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eSefarad » Artículos » The Miraculous Rescue of the Bulgarian Jews during the Holocaust (1939 – 1945) (The Bulgarian Miracle) (Part 1) by Dr. Marcel Israel

The Miraculous Rescue of the Bulgarian Jews during the Holocaust (1939 – 1945) (The Bulgarian Miracle) (Part 1) by Dr. Marcel Israel

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This article is a historical and political report on the Miraculous Rescue of the Bulgarian Jews during the Holocaust, 1939-1944.
Subjects like the German-Bulgarian occupation and administration of Vardar Macedonia and Aegean Thrace in 1941-1944 are treated in the very beginning.
Other chapter presents the consequences for the Jewish Population created by the bulgarian Law for Protection of the Nation from 1940. From this point of view, the interaction between the Bulgarian antisemitic Government and the dramatic events from the spring of 1943 are chronologically analyzed.
Some important facts are presented and multiple factors leading to the Rescue of the Bulgarian Jews are analyzed more profoundly.
A bibliography of important books and articles related to the present paper and to the topics in general is added. In the attachments (annex 1 – 5) some important photos and documents can be observed.

Table of Contents:  The Bulgarian Miracle

  1. German – Bulgarian “Joint” Administration in Vardar Macedonia and Aegean Thrace. Agreements on so called “New Territories”
  2. Relationship between Jews and the People of Bulgaria
  3. Bulgarian Government and its Antisemitic Structure in 1941-1944. Links and collaboration with Nazi Germany
  4. The dramatic events in the spring of 1943
  5. The most important factors for the salvation of the Jews in Bulgaria
  6. Bibliography
  7. Attachments

1. The occupation of Vardar Macedonia and Aegean Thrace  

Bulgaria was negotiating an alliance with Germany for geopolitical and economic reasons- to recover the lost territories in the war of 1913 and the WW I, but King Boris III was opposed in principle to join the Military Axis. By an international treaty and with Germany’s help Bulgaria recovered Dobrudzha in September 1940.
In fact, on March 1, 1941 Bulgaria signed the Axis Pact and thus became an ally of Germany. The same day Nazi troops passed across Bulgaria and invaded Greece. The invasion of Yugoslavia was carried out on April 6,1941.According to the agreement with Germany, the Bulgarian troops occupied on April 24, 1941. Vardar Macedonia and on April 27, 1941 Aegean Thrace, /9, 16/.

In Popov-Clodious’ agreement signed April 27, 1941 between Bulgaria and Germany, Vardar Macedonia and Aegean Thrace were not considered as a part of Bulgaria, rather a German occupation zone delivered to Bulgaria for “temporary” administration, with the possibility of “belonging” after the “successful end” of the war “definitely” to Bulgaria. As a result of this agreement Bulgaria granted the Yugoslavs and Greeks in the new occupied territories the Bulgarian citizenship, except the Jews, which according to the anti-semitic Bulgarian Law for the “Protection of the Nation” of January 23,1941, paragraph 21, the Bulgarian citizenship was denied, so they became in fact homeless.
This is a very tragic moment in the history of the Holocaust. /15, 16, 18/

2. Relationship between the Jews and the People of Bulgaria

In order to understand the successful integration of Bulgarian Jews into society, it is important to present the following statistics about their occupation:
In 1938 in Sofia(capital) the active Jewish population was 9,000 (of a total of 24,000).
From this number 329 were doctors, teachers, lawyers, engineers, architects, 1170 employees in companies, 1780 workers in industries, 2411 small business people, 828 unemployed.There were only few, truly rich people, e.g. 6 bankers, 84 industrials and 38 senior officials. /1/, /10/.

In general, two thirds of the Jewish population lived at or below the level of subsistence.
Therefore, the Jewish population, generally belonging to the working class, was living in harmony and good relationship with other Bulgarian citizens of different religions. Anti-Semitism did exist, but in no way comparable to that of Poland, Russia or Romania.

3. Bulgarian government’s Anti-Semitic Structure in 1941-1944

As an ally of Nazi Germany, the Bulgarian government was generally pro-Nazi andanti-semitic and on January 23,1941 the notorious Law for the Protection of the Nation (ZZN), was published, /18,19/.

The goal of this law was the total expropriation of the jewish properties, a vast number of prohibitions, drawbacks, etc. /16, 18 / and it was a foreplay to the deportation and destruction of the Bulgarian Jews.
Of course, this law was created under the influence of Germany, represented by Adolf Beckerle, Ambassador and Karl Hoffmann (RSHA-Gestapo), however with the active cooperation of the government of Bogdan Filov, Prime Minister and Peter Gabrovski, Minister of Interior, they were both Nazis by heart and mind.

The Wannsee Conference / Berlin, January, 1942, initiated the realization of the notorious “Final Solution“ for the Jewish People in Europe.

The reaction from the Bulgarian government came immediately. In February 26, 1942 the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs (KEV) was established, in order to strengthen the economic actions against the Jews and to carry out their deportation from Bulgaria to the death camps in Poland. Moreover, those acts and the financing of the Commissariat had to be carried out with money from the Jewish Communities.

An unprecedented cynicism!

The head of the Commissariat KEV was the Comissioner Alexander Belev, a cruel person and fully devoted to the Nazi ideology. In January 1943, on Bulgaria’s request, arrived in Sofia the special envoy for jewish affairs Theodor Danneker, a Captain of the SS, a man of Adolf Eichmann. From this moment on Danneker and Belev would be working closely together with the approval of the Minister of Interior Gabrovski, in order to accelerate the deportations of the Jews from Bulgaria, Vardar Macedonia, Aegean Thrace and also Pirot (Serbia) /27/.

