The Dark Side of Bulgaria's Treatment of the Jews
With the July 18, 2012 terrorist attack against Israelis in the city of Burgas, the Bulgarian government found itself the subject of praise, as a result of their -t protecting their nation's Jewish population during the Holocaust. The following day, an Arutz Sheva column and even Fox News extolled Bulgaria's record, noting that last week's bombing was the first such attack in the nation's history, and explaining how the Bulgarians saved their Jews during WWII.
This is an often repeated statement, but there is another chapter to the story.
The contemporary media reported how "Bulgaria became the only Nazi-allied country in World War II to protect its entire Jewish population" or that "Bulgaria saved all of its Jews from the death camps."
While the Bulgarian king, government, the public, and the clergy, did in fact take laudable actions which halted the deportation of the 50,000 Jews from Bulgaria to German death camps in Poland, there is no reason why the Bulgarian government should not discuss the 13,000 non-Bulgarian Jews their soldiers dispossessed, imprisoned, and deported from land they were occupying during the war.
On March 1, 1941, Bulgaria entered into a pact with the Axis powers and participated in the German-led attack on Yugoslavia and Greece. As a reward from Adolf Hitler, Bulgaria received most of the Balkan area known as Thrace and Macedonia. Stating that Thrace and Macedonia were their ancient Bulgarian lands, they declared the territory "New" or "United Bulgaria" and, within one month, initiated a colossal national campaign of Bulgarization against the citizens of that area that included deporting all of the area's 13,000 Jews.
The Jewish communities of Yugoslavian Thrace and Greek Macedonia were made up mostly of Spanish-speaking Jews, descendants of refugees expelled from Spain in 1492. In March 1943, the Jews of the cities of Kavala, Drama, Komotini, Seres, Xanthi and Alexandroupolis, were dragged from their beds at midnight, barely dressed, in sub-freezing conditions and placed into warehouses in their respective cities.
The Bulgarian military established a blockade around the cities to prevent escape. Bulgarian soldiers broke into Jewish homes and hauled out their inhabitants. The Jews were forced to walk, for many miles, being whipped by troops; many Jews died along the way from cold, malnutrition and beatings. They were placed in tobacco warehouses, women were raped, and then locked inside freight trains as human cattle for the dreaded trip to Treblinka-many dying en route. The Jews of Monastir were locked in ghettos, their property looted and stolen by Bulgarian policemen, who checked house by house, to ensure that all the family members had left and all valuables were confiscated.
In all, over 13,000 Jewish people, husbands, wives, grandparents, sons, daughters, cousins, aunts and uncles, were deported to Treblinka where they were murdered in German gas chambers. .
In the eyes of the Parliament at Sofia, Thrace and Macedonia soon became legitimately and completely Bulgarian. The governmental organization in Thrace and Macedonia, its infrastructure, civic administration, general educational system, institutes of higher learning, religious bodies, economy, and culture became wholly and legally Bulgarian. The government was extremely proud of this, and established and funded patriotic organizations in Macedonia to show the people and tell the world that Macedonia was their own. They formed cultural and charitable organizations in their beloved United Bulgaria, and commissioned, printed and issued, nearly seven million commemorative postage stamps in 1941, recalling the "recovery" of Macedonia.
Yet today, when it comes to discussing how 13,000 Jews from Thrace and Macedonia were deported by Bulgarian police officers and soldiers to Treblinka where they were killed, Bulgaria remains silent. They laud themselves for not allowing the deportation of Bulgaria's 50,000 Jews, but it seems that the price paid the Nazis for letting them save their "own" Jews was the deaths of those Jews of Macedonia and Thrace.
The deaths of 13,000 Jews occurred with the direct participation and knowledge of the Bulgarian government in alliance and volunteer partnership with Nazi Germany. 98 percent of Macedonia's Jews were deported - none survived.
