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Relationships between of the Romanian Orthodox

Church and anti-Semitism before the Holocaust

Gabriel Andreescu

Research report - 2014

I did an analysis of the role played by the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC) in the evolution of
anti-Semitism and its manifestations, from the creation of Greater Romania (1919) to the
genocide of Jews (the Holocaust), using previous research and archives1. Anti-Semitism is a
component of the more general national-orthodox anti-democratic drift. This research provides a
conceptual framework needed in order to take full advantage of the data on anti-Semitism in
Romania between the World Wars. I use the term Holocaust to have a different meaning than
that established in doctrine2; I distinguish between „societal anti-Semitism” and „institutionalized
anti-Semitism”; I concentrate on the study of „the sources of anti-Semitism” and differentiate
between actant resources and passive resources. I identified four stages of anti-Semitism between
the World Wars.
The Romanian Orthodox Church was both a passive resource and an actant resource throughout
the different stages of anti-Semitism until the Holocaust. The relationship of the ROC with antiSemitism took different forms for the church as an institution, for the clergy and for the
heterogeneous community of the faithful. ROC anti-Semitism was only one component of
Orthodox nationalism – a body of ideas and practices, hostile towards other religious
communities and, more generally, hostile towards any form of otherness that could affect the
ideal of a homogenous orthodox nation.
The Romanian State and the Romanian Orthodox Church have been in a constant dispute over
who has the authority within Romanian society. However, throughout this period, the State
dominated the Church because of the ROC’s dependence on the material resources provided by
the state and as a result of the state institutional power. During the second part of the ‘30s, the
ROC succeeded in pushing some of its objectives into the governmental agenda. Even so, the
state had the advantage over the church. The relationships between church leadership, the


The study stems from looking at previous works in conjecture with two archives: the CNSAS archive, which holds
the files of the Securitate (including the files of the former State Security, between 1922 and 1945) and the National
Archive. The ROC did not allow access to its own archives.
This corresponds to the concept of genocide (against Jews) as defined by the Convention on the Prevention and
Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

orthodox clergy and the community of the faithful were influenced by this asymmetry of power.
The result was a rift within the Orthodox Church between its hierarchy and the clergy. The main
conflict was triggered by the involvement of the clergy in politics. The Orthodox clergy entered
the political arena and represented an important resource for nationalist-Orthodoxist political
movements. In critical situations, the hierarchy was forced to condemn the actions of the clergy
and the political involvement of its members.
In my research I stress that at the beginning of the ‘20s, contrary to the opinion of some others3,
the Romanian state was evolving towards modernity. The foundational laws of the time, starting
with the Constitution of 1923 and continuing with the 1928 Law on religious denominations,
assume that Romania is a secular state. There was a conflict between the modernism of the
majority of the political elites and the traditional culture and ideological resources of the largest
part of the population. Entrepreneurs of these latter resources created a constant pressure on the
state, and changed little by little the political ethos of the Romanian state.
Research on anti-Semitism in Romania is done in the context of the adoption of a framework
doctrine for this phenomenon, in the form of the Final Report of the International Commission
for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania (2004). That is why I repeatedly highlight where our
contribution deviates from the theses of the Final Report.

A. Concepts used in analyzing the four stages of anti-Semitism in
Romania, 1918-1944
The Holocaust
The term „anti-Semitism” is used to refer to language, ideas, attitudes and practices that are
hostile toward Jews. We separate anti-Semitic manifestations in Romania between the World
Wars into four stages, and use the term “Holocaust” in its narrow sense to refer to „the genocide
of Jews”. The Holocaust, as presented by the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust,
Yad Vashem, is defined as the sum total of all anti-Jewish actions carried out by the Nazi regime
between 1933 and 1945, including: stripping the German Jews of their legal and economic status
in the 1930s`; segregation and starvation in the various occupied countries; the murder of close

I am thinking also of the Final Report of the International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania.

to six million Jews in Europe.4 The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has the same
approach if in somewhat different terms: “The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, statesponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its
collaborators."5 In Romania, the Final report and the studies in the journal Holocaust. Studies
and research use the same definition. Therefore, defining the Holocaust as the sum of actions,
between 1933 and 1945, towards the discrimination, segregation and starvation, and murder of
Jews became a part of the doctrine on anti-Semitism.
This definition mixes together acts of very different ethical and legal status: discrimination,
repression, murder and genocide against Jews. The choice to do so stems from the assumption
that the genocide of Jews was a necessary result of the repressive acts preceding it. We think it
would be wrong to say this assumption is supported by the evidence. Here, we will use the term
„Holocaust” (or „Shoah”) to mean „the genocide of Jews”, as defined by the Convention on the
Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: acts committed with the intent to destroy,
in whole or in part, the Jewish community. Hence, the Romanian Holocaust starts with the Jassy
pogrom of June 27, 1941, and lasts until 1943.
During the fourth stage of the Holocaust the Jews from Basarabia and Transnistria were
exterminated, through massacres or the living conditions imposed on them in the labor camps in
Transnistria. The Final Report estimates that between 280,000 and 370,000 Jews were killed.
Romania’s contribution to the tragedy of European Jews also has several contradictory elements.
Marshall Ion Antonescu, the leader of Romania at the time, refused to hand over to the Germans
around 350,000 Jews living in the Old Kingdom, and thus they survived the second World War.
During the war, the Antonescu government allowed some Jews from Poland and Hungary to
transit Romania in order to save themselves by boarding ships on the Black Sea or moving into
Societal anti-Semitism, institutional anti-Semitism and the four stages
From September 1920, when Corneliu Zelea Codreanu managed to persuade the first student
congress in Greater Romania, in Cluj, to decide to expel Jews from student organizations, and

5 - accessed on 15 May, 2014. accessed on 15 May.

until the formation of the national legionary government on September 14th 1940, a powerful,
grassroots anti-Semitic movement developed and was structured within the larger society, with
separate resources and in opposition to the values of the state. We call this societal antiSemitism.
Between the formation of Greater Romania (1919) and until the National Christian Party came to
power in 1937 (the Goga government), state authorities supported the principles of the democratic
state based on the equality of citizens. During the ‘20s the foundational laws of the

modernization of the Romanian state were passed: the 1923 Constitution, which granted
citizenship to Jews (up to that point inhabitants of inferior legal status6) and stated that all are
equal independent of ethnic or religious identity; and the 1928 Law on religious denominations.7
But the pressure created by the anti-Semitism of extremist organizations and parties managed to
erode those constitutional principles during the `30s. On December 29th, 1933, the Prime
Minister Ion G. Duca, who jailed thousands of Iron Guard members, was shot to death by a
legionnaire squad.
Starting in 1934, the Tătărăscu government adopted several laws imposing a quota for Romanian
ethnics within economic institutions, laws that mainly affected the Jewish community. However,
between 1919 and 1937, the state was a counterweight to the escalating anti-Semitic plans and
actions. The Romanian society was still at a stage of societal anti-Semitism.
The naming of Octavian Goga, a known, anti-Semitic, politician and cultural personality, as
Prime Minister, on December 29th, 1937, was the result of growing anti-Semitic pressure, but
also an attempt to stop the political rise of the Iron Guard, a more anti-Semitic and threatening
entity. Using decrees, the Goga government closed newspapers that were viewed as dominated
by Jews, stopped the aid provided by the state to Jewish institutions, and cancelled liquor
licenses. Decree no. 169/22 January 1938 for amending the citizenship of Jews led to a loss of
citizenship for 252.222 Jews. However, the measures implemented by the Goga government
were judged insufficient by the Romanian society. The result was political and social instability.

According to art. 7 of the 1866 Constitution, “The Romanian citizenship is obtained, kept and lost according to the
rules stated by civil laws. Only Christian foreigners may obtain Romanian citizenship”.
Although the National Liberal Party and the National Peasant Party were responsible for the adoption of the two
fundamental laws, the Final Report calls them “at most indifferent to the situation of the Jewish minority” (Final
Report, p. 20).

