Auschnitt was the scion of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, though he may have claimed Sephardic ancestry. A hostile piece by journalist Romulus Damian claims that the Auschnitts, including Max's father Olias, his mother Clara, and his elder brother Edgar, had illegally crossed into the Romanian Kingdom from Galicia, and then bribed the authorities into obtaining citizenship. Known in early records as "Osias Ausschnitt", Max's father had a background in the iron trade. He registered his own import–export firm in the port city of Galați on June 14, 1884. Olias steadily amassed a large fortune, which in 1908 included one of Romania's two largest entrepôts, and which Max would later treble. The family home in Galați was situated across from that of Panait Malaxa, uncle of Auschnitt's lifelong business rival, Nicolae Malaxa.
According to one account, Max grew up in Galați, his native city, and attended the same school as Virgil Madgearu, who was to become his political associate. This is contradicted by other records, which note that Olias had been moved back into Austria-Hungary "shortly after Max's birth", meaning that the latter spent all his childhood years in Vienna, only returning to Galați in 1910. It is known that he studied abroad, in Vienna and London, graduating from the Academy for Advanced Commercial Studies. Upon regaining Romania, he formed a commercial firm dealing in Austrian sheet-iron imports, and then set up the Kingdom's first wire manufacturing plant. Rumors surfaced that such ventures were being propped up financially by the Austrian secret police.
Several members of the Auschnitt family, including Max, served in the Romanian Army during the campaigns of World War I, which resulted in the establishment of Greater Romania. Auschnitt moved his offices to the Banat once that region united with Romania, entrusted with the administration of the Iron Domains and Factory (UDR). According to his own account, he was asked to become full manager of that company in 1929, after stocks had plummeted. He established an empire that included the UDR, as well as smaller factories or mines in such places as Anina, Armeniș, and Bocșa. His land property was said to cover 150,000 acres, including 11,000 hectares of forest outside Nădrag. Auschnitt went on to serve as President of the Banat's General Association of Industry and Vice General of the Union of Industrialists of Romania. Dubbed "iron king" and "Romania's Zaharoff", he was overall "the greatest power in Rumania's armament, mining and metal industries."
Together with his brother Edgar, Max owned several steel and munitions businesses including the Titan-Nădrag-Călan (TNC) chain, which is claimed to have employed over 4,900 workers. Through this group, formed in 1924, Max was connected to Vickers-Armstrongs, making him a participant in the European arms trade. This reflected his Anglophile outlook, first brought up when he defended Vickers against rivals at Škoda. Auschnitt was especially successful as owner of the UDR, which had amassed 1 billion lei in capital. This enterprise alone had 17,000 salaried workers, covering 80% of Romania's steel production, and 50% of locomotives, while acquiring most of Astra Brașov, an automotive plant, and minority shares in Galați shipyard. From 1930, a syndicate comprising the TNC, Creditanstalt, and
Chrissoveloni Bank controlled 60% of UDR shares, while Vickers had an additional 13%. From 1934, the UDR agreed to co-sponsor all state orders for Vickers canons and ammunition.
Auschnitt claimed that Edgar alone ran TNC from 1929, but his connections to that company surfaced in later talk about his conflicts of interest. He was also among the managers of various foreign companies in Central Europe, as well as of Romanian-based companies, including Chrissoveloni and the Romanian Telephone Company. In 1931, he allied himself to Malaxa in order to acquire controlling interest in Creditanstalt. This business was overseen through their consortium, the Compagnie Européenne de Participations Industrielles (CEPI), which operated out of Monaco. A "brainchild of the Aușnit brothers", CEPI also provided security for Vickers' return on investments, which, in Monaco, were "free of currency restrictions and political danger".
Journalists circulated rumors according to which Auschnitt had enjoyed a close connection to Carol Caraiman, who, in 1930, became Carol II, King of the Romanians. According to such reports, it was he who arranged for Carol to meet and fall in love with Elena Lupescu, while also sponsoring him during his 1920s exile. Auschnitt belonged to a branch of Romanian Freemasonry, frequenting Meșterul Manole Lodge alongside Malaxa and Aristide Blank, and, through it, sponsoring Revista Fundațiilor Regale, a political-cultural journal. All three financiers were also visible members of Carol's camarilla—although Auschnitt's inclusion was comparatively late.
