Nicolae Malaxa (1884–1965)

In the late 1930s, Nicolae Malaxa was probably the richest man in Romania. He had built up a huge industrial empire in steel manufacturing and engineering, all of which was confiscated by the Communist government in 1948.

Malaxa was born to an Aromanian family in the city of Huși in north-eastern Romania. In 1901 he began studies in engineering at the Polytechnic University of Karlsruhe, Germany. After graduating he took a job as an engineer with Romanian Railways. He developed business interests of his own alongside this employment. In 1909 he began producing vegetable oil from a steam-powered press and in 1912 he established the Mândra Bârlad oil factory. In 1911 he set up a mechanical engineering workshop with a foundry and machine tools and began employing apprentices.

Malaxa saw opportunities in reconstruction at the end of the First World War. He resigned his job and set up a workshop near Bucharest to repair railway rolling stock. He sold the repaired locomotives and wagons back to the state railway company at a great profit. He soon had the capital to invest in a factory in the Titan district of Bucharest to build new rolling stock. By the late 1930s he built diesel locomotives that were sold internationally as well as steam locomotives. His group of companies diversified into steel, seamless steel tubes, rolled steel products, optics and building construction. He employed 8,000 people, held shares in other companies and was chairman of the Ford Motor Company in Romania. Malaxa was also a supporter of schools and libraries, science, literature and art. He funded the Encyclopaedia of Romania.

The great majority of Malaxa’s products were sold to the Romanian state and he was accused of corruption of officials and benefits from his relationship with King Carol II. He supported almost all political parties, including both the far-right Legionary Movement and the Communist Party. From 1935 he developed business with Nazi Germany, supplied the German military with arms and materials and collaborated in confiscating the assets of Jewish Romanians.

In World War Two, Malaxa's factories were at the centre of conflict when the country changed allegiance from Germany to Russia. Malaxa was arrested and his factories were seized but he was eventually released and his businesses were returned to him. He developed the first Romanian car, the Malaxa, in 1945. He secretly moved millions of dollars to the United States before nationalisation under the post-war Communist regime in 1948, when all his property was confiscated. When he was appointed to a trade delegation for Romania he took his chance to defect to New York. He lived comfortably in America but was suspected by the CIA of pro-Nazi views and was unable to develop his industrial interests. He died there in 1968. He was sentenced to death in Romania in his absence for supplying arms to Germany.

In 2006, Malaxa’s grandchildren in the United States received millions of dollars in compensation for their grandfather’s confiscated industrial empire.