This is the context in which, on February 11th, 1938, the king declared the Constitution invalid,
dissolved political parties and installed on February 20th, 1938, the royal dictatorship.
King Carol’s Constitution included ambiguous provisions that could be used against Jews. The
Miron Cristea government (created on February 13th, 1938) further amended the citizenship of
Jews. No new anti-Semitic laws were adopted, but administrative decisions and rules were used
to further the marginalization of the Jewish population. From December 1937 to September 14th,
1940, Romania was at a stage of institutional anti-Semitism, i.e., of adopting anti-Semitic
measures at the level of the state.
The ideology of the 1937-1940 governments was explicitly nationalistic, anti-Semitism was a
component of state nationalism, but the governments had to face nonetheless the violent antiSemitism of the Iron Guard. Prime Minister Armand Călinescu was assassinated in September
1939 because of his anti-legionnaires measures. The government arrested many members of the
Iron Guard, which was already banned, and attempted to repress its activity.
The institutionalized anti-Semite anarchism during the National-Legionary State
The legionnaires’ rise to power and the formation of the national-legionary government on
September 14th, 1940 changed dramatically the situation of Jews in Romania. They were left
defenseless against people who hated them or just wanted to steal their property, whether people
on the street or public servants. Given the particularities of this stage, extremely violent but not
of genocidal proportions, we call it the institutionalized anti-Semite anarchism. This apparent
oxymoron stresses the organized destabilization (by the national-legionary state) of the system of
protection of Jewish citizens – the exact opposite of the state’s duty to its citizens. As a result, the
Jews became pray to anarchist acts that went well beyond previous anti-Semitic actions, in
number and intensity, but also qualitatively. Their assets were taken from them8, they lost
residence and freedom to move rights, and children were killed9. Many disappeared never to be

Notice by the Jewish Community of Râmnicu Vâlcea from December 30th, 1940: “all Jewish merchants were
closed down. The merchandise was taken by the legionnaires, and we received 10% of its real value (many of the
parishioners left the city” (Ibidem, f. 24).
Notice through which the parents announce the 16 years old son of the Gelber family was picked up by
legionnaires and taken to the Police, and then the hospital, where he died of “intoxication” (Ibidem, ff. 92-94).

found again10. It was a time for paybacks11. The victims were beaten12, and then forced to give
away houses and shops, they were blindfolded and told they will be killed. The perpetrators
became completely dehumanized, and the local authorities remained passive13. When it got
involved following requests for intervention, the central government didn’t punish the guilty.14
This stage lasted until Marshall Ion Antonescu’s victory against the legionary rebellion, on
February 14th, 1941.

B. The Romanian Orthodox Church as a passive resource of
chauvinism and anti-Semitism
The passive resources of anti-Semitism consist of the language, attitudes and ideas that feed antiSemitism, a potential at the level of orthodox thought. It is “passive” because a transformation of
language, attitudes and ideas into active anti-Semitism depends on opportunities and context.
The Church is one of the best examples of the major consequences that can stem from slight
differences in interpretation of the same text15. A particular verse may be given an exclusivist
interpretation by chance, to later become a popular argument for anti-Semitism. The potential
anti-Semitism of the orthodox thought was also taken advantage of through local and popular
interpretations of dogma and traditions that are sometimes contrary to the canonic interpretation.

Notice on November 24th, 1940: Dr. H. Fisher, the president of the Jewish Community of Piatra Neamţ was
picked up by legionnaires and was never seen again. His 17 years old daughter went to the Legionary Police and was
never seen again (Ibidem, f. 17).
On November 13th, 1940, Cohu Eugen was surrounded by 15 legionnaires and 6 policemen and taken to City Hall.
He was arrested and beaten repeatedly until he signed a confession “admitting” he had said bad things about the
legionnaires. He had been “reported” by D. Grozea, who had been sued many years before by the shop where Cohu
Eugen worked for not paying (Jewish Community in Romania Archive, 21/1940, ff. 8-9).
Notice to the fact that in Călăraşi-Ialomiţa, on the night of November 23rd, 1940, all the Jews were taken to a cave
at the Legion were they were beaten until morning. The attempt to run Jews out of the cities (43 Jews were badly
beaten) belong to the Legionary Police (Ibidem, ff. 98-99).
Notice from December 29th, 1940, to the Union of Jewish Communities in the Old Kingdom: several Jews in
Târgu Neamţ report that during the investigation by the Police and General State Security Commissariat
„superhuman efforts were made … to not write down the names of those that had beaten, mockingly cut our hair,
took our money or houses…” (Ibidem, f. 51).
Letter from a group of merchants addressed to Marshall Ion Antonescu (December 6th, 1940). Armed legionnaires
brought in young people who were taken into shops and put their names over the owners’. This lasted until
December 7th, 1940, when, “following the energetic response of the authorities, these young people were taken out
of the shops, their signs were removed and order was reestablished” (Ibidem, f. 11).
The Old or the New Testament have been interpreted very differently and have generated very different behaviors
depending on epoch and denomination.

The use of Christian dogma to support murder and violence is not unique to Orthodox antiSemitism in Romania, where „the violent, aggressive and oppressive phobia against Jews bears a
"national-Christian" stamp and its every action, no matter how unchristian or antichristian, is
defined and made "sacred" by divine offices with priests in vestments.”16 Other versions of
European anti-Semitism in the ‘30s invoke Christianity: „in Hungary, anti-Semitic students pose
as Crusaders; in Poland, the clergy supports – and sometimes leads – the anti-Semitic movement,
even though the latter is purely chauvinistic; in Austria, the systematic removal of Jews from
public life and away from their means of support is done in the name of social Christianity, with
the unconditional support of the church, and in England, the leader of the fascists emphatically
declared yesterday: « Israel hates Jesus, hence it hates us too »”17.
The essential attribute of ROC-fueled anti-Semitism is its association with a nationalistic vision.
The relationship Orthodoxism-nationalism is described by Dumitru Stăniloaie, "the most
important Romanian Orthodox theologian of the twentieth century"18, thus: "a people is an
irreducible ontological space. It is the ultimate specific unit of humanity. It is the basis of
explaining individually and the medium of living. Humanity does not exist as a continuum or a
uniform discontinuum. God's creation can be found in no other place but in the expression of
ethnic communities."19 As a consequence, Christianity, which in the Romanian context is
Orthodoxy, is "a necessary path towards nationalism, and nationalism, in turn, is a necessary
path towards Christianity."20
ROC dogma is at the same time a source of anti-Semitism and of acts hostile towards other
churches and faiths. The positive fervor for Orthodoxy is transformed into a thesis of uniqueness:
“Orthodoxy is the only authentic representation of heaven on earth."21 Theological thought is
transformed into an exclusivist, patronizing or hostile view of other beliefs and identities. While,
for the ROC, Protestantism and Catholicism are inferior to Orthodoxy, the other religious


A. L. Zissu, Logos, Israel, Biserica. Viciile organice ale bisericii şi criza omenirii creştine, Tipografia “Moderna”,
Bucureşti, 1937, p. 4.
Idem, p. 5.
Lavinia Stan, Lucian Turcescu, Religion and Politics in Post-Communist Romania, Oxford University Press, New
York, 2007, p. 45.
Dumitru Stăniloaie, “Biserica românească” (1942), in Dumitru Stăniloaie, Naţiune şi creştinism) Bucureşti: Elion,
2004), 145-146.
Dumitru Stăniloaie ,“Creştinism şi naţionalism” (1940), in Stăniloaie, 117-118.
Dumitru Stăniloaie, “Ortodoxia şi viaţa socială” (1940), in Stăniloaie, 109.

movements are real dangers. Dumitru Stăniloaie welcomed the measures taken by the legionary
government to remove Masons from public office and prohibit all sects: "...masonry and sects on
the other hand were like worms consuming the body of our State, bringing apathy into souls and
decay of our national unity, pouring the winning corrosive over the love of nation. Between all of
them there is a connection, all of them were united by the malicious conspiracy to lead this
nation to the grave."22
Theological thought is a good example of a passive resource: one that incites or legitimizes
actions when the right societal circumstances appear. The extreme violence of the theological
language in the quote above should be noticed: "masonry and sects on the other hand were like
worms consuming the body of our State”. This type of aggressiveness was also present in the
communications of the executive bodies of the ROC in the ‘30s. The public statements move the
conceptual framework towards an active role in public life. Just like Stăniloaie, the 1937 ROC
Synod condemned the Freemasonry in extremely harsh terms: „Stark materialism and
opportunism in all actions are the necessary conclusion of Freemason premises. Freemason
lodges gather together Jews and Christians and the Freemasonry states that only those gathered
in its lodges know the truth and rise above other people. This means that Christianity doesn’t
confer any advantage in knowing the truth and achieving the salvation of its members. The
Church cannot watch unmoved how Jesus’ mortal enemies are thought to be above Christians in
regard to knowing the highest truths and to salvation”.23
Although this paragraph is concerned with freemasons, the views regarding Jews are also
apparent. They are „the mortal enemies of Jesus”. Such anti-freemason and anti-Semitic
messages nourish the clergy and the faithful. But the orthodox nationalism is the cause of which
anti-Semitism is just a result. That is why the hostile opinions, the propaganda and the actions of
the ROC between the World Wars were mainly directed at religious organizations that were
perceived as a threat to the Church’s dominant role. The Church that was closest dogmatically to
the ROC – the Romanian Church United with Rome, Greek-Catholic (RCUR) – was also the one
which bore the brunt of the ROC attacks. The November 1937 General Report of the "Agru"
Central Committee referred to the campaign launched by the ROC against Greek-Catholics in these

Dumitru Stăniloaie , “Restaurarea românismului în destinul său istoric” (1940), in Stăniloaie, 114-115.
The ROC has never reversed its position.