By January 1936, six former Finance Ministers, including two of the National Peasants' Party (PNȚ), were reportedly serving on the TNC's executive board. Such connections became the source of controversy, since Auschnitt, like Malaxa and
Dumitru Mociornița, thrived on government contracts. As noted by economic historian Horațiu Dan, these figures "prospered strictly from contracts involving the state." Similarly, historian Ioan Scurtu mentions the "huge profits" collected by Auschnitt and Malaxa from such ventures, and how these were shared with Carol and his courtiers, including Ernest Urdăreanu. According to Scurtu, Carol was first persuaded to form this ring in June 1931, when Malaxa and Auschnitt presented him with a large bag of cash.
Iron Guard and wedding affair
From 1929 to 1933, Auschnitt represented Galați Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Senate of Romania. Although he ran and won as an independent, he became a supporter and financial backer of the then-governing PNȚ. Lawyer-memoirist
Petre Pandrea alleges that Auschnitt had corrupted his old friend Madgearu, who was by then the PNȚ ideologue, ensuring that Madgearu never acted in the interest of Romanian peasants. According to files kept by agents of the Siguranța, Auschnitt was also especially close to politician Dem I. Dobrescu.
At a time when 32% of Romanian commercial enterprises were owned by Romanian Jews, ethnicity and a high profile in financial life made Auschnitt a topic of antisemitic libel, including blackmail by the Iron Guard. According to one report, an associate of the Guard,
Gheorghe Beza, received 20,000 lei from
Constantin C. Orghidan, manager of TNC, to assassinate his boss. Siguranța records also include allegations that Auschnitt, Malaxa and Dobrescu were behind the magazines Credința and Floarea de Foc, launched by Sandu Tudor in an attempt to promote Christian anti-fascism. It remains more credibly attested that Auschnitt was by then a sponsor of anti-fascist campaigns in various other newspapers and journals.
In late 1933, a Guardist death squad murdered Prime Minister Ion G. Duca, exposing the movement to Carol's violent retaliation. As reported by writer R. G. Waldeck, the Guardist leader Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, fearing for his life, messaged Auschnitt the warning: "If you don't find a way to save me, you'll be bumped off next." According to this account, Auschnitt and Lupescu, by then a royal mistress, hid Codreanu from the authorities, and also negotiated a truce; Waldeck also claims that Auschnitt and Malaxa agreed to finance the Iron Guard, thus ensuring its political survival into the post-Duca era. Several Guardists have confirmed that Auschnitt continued to advance sizable contributions to their cause over an unspecified period, though, as noted by historian Roland Clark, these merely showed that he wanted his business protected from harm. The conflict between Codreanu and Auschnitt was nevertheless resumed over the following months. In 1934, the Guard's press referred to "Max Auschnitt the kike", "national bloodsucker", as the power behind the throne. This notion was also embraced by the Romanian Front (FR), a far-right dissidence of the PNȚ, whose newspapers claimed that "the kike Max Auschnit" had steadily raised the price of iron after 1930. As Damian argued: "He, the Jew from Galicia, determined whether of not the Romanian peasant deserved to own a plow [...]. He dictated the price of nails, of corrugation, of iron, or heating stoves, of gutter pipes, of anything iron-related".
Auschnitt's first marriage was to a Jewish woman. A widower by 1932, he was engaged to Leonora Brooke, daughter of the White Rajah, Charles Vyner Brooke, whom he was set to marry in September 1933. The wedding was called off, allegedly because Lenore favored another lover. Auschnitt remained noted for his escapades with film stars and high-society ladies, before finally marrying Livia Pordea (also rendered as Prodea or Pordeanu), from a political family of Cluj. His father-in-law was
Augustin Pordea, at the time a serving as Vice President in the Senate.
The wedding came in January 1935, at the same time as Auschnitt's conflict with the Iron Guard, and therefore had to take place in secrecy, at Augustin Pacha's chapel in Timișoara. Respecting the wishes of his in-laws, Auschnitt abandoned Judaism and converted to Catholicism. Reputedly, the issue of his conversion only served to enrage his Guardist adversaries. It also caused a polemic in religious circles, sparked by the observation that the Pordeas were Greek Catholics, whereas Auschnitt had opted for the Roman Catholic Church. Pandrea claims that Madgearu became the Auschnitts' godfather, though other sources contrarily allege that he was their godson. Auschnitt bought his family the Gheorghe Manu villa on Aleea Alexandru, Dorobanți, Bucharest. Designed by
Grigore Cerchez, and partly redecorated by Auschnitt himself, it was situated very near to Malaxa's residence. The Billionaires' Club, which reunited Auschnitt with Malaxa and Constantin Argetoianu, was housed at this location until 1937, when its members rented Elisabeta Palace.
