The Governing of Patriarch Miron Cristea and His Policy toward Jews: The Attitude of Great Britain

15 June 2019

Sorin Arhire

After a short period of rule by the National-Christian government, presided over by Octavian Goga, on 10 February 1938 King Carol II ended Romania’s democratic experiment, by installing a regime of royal dictatorship. The leader of the Orthodox Romanian Church, Patriarch Miron Cristea, was named President of the Ministers’ Council. Although, during his time in power, Miron Cristea did not adopt laws against the Jewish population, he did preserve all the anti-Semitic legislation that he inherited from the previous government. As such, in accordance with decree-law number 169, from 22 January 1938, Romanian citizenship was withdrawn from a significant number of Jews. The claims of a persistent existence in Romania of a ‘Jewish issue’ were clear evidence that the new government formula was no less nationalist than the Legionary Movement, and this policy towards the Jews was cynically used to conciliate the numerous sympathisers of the Romanian extreme right. London officials were deeply interested in the situation in Romania, as Great Britain was a power named on the 1919 Protection Treaty of Minorities, a treaty signed also by Romania through its representatives sent to Paris, during the peace conference that followed the First World War. The existing situation in much of South-Eastern Europe regarding national minorities flagrantly defied the provisions of the document agreed in France, and the fears of the British were more than justified. The difficulties that the Romanian Jews faced in 1938 had important consequences, including raising a question over the official visit that King Carol II wished to make to Great Britain.

Anti-Semitic policy, Romanian Orthodox Church, Jews, emigration, League of Nations.
  1. He studied theology at Sibiu and philosophy at the University of Budapest where he received his PhD. From the late nineteenth century until the start of the First World War, he played an important role supporting the religious and social life of the Romanians from Transylvania. After the 1918 union he was unanimously elected Patriarch of Greater Romania. In 1927, since King Mihai I was still under-aged, he was appointed a member of the regency together with Prince Nicholas and the President of the High Court of Cassation, Gheorghe Buzdugan (then Constantin Sărățeanu, following the death of Buzdugan). The heterogeneous composition attracted some stinging remarks from his contemporaries who characterised the regency as ‘the crawfish, the frog and the pike,’ an allusion to the poem written by Alexandru Donici. Shadowed by Gh. Buzdugan, the patriarch had little political influence during those times. Later on, he dedicated himself exclusively to ecclesiastical matters, gaining considerable authority and great prestige among the clerics. Nevertheless, due to the caesaropapist nature of orthodoxy, Miron Cristea was always subordinated to the government to a certain extent. Report on the Romanian personalities sent to the Foreign Office on 1 January 1937 by Sir Reginald Hoare, British Plenipotentiary Minister to Bucharest, FO 371 Romania, vol. 21189, fol. 155, The National Archives, Richmond, Kew, UK (hereafter cited as TNA).
  2. In the government led by the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Constantin Angelescu, Gheorghe Tătărescu, Arthur Văitoianu, Gh. Gh. Mironescu, Alexandru Vaida Voevod, Alexandru Averescu, and Nicolae Iorga were prime ministers. The last two were also leaders of the People’s Party and the Nationalist Democrat Party, respectively. Ioan Scurtu and Gheorghe Buzatu, Istoria românilor în secolul XX [History of Romanians in the Twentieth Century] (Bucharest: Paidea, 1999), 343. As former prime ministers, Octavian Goga and Iuliu Maniu refused the king’s offer to join the government, and Barbu Știrbey was never asked, because he was abroad after 1930 to escape the persecutions to which he would have been subjected by Carol II. Henri Prost, Destinul României (19181954) [Destiny of Romania], trans. Valer Moga (Bucharest: Compania, 2006), 169.
  3. Scurtu and Buzatu, Istoria românilor, 343.
  4. The king used a combination of the prime minister’s title and that used for the Archbishops, ‘His Eminence.’ Carol II, Între datorie și pasiune. Însemnări zilnice [Between Duty and Passion: Daily Notes], vol. I (Bucharest: Silex, 1995), 243.
  5. Prost, Destinul României, 169.
  6. Florin Constantiniu, O istorie sinceră a poporului român [An Honest History of the Romanian People] (Bucharest: Univers Enciclopedic, 2008), 342.