terms: "An intense and tireless propaganda on behalf of Orthodoxy has monopolized Romanian
nationalism. Moreover, an equally continuous, and often heated, campaign has depicted the United
Church as a national danger, a foreign object in the body of the nation. Nothing was spared in
spreading this idea. Facts are reversed, evidence is distorted. Our leaders are attacked in unworthy
ways. History is falsified with amazing boldness. The city of Blaj and its schools, the great teachers
who awakened the Romanian soul and made of the people of serfs of yore a nation aware, no longer
exist; Clain, Şincai and Maior were « alienated from the core of the nation » (...) Orthodox
publications put forward this message of hatred and enmity in all its forms. Large
organizations, created for other goals, like the For, the Romanian Anti-revisionist League, the
Association of Romanian Clergy, put themselves in the service of this false ideal of pure
These quotes are relevant to more than the issue of anti-Semitism, because they show how
Orthodox nationalism worked as a passive resource not only through its ideas, but also through
its intense opposition to otherness. The ROC was both a School in Hostility and a School in
Ideals of Exclusivity. Much of the previous research underestimates the place of the ROC in the
anti-Semitic movement between the World Wars because researchers have concentrated on
institutional positions and on the highest levels of the hierarchy. But most often the passive
resources fueled processes at the grassroots level. Therefore the best proofs for the role of
Orthodoxist dogma and attitudes in “creating” anti-Semites are the testimonies of clergy that
became legionnaires and were involved in anti-Semitic violence.
We will highlight one case study. Priest Ilie Imbrescu joined the legionary movement because he
was interested in nationalism, „in a doctrinal and academic sense”, because it was „deep and
strengthened in his soul, since childhood, under the influence of the education in his family”25.
His father had been „a nationalist fighter against the oppressive Hungarian domination”.26
Imbrescu studied Theology in Cernăuţi, where he joined the Student Center of Cernăuţi, and
became at one point the president of the student movement. In his mind, nationalism and

The November 1937 General Congress in Satu Mare (Buletinul AGRU Bucureşti, nr. 8-9, July-August 2002.)
The legionary priest wrote his testimony in the detention camp near Miercurea-Ciuc. He sent his book of
testimonies from there, on December 7th, 1938, to Metropolitan Nicodim Munteanu, at the time ad-interim President
of the ROC Synod.
The Imbrescu family was from Banat (p. 20).

Ortodoxism, through history and education, were two sides of the same coin. Initially, he looked
up to Professor A.C. Cuza, at the time president of the National Christian Defense League and
thought to be the father of Romanian Christian nationalism. During a discussion on February 4th,
1930, Ilie Imbrescu asked the latter a question regarding the Old Testament. A.C. Cuza rejected
the Old Testament and stated that „Jesus was not from the body of a Jew” 27. Faced with such
major dogmatic errors, the theologian-to-be looked toward other sources.
In this context of personal searches, he met Zelea Codreanu and read „The Nest Leader's
Manual”28, and in 1933 became a legionnaire because „the meetings of these nests convinced me
that the legionary movement walks on the path of the old Orthodox-nationalist « law »”29.
Reading Ilie Imbrescu’s book of testimonies, we can find out how a priest searches for and finds
in the Holy Book arguments for murder: „Therefore,…, do I support murder? This is a question
whose answer requires the Priest to have the courage to not be hypocritical! Because God stops
murder, but punishes folly dreadfully! “Jesus said to his disciples: Things that cause people to sin
are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. 2 It would be better for him
to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these
little ones to sin”. (Luca 17, 1-2)”30.
The case of Ilie Imbrescu highlights perfectly the connection between nationalism, Ortodoxism
and dogma, and the manner in which their components, as passive resources, were transformed
by circumstances and contexts into violent anti-Semitic actions. His case is similar to those of
tens of thousands of priests who supported anti-Semitism and to those of many Orthodox faithful
taught that Jews are „Jesus’ mortal enemies”, that the Jewish people is an intruder on the
"orthodox land" and that „to be Romanian is to be Orthodox”, and who turned those ideas into
political practice.


Ibidem, p. 21..
“The Nest Leader's Manual” collects Corneliu Zelea Codreanu's ideological teachings.
Ibidem, p. 55.
Ibidem, p. 60.

C. The Romanian Orthodox Church as an actant resource for antiSemitism
The ROC as an actant resource for anti-Semitism encompasses the set of orthodox actants, social
actors that engaged in anti-Semitic acts because they saw them as arising from their Orthodox
faith, or that placed their anti-Semitic acts under an Orthodox banner. This set includes the
church as an institution, orthodox foundations and associations, the clergy and the heterogeneous
community of the faithful. The orthodox actants were an important segment of Romanian society
between the World Wars. Their behavior was often in conflict with the place reserved at the time
by the state for religious actors.
C1. The attitude of the Romanian state toward religion and the Churches
Mainstream studies on interwar anti-Semitism focus on documenting instances of anti-Semitism.
This focus leads to paradoxical phenomena: the borders separating social actors are blurred, and
the number of relevant actors and their role is underestimated. An ample study like the Final
Report of the International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania gives the
ROC more of a supporting role in the evolution of anti-Semitism, limiting it to the anti-Semitic
statements of some clergy and members of the ROC hierarchy.
Our evaluation diverges most from the results of the Final Report in the role it assigns to state
authorities between the World Wars and in particular during the stage of societal anti-Semitism.
The authors of the Final Report state that the period between the Wars continues the history of
anti-Semitism on the same lines on which it was built in the 19th century. The 1937 movement
towards an institutionalized anti-Semitism is not, then, a change in the nature of the latter, but
just a new phase in its evolution31. The political elites leading Greater Romania, the leaders of
the National Liberal Party and the National Peasant Party were at most indifferent toward the
situation of the Jewish minority in the country32. Anti-Semitism, according to the Final Report,
permeated the entire social body of Romania between the World Wars.


Final Report, p. 11.
Final Report, p. 20.

This perspective cannot explain however the emancipation in terms of citizenship rights of the
Jewish community in the ‘20s or its widespread integration within the economic and cultural
system of the State. The emancipation of the Jews was a force oriented toward modernization.
During the second half of the ‘30s, in the international context of the rise of European fascism,
the actors for modernity gave up in the face of the anti-modernization tendencies of the
The modernizing actions of the State in the ‘20s
The 1923 Constitution confers full right to Jews. The fundamental law was written under
pressure from the Powers that had recognized the new borders of Greater Romania and went
against many voices at the national level. But the support of the Romanian state in 1923 was not
purely formal, as was demonstrated by the Law of religious denominations adopted in 1928. The
explanatory memorandum of the law argues that
„In defining the relationship between the state and religious denominations our draft
follows the principle of equal protection established by art. 22 of the Constitution. No
differentiation is being made between one denomination and another. All are equal and
all receive the same support and protection, because all have the same civilizing purpose
and because all correspond to the spiritual needs of a smaller or bigger part of the
population of the country. […] Paragraph f of the draft talks about the Mosaic
denomination, without addressing specifically the different branches in which it was
divided by historical circumstances. By using the general term of Mosaic denomination
we do not mean to prevent its organization according to the differences in rituals that
exist. Every branch shall have the freedom to organize itself independently, according to
the implementation rules of this law. Of course, in this division of the Mosaic
denomination into branches only those that have achieved a distinct and recognized
character during the historical development of the denomination shall be taken into

*** Biserica noastră şi cultele minoritare. Marea discuţie parlamentară în jurul Legii cutelor, Introduction N.
Russu Ardealeanu, p. 22.

It is relevant that during prior parliamentary debate the main concern of the Mosaic
denomination, represented by Rabbi I. Niemirover, was that „too much freedom of conscience”
may affect the functioning of the denomination at a collective level. In particular, there was
suspicion toward the ease of changing religious identity:
„The freedom of conscience is the basis of this law. In regard to some paragraphs that
deal with changing religious denominations, the freedom of conscience was the guide of
the legislator. Moves from one denomination to another cannot be seen positively by
priests. I am not talking about moving from one denomination to a related one, but of
moving from one denomination to another that is very different from the initial faith. The
freedom of denominations must also be limited in some situations, and it was well said
that no religious requirement can be used as a pretext for not doing one’s duty to the
State. On the other hand the State is also required to respect as much as possible, in order
to preserve the order of the State, the religious and ritual options of every
The Ministry of Religious Denominations took this grievance into account35.
The parliamentary debates instigated by the Constitution and later by the Law of Religious
Denominations show the inclination toward modernity of historical party leaders and the
bureaucracy they had created, made apparent through legislation. Other motivations, like the
promises made at the international level and economic interests, may be seen in many ways. But
everything points to a push by the institutions of the state towards democracy.
The relationship between the State and the ROC
The political regime created by the 1923 Constitution acknowledged the Orthodox religion as
dominant, but the differentiation of denominations was viewed from a democratic perspective.
The preamble for the 1928 Law on Religious Denominations talked about a „secular state”,
*** Biserica noastră şi cultele minoritare. Marea discuţie parlamentară în jurul Legii cutelor, Introduction N.
Russu Ardealeanu, p. 132.
According to Rabbi I. Niemirover: „If provisions are made such that every locality may only have one [religious]
community, it is clear that the rights of the Spanish communities in the Kingdom and the separatist Orthodox
communities in Ardeal would not be in any way violated. If such measures to organize a single community in each
locality are not taken, there is a danger that our denomination will be pulverized through the formation of sects.”
(Biserica noastră şi cultele minoritare. Marea discuţie parlamentară în jurul Legii cutelor, Introduction N. Russu
Ardealeanu, p. 134.).

