Saturday, October 28, 2006
Saving the Bulgarian Jews in World War II
by Christo Boyadjieff
Free Bulgarian Center, 5540 North Ocean Drive - 9B, Singer Island, USA, 1989
..."One of the greatests events in Bulgarian history in relation to universal virtues happened first in the IXth century when the disciples of St. St. Cyril and Methodius spread the old Bulgarian language and culture throughout Eastern Europe, including Russian and Rumanian lands. The second happened recently when the Bulgarian people saved their Jews".
Dr. Samuel H. Romano, now an attorney in Israel, wrote, "This organised defence of a defenceless minority represents the most noble and hopeful manifestation of humaneness known to History".
For Wolf Oschlies, Bulgaria and Denmark were the only European countries that succeeded in preserving their Jewish communities. For him, "The entire country presented a united front to the Nazis; from the King to the Communists, the Bulgarians did everything possible to protect their Jews."
Oschlies was right. Bulgaria was not the only country to protect her Jews, neither was Denmark, as claimed by Ib Nathan Bamberg and Denis Wepman. Certain circumstances made the job of the Danes easier: the number of Danish Jews was 8,000 as against 48,000 in Bulgaria, and a friendly neighbour Sweden, facilitated the Jewish exodus.
Lord Below, reviewing Martin Gilbert's book "The Holocaust - the Jewish Tradegy", wrote in the 'Daily Telegraph' of 7th Jan 1986, "Of the satelite governments, the Hungarians put up some resistance, the Bulgarians were rather more successful, the Italians - when Mussolini ruled - most successful of all, the Danes and the Norweginas put humanity first. One must not make too much of the superiority of the West when the fact is grasped that of all satellites, Vichy France was the most ready to cooperate in the deportation.
In Nazi-dominated Europe (1940-1944) there existed a community of peoples, each trying to help their unfortunate brethern. The Bulgarian people as a whole possess enough credentials to claim the leading role. It was an uninterrupted fight undertaken by all strata of the nation, started spontaneously to last until the day when the danger disappeared completely.
The rescue of the Bulgarian Jews represents a rare event in the history of the civilized world. A small country of only 8 million people had the
courage to withstand the constant pressure exercised by the Nazis, whose aim was to exterminate a defencesless minority. The pressure lasted four years. An entire nation arose against the inhuman theory of race superiority and risked security and lives in a fight that was long and exhausting. It was based solely on a human feeling, love for one's neighbour. The challenge of a new Goliath was met by another David this time of Christian faith. How the rescue took place, how the game of "yes, but.." proceeded, how the Germans were led to believe that "if not today, the deportation will take place tomorrow", to be postponed again to the next day, week, or month is the story of an astute policy of procrastination that the Germans never quite grasped.
Among the European Jews that escaped the German gas chambers were the Bulgarian Jews, some 48,000 persons. The price they paid for remaining alive was considerable. They passed through great moral and physical suffering, yet they never doubted that the Bulgarian people would not abandon them. An extraordinary epic, still in search of its narrator....
The rescue represents a real miracle in war time, as the Nazis were present everywhere in the country and their military supremacy was still uncontested. The polemics that followed after the war about, for example, the questionable Communist participation in the rescue, and the role played by King Boris III, are important but not essential. They will be presented to the reader once the latter becomes acquainted with the events which took place during this human drama and with the persons that were part of it. Some day, when the Bulgarian people breathe freely again, may be a kind of a Nobel prize will be awarded them for the rescue of 48,000 innocent men, women and children - an act of humaneness, unprecedented in world history.
Chapter III - The Jewish community
Between the Liberation (1878) and WWII, the Jewish commuinity in Bulgaria showed a substantial social and cultural expansion. Talented individuals occupied high positions. They progressed and were treated as equals by Bulgarian society.
Professor Yossif Fadenchecht became Minister of Justice; Yossef Herbst - Director of the Press at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Boris Schatz - Director of the Academy of Fine Arts; Dora Gabe - a leading poetess.
Stefan Zweig. At a reception given in 1927 by the German Chancellor, Gustav Stresemann, he approached the Bulgarian Opera singer, Petur Raitchev, to whom he explained that his ancestors came from Vidin and that he planned to write a novel on the life of King Shishman of Vidin.
