January 27, 2023

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Corneliu Zelea Codreanu. The life and dark legacy of the founder of the Legionary Movement

From 1919, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu was a member of the National Conscience Guard, and in 1923, together with Alexandru C. Cuza, he founded the fascist party Christian National Defense League (LANC).

For ideological reasons, two years later, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu left LANC, and in 1927 he founded his own party.

The life of Corneliu Zelea Codreanu

Corneliu Zelea Codreanu was born on September 13/25, 1899, in Huși, Fălciu county (now Vaslui).

His mother, Eliza née Brauner, was of German descent and came from a Bavarian family.

Corneliu was baptized in an Orthodox church together with his parents, who also converted to Orthodoxy.

In 1902, his father, Ion Zelinski, changed his name to Zelea Codreanu.

Over time, Corneliu and his father, Ion Zelea Codreanu, strove to create a Romanian origin, claiming in countless times that the name “Zelea” came from an old family of Răzesi and meant “zale” and not to “Zelinski” which in Polish means “Codreanu”.

At the age of 16, Corneliu voluntarily fought in the First World War.

In 1920, he participated in the suppression of the communist revolt at the CFR Nicolina Workshops, and while he was a student at the Faculty of Iași, he became the president of the Society of Law Students, with the help of which in 1922 he founded the “Association of Christian Students”.

In protest against the decision of the University rectorate to start the school year without the traditional religious service, Codreanu barricaded himself inside the institution. Because of this gesture he was expelled.

After being expelled he went to Germany, where he studied for several months in Berlin and Jena.

Returning to Romania, in 1924, Corneliu was tried for shooting the prefect of the Iași Police, Constantin Manciu, who had initially assaulted him. In the end, the judges acquitted him on the grounds that he had acted in self-defense.

In 1927, Codreanu, together with Ion Moța, Corneliu Georgescu, Ilie Gârneață and Radu Mironovici, founded the paramilitary movement “Legion of the Archangel Michael”.

In the years that followed there were a series of large-scale demonstrations against “parliamentary corruption, Jews and communism”.

Conquered by the demonstrations used by Nazi propaganda in Germany, to attract the people to his side, Codreanu visited the villages dressed in national costume and riding a white horse.

In 1931, Codreanu was elected to the parliament as a deputy in Neamț county after, according to documents from that time, he was voted by 1,300 people.

Through his ideology, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, also called “The Captain”, promoted nationalist Orthodoxy, insisting on the connection between Romanian Orthodoxy and Romania’s national and historical values. The direction of the policies promoted by him was the transformation of Romania into a fascist state, similar to Mussolini’s Italy.

The murders ordered by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu

In 1933, Codreanu founded the “All for the Country” party, which the prime minister at the time, Ion Gheorghe Duca, said operated as a violent fascist anti-Semitic and anti-Western program. For this reason, Zelea Codreanu was forbidden to participate in the parliamentary elections.

Three weeks after this decision, on December 29, 1933, I. Gh. Duca was assassinated by a group of three legionnaires on the platform of the Sinaia station. The three, Nicolae Constantinescu, Doru Belimace and Ion Caranica, are called Nicadori.

In response to the assassination, Victor Iamandi, the liberal Minister of Justice, ordered that Stere Ciumeti, the secretary of the Legionary Movement, be killed and his body be thrown into a lake in Bucharest.

The series of assassinations ordered by Zelea Codreanu continued, however.

Three years later, in July 1936, a group of ten legionnaires (Decemvirii), students of theology, they broke into the hospital where the journalist Mihai Stelescu, a fierce opponent of the “Captain”, was hospitalized and shot him with 120 bullets, after which they hit him multiple times in the head with an ax, chanting legionary hymns.

The wedding of Coreneliu Zelea Codreanu

Zelea Codreanu married Elena Iliniu, the daughter of a railway controller, from a village in Brăila, on June 14, 1925, in the area of ​​Dumbrava Crângului in Focșani.

The wedding was attended by several tens of thousands of people (according to some estimates there were between 80,000 and 100,000). Corneliu Zelea Codreanu together with his young wife Elena made their appearance in a well-decorated ox-drawn carriage.

Codreanu’s supporter, Alexandru C. Cuza, together with George Niculescu and others made a show in which the bride and groom wore white national costumes and on their heads pirostries with a raised cross and a swastika on their foreheads.

The death of Corneliu Zelea Codreanu

On the night of November 29 to 30, 1938, while Zelea Codreanu and the 13 legionnaires (the Decemvirs and the Nicadors) were being transported to the Jilava prison, the gendarmes accompanying them stopped the convoy near the Tâncăbești forest and killed the 14 by strangulation.

King Charles II stated that the legionnaires and their chief tried to escape and the gendarmes reacted as such.

The bodies were burned with acid and buried in the Jilava fort.

The unfortunate legacy of Zelea Codreanu

Corneliu Zelea Codreanu remains in the memory of Romanians as the founder of the Legionary Movement, the most feverish, incisive and radical Romanian organization.

With a paramilitary character and nationalist-fascist orientation, the Archangel Michael Legion was behind some of the most important events of the interwar period in Romania and marked a bitter stain in the country’s modern history.

Legionnaires are also responsible for the deaths of some of the most brilliant minds of the time. They were the ones who assassinated the historian Nicolae Iorga (November 27, 1940), the prime minister Armand Călinescu (September 21, 1939) and the economist Virgil Magdearu (November 27, 1940).

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