based on religious freedom, a fact that was noticed and highlighted by the leaders of different
religious communities.
The State was the administrator of this freedom and held the instruments that allowed it to limit
the abuses of the denominations. Religious freedom and the protection of all denominations were
guaranteed, and enhanced by the provision that „religious beliefs cannot stop anybody from
gaining and exercising civil and political rights”. At the same time, art. 2 also stated that
religious beliefs cannot exempt anybody from obeying the law.36
This hierarchical relationship also affected the ROC. Some researchers insist on the privileged
relationship between the ROC and the state, while ignoring the other side of the coin: the state’s
control over the ROC. This preoccupation with the role of the state is apparent in the legislation,
among other things in the conditions imposed on the clergy and those who work for
„We establish in art. 8 of the draft the following three requirements for members of the
clergy, of the leadership and for public servants at any level of the denominations. That
is: a) they must be Romanian citizens, b) they must enjoy all civil and political rights and
c) they must not have been found guilty through a final decision for crimes against
morality, against State security and in general for any criminal act.”37
The Romanian state recognized the right of denominations to create, administer and control
cultural and charitable institutions, but imposed some rules:
„The study of history, Romanian language and literature and the Constitution of the
country is required in these establishments, and they will be taught according to a
curriculum established by the same authority, with the consent however of the Ministries
of Religious Denomination and of Education, such that they do not prevent the specialized

See art. 2, art. 7, par. 1 ant art. 22 of the Law for Religious Denominations (Biserica noastră şi cultele minoritare.
Marea discuţie parlamentară în jurul Legii cutelor, Introduction N. Russu Ardealeanu, p. 2).
Preamble to the Law for Religious Denominations: *** Biserica noastră şi cultele minoritare. Marea discuţie
parlamentară în jurul Legii cutelor, Introduction N. Russu Ardealeanu, p. 19.

theological training and are compatible with the moral religious character of these

A key provision, meant to preserve the authority of the state over religious denominations, was
the prohibition of political involvement for members of the clergy, which included a ban of
denominational political organizations. These were the arguments of the Minister for Religious
Denominations and the Arts, Alexandru Lepădatu, in his support for the draft-law on religious
„Art. 4 prohibits the creation of denominational political organizations and the debate of
political issues within church institutions and bodies. We thought this provision was
necessary because, while religious beliefs are and remain a part of every citizen’s
conscience, in a State like ours, of secular tradition and character, it is dangerous, we
believe, for them to be used as a basis for political fights, in the same way in which it is
dangerous when the latter, the political fights, permeate the life of religious institutions
and bodies. This is true also because the denominations are, essentially, religious
organizations with ideal purposes, and hence must keep themselves within this sphere and
not get involved in issues that are not in accordance with their mission. Militant politics
must be completely excluded from the internal life of denominations, because it may
disturb the inner peace they have a duty to propagate and sustain.”39

The government and its minister assumed the secular character of the state and the danger of
mixing religion and politics and turned them into general principles for the functioning of the
state. In the meantime, the Orthodox clergy moved in the opposite direction, not just getting
involved in politics but supporting precisely those movements that challenged public authorities.
The 1937 anti-democratic drift and the move towards an institutionalized anti-Semitism were
accompanied by a new symbolic position of the ROC. During the Goga government, the Minister
for Religious Denominations and Arts, Ioan Lupaş, defined the role of the ROC within the new
government in a manner completely contrary to the spirit of the Constitution:
Preamble to the Law for Religious Denominations: *** Biserica noastră şi cultele minoritare. Marea discuţie
parlamentară în jurul Legii cutelor, Introduction N. Russu Ardealeanu, p. 19.
*** Biserica noastră şi cultele minoritare. Marea discuţie parlamentară în jurul Legii cutelor, Introduction N.
Russu Ardealeanu, p. 2.

„We want to lay as the basis of the Romanian state the spiritual principles of Christianity.
We want the National Church to be considered as the supreme representative of the force
which generates a moral life ( ... ). We want a fighting clergy that is an essential part of
the organization of the State, according to Romanian tradition and the ethical
requirements of a sound national edifice.”40
The Constitution that established the bases of the authoritarian regime of Carol the Second41 also
granted the status of dominant church to the Orthodox Church, with authority in the canonic and
spiritual spheres. Patriarch Miron Cristea was named Prime Minister a second time (March 30th,
1938 – February 1st, 1939). Nicolae Colan, a bishop of Vad, Feleac and Cluj and member of the
government, described in his statement to the King his aspiration for a close relationship between
church and state: „Your Highness’ same trust called me to lead the Department for Religious
Denominations and the Arts. To be the connection between denominations, the dominant Church
in particular, and the state. To promote the realization of the commandment: Give to Caesar what
belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”.42

Later, Marshall Ion Antonescu called Christianity a factor of equilibrium for the Romanian
nation. The leader of the state expected the Orthodox Church to promote Christian teachings and
values „as an essential component of the process of national purification”.43

But those dictators that proclaimed the high place held by the Orthodox Church within the state
were also the ones that demanded from it the highest level of obedience. Carol the Second
elevated to the level of constitutional principle the interdiction against priests of any religious

Letter on December 31st, 1937 addressed by the Minister to the Patriarch (Costel Coajă, Relaţia stat-biserică în
perioada 1938-1948. Cazul Bisericii Ortodoxe Române, Princeps Edit, Iaşi , 2008, p. 18).
It is worth highlighting an analysis by Armin Heinen, according to which the dictatorship of Carol the Second is
not a totalitarian dictatorship or despotism since political figures are co-opted in the Crown Council, parties were
allowed to exist – even if only outside the law –, and media censorship allowed the expression of a multitude of
points of view (see Armin Heinen, Legiunea „Arhanghelului Mihail ". O contribuţie la problema fascismului
internaţional, Humanitas, Bucureşti 1999).
Costel Coajă, Relaţia stat-biserică în perioada 1938-1948. Cazul Bisericii Ortodoxe Române, Princeps Edit, Iaşi ,
2008, p. 20.
Costel Coajă, Relaţia stat-biserică în perioada 1938-1948. Cazul Bisericii Ortodoxe Române, Princeps Edit, Iaşi ,
2008, p. 30.

denomination to use their spiritual authority in the interest of political causes, in their own spaces
or through public office. Political propaganda is forbidden in places of worship or during
religious ceremonies. Any political organization built on religious grounds was banned.44

This was the language used by the Ministry for National Education, Religious Denominations
and the Arts on February 1941, after the suppression of the legionary rebellion:
„It is strictly forbidden for members of the clergy of any denomination, category or
hierarchic level to register with, join or pay contributions to any party or political
organization, or to participate in any political movement or manifestation. They may be
active in national-cultural or welfare organizations that are so registered according to the
law for legal entities but may not hold a salaried position.”45

As the leader of the state, Ion Antonescu stressed on different occasions the submission of the
Church to the authority of the state:
„The Church that always asks for the support of the State must integrate into the State
order. Otherwise, the Church is the first example of anarchy. The State fails under such
circumstances. The Church receives money from the State. The State sacrifices for the
benefit of the Church, it is its duty, because it is in the interest of the state and its

Marshall Ion Antonescu also punished severely those priests that questioned the authority of the
State, among other things sending hundreds of priests involved in the legionary rebellion to


Article 8 of the Constitution.
Decision no. 9349 on February 15th, 1941.
Costel Coajă, Relaţia stat-biserică în perioada 1938-1948. Cazul Bisericii Ortodoxe Române, Princeps Edit, Iaşi ,
2008, p. 41.

The confrontation between the State and societal anti-Semitism
At the same time that modernization projects were implemented in Romania, a current contrary
to Western values and the direction chosen by public institutions developed. Its main roots were
the nationalism inspired by the creation of Greater Romania, very present in Transylvania, and
Orthodoxism, present mainly in the Kingdom. The nationalist movements and organizations, and
the Orthodoxist and anti-Semitic political organizations, that appeared one after the other in the
‘20s were in conflict with the state, which led to a spiral of violence that marred the entire
interwar period.

Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, the figure best known for using assassination in politics, founded in
1922 the Association of Christian Students. In the ‘20s, the Orthodoxist movement spread among
university students („the 1922 movement”47), and became organized in the universities from the
major towns in Romania. The General Student Congress in Craiova, on December 2nd, 1929,
adopted the charter of the National Union of Romanian Christian Students, which equated the
Romanian identity and the Christian identity, the beginning of an evolution toward the thesis
„Romanian = Orthodox”, and the related „Romanian = anti-Semite Orthodox”. According to one
of the participants:

„From this congress on in particular, it became more and more common and significant
to use the term: « Romanian-Christian » student for a higher purpose, to finally establish
the fact that Romanian nationalism allows a single outcome: either we are faithful to
death to the religion that will make us victors by the will of the One that gave Romanian
nationalism so many heroes and martyrs, or our decade-long rebellion and battle is
In the case of the student organizations and other organizations created on the basis of an
Orthodox perspective, nationalism and Christianity (Orthodoxism) are indivisible. For example,
according to its charter, the organization „The Orthodox Youth” (registered with the Chişinău
Court) has as its purpose „the unification of all youths under the banner of the defense of

Preot Ilie I. Imbrescu, Biserica şi Mişcarea Legionară, Ed. Cartea Românească, Bucureşti, 1940, p. 20.
Preot Ilie I. Imbrescu, Biserica şi Mişcarea Legionară, Ed. Cartea Românească, Bucureşti, 1940, p. 42.