Argetoianu reports that, in 1937, Auschnitt also attempted to buy a portion of Romania's sugar industry from Creditanstalt, which had foreclosed various Romanian refineries. He found himself overwhelmed by liabilities and resold his shares to Carol II, who immediately obtained a debt restructuring. For a while, the new couple was especially close to Lupescu, for whom Auschnitt and other camarilla businessmen villas in Dorobanți and Sinaia. Auschnitt alone purchased from the Aga Khan the steed Firdussi, which he then presented as a gift for Carol. According to reports by Carol's lawyer George de Berea, Auschnitt and Malaxa met in Lupescu's house for poker matches, using gold coins as tokens. Argetoianu notes that Auschnitt made sure to play a losing hand.
Auschnitt's extreme wealth made him into a patron of the arts. Though a Catholic, he donated to the Orthodox parishes in Hăuzești and Săceni. From 1935, his donations helped Gavrilă Marinescu build an administrative palace for the Romanian Police. One anecdote suggests that Auschnitt also heard actors Grigore Vasiliu Birlic and
Ion Iancovescu plead for financial assistance, before presenting them with a literal wall of cash, and asking them to pick out a layer of money. His social advancement also raised the profile of Livia's brother,
August "Gustave" Pordea, who took as his lover the actress Elvira Godeanu.
Auschnitt also remained discreetly involved in political life, a sponsor of less radical nationalist platforms, leading to paradoxes. One such "incongruity" is noted by Pandrea, according to whom the PNȚ used Auschnitt's "recent subsidies" to publish
Ernest Ene's calls to nationalize Romania's heavy industry. During the Spanish Civil War, Auschnitt maintained a personal friendship with the Francoist ambassador,
Pedro Prat y Soutzo. Prat claimed that Auschnitt sponsored his diplomatic mission, though, as noted by scholar Judith Keene, this too was an attempt by the businessman to appease the Romanian fascists. In August 1937, the FR's Alexandru Vaida-Voevod claimed that Auschnitt had even acknowledged employment discrimination favoring Romanians as a positive. Vaida hypothesized that Auschnitt's baptism had changed his perspective on Romanianization; he also hinted that such messaging was vetted by the PNȚ, which was courting the far-right. During that same interval, Octavian Goga noted that PNȚ figures were borrowing ideas from his own National Christian Party, and "posing as nationalist reformers, presumably with Mr. Auschnitt's blessing".
From September, Auschnitt's activities became a main topic of scrutiny for the pro-fascist daily Universul, whose staff believed that he was behind Zaharia Stancu's left-wing newspaper, Lumea Românească. Ahead of national elections in December, Auschnitt became a Senate candidate for the PNȚ. As noted by Argetoianu, the Iron Guard believed that Auschnitt was maneuvering to set up a new government team under Ion Mihalache, which greatly enraged Codreanu and his followers; however, the allegation was dismissed by Edgar, according to whom Max was "not up to anything". Eventually, Auschnitt retook a Senate seat in Romania's 1937 legislature. During the conflicts of that year, the Iron Guard reportedly threw an explosive device at the Aleea Alexandru villa; after this incident, Auschnitt dispatched his first-born son, later known as Steve Aușnit, to safety in England. He confessed being taken by surprise when Carol appointed Goga as Premier, as the king never mentioned his plans to his poker partners.
In February 1938, Auschnitt announced that he was giving up on politics and moving abroad, sparking alarm that he was going to create chaos by also giving up on his managerial duties. As he explained at the time, he only pondered exile because of Goga's racial laws, which were specifically targeted at Jews. Only days after, Carol II staged a self-coup, outlawing all political parties and replacing them with the National Renaissance Front; the antisemitic legislation, passed in 1937, was tightened and extended. This regime also formalized Carol's growing disdain for Auschnitt, which reportedly began when Livia refused Carol's sexual advances, or when Lupescu grew jealous that she would not. Auschnitt himself was notoriously unfaithful to his wife, spending his money on sexual escapades in Vienna.
From March 1939, Carol directed Romania's political and economic rapprochement with Nazi Germany. While celebrated by Malaxa, this move alienated Auschnitt, who feared Nazi racial policies. His memorandum on the matter reached Carol and Madgearu, but had no success. In July, Carol shelved the plan for an Anglo–Franco–Romanian joint venture, reportedly objecting that its two would-be managers, Auschnitt and Oskar Kaufmann, were Jewish. Later that month, Orghidan, who was seen as "Auschnit's man", was voted off the UDR board. Soon after this, Auschnitt was no longer invited to Lupescu's poker evenings. On August 18, he resigned from the UDR, citing no explicit reason. The pretext was offered by his alleged conflict of interest: Auschnitt was claimed to have tampered with a signed UDR contract in order to obtain state compensation for TNC budgetary losses. Auschnitt is cited by Argetoianu as emotionally shaken by the interpretation of facts, openly denying that the document in question was ever modified. The diarist notes that Urdăreanu, who "has a nose for these things", had come to openly disrespect Auschnitt long before heading the investigation at Reșița. This issue is attested in other records, which, Scurtu notes, show Urdăreanu constantly engaged in undermining Auschnitt's reputation.
