad on June 1, 1946.

Photo Montage of Romanian Armed Forces on the Eastern Front, 1941–1943, Set to Music and Song