Christianity against foreignness and the devastating socialist and anarchist movements”.49 Such
an objective would have been as relevant under the name of „The Nationalist Youth”.
The intense collaboration between nationalist and Orthodoxist organizations in the ‘20s and ‘30s
shows that the „partners” see each other as sides of the same coin. As an example: on May 20th,
1935, the Association of the clergy „Assistance” (Orthodoxist) thanked the „Worship of the
Motherland” organization (nationalist) for its support;50 on March 30th, 1936, a professor in the
School of Theology, Marin Ionescu (an Orthodox priest) took part in the board meeting of the
„Worship of the Motherland” organization etc. The leader of the „Orthodox Society of Romanian
Women” (Orthodoxist), Alexandrina Cantacuzino, tried to make the organization available to the
„Everything for the Fatherland” party (an extremist nationalist party).
The quote above also points to the close ties between civic and political organizations that
embrace nationalist-Orthodoxism. The authorities were aware of these ties and pressured the
organizations believed to be a threat to public order. Minister Petre Andrei proposed replacing
the Board of the Orthodox Society of Romanian Women because „the president of the society
has close ties to political organizations that are a danger to public peace and the general security
of the Romanian state ….”51 The organization „ Worship of the Motherland” created in 1926 for
the purpose of promoting the national ideal, was banned in 1932 by the Council of Ministers.52 A
report by State Security from 1936 described it as:
„…an organization that uses as part of its manifestations the street and aggression against
authorities. Public meetings of this organization attempt to gather all the nationalist student
associations and even political groups, as a forum for censuring our public life. […] The
members of the organization, through their status as: university professors, former
magistrates and generals, in all their meetings, marches and processions, ignore the

CNSAS Archive, Documents, Societatea „Tinerimea Ortodoxă”, D 11672, f. 8.
CNSAS Archive, Documents, „Asociaţia Cultul Patriei”, D 015861, vol. 1, p. 88.
CNSAS Archive, Documents, D 012706, „Societatea ortodoxă a femeilor române”, f. 19.
The decision was taken after activists of the organization kidnapped a policeman and took him to Army Corps C.
The High Court of Cassation and Justice reinstate the organization in March 1933.

requests of the authorities and through their presence and attitude attempt to intimidate the
representatives of the authorities and even those of the military.”53
“Everything for the Fatherland” was the latest name of the party created by Corneliu Zelea
Codreanu in 1930, the “Legion of the Archangel Michael”54. Previously, in 1923, Codreanu
founded together with A. C. Cuza, a theoretician of anti-Semitism, the „National-Christian
Defense League”. Corneliu Zelea Codreanu’s use of Christian symbols in party names would
stop here, but the name changes (the “Legionary Movement”, the “Iron Guard” - the paramilitary
political branch of the Legion -, and after June 1935, “Everything for the Fatherland”), motivated
by obstacles set against the party’s participation in elections, did not affect the Orthodoxist
character of the party.

The Romanian Orthodox Church, as an institution, at the highest levels of the hierarchy, never
assisted the murderous political program of Corneliu Zelea Codreanu. But Codreanu’s case is a
textbook example of how Romanian Orthodoxism acted as an anti-Semitic passive resource that
fueled the anti-Semitic actant resources. The family, school and university education of Zelea
Codreanu were both militantly nationalist and militantly Orthodox, an embodiment of
Orthodoxist dogma: Christianity is the path towards nationalism, and nationalism is the
path to Christianity 55. The plans for moral and spiritual renewal of Romanian society as stated
by many representatives of the ROC and by the Legionary Movement were equivalent56. The
Orthodox religious elements in legionary thinking and public appearances, and the intense
religiosity of the members and leaders of the movement, were a significant part of their political
and electoral capital. These facts prove the central role played by Orthodoxism in anti-Semitic
activism between the World Wars. The conceptualization: anti-Semitic passive resource – antiSemite actant resources captures and gives definition to this role. It is an answer to a tendency in

CNSAS Archive, Documents „Asociaţia Cultul Patriei”, D 015861, vol. 1, pp. 40-41.
As a Christian activist, he shot in 1924 a police commissioner, but was acquitted for reasons of self-defense.
Codreanu was a volunteer fighter in World War I at 16. When the president of the University of Iaşi decided to
start the school year without a religious ceremony, Codreanu barricaded himself inside the building.
Marius Turda, „« Fascismul clerical » în România”, in Mirel Bănică, Biserica Ortodoxă Română, stat şi societate
în anii `30, Polirom, 2007, p. 13.

the research on the relationship ROC-anti-Semitism to underestimate the effect of the Romanian
Orthodox Church on interwar anti-Semitism57.

The nationalist-Orthodoxist ideology and activity of civic and political organizations that had a
grave effect on democracy in the `30 continued to be a component of the anti-democratic
mobilization. The societal anti-Semitism was just a component of the societal anti-democratic
movement that created a conflict between the state elites and conservative forces. In the „war”
between legionnaires and state authorities, violent means were used by both sides, in an
increasingly destabilizing spiral. The legionnaires murdered two Prime Ministers (Ion Gh. Duca
on December 30th, 1933, and Armand Călinescu, on September 21st, 1939), Nicolae Iorga and
other cultural and political personalities. On the other side, the authorities killed Corneliu Zelea
Codreanu and some members of Iron Guard death squads while moving them from one prison to
another, on November 30th, 1938. In the fall of the same year, hundreds of legionnaires were
executed without a trial after the discovery of a plot against Armand Călinescu, at the time
Minister of Interior. After Călinescu’s murder, the ten assassins were shot in broad daylight, and
their bodies were left in the street for several days, under a banner reading: "From now on, this
shall be the fate of those who betray the country."
These events show that the confrontation between the authorities and the extremist organizations
took the most violent forms, and the authorities themselves sometimes chose to use murder in the
place of law. This behavior bespeaks the low quality of Romanian democracy between the Wars.
But it does not negate the modernizing project to which the political elites heading the state
aspired until the second half of the ‘30s. The Romanian society didn’t have enough time to create

The perspective that the ROC as a second-hand actor has different expressions: „The priests were attracted to the
Legionary movement, believed it represented a true religion and not a political movement …” (Alexandru Voicu,
„Relația controversată a Bisericii Ortodoxe Române cu Mișcarea Legionară”, Historia; "the Church and its people didn’t escape the nefarious influence of former Legionaries” (Apud. Gina
Pană, „Biserica Ortodoxa Română şi mişcarea legionară: clarificări şi ambiguităţi", Holocaust. Studii şi cercetări,
Vol. III, Nr. 4 /2011, p. 144.); “Lacking a firm opposition from the Church, Cuza’s campaign spreading religious
anti-Semitism continued unchallenged” (Oana Pană, “Ortodoxia românească şi atitudinea sa faţă de evrei”,
Holocaust. Studii şi cercetări, Vol. II, Nr. 1 (3)/2010, p. 116.); „The Romanian Orthodoxy resisted the temptation of
legionarism…” (Mirel Bănică, Biserica Ortodoxă Română, stat şi societate în anii `30, Polirom, 2007, p. 245), etc.
These statements suggest that between the World Wars the ROC was at the back of the line of organizations with
criminal anti-Semitic characters. Another variant of this interpretation is that the ROC was responsible through

a bridge between the forward-looking elites and a population characterized by religiosity and
nationalism. To ignore the modernizing tendencies that were part of the Greater Romania project
between 1919 and 1937, including the emancipation of Jews, is to underestimate the negative
role of those components of interwar Romanian society that sabotaged the modernization project.
Among them a central role was held by Orthodoxism.
The institutional and operational authority of the State over the ROC
Guiding and coordinating the relationship between the State and religious denominations. A
main theme in the literature on the ROC is that the Orthodox Churches always saw the
collaboration with the ruler as a form of protection against danger. This attitude was the mirrorimage of the interest of secular powers in using the Orthodox Churches to strengthen their
control over an uneducated population, and maintain order in the community58. The State-Church
relationship was even useful in forging good relations with regional neighbors.59 The concept
used by the ROC to legitimize the partnership between the ruler and the Church is the
“symphony” between the secular powers and the Orthodox Church.60
Research shows that the theses above need to be expanded and qualified. I have already pointed
out that during the period between the World Wars the Orthodox actants were in an open conflict
with the modernizing Romanian state. At the same time, the ROC hierarchy was forced to
cooperate in order to defend its interests, because the Ministry for Religious Denominations and
the Art, through its Department for Religious Minorities created in 1920 (Ministry for Public
Education and Religious Denominations after August 2nd, 1929; Ministry for National Education,
Religious Denominations and the Arts from March 20th, 1940), had vast authority over guiding
and coordinating the relationships between the state and the denominations: the right to control
and supervise the activities of the Churches; proposals for promoting, transferring, giving leave
and retiring the Church personnel; as well as enforcing all legal provisions and rules related to

Cristian Romocea, Church and State: Religious Nationalism and State Identification in Post-Communist Romania,
Continuum Religious Studies, New York, 2011, p. 77.
Gabriel Andreescu, „International Relations and Orthodoxy in Easter and South-Eastern Europe” in International
Studies no. 4, 1998, p. 3-35.
Oliver Gillet, Religion et nationalisme. L’ideologie de l’Eglise Orthodoxe Roumaine sous le regime communiste,
1997. The book is considered required reading on the subject of the relationship between the ROC and the
Communist regime but, as expected, was highly criticized by Church theologians (see Prof. Dr. Alexandru Dutu,
“Ortodoxie şi laicitate”, Almanah Bisericesc, Arhiepiscopia Bucureştilor, 1999, p. 65-69).

