Seventy years a er the SecondWorld War the Bulgariangovernment is adamant in itsdenial that the Kingdom ofBulgaria did anything wrongin the territories – now in northernGreece, southern Serbia around the townof Pirot, and the former Yugoslav republicof Macedonia – it occupied as part of itsdeal with its ally, Nazi Germany. Withgreat pomp and circumstance and at aconsiderable taxpayers' expense earlier thisyear Bulgaria o cially marked the nondeportation,in 1943, of about 43,000 Jewsliving in Bulgaria-proper. e Bulgarianparliament released a carefully wordedstatement hailing the power of Bulgaria'scivil society which prevented the planneddeportations and expressed regret aboutwhat happened to the Jews in what at thetime were referred to as the "new" Bulgarianterritories, or "New Bulgaria." Signi cantly,the statement stopped short of producing anapology, eschewing to name the Republic ofMacedonia and instead referring to the nownon-existent Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
Read between the lines, the Bulgarianstatement indicates two things. First, thatthe establishment in So a vehemently andunequivocally refuses to acknowledge whatwar-time Bulgaria did to its neighbours.Second, as Former Prime Minister BoykoBorisov said last year any pronouncementto the contrary – indeed, any research intothe issue at all – would be treated as "anti-Bulgarian" at best and "treason" at worst.
To corroborate its stand, the Bulgarianstate had supported research to prove thatfrom a legalistic standpoint Nazi Germanyrather than Bulgaria had occupied portionsof Greece, Serbia and Macedonia, and thatthe Bulgarians just "administered" theseterritories. It also spent cash on funding aTV soap designed to tell the human story ofthe thousands of Jews in "Old Bulgaria" whowere spared the gas chambers by not beingdeported to Nazi-occupied Poland.
To explain in a couple of sentences whatreally happened over a period of severalyears during one of the most dramatictimes in European history is of courseoversimpli cation. However, as the facts andthe timetable may not be very well known,here is a brief recap of the highlights.
Bulgaria joined the Nazi Axis led onby promises that Hitler would grant itterritories in Northern Greece, Macedoniaand southern Serbia that were predominantlyethnic Bulgarian. Toeing Germany's lineon the so-called Jewish Question, Bulgariaimplemented anti-semitic legislationmodelled on the infamous Nuremberglaws. It was Germany who attacked andsubordinated what were at the time thekingdoms of Yugoslavia and Greece. eGermans kept their word to an extent: theygave Bulgaria to administer the territories itconsidered its own, but it was decided thattheir full legal status would be determinedonce the war was over. In actual fact, partsof northern Greece, Vardar Macedoniaand parts of southern Serbia were run byBulgarian civil servants, Bulgarian army andBulgarian police. Bulgarian was installed asthe language of schooling. Decades a er theevent stamp collectors will gladly produceBulgarian royal postage stamps used onletters dispatched from Kavala and Skopje as"internal" mail.
In 1943, 11,363 Jews in these territories,who had been stripped of the opportunityto obtain Bulgarian citizenship, were herdedby the Bulgarian authorities into BulgarianState Railways cattle-cars. Most of themwere taken through Bulgarian territory tothe Bulgarian port of Lom and shipped upthe Danube to Vienna whence they wouldbe sent to certain death in Treblinka. eterm used by the Bulgarian administrationto describe the deportations was vdignati, or"picked up."
There are of course many preserveddocuments about these events. However,for a variety of reasons no one either underCommunism or during Bulgaria's transitionto democracy post-1989 has delved intothem. Like elsewhere in the Soviet bloc,there were o cial monuments to victims,but the word "Jew" was carefully avoided. Ifthe non-deportation of the 43,000 Jews from"Old Bulgaria" was mentioned at all, it was inrelation to who was to take the credit for it.
The breakthrough comes now. HistoriansRumen Avramov and Nadya Daneva spentseveral years researching the BulgarianState Archives to unearth a formidablecollection of documents, many of whichsee the light of day for the rst time. eresult is a two-volume book of about 2,000pages entitled e Deportation of JewsFrom Vardar Macedonia, Aegean raceand Pirot in March 1943, Documents Fromthe Bulgarian Archives. It is nancially andmorally supported by the Bulgarian HelsinkiCommittee, the human rights watchdog.
The book consists of a relatively shortintroduction that puts in perspective theevents in the "new" Bulgarian territories,then lists hundreds of transcribed documentsfrom the Bulgarian State Archives, includinga full name-list of every single Jewish personwho was rounded up and deported. ereare applications by Bulgarians declaringthemselves to be su ciently patriotic tobe granted rights over Jewish properties,diplomatic correspondence over the plans tostrip Jews of Bulgarian citizenship, excerptsfrom diaries of o cials, recollections ofmeetings with the senior Bulgaria clergywho stepped in mainly for those Jews whohad converted to Christianity. Inasmuch it ispossible through 70-year-old documents, thebook presents a generally coherent picture ofwhat war-time Bulgaria looked like and howits government and authorities handled the"Jewish Question."
The last chapter of the book consists ofdocuments related to the so-called People's Court organised by the Soviet-backedCommunists a er 1944. In the subsequenttrials hundreds of real and imaginary warcriminals were tried for political and othercrimes, as the death sentences handeddown on Bulgarians, including many MPs,government ministers, doctors, lawyersand various non-Communist intellectuals,outnumbered the death sentences in theNuremberg Trials.
The book ran afoul of the Bulgarianauthorities even before it was published.A number of academic publishers,including the So a University Press and theBulgarian Academy of Sciences PublishingHouse, refused to touch it. e NationalState Archives would not get involved.It is expected that a urry of activity by"patriotic" historians will follow onceeveryone comes back from holidays.
The main trouble with Bulgaria's stanceon the Holocaust is its failure to come toterms with events committed by individualBulgarians and by the Bulgarian statethat are now seen as uncomfortable. isis a refusal to face up to history is notonly limited to the Jews in the occupiedterritories during the Second World War butalso to other historical issues such as theso-called Revival Process in the 1980s, thebeginnings of democracy in the 1990s andof course Communism itself (1945-1989).It indicates a fear that an acknowledgementof what Bulgaria did in Aegean race,Macedonia and southern Serbia willsomehow overshadow the much granderact of the non-deportation of 43,000 Jewswith Bulgarian citizenship living in "OldBulgaria." No one can deny the valour of anumber of political gures, the senior clergyand many ordinary citizens who made thatpossible in war-time Bulgaria. But modernBulgaria's refusal to state that nothing wasreally black-and-white in those turbulenttimes will continue to cast a doubt on itsreal intentions.
The book by Rumen Avramov andNadya Daneva – sadly, published only inBulgarian – is the rst signi cant step in theopposite direction. One can only hope thatthe academic community, if not the organsof the state, will read it carefully and withoutprejudice.
Author: Anthony Georgieff