To counter current accusations of lack of human rights on the world stage, on more than one occasion, Bulgaria has revisited the claim that it had saved 50,000 Jews, and that Bulgaria was "humanitarian," and that it would keep up its "respect for human life and human dignity." On at least one occasion, ex-president Peter Stoyanov said that the Jews' rescue from deportation was "the best answer to the constantly asked question, 'What have you contributed to European civilization?' "
Now, with the murdeous Islamist bombing attack on Israelis tourists visiting Bulgaria, the Bulgarians are basking in the glory of how they elected not to kill 50,000 Jews, how they saved them and how they have always been friends to the Jewish people. Not always and not to all of the Jewish people..
Not to minimize the greatness of the Bulgarian people, nor the joy that good people were saved.... but Moshe Dayan? I could have lived without.
Thanks to Judy for this story.
A great many Jews know the story of how the Danes rescued 8,000 Jews from the Nazis by smuggling them to Sweden in fishing boats.
Very few Jews, know the story of how all 50,000 Bulgarian Jews were saved.
Not a single Bulgarian Jew was deported to the death camps, due to
the heroism of many Bulgarians of every walk of life, up to and including
the King and the Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
In 1999, Abraham Foxman, the National Director of the Anti Defamation
League flew with a delegation to Sophia to meet the Bulgarian Prime
Minister. He gave the Prime Minister the first Bulgarian language copy of a
remarkable book, 'Beyond Hitler's Grasp,' written in 1998, by Michael Bar Oar, a professor at Emory University. (A Bulgarian Jew who had migrated to Israel and then to the USA).
This book documents the rescue effort in detail. The ADL paid for and
shipped 30,000 copies to Bulgaria, so that the population could partake in
the joy of learning about this heroic facet of their history. This story is
clearly the last great secret of the Holocaust era. The story was buried by
the Bulgarian Communists, until their downfall in 1991. All records were
sealed, since they didn't wish to glorify the King, or the Church, or the
non Communist parliamentarians, who at great personal risk, stood up to the
Germans. And the Bulgarian Jewish Community, 45,000 of whom went to
Israel after the War, were busy building new lives, and somehow the story
Bulgaria is a small country and at the outset of the War they had 8 million people.
They aligned themselves with the Nazi's in hopes of
recapturing Macedonia from Yugoslavia and Thrace from Greece. Both
provinces were stripped from them, after W.W.I. In late 1942 the Jews of
Selonica were shipped north through Bulgaria, on the way to the death
camps, in sealed box cars. The news of this inhumanity was a hot topic of
conversation. Then, at the beginning of 1943, the pro Nazi Bulgarian
government was informed that all 50,000 Bulgarian Jews would be deported in March.
The Jews had been made to wear yellow stars and were highly visible.
As the date for the deportation got closer, the agitation got greater.
Forty-three ruling party members of Parliament walked out in protest.
Newspapers denounced what was about to happen. In addition, the Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Krill, threatened to lie down
on the railroad tracks. Finally, King Boris III forbade the deportation.
Since Bulgaria was an ally of Germany, and the Germans were stretched
militarily, they had to wrestle with the problem of how much pressure they
could afford to apply. They decided to pass.
Several points are noteworthy. The Bulgarian Jews were relatively un-religious and did not stand apart from the local populace by virtue of garb, or rites. They were relatively poor by comparison to Jews in other countries, and they lived in integrated neighborhoods.
Additionally, the Bulgarians had many minorities, Armenians, Turks, Greeks, and Gypsies, in addition to Jews. There was no concept of racism in that culture. The bottom line here is that Bulgarians saw Bulgarian-Jews as Bulgarians, and not as Jews. And, being a small country, like Denmark, where there was a closeness of community that is often missing in larger countries. So, here was a bright spot that we can point to as example of what should have been. The most famous of those saved was a young graduate of the Bulgarian Military Academy. When he arrived in Israel, he changed his name to Moshe Dayan.
What a great story to pass on to your e-mail list.
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