Funerals of Ion Moța and Vasile Marin

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1941 stamp commemorating the deaths of Moţa and Marin

The Funerals of Ion Moţa and Vasile Marin were a series of wide-scale demonstrations in Romania. The two leaders of the Iron Guard were killed in battle on the same day, January 13, 1937, at Majadahonda during the Spanish Civil War while fighting on the side of the Nationalist Spain.

The funerary train took a tour around the country, with hundreds of thousands of people participating at the commemorations in many cities, holding holy services of the two at several cathedrals. In Bucharest, thousands of young legionnaires dressed in their green shirts marched on the streets of the city.[1]

The result of these displays was that the number of members grew threefold and the Iron Guard's party, Totul Pentru Ţară, had an unexpectedly high percentage in the Romanian general election, 1937 (15.58%), becoming the third largest party in Romania.[1]

Background[edit]

The Iron Guard was originally a splinter from A. C. Cuza's antisemitic and nationalist National-Christian Defense League, forming around Corneliu Zelea Codreanu. The new group advocated action, "spiritual values" over economic ones, the creation of a "new man" and self-sacrifice as the key for the success of the movement.[2]

As the Spanish Civil War began in 1936, the Iron Guard, like much of the Romanian public opinion, saw it in a simple dichotomy: a fight between atheistic communist and Christianity, this point being made stronger by the news that some groups on the Republican side systemetically persecuted members of the Catholic clergy and destroyed churches.[3]

Ion Moţa, the second in command in the Legion, suggested that a number of leaders of the Iron Guard would go to Spain and present a gift (a Toledo sword) to General José Moscardó Ituarte, then fight alongside the Nationalist forces. They were involved in the battles near Madrid, and on January 13, 1937, at Majadahonda, Ion Moţa and Vasile Marin were killed by an artillery shell.[4]

Funeral procession[edit]

Funerary train[edit]

The bodies of the two members of the Legion were put in a mortuary train which left Spain, via France and then Belgium, reaching Berlin on February 6, 1937, where they were met by SS and SA squads, representatives of the German Nazi Party, of the Spanish Falange and of the Fascist Italy and a big crowd.[5]

After going through Poland, the February 9, the train reached the Romanian border,[5] but instead of taking the shortest route to Bucharest, it made a detour by going through the whole country, from Bukovina to Moldavia, then Transylvania, Oltenia, Wallachia and finally reaching Bucharest.[6]

The train stopped at the major railway stations and in each of them, a religious service was performed, with huge crowds watching and then, the Iron Guard leaders urged the audience to join their "Legionary faith".[6]

In Paşcani, over 5000 peasants gathered to see the mortuary wagon, while in Bacău, a group of 30 priests performed the services in front of a crowd.[7]

In Transylvania, the most important stop was in Cluj, where many local politicians and intellectuals participated at the commemoration, including Alexandru Vaida-Voievod, Sextil Puşcariu, Emil Haţiegan and Ioan Lupaş. The service was held by the Bishop Nicolae Colan, who praised the struggle of Moţa and Marin against the "red madness". Ion Agârbiceanu holding a speech in the name of the Romanian Church United with Rome, Greek-Catholic. Great crowds also gathered in Orăştie, Moţa's native town and Sibiu, where 32 priests conducted the religious rituals.[7]

After crossing the Carpathians, the train went through Oltenia and Wallachia (where it made a notable stop in Piteşti), reaching Bucharest's Gara de Nord in the morning of February 11, 1937.[7]

Funeral procession in Bucharest[edit]

It was in Bucharest that the biggest procession took place: as the government lifted the ban of wearing uniforms in public places, thousands of Legionnaires wearing their green uniforms waited for the coffins in front of the railway station. Further tens of thousands of Bucharesters were just sympathisers or simply bystanders who watched the procession and followed it through the city.[7]

In addition, a big number of Romanian politicians, professors and students, as well as diplomatic staffs from Italy, Germany and Spain, as well as representatives of the Fascist parties in these countries were present.[7]

After a short religious service, in front of the coffins, the Legionnaires performed the "Ion Moţa and Vasile Marin Oath", an oath written by the leader of the Iron Guard, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu. In this oath, they swore that they are "ready for death at any time".[8]