  7. The very short time between the day when the new constitution was published and the day when the plebiscite was organized did not allow the electorate to express an informed opinion, so the vote was more an expression of their attitudes toward the king’s decision of 10 February. According to the official data, there were 4,297,581 votes ‘in favour’ and only 5,483 votes ‘against’; this result was largely due to the fact that the vote was open and the electoral offices held records of those who had voted against the approval of the new constitution. Scurtu and Buzatu, Istoria românilor, 345. Radu Rosetti, a contemporary of the events, wrote: ‘The so-called plebiscite is a huge farce. The civil servants are brought in herds with nominal lists, all those who need the government – and who doesn’t? are threatened one way or the other. To pressure the rest of the citizens – they are threatened with fines, etc. if they don’t come to vote. When I said “no” and, upon the official’s surprise, I repeated it, the whole room turned to me. So unprepared were they for that “no” that they couldn’t find the list of those who voted “no.”’ Radu R. Rosetti, Pagini de jurnal [Diary Pages] (Bucharest: Adevărul, 1993), 42.
  8. Scurtu and Buzatu, Istoria românilor, 345.
  9. The text of the constitution applied the ‘preferential principle of the majority nation which creates the state’ as proposed by Nicolae Iorga and Alexandru Vaida Voevod. Jean Ancel, Contribuții la istoria României. Problema evreiască [Contributions to the Romanian History: The Jewish Issue], vol. I, part I (Bucharest: Hasefer, 2001), 101. For the full text of the constitution of 27 February 1938, see C. Hamangiu, Codul general al României [Romania’s General Code], vol. XXVI, part I (Bucharest: Imprimeria Centrală, 1938), 171–184.
  10. Ancel, Contribuții, vol. I, part I, 102.
  11. Ibid., 103.
  12. International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, eds Tuvia Friling et al., Raport final [Final Report] (Jassy: Polirom, 2005), 36.
  13. He was a theologian, a poet, and a publicist but also the main animator and theoretician of the traditionalist currents of the time, known as autochthonism, orthodoxism, and gândirism. Just like Nae Ionescu and Traian Brăileanu, Crainic was a supporter of a topic which played an important role in the late 1920s and 1930s. According to these significant members of the ‘young thinkers’ of inter-war Romania, orthodoxism was perceived both as a part of the national culture and as a chance to overcome the constraints and narrowness generated by rationalism. Even though he guided the Legionary Movement, Crainic did not tie his political career too closely to its ‘terrorist adventurism.’ Leon Volovici, Ideologia naționalistă și „problema evreiască”. Eseu despre formele antisemitismului intelectual în România anilor ’30 [The Nationalist Ideology and the ‘Jewish Issue’: Essay about the Forms of Intellectual Antisemitism in Romania during the 1930s] (Bucharest: Humanitas, 1995), 91; Armin Heinen, Legiunea „Arhanghelul Mihail”. Mișcare socială și organizație politică. O contribuție la problema fascismului internațional [The Legion of ‘Archangel Michael’: A Social Movement and Political Organization: A Contribution to the Issue of International Fascism] (Bucharest: Humanitas, 1999), 130.
  14. Nichifor Crainic, Puncte cardinale în haos [Cardinal Directions in Chaos] (Bucharest: Cugetarea, 1934), 106–125. Apud Z. Ornea, Anii treizeci. Extrema dreaptă românească [The Thirties: The Romanian Far Right] (Bucharest: Romanian Cultural Foundation, 1996), 103.
  15. As a counterweight to this perspective, as early as 1907 sociologist Dimitrie Drăghicescu stated: ‘The higher intellectual part, the metaphysics of Christianity was never understood, penetrated and felt by the Romanians. For those who know how to look carefully at how the religious life unfolds, especially in the case of the Romanian peasant, the absence of the mystical and metaphysical background is stunning from the beginning. The foundation of religious practice is the cult, the ritual, i.e. the fulfilment of all forms and formulas. Take any thorough act of a villager’s religious life, be it baptism, marriage, Eucharist, etc. Never will their mind be tormented by questions on the purpose of these acts. In exchange, however, they will observe and fulfil to the letter all small gestures, customs and practices which must be fulfilled under such circumstances… Of all the Christian nations of any rite, the Romanians are the most atheists, the most sceptical, and the least faithful people.’ D. Drăghicescu, Din psihologia poporului român [About the Psychology of the Romanian People] (Bucharest: Albatros, 1996), 277, 279.
  16. Ornea, Anii treizeci, 103.
  17. Lya Benjamin, ed., Evreii din România între anii 1940-1944 [Jews in Romania between 1940 and 1944], vol. I (Bucharest: Hasefer, 1993), 31.