Commenting on Auschnitt's character in his own diary, Carol surmises: "A Yid is still a Yid, no matter how nice he might be as a man." Urdăreanu allegedly concluded that Auschnitt had also "clogged" the UDR with Jews and Hungarians, and insisted that this was additional proof of malfeasance. Argetoianu additionally reports that both Auschnitt and Kaufmann had by then been involved in insider trading at the Credit Bank, from which they drew a profit of 6 million lei between them. Their momentary success was offset by Edgar Auschnitt, who lost 3 million lei playing backgammon against Constantin Cantacuzino.
Kurt Lachmann places blame for Auschnitt's ouster on the "antisemitic campaign in Rumania, financed by the Nazis." In Germany, the Völkischer Beobachter openly celebrated the Auschnitts' downfall. Auschnitt's opposition to Nazi policies entered a new stage in March 1939, just before the Allied Powers renewed their commitment to defending Poland from Nazi encroachment. Historian R. P. T. Davenport-Hines suggests that Auschnitt could have been responsible for strengthening the Anglo-Polish military alliance in that he circulated an alarmist claim, namely that Germany had issued an ultimatum for Romania to join the Axis. In September, during the Nazi invasion of Poland, Auschnitt retaliated against the Nazis by assisting Polish refugees.
In October, the king allowed Victor Iamandi to draft new regulations for sociétés anonymes, specifically designed to harm Auschnitt; the latter was being interrogated by prosecutors regarding his UDR contracts. Business rivals where then allowed to engineer a trial against Auschnitt, who was accused of fraud and money laundering. Various observers believed that he was no longer willing to share his profits with the camarilla, which made him a target for retribution. Argetoianu adds speculation that Carol was resentful because his stocks in the Lujani sugar refineries, obtained from Auschnitt, had been subject to litigation; or that the king intended to please Adolf Hitler by "sacrificing his own kikes". The interpretation is partly backed by sociologist Mictat Gârlan, according to whom "Max Auschnitt, a man close to the Royal House", was arrested "only because he was Jewish." The disgraced courtier kept in his desk a document showing that Carol was fully responsible for the sugar debacle.
A "public enemy number 1", Auschnitt was also expected to relinquish his UDR shares. According to one account, he agreed to sell only if he was guaranteed immunity from prosecution and allowed to settle in France, where Livia had already relocated. A deal was reached, but Auschnitt was still arrested on the border. Argetoianu partly backs this rumor, by relaying a story allegedly told by Iamandi, according to which Auschnitt agreed to cede his stock if promised immunity from prosecution. His proposal, Argetoianu notes, was simply denied. Though selected by Carol to serve as Prime Minister during the same interval, Argetoianu still viewed the affair as a settling of scores, and asked not to be involved on either side. On November 8, as Auschnitt was taken to
Văcărești prison, Argetoianu read his grounds for indictment and concluded that his friend was not in fact innocent, though the trial he faced was likely to be unfair.
The matter was personally handled by Gavrilă Marinescu, who was Argetoianu's Minister of Internal Affairs. He cited his "moral debt" to Auschnitt in an attempt to recuse himself, but Carol insisted that he pursue the investigation, noting that Auschnitt was symptomatic for a "corrupt system", and that a show trial would commence "the purge" of Romanian industry. On November 14, the authorities raided TNC offices, arresting general manager Constantin Naghi and four other directors who, they claimed, were "controlled by Aușnit". They also detained an unnamed witness, whose testimony allowed them to recover 10 million French francs that Auschnitt had deposited with a former in-law, Aronovici. Prosecutors also looked into another issue of conflicting interests, noting that Auschnitt had used CEPI to buy off UDR assets.
