In Shadow of Terror Attack in Bulgaria, Media Perpetuates
Myth of Bulgarian Government 'Saving' Jews from Holocaust
20, 2012) 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
overused half-truth-that they protected their nation's
Jewish population during the Holocaust. The following
day, Fox News extolled Bulgaria's record, noting that
last week's bombing was the first such attack in the
nation's history, and making sure to mention how the
Bulgarians "saved" Jews during WWII. This
is an often repeated statement, erroneous at its core.
The contemporary media often reports 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 ultimately individuals of the Bulgarian
government, the public, and the clergy, did in fact
take laudable actions which halted the deportation of
a certain 50,000 Jews from parts of Bulgaria to German
death camps in Poland, there is no reason why the Bulgarian
government should not discuss the 13,000 Jews they dispossessed,
imprisoned, and deported from land they were occupying
as their own during the war.
is no reason why the Bulgarian government should not
the 13,000 Jews they dispossessed, imprisoned, and deported..."
are the facts. 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
proudly declared the territory "New" or "United
Bulgaria" and, within one month, initiated a colossal
national campaign of Bulgarization that ended with Bulgaria
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. No mention is made of how the Bulgarian military
established a blockade around the cities to prevent
escapes. Bulgarian officials broke into Jewish homes
and hauled out their inhabitants. No word is uttered
about how the Jews were forced to walk, for many miles,
being whipped by troops; nor how many Jews died along
the way from cold, malnutrition or beatings. Nor, how
they were placed in tobacco warehouses, raped, and later
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,
all deported to Treblinka where they were murdered in
German gas chambers.
In the eyes of the Parliament at Sofia, Thrace and Macedonia
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 don't even
mention the phrase United Bulgaria. What they do-is
go on international cable news networks and laud themselves
for not killing 50,000 Jews.
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. The Bulgarian
government was the perpetrator in the deportation of
98 percent of Macedonia's Jews-none survived.
An added disgrace is that until it finally gained membership
status in 2007, Bulgaria sought to be accepted into
the European Union, but its poor human rights record
often presented a problem. Prior to their acceptance,
the U.S. State Department reported that Bulgaria continued
to have "problems in several areas" such as:
Law enforcement officers beating and mistreating suspects,
prison inmates, and minorities, along with arbitrary
arrest and detention; problems of accountability persisted
and inhibited government attempts to address police
abuse; restrictions on freedom of the press; government
restricted freedom of religion for some religious groups;
societal discrimination and harassment of non-traditional
religious minorities persisted; societal violence and
discrimination against women.
To counter this, on the world stage, on more than one
occasion, Bulgaria shamefully 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 bombing attack on Israelis tourists visiting
Bulgaria, the Bulgarians are again shamelessly basking
in the glory of the half-truth story, that because they
elected not to kill 50,000 Jews-they "saved"
them and have always been friends to the Jewish people.
Alfassa is an historian and outspoken advocate for Jewish
causes both local and international.
He is the author of several books, including Shameful
Behavior: Bulgaria and the Holocaust.