  18. Gheorghe Iancu, ed., Documente interne și externe privind problematica minorităților naționale din România, 1919-1924 [Internal and External Documents on the Issue of Romania’s National Minorities] (Cluj-Napoca: Argonaut, 2008), 2. Article 2 of the Treaty of National Minorities signed in Paris on 9 December 1919.
  19. Ibid. Article 6 of the Treaty of National Minorities, signed in Paris on 9 December 1919.
  20. Ibid. Article 7 of the Treaty of National Minorities.
  21. An important activity of the British Parliament was the exercise of its control over government activity through interpellations to ministers to respond to the members of the opposition. The holders of various ministries respond to these questions every day from Monday to Thursday for almost one hour. On Mondays and Thursdays, the prime minister answers questions addressed to him by the leader of the opposition. Jakub Karpiński, A.B.C.-ul democrației [The ABC of Democracy], trans. Constantin Geambașu (Bucharest: Humanitas, 1993), 77.
  22. Telegram sent by the Reuters Agency on 16 February 1938, from the National Propaganda Ministry. Foreign Newspapers, vol. 991, fol. 1, The Romanian National Archives. Department of the Central Historical Archives, Bucharest.
  23. TNA, FO 371 Romania, vol. 22454, fol. 280.
  24. Ibid., vol. 22453, fol. 257. Telegram sent by Sir Reginald Hoare, British Plenipotentiary Minister to Bucharest, on 24 February 1938.
  25. Ibid., vol. 22454, fol. 319.
  26. Jacob Itzhak Niemirower was born in 1872 in Lemberg as an Austro-Hungarian citizen. In 1897 he was appointed rabbi in Jassy and then became rabbi of the Sephardi community in Bucharest. After the First World War he became the chief rabbi of the Jews from Romania; in this position he managed to unite all the Jewish communities in the country. In 1926 he became the first Jewish senator in the Romanian Parliament. He made important contributions to education, setting up numerous Jewish schools, a theology seminar, a Judaic studies society, and a Judaic culture society. He was an active Zionist. In 1936 he was slightly injured in an assassination attempt by a Romanian nationalist. He published countless works in Romanian, French, and German in which he tackled various Jewish problems. He died in Bucharest in 1939. Jewish Virtual Library, accessed 20 January 2018, Judaica/ ejud_0002_0015_0_ 14831.html.
  27. TNA, FO 371 Romania, vol. 22454, fol. 317.
  28. According to the Bucharest Bar Council, only those Jews who took a solemn oath of loyalty to the new constitution, until 6 March 1938, could still practice law. However, this oath was allowed only to Jews who were war invalids, who had been decorated for exceptional acts of bravery on the battlefield, or who had registered to the bar prior to 1 December 1918. Ibid., vol. 22453, fol. 265. Daily News Bulletin, 4 March 1938.
  29. The situation of the large majority of Jews who lost their citizenship was not enviable at all, as the only language they knew was Romanian, their only citizenship was Romanian, and they did not have passports because theirs had been annulled. Among them were people who had received medals from the Romanian army for acts of bravery on the battlefield, widows, orphans, and war veterans. Ancel, Contribuții, vol. I, part I, 113.
  30. Friling et al., Raport final, 51.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.; International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, Lya Benjamin, ed., Documente [Documents] (Jassy: Polirom, 2005), doc. no. 6, 60.
  33. The creation the League of Nations at the end of the First World War marked the beginning of a new era in the history of international governing, since this organization functioned somewhat like the Holy Alliance. The most important institutions of the League of Nations were the Assembly, the Council, and the Permanent Secretariat. The Council comprised both permanent and non-permanent members. One aspect to note is that all the great powers that belonged to the League had the status of permanent member. In 1938, when Germany, Japan, and Italy were no longer members, the Council had only two permanent members, Great Britain and France. There was a significant difference between the British perception of the League of Nations and the French one. France saw the international organization in Geneva as a universal policeman with whose help it could have increased its military power so as to maintain the 1919 status quo. Great Britain perceived the League of Nations as a ‘house of compensation’ where the politicians of the world could get together and discuss common matters in order to find a solution, usually through a compromise. Hans J. Morgenthau, Politica între națiuni. Lupta pentru putere și lupta pentru pace [Politics amongst Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace], trans. Oana Andreea Bosoi et al. (Jassy: Polirom, 2007), 485–488.