On December 9, a new cabinet, headed by Gheorghe Tătărescu, stripped Max and Edgar Auschnitt of their Romanian citizenship. Edgar had by then escaped to London, which allowed government to confiscate and redistribute his assets in Romania; Livia, meanwhile, was spotted on the French Riviera, allegedly pursuing an affair with Kurt von Haugwitz-Reventlow. Argetoianu assesses that Auschnitt's imprisonment had by then brought a great surge in the king's popularity, since the public, especially the "nationalist and antisemitic circles", could now believe that the tide was turning on his camarilla. He comments on demonstrative gestures by the authorities, which included forcing Auschnitt into the regular police van. Argetoianu also writes that "philosemites" were baffled by Carol's clampdown, and exaggerated its meaning. He illustrates this with a quote from General
Eugeniu Vârtejanu, who was reportedly Auschnitt's friend: "This is the Dreyfus affair in its Romanian version".
Despite his subjects' enthusiasm, the king never agreed to have other camarilla men prosecuted for their alleged misdeeds. As noted by researcher George Enache, the affair showed the power that of Romanian secret services had in influencing legal procedures, especially so since Malaxa, whose name had been cited in similar allegations, was never convicted. In February 1940, an I. D. Dumitrescu publicized a full record of illegal deals involving Malaxa (who had left the country on an extended leave), but Carol ordered Marinescu not to follow up on this lead. On March 14, Auschnitt was sentenced to a six-year term in labor camps, and ordered to pay back 200 million lei (approximately 140,000 British pounds in 2016 rates). In June, while filing his appeal from Doftana prison, he made a final attempt at placating the camarilla, offering to split his UDR shares between CEPI and Malaxa's companies. This message failed to impress. His UDR stock was confiscated without him being involved. Auschnitt's shares were reportedly split between the Nazi iron conglomerate and Malaxa. According to Lachmann, Albert Göring "terrorized the Rumanian government" into issuing more shares that his firm then acquired.
In September 1940, following public outrage over the Second Vienna Award, Carol was deposed and exiled, alongside his mistress; the "National Legionary State" was established as a partnership between the Iron Guard and General Ion Antonescu. The Guard opened up Lupescu's residence, reportedly showing that she still kept Livia Auschnitt's portrait. Antonescu was lenient toward her husband, dispatching him to a sanitarium, but also continued to enforce and enhance antisemitic laws. Such policies remained unchanged when the Guard was ousted in January 1941, as Romania remained closely aligned with Germany. In December 1941, Antonescu noted of Auschnitt: "once a kike, always a kike". He openly acknowledged that Auschnitt was in fact innocent of any crime, and favored allowing him to leave Romania if he would transfer all his property to the state; this attempt was foiled by protests from Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German Foreign Minister. Despite further outrage from such circles, Antonescu's courts commuted Auschnitt's sentence into forced labor at the TNC, meaning that he was effectively on parole.
In October 1941, Auschnitt offered to donate his share of the TNC to a state company. His proposal caused much embarrassment for Antonescu's ministers, since accepting under the circumstances would have looked like their blackmailing a prisoner. Antonescu himself intervened to chide Orghidan and
Alexandru Ottulescu for stalling. In January 1942, Auschnitt sorted the issue by appointing Orghidan as caretaker of his estate, which allowed for TNC stock to be issued and bought by the state using Auschnitt's money. In May 1943, the UDR, managed at the time by Göring and physicist Horia Hulubei, reported capital gains of 37.8 million lei obtained from the Auschnitt and CEPI transactions. Meanwhile, operating through the Cisatlantic and Cisoceanic consortia, Edgar was able to purchase an interest in the Romanian munitions manufacturer, IRMC. He finally moved to the United States in early 1942. Here, a forge equipment he had ordered in 1939 was confiscated by the Office of Alien Property Custodian, and made available for use by the United States Navy.
Eventually, Antonescu's review of previous court verdicts reached Auschnitt's case. Unusually for a Jew in that context, he was cleared of the charges and released on July 3, 1942. Around that time, Auschnitt managed to transfer money from his accounts with the Swiss Bank Corporation to a cell of anti-fascist exiles in England, which was overseen by Grigore Gafencu. This stipend of 6,000 British pounds was Gafencu's main source of revenue in 1943. In August 1942, Auschnitt and
Franz von Neumann donated 50 million Swiss francs to a charity managed by Maria Antonescu. This was a precautionary measure against the planned transport of Banat Jews to Nazi extermination camps, and may have contributed to the halting of all such transports. Auschnitt also partnered with Arthur Tester, whom he himself described as "naturally an anti-Semite, but a civilized one"; Tester organized transports of Romanian Jews to Mandatory Palestine in exchange for Auschnitt's cash. Auschnitt also donated for a "makeshift healthcare center" at the Jewish labor camp in Cotroceni, after Colonel Agapiescu allowed
Maximilian Popper to provide medical treatment for the inmates.