Next slides display photographs of the bulgarian and german nazi-leaders, who were responsable for the anti-jewish measures in 1943.


 4. The dramatic events in the spring of 1943   

On February 22,1943 Belev and Danneker signed an agreement (Annex 1) for the deportation of 20,000 Jews (12,000 from Macedonia and Thrace and 8,000 – from  the territory of Bulgaria). This is a unique agreement, that a country has ever signed with Nazi Germany for deportation of Jews. This country (Bulgaria) would pay all transportation costs to the destination and would promise never to claim those citizens!

The Commissariat KEV sent his agents, including Belev to different cities of Thrace and Macedonia, e.g. Seres, Xanthi, Drama, Skopje, Bitolya, Pirot, to carry out this extremely urgent and top secret operation. Between March 03 and 21,1943 , 11,343 Jews were rounded up by the Bulgarian police and army, apparently along with some agents of the SS and handed over to the Nazis. Some trains crossed Bulgaria to Lom (on the Danube), and by ship the Jews were transported up river to Vienna and then by trains to Treblinka, directly to the death!. (Annex 5)

They were not citizens of any country and the nazis considered them “persona non grata” , thus no one could do anything to help them.

Wasn’t that a perfect crime?

From those 11.343 sisters and brothers survived less than 50.

At the same time, in Bulgaria began the first attempt to deport 8,000 Jews along with those from Macedonia and Thrace. And…that failed!

What happened? : The sinister plans of Belev-Dannecker were revealed through various channels of information, even from inside the proper Commissariat. The information reached the right people – the Jews from Kyustendil, a key city for the concentration and deportation and the Jewish Leaders from Sofia. Urgent actions were initiated.

Parliament deputies from Kyustendil – friends of the Jews informed Parliament’s Deputy Speaker , Mr. Dimiter Peshev. He, in turn collected from the Majority Deputies 43 signatures against the deportation and presented them to the Prime Minister Filov with a firm request to stop the deportation. Those events occurred between March 8 and 18, 1943

King Boris III was also informed, apparently by his close friend, the famous writer Elin Pelin, a great supporter of the Jews.The King also received a telegram of protest from the Archbishop of Plovdiv, (Metropolitan) Kiril.

On March 10, 1943 the first order for deportation was canceled. /8, 9, 16/

But minister Gabrovski and commissioner Belev didn’t stay passively and prepared in May 1943 the second attempt to deporting the Jews, that time all they from the capital Sofia. By a secret decree of the Council of Ministers of May 21,1943, deportation had to start immediately.

Once again, there was a lack of information. About those plans the leaders of the Jewish Community were immediately informed.

Chief Rabbi Daniel Tzion called for a big meeting of the Jews in the Synagogue. Simultaneously, harsh protests were expressed by numerous prominent politicians, deputies, intellectuals, religious leaders and political parties.

The Communist Party and the Agrarian Union, two parties outside the law, were also strongly and massively involved in the demonstrations.

Demonstrations in support of the Jews matched with the national holiday – 24 of May, the day of the Saints Cyril and Methodius and became a real popular outcry. About 10,000 people demonstrated outside the palace of the King.

King Boris III, according to some historians, received protests from politicians, intellectuals and many important religious authorities, like the Metropolitans Kiril and Stefan, the Bishop Roncalli (the future Pope John XXIII) (see Annex 2, 3) or also from the important religious cult “The white brotherhood “ led by Reverend Peter Deunov, whom the King had a special respect for.

Finally, according to a report from Karl Hoffmann, /8,16,26/ apparently was the King, who ordered to stop the deportation to Poland.

But then, some weeks later a large number of the Jewish population from Sofia was rounded up and deported to small towns and forced labor camps, as well, but within the country. Many activists were arrested by the police, including Chief Rabbi Daniel Tzion.

Herewith, in fact, the dark chapter of the failed attempts of the Bulgarian pro-Nazi government to send the Jews to the nazi death camps in 1943 was closed.

The subsequent events: the desperate military situation of Germany after the great battle of Koursk, the landing of the Allied forces in Sicily and the death of King Boris III on August 28,1943 for still unexplained reasons, resulted in government’s change, so the “architects” of the deportations, Gabrovski and Belev had to resign too.

On September 14 ,1943 a new government was formed by Dobri Bozhilov. The new Minister of Interior, Docho Christov said, regarding the Jews:
“We didn’t succeed to deport the Jews and will not going to do anything this regarding. The Jews will stay there,where they are … (outside of major cities and in forced labor camps) /9/.

In turn, German ambassador Beckerle, in a letter dated June 07, 1943 to the German Foreign Ministry wrote, as follows :
“The Bulgarian government, despite its efforts in relation to the final solution of the Jews, is attached to the mentality of the Bulgarian population …This one, which has grown along with Armenians, Greeks and Gypsies does not find any drawbacks in the Jews, that would justify actions against them. In addition, most of the Bulgarian Jews are applied workers. So…I agree with the Bulgarian authorities to seek other reasons against the Jews, as for example some activities such as involvement in attacks and subversive and communist acts against the Axis. “ /9, 26/

Dr. Marcel Israel – Madrid / Sofía , Octubre 2012

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