religious denominations. This explains why the Church personnel tried to solve their problems
by appealing to the good will of high level public servants. Hundreds of papers document the
nature of the requests and interventions.
Some requests sent by members of the ROC hierarchy to members of the government discuss
religious policy. In a letter addressed to Marshall Ion Antonescu it is stated: „There appears to be
an evil genie in the Ministry of National Culture. The Church often feels its hostile breath.
Recently we felt its baleful presence in the attempt to remove Religion from among secondary
school subjects.”61. A large number of complaints addressed to state authorities denounced the
activity of non-mainstream religious denominations, the financial assistance given to GreekCatholics, the advantages enjoyed by Roman-Catholics, etc. In other cases, the authorities got
involved in internal issues of the ROC, taking a role that should have belonged to the Church. On
June 13th, 1940, the General Department of the Police told the Minister of Religious
Denominations and the Arts that counties in Dobrogea did not have „any secret committees
whose members swore to no longer recognize the authority of the bishop62.
Economic Control. Economic interests created a major dependency of the ROC hierarchy on the
secular powers. State institutions had the power to make decisions in many situations. For
example, in order to collect money for the Church, an authorization was required from the
Ministry of Labor, Health and Welfare, and the Capital Police checked the running of this
There were many interventions regarding filling available positions. The Government of
Basarabia nominated P.S. Efrem Tighineanul as Archbishop of Chişinău. His recommendations:
„The best of results in fighting against religious sects, religious sects are getting smaller and
smaller in the Chişinăului Eparchy”64. Other times there were complaints regarding financial
issues. Gherontie, Bishop of Tomis, accused Minister I. Petrovici of „requiring his resignation in


Notice from the Archepiscopy of Alba Iulia and Sibiu on 9.09.1941, CNSAS Archive, Issues with the Orthodox
denomination File 1937-1947, D 006910, vol. 4, f. 77.
CNSAS Archive, Documents, Clergy Issues in the Old Kingdom, D 008927, f. 17.
See notice from March 1st, 1941, which authorizes an extension for money collection by the Costescu Parish in
order to cover expenses related to the rebuilding of the church. (CNSAS Archive, Issues File, D 000057 f. 134).
Notice from December 29th, 1943 (CNSAS Archive, Issues with the Orthodox denomination 1937-1947, D
006910, vol. 4, f. 40).

private” and suspending his salary and those of another 100 priests who wrote a letter in his
The Secretary General for Religious Denominations and the Arts, prof. Aurel Popa, complained
that „although the Diocese of Ungro-Vlahiei owns a candle factory that can bring in an income
of at least 10.000.000 lei, and 200 ha of arable land and 500 ha of forests, the Patriarch still
thinks it is acceptable to request … money from the Ministry”. He also reported the illegal
ordination of priests in unpaid positions by the Diocese in order to save the individuals from
military service66.
Financial audits found constant irregularities. Money was received or charged without
justification; there were expenditures that could have been avoided, and overblown repair
expenditures on contracts awarded without bidding67. The ordination of priests was often done
for the purpose of avoiding military service68.
These are just a few instances of a general trend.
The Control exercised by the courts. The use of brute force by the authorities in order to secure
public peace doesn’t mean that the state lacked modern institutions. There is a lot of evidence for
the professionalism of the court system. Decisions like the one released by the High Court of
Cassation and Justice in March 1933, which reinstated the „Worship of the Motherland”
organization after it was banned in 1932 by the Council of Ministers, also point to the
independence of judges. The Archives highlight the chasm between the thinking of magistrates
in key public positions and the popular mentality. A relevant and well-documented example is
the activity against members of non-dominant religious denominations. Their harassment was the
joint work of the Orthodox priest and the local police. Usually the priest was told about the
activity of the denomination by members of his church, then went to the policeman and together
they took the guilty person into custody. Sometimes, the policemen went to the ROC
representatives. The indictment and the trial came next.


CNSAS Archive, Issues with the Orthodox denomination File 1937-1947, D 006910, vol. 4, f. 58.
CNSAS Archive, Issues with the Orthodox denomination File 1937-1947, D 006910, vol. 4, f. 154.
Report from February 1943, financial audit office of the Archepiscopy of Bucharest (CNSAS Archive, Issues with
the Orthodox denomination 1937-1947, D 006910, vol. 4, f. 85).
CNSAS Archive, Issues with the Orthodox denomination File 1937-1947, D 006910, vol. 4, f. 93.

Often, the final result was an acquittal, and the reasoning for the decisions is surprisingly
modern. Four defendants, Jehovah Witnesses that had spread publicly “Rule of Peace” books,
were acquitted because „there was no unrest that could lead to a danger to public safety.”69 The
Bălţi County Court acquitted I.E.S., who was taken into custody by a police patrol for selling
booklets critical of the Orthodox Church, because the booklets didn’t include propaganda or
criticisms that could incite „disobedience or disdain towards the dominant religion or other
The Soroca County Court had to consider the guilt of several Jehovah Witnesses indicted by the
Chief of Police after the latter had searched their homes and found booklets. His first step had
been to submit them to the Bălţi Diocese. The bishop looked over them and concluded that the
denomination was a danger to the dominant Church and the State. The judges decided that the
texts support love towards others, belief in God and Jesus, but also criticize other things that
characterize Romanian society. But this didn’t suggest an involvement of the Jehovah Witnesses
in acts that are a danger to the security of the State, as stated by the law for controlling crimes
against public peace, which was the basis for the indictment”71.
As a last case study, the Decision of March 3rd, 1937, in the trial against B.I.A for disseminating
booklets “that may induce hatred, unrest against other denominations”. He was found not guilty
because the texts „do not intend to foment unrest, but to criticize a religious, economic and
social status quo, criticism that often, even in more serious forms, is disseminated by political
parties which are nonetheless not sanctioned, because it is considered that they intend to improve
the situation and not to produce unrest that may endanger the state order”72. This kind of judicial
reasoning would be a reason for pride for any European court in the 21st century.
The cases we mentioned prove the heterogeneity of Romanian society in the ‘30s, and the
presence of professional bodies capable of ensuring the functioning of a modern political

Decision by the High Court of Cassation and Justice on May 24th, 1935 (CNSAS Archive, Documents, The
structure and functioning of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Hostile acts 1934-1938, D 000074, vol. 35, f. 2, 2v.).
CNSAS Archive, Documents, The structure and functioning of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Hostile acts
1934-1938, D 000074, vol. 35, f. 1.
Decision no. 3094 of September 30th, 1937 (CNSAS Archive, Documents, The structure and functioning of the
Romanian Orthodox Church. Hostile acts 1934-1938, D 000074, vol. 35, f. 3).
CNSAS Archive, Documents, The structure and functioning of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Hostile acts
1934-1938, D 000074, vol. 35, f. 18, 18v.

community. At the same time, they highlight the realities at the local level: the Orthodox priests
and policemen policed their fiefdom from an exclusivist perspective. The nationalist-Orthodoxist
attitude discernable in the court cases included a healthy dose of anti-Semitism.

C2. The involvement of the clergy in anti-Semitic politics
The highest levels of ROC hierarchy and anti-Semitism
The ROC hierarchy was a staunch supporter of Orthodox nationalism through the interwar
period. It condemned any form of religious otherness, which implied in many cases a
condemnation of ethnic otherness. The highest levels of the Orthodox hierarchy expressed their
anti-Semitism, which took the extreme form of supporting the banishment of Jews from Greater
Romania. This is clearly stated by Patriarch Miron Cristea: “You want to cry out of pity for the
poor Romanian people, whose bone marrow is sucked out by the Jew. To not react against Jews,
is to walk us to our destruction. […] You have enough qualities and options, to search for and
find somewhere a place, a land, a country, a motherland not yet inhabited. … Live, help
yourselves, defend yourselves, and exploit each other; but not us and other peoples, whose
abundance you seize through your ethnic and Talmudic sophistication”.73
An indirect but visible form of anti-Semitism was the support for extremist anti-Semites.
Following the assassination of Prime Minister I.G. Duca, on January 31st, 1933, the Patriarch
Miron Cristea and the Holy Synod stated that the Legionary movement as a whole was not
responsible for this crime; the responsibility rested entirely with the perpetrators, and some
foreign, anarchic influences.
Such a statement, following an act of such seriousness as the assassination of a Prime Minister,
highlights the fact that the ROC hierarchy was sensitive to the power plays at the highest levels
of power. The disputes between the Royal Family and the Government allowed the ROC
leadership to express its view with more sincerity74.