  34. TNA, FO 371 Romania, vol. 22454, fol. 343. Telegram sent on 6 April 1938 from Geneva by the World Jewish Congress to the British Foreign Secretary. During the Goga-Cuza government, the Jewish organizations from the entire world reacted to Romania’s Jewish oppression by submitting several petitions to the League of Nations. Although the problem was extremely serious, as Romania had breached the Treaty for the Protection of Minorities that it signed in 1919, Geneva decided not to discuss these complaints with urgency. They decided to send the petitions to the Romanian government and request their answers within two months.
  35. Ibid., fol. 291–292. Telegram from 14 March 1938, whereby Philip Nichols sent to the Foreign Office a copy of the letter addressed to the General Secretary of the League of Nations by the Committee for the Defence of the Rights of Jews in Central and Eastern Europe, reminding him of the petition submitted on 23 January 1938.
  36. Ibid., fol. 1–3. Telegram sent to the Foreign Office by the British Minister in Bucharest, Sir Reginald Hoare, on 14 April 1938.
  37. Józef Beck was Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs between 1932 and 1939 and also a delegate at the ordinary and extraordinary sessions of the Assembly of the League of Nations (1933–1937). On 13 September 1934, he unilaterally denounced the Treaty of Minorities at a meeting of the international assembly in Geneva. This decision drew public criticism of Poland from the representatives of Great Britain, France, and Italy. In his speech, the Polish minister said: ‘The current system of warranties granted by the League of Nations and its bodies for the rights of minorities as a whole paints the picture of a poorly balanced construction built at random and founded on political paradoxes… The application of the system as such proves to be completely disappointing. It didn’t benefit the minorities but thanks to its too-often abusive enforcement, foreign to the spirit of the treaties, it widely served as a means of defamatory propaganda against the states that obeyed it and as a means of political pressure exercised by the states which, without being tied to it themselves, used their prerogatives to take part in such control.’ Nicolae Titulescu, Politica externă a României (1937) [Romania’s Foreign Policy (1937)] (Bucharest: Titulescu European Foundation, 1994), 98, nn. 8–9.
  38. Carol II, Între datorie și pasiune, vol. I, 238–239.
  39. Ancel, Contribuții, vol. I, part I, 104.
  40. Ibid., 120.
  41. Ibid., 121.
  42. TNA, FO 371 Romania, vol. 22453, fol. 256-257. Telegram sent by Sir Reginald Hoare to the Foreign Secretary on 24 February 1938, describing the situation of the Jewish minority from Romania.
  43. Ibid., fol. 257.
  44. Ibid. The Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church thought of the action of R. W. Seton-Watson organised immediately after the First World War on the territories of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. The British historian tried to give London the most accurate image possible of the situation in Eastern and Central Europe in terms of nationalities.
  45. In 1938 Cyprus was already a colony of the British Empire. British administration of Cyprus was set up in 1878. It officially became a British colony at the onset of the First World War, a status recognised by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. The British military base on Cyprus played an extremely important role both during the Second World War and in the Suez crisis of 1956. Jan Palmowski, Dicționar Oxford de istorie universală contemporană. De la 1900 până azi [Oxford Dictionary of Contemporary Universal History: From 1900 to the Present Day], vol. I (Bucharest: BIC All, 2005), 189–190. In those days the island had approximatively 300,000 inhabitants, of which 180,000 were Greeks and the rest were Turks, with a small number of Jews who arrived there from Germany and Poland. The Cypriots were described as very friendly and the city atmosphere as very civilised. The majority of the population spoke English and French. TNA, FO 371 Romania, vol. 22454, fol. 327. A memo published in Romania by The Palestine Roumanian Industry and Trading Company, with the aim of encouraging the emigration of Jews from Romania to Cyprus.
  46. Ibid., fol. 326. Document drawn up on 15 March 1938, whereby the British Consulate in Bucharest informed the Foreign Secretary about the possible emigration of the Jews from Romania to Cyprus.
  47. Ibid., vol. 22448, fol. 177–179. Telegram sent by Sir Reginald Hoare to the Foreign Office on 11 February 1938.
  48. Grigore Gafencu was a member of the National Peasant Party. In the early 1930s he was a minister of Communications as well as minister of Industry and Commerce. When he became the head of the Romanian diplomacy, his experience in the field was very low, i.e. only five months as sub-secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In one of his books published in 1947 Gafencu described his objectives in international relations: ‘to make it up with Germany and strengthen the ties with the West and the Balkan states.’ Rebecca Haynes, Romanian Policy towards Germany, 1936-40 (Houndmills, Basingstoke and London: Macmillan Press Ltd., 2000), 91, nn. 2–3.