Auschnitt's relative freedom still irked Nazi observers. In May 1943, the genocidal Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann was working on the case, insisting that Nazi spies were to prevent Auschnitt from leaving Romania. During the early months of 1944, Auschnitt was reportedly allowed access into the Ministry of National Economy, alongside Orghidan. He was allegedly spotted there by jurist
Constantin C. Stoicescu, who exclaimed: "There is that con artist Aușnit, walking about like it's nobody's business." A piece in The Jewish Herald described Auschnitt as: "an apostate Jew, close friend of the Nazi Puppet Premier of Romania General Antonescu". In fact, Auschnitt was by then financing the underground Romanian Communist Party, which intended to topple Antonescu. His donations, formally presented as humanitarian contributions for jailed militants, reached PCR organizer Lucrețiu Pătrășcanu through Belu Zilber and Remus Koffler.
Second trial and August coup
Auschnitt eventually caught news that Nazi envoys wanted him included in what was to be the final stage of Holocaust crimes in Romania. One report additionally suggests that he was briefly held at a concentration camp in Hungary. Aviator Matei Ghika-Cantacuzino, who was Auschnitt's personal friend, agreed to fly him into Allied territory. They used Ghika's Heinkel He 111, which had been ordered to Ianca. The flight, which landed in British Cyprus on June 15, 1944, also transported businessmen Alexandru Racotă and Radu Hurmuzescu. In British records, their group was code-named "Yardam", and Auschnitt was "Cocoon".
Their escape served to prepare the anti-fascist coup of August 23, as Auschnitt had brought with him messages sent by PNȚ leader Iuliu Maniu, agreeing to Antonescu's overthrow. Protected by the Royal Air Force, Ghika then flew his passengers to Aleppo, where they met Maniu's liaison, Constantin Vișoianu. Auschnitt was then transported to Egypt, as he and Hurmuzescu still had to be screened by Security Intelligence Middle East, as potential Nazi spies. This referred to their links with Tester, which, Auschnitt convincingly explained, had reaped humanitarian benefits for Romanian Jews. Auschnitt was released at Cairo, but his "lavishness with money" remained a point of contention for the remainder of his stay. On July 5, a military court of the Third Romanian Army issued warrants for all fugitives. Auschnitt was charged with defection to the enemy and instigating desertion. He was then tried in absentia, and sentenced to death; the same verdict was pronounced against Ghika.
During the coup, Auschnitt's car was reportedly borrowed by Pătrășcanu, who used it to transport Petru Groza out of Deva. Immediately following these events, Auschnitt sent letters home demanding that Antonescu aide Valentin Georgescu face punishment for his wartime activities. In September, the United States Army Air Forces flew him back to Bucharest, where he was awarded protection by the Allied Commission, and allowed to assist in reconstruction. His 1940 trial was again up for review in November, when another court confirmed his innocence. In December, Nicolae Rădescu took over as Prime Minister, noting with alarm that Auschnitt had resumed his conflict with Malaxa, to the point of paralyzing Romania's transport industry. In December 1944, when he founded a Swiss Balkan Finance and Trading Company, he was registered as residing on Câmpineanu Street, 2. He and Malaxa both entered a new Masonic Lodge, called Lanțul de Unire, where, in 1945, they initiated Hulubei.
Auschnitt was secretly backing Rădescu's coalition against the rising PCR, who wanted Groza as Prime Minister. In early 1945, the two rival camps clashed in the streets of Bucharest, leading to a communist takeover. As reported by Pandrea, Auschnitt unsuccessfully supported an anti-communist counter-coup, and was identified by other participants as Romania's would-be Finance Minister. On March 9, 1945, as Groza formed a communized cabinet, Auschnitt catered champagne for a pro-communist group, the
Romanian Society for Friendship with the Soviet Union, later becoming Vice President of its Economic Section. He claimed to have been approached by Soviet General
Ivan Susaykov, whom he advised to recruit economic experts from outside the PCR. According to Auschnitt's own data, the Soviet state took over 30% of UDR shares as part of the reparations plan, their assistance actually preventing the factories from going bankrupt. He and Malaxa were considered for a partnership in the forestry SovRom (Soviet–Romanian joint venture), until Groza vetoed the proposal. Auschnitt, who expressed his disdain for SovRoms and for Malaxa's willingness to participate in them, had recovered some of his UDR stock. He was still prevented from reusing his villa, which was requisitioned by the Red Army in 1946.