In the Curentul newspaper, August 19th, 1937.
Some sources say that the assassination of Prime Minister Duca was desired by King Carol the Second himself.
Since the ROC leadership has traditionally had access to the antechambers of power, this statement may point to the

The most eloquent proof of the co-operation between the Orthodox hierarchy and the members
of the Iron Guard was the procession occasioned by the funerals of the Iron Guard leaders Moţa
and Marin, in February 1937. During the procession tens of clerics officiated, and the main
divine service was celebrated by over 200 priests led by the Metropolitan of Ardeal, Nicolae
Bălan, and by other bishops75. To place a Metropolitan at the head of the procession and to have
such numbers of clergy participate means that the ROC leadership fully supported legionary
Although he was the leader of the ROC during the rise of anti-Semitism, including the increase
in the number of violent attacks against Jews (1925 – 1939), Patriarch Miron Cristea never took
a stand against anti-Semitism.
The ROC leadership was not able to openly support the Legion during times of stronger State
leadership. During the royal dictatorship, after the assassination of Prime Minister Armand
Călinescu, Patriarch Nicodim released a statement in which he blamed the legionary assassins
and invoked God’s punishment for every crime. He showed the same level of obedience during
the Ion Antonescu government. The Patriarch Nicodim congratulated Marshal Antonescu for
defeating the legionary rebellion, and promised to pray that God would give Antonescu „the
power to succeed in bringing about the salvation of the country and the Romanian people”76. The
lower clergy however continued to support the Legion in various ways even after January
Regarding the ROC’s position on saving Jews by baptizing them, two documents describe it
unequivocally. In the first, the Patriarch agreed to a 1941 Decree than bans Jews from joining the
Orthodox Church, because „[t]his ban was adopted by the State in the national interest, to protect
the ethnic nature of our Romanian nation from mixing with Jewish blood...”78 On the other hand

king’s acceptance of murder (Florin Şinca, Din istoria Poliţiei Române, Tipografia RCR Print, Bucureşti, 2006, p.
Gabriel Catalan, "Legiune şi slujitorii Domnului" (“The Iron-Guard and the ministers of God”, Dosarele istoriei
(History Files) no. 9, 2000, p. 29-32.
Ion Antonescu, Pe marginea prăpastiei, 21-23 ianuarie 1941, vol. 2, 1941, p. 163.
Notice on March 2nd, 1942 (Issues with the Orthodox denomination File 1937-1947, D 006910, vol. 4, f. 47). On
the other hand, The Metropolitan of Transylvania, Nicolae Bălan, officially protested in April 2nd, 1941, against the
Decree, which was “an illegal intervention in the life of the Church” (Brînduşa Costache, Mircea Costache, Doru
Costache „Problema evreiască în România modernă: Atitudinea Bisericii Ortodoxe Române”, TABOR, Romanian

the Patriarch was incensed that the Roman-Catholic Church continued to baptize Jews, who
„have flourishing economic positions in the Capital as it is well known”, and thus the number of
Catholics in Bucharest was increasing. He demanded that „the arrangement with the Papacy be
denounced and the Roman-Catholic Church lose all its advantages and support”79.
There were some members of the hierarchy who were uneasy with the tragedy of the deportation
of Jews to Transnistria. The Final Report mentions the Metropolitan of Ardeal, Nicolae Bălan, as
one of those responsible for the refusal to deport the Jews from South Ardeal, Moldova and
Muntenia to Nazi camps in Poland80.
The involvement of the clergy in politics
While discipline within the Church is much more severe than within other organizations, it is not
possible however to completely control the behavior of the clergy. Divisions may appear,
especially in turbulent circumstances. Although the 1928 Law for Religious Denominations
forbade the involvement of priests in politics, this was still an open issue among the clergy.
There were many voices that expressed, in religious journals, their wish for a role for the ROC in
public life: „our clergy has not only the right but a holy duty to participate in the political life of
the state, while preserving its freedom and independence.”81
Beyond the principled positions, there were specific situations that pushed the clergy into politics
and the search for new opportunities. One factor was the marked increase in the number of
Theology graduates entering a limited religious “job market”. According to Victor. N. Popescu:
„After the war, the number of seminaries was increased significantly, and so the number
of graduates ready to enter priesthood outpaced the number of available parishes. The
years between 1922 and 1933 were a period with a high production of seminary and
theology graduates [ ... ]. The vacant positions were still taken by the old members of the
profession, even though they already had much on their plates. Therefore, at the
cultural and spiritual monthly edited by the Diocese of Cluj, Alba, Crişana and Maramureş -
Notice on 27.02.1942 (Issues with the Orthodox denomination File 1937-1947, D 006910, vol. 4, ff. 44-45).
Final Report, p. 216.
Veniamin, „Preoţimea în viaţa publică”, Telegraful Român (organ naţional-bisericesc), Sibiu, 15 Decembrie

graduation of those studying at the new theology schools, the positions were already
taken and defended, such that some had too much and others had nothing. Those who had
a parish forced those without to be subservient. The situation is absolutely unfair and

The Iron Guard and other parties were interested in winning the support of the clergy, whose
influence over a mostly rural population was well-known.83 From time immemorial, the priests
had „all been in politics”84 in order to gain certain advantages. But not for the purpose „of
achieving through the party a Christian or religious ideology. The priest-politician type still
abundant in our old parties has always been detested”85, said a supporter of nationalistOrthodoxism. The legionnaires seemed to offer a way to reconcile the personal and the spiritual
interest. There were calls for the clergy’s „energetic intervention and guiding, through its words,
of the vote of the masses toward those parties that guarantee the defense of the vital interests of
the country and the Orthodox Church!".86 The „latent anti-Semitism”87 of some priests had the
opportunity to meet the official one of some parties:
„In later years, the Church has been sought and courted, as the last source of renewal
from the disaster coming over the world. After the political parties made whatever they
wanted out of the Church – instead of what they could have –, now new political groups
have an increasingly specific attitude towards the Church. The religious issues hold a
place of honor under the leadership of Mr Goga, the Iron Guard of Corneliu Codreanu,
the “Lance-bearers” party of Mr Cuza….88

In the most extreme case, an argument was made for an identity of feeling between the Church
and the Legion: „the Iron Guard didn’t practice a Christianity that was different from that of the

Victor N. Popescu, "Biserica şi şomajul", Viitorul, Iaşi, no. 3, February 1932. Apud Bănică p. 139.
Bănică, p. 154.
I.G. Savin, “Preoţimea şi actualele alegeri”, Viitorul, Iaşi no. 12, 1932.
Bănică, p. 152.
Gh. Coman, “Biserica şi partidele politice”, Viitorul, Iaşi no. 8, April 1933 (apud. Bănică, p. 156).

Orthodox Church. Its manner of living and practicing the Orthodox faith is not directed against
the Church, because it is its submissive and obedient daughter…”.89

The priests promoted the Legionary Movement among their parishioners and some became its
activists. According to research into the archives of the Ministry of the Interior conducted by
Gina Pană, in the 1937 elections, out of 103 candidates of the party "Everything for the
Fatherland", 33 were priests – around a third, a considerable percentage. 55 priests had
leadership positions within the Legion.90

Some of the legionary priests were among the

Movement’s most fanatical activists. Alexandru Răzmeriţă, a Romanian Orthodox priest,
proposed a plan to expel the Jews entirely from cities and deport them into forced labor camps in
the country. Attempts to escape the camps were to be punished by death.91

The involvement of priests in the violent activity of the Legionary Movement is demonstrated by
the measures taken by the Antonescu government against the orthodox clergy that had
participated in the legionary rebellion. 218 priests were identified as having participated in the
skirmishes against the army and were arrested by order of Marshal Ion Antonescu92. The scope
of the involvement of orthodox priests in active fighting, as legionaries, is suggested by the
following Communiqué of the Council of Ministers on February 1941:
”Neither the Church nor its people escaped the nefarious influence of false legionaries.
218 priests are under investigation for taking part in the rebellion, leaving the cross and
the altar of peace to fight with the weapon of murder and terror against their own flock.
Many had active positions within the legionary movement, incompatible with their
pastoral position and mission. These lying servants of the Lord went as far as to make
arms and munitions deposits out of their places of worship."93

Priest Victor Moise, Garda de Fier şi credinţa strămoşească, Editura Majadahonda, Bucureşti, 1994, p. 12, apud.
Mirel Bănică, p. 158.
Gina Pană, „Biserica Ortodoxa Română şi mişcarea legionară: clarificări şi ambiguităţi", Holocaust. Studii şi
cercetări, Vol. 3, Nr. 4 /2011, p. 143.
Alexandru Răzmeriţă, Cum să ne apărăm de evrei – Un plan de eliminare totală (Turnu Severin, Tipografia Minerva,
1938), pp.65-69.
Ion Antonescu, Pe marginea prăpastiei, 21-23 ianuarie 1941, vol. II, 1941, p. 163.
Ion Antonescu, Pe marginea prăpastiei. 21-23 ianuarie 1941, vol. II, 1941, p. 102.

