The Rescue of Bulgarian Jewry
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The Rescue of Bulgarian Jewry

The Rescue of Bulgarian Jewry

How all 50,000 Bulgarian Jews were saved during the Holocaust.

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Many know the story of how Denmark rescued 8,000 Jews from the Nazis by smuggling them to Sweden in fishing boats.

Few, however, know the story of how all 50,000 Bulgarian Jews were saved. For decades, all records were sealed by the Bulgarian Communists in an attempt to prevent glorification of the King, the Church, and the non-Communist parliamentarians who at great personal risk stood up to the Germans.

Until the Communist downfall in 1991, the story remained untold, the last great secret of the Holocaust era.

Bulgaria is a small country which, at the outset of World War II, had 7 million people. The Jewish community, having lived in Bulgaria since the 2nd century CE, numbered approximately 50,000.

During the war, Bulgaria aligned with Nazi Germany in hopes of recapturing Macedonia from Yugoslavia and Thrace from Greece, which had been stripped from Bulgaria following their defeat in World War I.

In 1940, Bulgaria instituted social and legal restrictions of its Jewish citizens, in the style of the infamous Nuremberg Laws. Bulgaria also deported non-Bulgarian Jews in those territories it had annexed from Yugoslavia and Greece. Then at the beginning of 1943, the Nazis informed the Bulgarian government that all Bulgarian Jews would be deported to Nazi-occupied Poland.

The news of this inhumanity was a hot topic of conversation, and public opposition began to grow. This was due to the sense of close-knit community in the small Bulgarian population, and particularly the fact that Bulgaria consisted of minorities – Armenians, Turks, Greeks and Gypsies, as well as Jews.

As the date for the deportation drew closer, Parliamentary leader Dimitar Peshev led a coalition of 43 legislators who registered an official protest. Newspapers denounced the deportation. The Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Stefan, actively worked against the deportation and issued fake baptism certificates in an attempt to save Jews. Bishop Cyril, who headed the church in Plovdiv, threatened to lie down on the railroad tracks and promised the Jews, "Wherever you go, I'll go with you.”

Finally, under public pressure, King Boris III forbade the deportation.

Since Bulgaria was a German ally, the cost of open resistance could have been total annihilation at the hand of Nazi troops. Yet the Germans were stretched militarily, and had to wrestle with the problem of how much pressure they could afford to apply in the face of this subversion. In the end, the Nazis decided to avoid a confrontation.

Thus Bulgaria became the only nation in Europe to save its entire Jewish population from the Nazi death camps, and King Boris has the distinction of being the only world leader to defy Hitler face-to-face during the war. (King Boris died under mysterious circumstances in 1943.)

Of the 50,000 Bulgarian Jews, some 40,000 went to Israel after the War. Among those was Michael Bar Zohar, who later served in the Israeli Knesset and wrote the remarkable book, Beyond Hitler's Grasp, detailing the rescue of Bulgarian Jewry.

The book was translated into Bulgarian, and the ADL shipped 30,000 copies to Bulgaria, to ensure that the population could learn about this heroic facet of their history.

Related Video: And You Shall Tell Your Children

Published: October 23, 2011


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Visitor Comments: 18

(14) Petra, October 12, 2014 5:33 AM

I Was Born In This Small Country Which Saved The Bulgarian Jews

Thank you, Aish.com, for mentioning my small nation for what it has done to save the Bulgarian Jews. We have studied at school about this historical fact.
The Bulgarian nation has treated its minority populations with respect. We are a mall nation build of Bulgarians, Turks, Armenians, Jews, Gypsies, and more minorities.
I have been raised to respect all people.
I am very proud with what our church and Tsar Boris did to save its Jewish population.
I read recently a book about Tsar Boris and his action to save the Jewish people. He was a king moved by human ethical norms.

(13) S. Alfassa, February 13, 2014 1:55 PM

Bulgaria sent 13,000 Jews to Treblinka

Bulgaria was complicit in the dispossession, torture and murder of thousands of Jews-yet, the Bulgarian government continues to whitewash this fact. While it's known that the Bulgarian government elected not to deport some 50,000 Jews from 'Old' Bulgaria to German death camps in Poland-what is not known is that Bulgaria was directly complicit in the murder of some 13,000 Jews from 'New' Bulgaria (Thrace and Macedonia).

(12) Machkanov, October 25, 2012 11:08 AM

for those who seek the truth about the rescue of Bulgarian Jews: Tzar(King) Boris III - concealed savoir of the Bulgarian Jews http://mahatma.blog.bg/politika/2011/01/27/tzar-king-boris-iii-concealed-savoir-of-the-bulgarian-jews.674892 Before several days, the Bulgarian community in Tel Aviv is planning to build a monument as a tribute to Bulgarian people for the rescue of 50 000 Bulgarian Jews during World War II. Israel's President, Shimon Peres, when greeting his Bulgarian counterpart during their official talks said: "Welcome to Israel and to its ancient capital, Jerusalem. Bulgaria is a true friend of Israel, which worked to save the Jewish people 70 years ago in Europe." Peres' praise is even more important, because it comes at a time Bulgaria is subjected to a feverous discrediting attack and accusations it is responsible for the massacre of 11 000 Jews in Macedonia and Thrace. The government in Skopje is considered the moving force behind this campaign, spending EUR millions for discrediting propaganda such as movies, documentaries, museum exhibits, conference and publications. Macedonia and Thrace at the time were occupied by Germany, and were later transferred to be administered by Bulgaria, but remained a German protectorate until the end of the War.

(11) Aron Bally, November 21, 2011 11:20 AM

The truth!!

The article is just another attempt to use the fact of the saving of the jews for political purposes. The fact of the saving is investigated by historians , but always there was the political stamp on the studies. Immediatelly after the end of WWII the book of Nathan Grinberg was published with the protocol , where the government of King Boris had agreed to send to Germany for annihilation 20 000 Jews form Bulgaria- 11700 - from the " new territories" and the rest from Kingdom of Bulgaria.Subject of en exhibition in the Beth Aam and stayed there till end of 1990. . Faximiles the reaction of many organisations like the union of the Bulgarian lawers, writers etc , the Sinod, letters and telegrams from tradeunions and personal declarations objecting to the attempt to send us to the extermination camps. An international conference with participation of historians from USA, France etc took place 1987, as well a traveling exibition on this topic , which was sent to several European capitals. From 1990 there is a pressure from heirs of the former pro Nazi supporters of the government 1939- 1944 and king Boris to whitewash the efforts to implement the adoption and implementation of the copy of the Neurenberg laws, voted in Bulgarian Parliament in 1940 and signed by King Boris. They want the people to forget that Bulgarian police and army gethered the Jews from the ' New territories" of Bulgaria and sent them to Treblinka. So we have to pay tribute to the Bulgarian people, Dimitar Peshev , the bulgarian inteligencia and ordinary people , who stopped this action and always to remember that there were powers in the Bulgarian Government who wanted to send us to the camps. So - honour for those who saved us and shame for those who did all to follow the Nazi attempt to annihilate the Jews in Bulgaria , as they did to the 11700 jews from the ' New" territrories of Bulgaria

Edward Gaffney, August 10, 2012 1:55 PM

EMPTY BOXCARS

Dear Aron, I am happy to send you a copy of the film EMPTY BOXCARS, which confirms with documents and photos and footage exactly the ambivalence you report. contact: edward.gaffney@valpo.edu or call 1 219 465 7860

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