In tandem, Auschnitt served as Vice President of a rival club, called "Friends of America". General Cortlandt V.R. Schuyler also viewed him as a trusted adviser; together, they met with Constantin Titel Petrescu of the Social Democratic Party, who reassured them that he was only allied with Groza and the PCR until a change of setting would allow him to break away. Resuming his lifestyle, Auschnitt organized a lavish party for New Year's Eve, serving crouchen and caviar to his 200 guests. These included General Schuyler and Kathleen Harriman, daughter of diplomat W. Averell Harriman. Informația Prahovei journalists commented that the event was in poor taste, at a time when Romania's children were starving; it invited Auschnitt to prove his Christianity by offering donations to charities.
Auschnitt still hoped that the Potsdam Conference would push back Soviet hegemony in Romania, but reassured Schuyler that he was prepared to leave the country at a moment's notice. In a November 1945 interview with Mark Foster Ethridge, Auschnitt spoke about the communists' zeal and incompetence as being responsible for the massive inflation. He also contended that industrial workers and peasants, wishing to be left alone, had turned virulently anti-communist. He claimed to have personally solved a labor dispute at Astra Brașov once he prevented workers from sacking the managerial staff. Working as a diplomat, Gustave Pordea also sensed the changing of fortunes, and opted to defect in 1947. According to historian Dinu Zamfirescu, the Pordeas were actually protected by Groza, who allowed both Gustave and Livia safe passage when their father promised to donate all his assets to the Romanian state. Gustave was sent to an "obscure post" in The Hague precisely because he could then escape, together with his "many children".
Accounts suggest that Auschnitt remained in Romania for several years, although being singled out by Groza's government as a sponsor of the anti-communist underground. As such, he was briefly detained in 1947. Schuyler finally warned him that his life was in danger, prompting Auschnitt to relocate in France at some point before August 15, 1947. Records kept by the new communist regime suggest that Auschnitt, like Malaxa, successfully persuaded communist ministers to let him leave for the United States as a negotiator of trade deals. The allegation was stated by Ana Pauker, who represented the PCR's internationalist circles, against national-communists such as Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej; she implied that Auschnitt had won them over with his patriotic rhetoric. Pauker's faction believed that Ion Gheorghe Maurer was particularly at fault for the gaffe.
In August 1948, Auschnitt was included on a list of exiles who were stripped of their Romanian citizenship—alongside Lupescu, Mociornița,
Ioan Pangal, Ion Sân-Giorgiu, and some others. On June 11, the UDR had been nationalized, before most of its was transformed into a SovRomMetal in August 1949. On October 12, 1948, Auschnitt was formally indicted for various crimes, including high treason and conspiracy against the constitutional order, at Bucharest's Military Tribunal. A mandate was issued for his arrest, but he could not be located.
Auschnitt's defection happened just before he could be implicated in a show trial of his Reșița engineer, Alexandru Popp, himself accused of having masterminded a terrorist plot. As noted by memoirist Aurel Savin, the "judicial fabrication" was visible from the list of defendants, which included Auschnitt, a Jew, alongside the Iron Guard's
Nicolae Petrașcu and wartime admiral Horia Macellariu. Contrarily, historian Lucian Nastasă believes that the prosecutors were correct in describing Auschnitt as a Petrașcu supporter, and also in identifying Auschnitt as the UDR sponsor behind a large Zionist network transporting Jews out of Romania. The clampdown was closely followed by a purge of Social Democrats from the UDR's trade union.
Traian Cercega and
Georg Hromadka were arrested, while
Eftimie Gherman managed to escape.
Scînteia, the communist party organ, depicted Popp and Auschnitt as "common criminals who, for years on end, have been robbing and demeaning thousands of working men and women, exploiting the blood out of them." Although Auschnitt was the richest among alleged conspirators, and therefore "afforded great attention by prosecutors", his name was not included on the spurious list of would-be coup leaders. He was also the only in absentia defendant at that trial, and was sentenced to life imprisonment "for the crime of high treason" on November 2, 1948 (though believed by some authors to have received a second death sentence).
Speaking at a public rally on November 1, Finance Minister Vasile Luca proclaimed that the trial had exposed Romanian capitalists for colluding against the Soviet Union and "our democratic regime's economy". This, Luca inferred, made Romanian–Soviet economic cooperation all the more imperative. Auschnitt's entire estate was confiscated, and the villa on Aleea Alexandru was assigned to Groza, who lived there for the rest of his life; it was later housed the Argentinian Embassy.
Gazeta Literară, the communist literary magazine, took over Edgar's flat outside Piața Romană, including its furniture. The brothers' Galați home was also taken over by the state, and from 1968 was used as a museum, showcasing the
labor movement in Romania.