It was possible to discern the role of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the interwar anti-Semitic
phenomenon after undertaking a conceptual reorganization that starts with a criticism of the
definition of Holocaust as established in doctrine, as the sum of actions, between 1933 and 1945,
towards the discrimination, segregation and starvation, and murder of Jews. This definition,
dominant in Romanian and international research on the issue, blends genocide, „the crime of
crimes”, and anti-Semitic acts, serious but of a different nature. In Romanian context, this
definition conceals the separation of anti-Semitism into four distinct periods: the periods of
societal anti-Semitism, institutional anti-Semitism, institutionalized anti-Semitic anarchism and
the Holocaust (defined here as the genocide of Jews, starting with the Jassy pogrom of June 27th,
1941, and lasting until 1943).
The institutionalized anti-Semitic anarchism phenomenon is, in our opinion, a particular case of
anti-Semitism. The decision of the authorities of the National-Legionary State to leave the
Jewish communities defenseless (between September 14th, 1940 and February 14th, 1941) within
a social medium dominated by hate of Jews and aspirations to benefit from their property led to
systematic inhumane acts, that happened across the country over a period of months in an
atmosphere of terror. Individual Jews were the victims, but Jews as a group were also targeted.
What happened during the National-Legionary State was more than the sum of the thefts,
beatings, and individual crimes. None of the current terms: discrimination, segregation,
repression, massacres, pogroms, adequately describes the nuances of the phenomenon.
By dividing anti-Semitism into four periods we highlight the central role held by the
confrontation between state authorities and the interwar promoters of anti-Semitism in the
development of events. The political elites leading Greater Romania from 1919 on had a
modernization plan for the country that included the emancipation of Jews. On the other hand, a
part of the population, a large proportion of which was rural, was dominated by nationalist and
Orthodoxist traditions with anti-Semitic content. In the democratic context after World War I,
the supporters of nationalist-Orthodoxist traditions created a vast network of organizations,
movements and political parties that attacked the principles defined by the 1923 Constitution.
The confrontation between the state and the multilayered nationalistic-Orthodoxist opposition led
to violent conflicts throughout the interwar period. In 1937, for the first time, the nationalist-

Orthodoxist movement managed to include a part of its agenda into state policies. Nonetheless,
between 1937 and the fall of 1940, the institutions of the state had to fight against the
conservative mainstream that clamored for a more radical anti-Semitic policy than the
government’s. The stress put by many studies about interwar Romanian anti-Semitism, and the
Final Report, on the breadth and the continuity of anti-Semitism underestimated the role of the
competition between the forces of modernity and the societal anti-democratic movement during
the years between the World Wars.
I was able to describe comprehensively the role of the ROC in the competition between the
modernization project and anti-Semitic national-Orthodoxism by discussing „resources” and
differentiating between anti-Semitic actant resources and passive resources. As a passive
resource, Orthodoxy fueled, through Orthodox dogma, language, attitudes and ideas, the interwar
anti-Semitism. As actant resources, the church as an institution, the clergy, the heterogeneous
community of the faithful and their various forms of organization, participated in various degrees
to anti-Semitic activities.
The contribution of the ROC to interwar anti-Semitism was determined by the relationship of
dependence between state authorities and the Church. The State was able to control the ROC
through its prerogatives in religious matters, the resources it provided to the Church, and the
institutions with relevant responsibilities, like the courts. This created tension within the ROC,
and eventually led to chaotic behavior uncharacteristic of religious communities. The hierarchy
of the church most often abetted the authorities of the state, which pushed many dissenting
priests, and Orthodoxist organizations and foundations, into a conflict with the ROC hierarchy.
One phenomenon that the ROC lost control of was the involvement of priests in politics.
The inner tensions, segregations and inconsistencies of the ROC led some researchers to believe
that the role of the ROC in interwar anti-Semitism manifestations, through dogma and activism,
was secondary. We disagree: in its double role as a passive resource and multiple actant
resource, Orthodoxy played a central role in the development and support of interwar antiSemitism.
At the same time, there is a difference between the ROC and the main political forces that fought
the democratic state and won with the creation of the National-Legionary State and the rise of the

Ion Antonescu regime. In the case of the Legionary Movement and other extremist
organizations, anti-Semitism was the central theme of their programs. In the case of the ROC,
anti-Semitism was just a secondary component, because the purpose of the ROC was to create a
homogenous Orthodox state that banished any other types of religious identity. The energy
expended against Roman-Catholics, Greek-Catholics and other religious denominations appears
to exceed that expended on anti-Semitic goals.

I. Status of the research on the relationship between anti-Semitism and the Romanian
Orthodox Church
There are several studies today that are dedicated specifically to the issue of the relationship
between anti-Semitism and the Romanian Orthodox Church: Paul Shapiro, "Faith, Murder,
Resurrection. The Iron Guard and the Romanian Orthodox Church”, in anti-Semitism, Christian
Ambivalence and the Holocaust, Kevin Spicer (ed), Indiana University Press 2007; Oana Pană,
“Ortodoxia românească şi atitudinea sa faţă de evrei” ("Romanian Orthodoxy and its attitude
toward Jews"), Holocaust. Studii şi cercetări, Vol. II, Nr. 1 (3) /2010, pp. 113-133; Gina Pană,
„Biserica Ortodoxa Română şi mişcarea legionară: clarificări şi ambiguităţi" ("The Romanian
Orthodox Church and the Legionary Movement: clarifications and ambiguities"), Holocaust.
Studii şi cercetări, Vol. III, Nr. 4 /2011, 142-167.
To this we can add several articles from a “secondary bibliography” – like “Alexandru Voicu,
„Relația controversată a Bisericii Ortodoxe Române cu Mișcarea Legionară”, ("The questionable
relationship of the Romanian Orthodox Church with the Legionary Movement") Historia.94
Other published works, although discussing a different topic, include observations relevant to the
relationship between anti-Semitism and the Romanian Orthodox Church, or the ROC doctrine
that connects the church to chauvinistic nationalism. Among the long list with this type of books
I notice: Leon Volovici, ldeologia naţionalistă şi problema evreiască, (Nationalistic ideology
and the Jewish problem) Humanitas, Bucureşti,1995; Armin Heinen, Legiunea Arhanghelului – o
contribuţie la problema fascismului mondial, (The Legion of the Archangel - a contribution to
the issue of world fascism) Humanitas, 1999; Florin Muller, Metamorfoze ale politicului
românesc, 1938-1944, (Metamorphoses of Romanian politics, 1938-1944) Ed. Universității din
București, București, 2005; Lavinia Stan, Lucian Turcescu, Religion and Politics in PostCommunist Romania, Oxford University Press, New York, 2007; Cristian Romocea, Church
and State: Religious Nationalism and State Identification in Post-Communist Romania,
Continuum Religious Studies, New York, 2011.
Information on the subject may also be found in a series of studies on the situation of the Jewish
minority between the World Wars and the Holocaust: from Matatias Carp's pioneering work
"Cartea neagră. Fapte şi documente. Suferinţele evreilor din România: 1940-1944" ("Black
Book. Facts and documents. The suffering of the Jews in Romania: 1940-1944), vol. I şi II
(SAR, Bucureşti, 1946 şi “Dacia Traiana”, Bucureşti, 1947, 1948), to the Final Report of the
International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, Polirom, Iaşi, 2005.
The third category of texts are those that promote and theorize anti-Semitism while invoking the
ROC as a source of legitimization. Among them: Hie Imbrescu, Biserica şi Mişcarea Legionară,
(The Church and the Legionary Movement) Ed. Cartea Româneasca. Bucureşti, 1940; Flor

Strejnicu, Creştinismul Mişcării Legionare (The Christianity of the Legionary Movement) Ed.
Imago, Sibiu, 2000 (second edition); Gheorghe Racoveanu, Mișcarea legionară și biserica (The
Legionary Movement and the church), Ed. Samizdat, București, 2002 (second edition). Other
volumes are relevant because of the status of their authors: Ion Antonescu, Pe marginea
prăpastiei (On the edge of the chasm) 21-23 ianuarie 1941, Scripta, Bucureşti, 1992; Preot
Stefan Palaghiţă, Garda de Fier. Spre Reînvierea României (The Iron Guard. Toward a Rebirth
of Romania) Buenos Aires, Ed. Autorului, 1951 ş.a.
The manner in which works by authors affiliated to the Orthodox Church, or writing in ROC
sponsored journals, treat and generally conceal the anti-Semitism of the ROC is itself of interest:
e.g. Brînduşa Costache, Mircea Costache, Doru Costache „Problema evreiască în România
modernă: Atitudinea Bisericii Ortodoxe Române” ("The Jewish problem in modern Romania: the
attitude of the Romanian Orthodox Church"), TABOR, Revista lunară de cultură şi spiritualitate
românească editată de Mitropolia Clujului, Albei, Crişanei şi Maramureşului. (Cultural and
Spiritual Monthly edited by the Metropolitan of Cluj, Alba, Crişana and Maramureş)95.
I also identified documents relevant to the research of the relationship between anti-Semitism
and the Romanian Orthodox Church in the National Archives of Bucharest (A1) and in the
CNSAS Archive (A2).
Research in archives
A1. Documents in National Archives Bucharest, partially studied
Jewish communities in Romania
League for Cultural Unity of All
League against terror
Ministry of Religious
Denominations and Arts documents
Ministry of Religious
Denominations and Arts –
Student Organizations and
Associations Collection
Democratic Jewish











A2. The collections most relevant to the topic, part of the CNSAS Archives, to be studied
Notes of the Siguranţa –




orthodox denomination
Lists of candidates
Informant notes and press
Telegraful român - lists
Reports – orthodox youth
Oastea Domnului
Cultul Patriei
Declarations, tables
Orthodox Women
Romanian Women





3, 4, 5
2, 3
1, 2