The procession marched toward Saint Ilie-Gorgani Church in central Bucharest, where the bodies were to be kept until their burial. The funeral procession was led by some Iron Guard members who carried the crosses of the two fighters, followed by students, representatives of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco, a large number of priests and a Legionary formation in the shape of a cross.[8]

Burial[edit]

Moţa and Marin were interred on February 13, 1937, next to the Headquarters of the movement, the "Green House" (Casa Verde), in a mausoleum specially-built, a decision made by Codreanu in order to inspire the future Legionnaires. The religious services were held by a number of between 200 and 400 priests.[8]

Five surviving Legionnaires who fought in Spain took a part in the next part of the procession. Pedro de Prat y Soutzo, the Nationalist Spain's diplomatic representative called the names of those in the legionnaire squad, and for Moţa and Marin, everyone answered "Present!". A similar roll call was found in other fascist movements, too; for example it was the focal point in the 1932 Garibaldian Celebrations, in Mussolini's Italy.[9]

Reactions[edit]

Press[edit]

One of the most influential newspapers, Universul, provided ample updates on the commemoration of the two throughout the country. Even so, the students who were members of the Iron Guard accused the newspaper of not doing enough to support the Legion's activity in Spain, while the director of the newspaper defended himself by saying that more is not possible to do because of the state censorship.[5]

Left-wing newspapers like Adevărul and Dimineaţa chose to ignore the event to prevent it from gaining more public attention.[5]

Politicians[edit]

Many of the right-wing politicians, whether members of the Iron Guard or other rival parties, paid their respects to the death of the two fighters.[5]

Nicolae Iorga wrote a laudative article called "Two brave boys" in which the two were praised for fighting for the Christian faith, although weeks later, he condemned the rituals of the Legion, including the usage of a pagan symbol, the swastika.[6]

Gheorghe I. Brătianu, the leader of National Liberal Party-Brătianu, a splinter group of the National Liberal Party, also paid respects to the two Iron Guard members, calling Moţa one of the "most capable and honest fighters from the Legionary ranks".[6]

Popular opinion[edit]

The Romanian public generally sympathised with the cause of Moţa and Marin, because their struggle in Spain was depicted as being part of a fight between communist atheism and Christianity.[6] Many bystanders and non-partisans were impressed by the mystical rituals of the Iron Guard.[10]

The Church showed a very vigorous support for the movement, conducting religious services across the country and bishops openly praising Moţa and Marin in their speeches.[11]

Legacy[edit]

Before the deaths, the ideology of "self-sacrifice" of the Iron Guard was often seen as mere rhetoric, but now, the Legionary movement was able to argue that it has created the "new man" that was able to give one's life for the ideological goals.[5]

The funerals made the cause of the Iron Guard better known and from January 1937 to the end of the year, the number of members of the Legion grew from 96,000 to 272,000. The popularity of the Iron Guard was shown in the December 1937 elections, when it was able to gain 15.5% of the votes, becoming the third largest party in the Romanian Parliament.[11]

The movement was eventually repressed by Carol II's royal dictatorship regime and its revolutionary fascist project failed. Nevertheless, this burial remains as a political manifestation of a size that was not found elsewhere in Romanian history.[11][dubious ]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Ilarion Tiu, "În zodia Satanei", Jurnalul, August 18, 2008
  2. ^ Săndulescu, p. 259-261
  3. ^ Săndulescu, p. 261
  4. ^ Săndulescu, p. 261-262
  5. ^ a b c d e f Săndulescu, p. 262
  6. ^ a b c d e Săndulescu, p. 263
  7. ^ a b c d e Săndulescu, p. 264
  8. ^ a b c Săndulescu, p. 265
  9. ^ Săndulescu, p. 265-266
  10. ^ Săndulescu, p. 266
  11. ^ a b c Săndulescu, p. 267

References[edit]

  • Valentin Săndulescu, "Sacralised Politics in Action: the February 1937 Burial of the Romanian Legionary Leaders Ion Moţa and Vasile Marin", Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, Vol. 8, No. 2, 259–269, June 2007