Max Auschnitt lived for a while with Livia and Gustave's family in Biarritz, but grew estranged from his wife, and decided to settle as a bachelor in the US. He joined Edgar and Steve in New York City, where he acquired American citizenship, though he continued to send money to Livia and his child by her. Malaxa also headed for America, but Auschnitt repeatedly sought to prevent him from settling there. As part of this conflict, he directed a press campaign which overstated Malaxa's links with the Iron Guard, including unsubstantiated charges that Malaxa's home had been a mass-murder hub for the 1941 pogrom. According to journalist Romulus Căplescu, this allegation was not proffered by Auschnitt ("a decent, common-sense person"), but was rather the product of spontaneous sensationalism.
RNC and later years
Malaxa was finally admitted to the US in 1953, after purchasing support from US Senator Richard Nixon. Auschnitt's allegations were partly successful, in that Malaxa never applied for naturalization. Both rivals became engaged with the anti-communist Romanian diaspora, though from different angles: Auschnitt sought to align the Romanian National Committee (RNC) as an outlet for the PNȚ, while Malaxa backed the more right-wing Rădescu as leader of the movement. After negotiations overseen by the exiled king Michael I, the two wings reached an agreement in May 1949, but again quarreled and split up in December 1950. During the subsequent row, Rădescu opened a civil lawsuit against members of Michael's retinue, alleging that, on Auschnitt's orders, they had dilapidated 3 million Swiss francs from the RNC's pool. In parallel, the RNC successfully called in the Central Intelligence Agency to examine Nixon's deals with Malaxa, until Walter Bedell Smith ordered his agents to step down.
The dispute was closely followed by Romania's new secret police, the Securitate. In 1953, it took clues from a piece in the Washington Times-Herald that Auschnitt was a "guardian angel" for the RNC Chairman—his old acquaintance Constantin Vișoianu. According to Pandrea, Auschnitt had purchased Vișoianu's services, preventing him from returning to Romania, and was using "such political beggars" for personal gain. As seen by Pandrea, "Max I is the real king, having formed his own tiny court in New York." The connection was viewed as scandalous by Rădescu's League of Free Romanians. Its sources indicated that there was reason to view Auschnitt as a liability, since he had been "recently implicated in a scandal with loose women." Edgar was also noted for picking up girls from Barbizon 63 and getting them to attend "impromptu parties in his Fifth Avenue penthouse, where he would entertain pals such as Cary Grant."
During his final years, Auschnitt reoriented himself toward the budding plastics industry. He and his son Steve worked on improving plastic-bag zippers (originally a Danish invention) by founding Minigrip, Inc., which, from 1951, was under contract with Dow Chemical Company. According to Căplescu, it remained a "modest enterprise", never matching the success of his earlier ventures in iron and steel. Auschnitt spent the remainder of his life at a luxurious home on Park Avenue. He died in 1959, one year before the publication of Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy, where he probably appears as the banker Druker.
Gustave Pordea was left destitute by his brother-in-law's departure, and for a while only made a living selling Romanian icons of his own make. As argued by Zamfirescu, this precariousness led to his recruitment by Securitate agents, who used him to influence public opinion in favor of Communist Romania. In 1984, he became the first Romanian to serve in the European Parliament, where he represented the far-right National Front. During his tenure, accounts emerge that he was a covert agent, and that he had used Securitate funds to bribe Jean-Marie Le Pen and make his way into politics. The allegations, carried by Le Matin de Paris, were also supported by various members of the Romanian exile, including Ion Mihai Pacepa. Pordea took his accusers to court, and the claim was dropped once Pacepa refused to testify. Zamfirescu, who appeared as a witness, argues that the case was also harmed by a technicality: since journalist Agathe Lojard had called Pordea a spy, under French law she needed to prove that he had actually stolen military or economic secrets.
Minigrip, Inc. became a subsidiary of Illinois Tool Works, and was consequently re-baptized ITW Zippak. Steve Aușnit made returns to Romania following the fall of communism in 1989. He sponsored a Max Auschnitt Cycling Cup and promoted Holocaust studies through a Memorial Library. He was awarded the golden key of Lugoj for his investments in that city's industry, which include a freight terminal. Together with his brother Robert, he sued Fondul Proprietatea for ownership of his father's TNC, which resulted in some compensation for property lost during the nationalization. He also received back the family villa, but sold it to politician Gigi Becali in 2009; it is now noted for featuring a monument-sized gilded crucifix.