Chapter IV - The beginnings of persecution
Before 1940's, anti-Semitism in Bulgaria was sporadic and artificial, introduced in most cases from abroad. Russian troops that fought on Bulgarian soil in 1877-78 had brought with them the legends of Jewish ritual murders of children (on the eve of Passover), which served as calls to persecution in some Bulgarian towns such as Pazardjik in 1884, Vratza in 1890, Lom in 1903 and Kustendil in 1904. In all cases the Jewish population was abolished after legally proving the falsehood of the accusations. In Vratza case, it was Dr. Konstantin Stoilov who in 1894 became Prime Minister, who successfully defended the accused Jews.
Chapter VII - The deportation of the Thracian and Macedonian Jews
... the legal status of both Thrace and Macedonia had played a major role. They had been conquered by German troops and the civil and military administration had been handed over to the Bulgarian authorities whose apparent sovereignty was tolerated but never recognized officially by the Third Reich.
According to the minuted of the People's Court (1945), during the trial of those accused of abuses against the Jews during WWII, the Minister of Propaganda Dimo Kazassov was called to testify. To a question raised by the Defense Attorney. 'Could the Bulgarian people have intervened to save the Thracian and Macedonian Jews?'. Kazassof replied, 'It was impossible to intercede because the measures were taken suddenly, surprising everybody. When the Bulgarian people learned about them, it was too late; the special trains were already arriving in Lom. The political influence of the Bulgarian people had not reached the newly liberated regions'. Defense Attorney: 'Whose was the initiative for this deportation?'. Kazassof: 'There was no initiative; the deportation was carried into effect by German agents'.
Prof. Nissan Oren has written: 'Since the Jews of these territories were never given Bulgarian citizenship, the Bulgarian Government could not effectively oppose German pressure'.
Chapter XII - Conclussion[page 140]
The rescue of the Bulgarian Jews as related in this book was the result of a series of actions by popular forces. Large or small, all deserve the same attention. They were wonderful because they were genuine. The Bulgarian Jews were lucky to be caught by the hurricane while living on Bulgarian soil; and fortunately - as Benjamin Arditti has said - to have a head of State such as a King Boris III.
Many observers and scholars admit that, alone, the King couldn't have achieved his aim. The contrary was also true. Neither the Church, nor the politicians of any color, not even D. Peshev and the 42 members of the National Assembly, could give orders to Prime Miniter Bogdan Filov. These had to come from the King. He, however, needed as much support as possible. He had to convince the Germans that his decision to stop or delay deportation was the result of a series of strong protests that coming, as they did, from very influential circles, could not be ignored.
"During the entire WWII the King (Boris III) had to deal with a colossus who, in a short space of time, made the whole of Europe tremble, Adolf Hitler. Boris' main task was to convince the Germans, and particularly Hitler, that he was their ally and friend, a most faithful one."
"In this game of chess the King used people around him as his pawns, such were the Prime Minister Bogdan Filov and the Minister of the interior, Petur Gabrovski. Neither of them understood the Royal tactics. ... They were entirely trusted by the Nazis and could never admit that the King was capable of betraying the Germans. Boris needed exactly such specimens as collaborators."
Amongst the quoted titles in the bibliography of Saving the Bulgarian Jews in World War II are:Caleb, J., 'La Situation des Juifs en Bulgarie', Paris, 1919.
Oschilies, W., 'Bulgarien - Land ohne Antisemitismus!' Ner Tamid Verlag,
Oschilies, W., 'Bulgariens Juden, in Vergangenheit und, Gegenwart' Bulgarische
Jahrbuch, (II) Bulgarische Akademishe Geselshaft, Dr. Petar
Beron, Wien, 1974.
Oren, N., 'The Salvation of Bulgarian Jews', Yad Yashem Studies, Vol. VII
Sanning, W., 'The Dissolution of Eastern Europe Jewry', Institut for
Historical Review, 1983.
Tamir, V., 'Bulgaria and her Jews - The History of a Dubious Symbiosis',
Yeshuva University Press, New York, 1979.