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Neither Todor Zhivkov, nor Tsar Boris III is the saviour of Bulgarian Jews

20 November 2014 / 14:11:31  GRReporter
4109 reads

Polina Spartyanova
     Zelma Almaleh is a Bulgarian journalist and screenwriter; she worked at the Bulgarian National Television, the International Organization for Migration, and BGNES agency. Together with her husband, journalist and filmmaker Stefan Dzhambazov, they are the creators of website for art and culture www.въпреки.com (въпреки (vapreki) means despite in English) that makes analysis, tells about people who are engaged in art and culture "despite" the situation in Bulgaria and have an active position regarding what is happening in our society. The family of Zelma Almaleh’s father is one of the many families that were affected by the Law on Protection of the Nation during World War II. Being Jews, they lost their property, they were deported from the city of Stara Zagora, and her father found himself in one of the labour camps for Jews. Her grandmother Zelma, whose name she bears, could not live through all this and died in the summer of 1942.
    What is the situation of the Jewish minority today in Bulgaria and in the Balkans in general?
    The Jewish minority in Bulgaria has always been very integrated and in this respect, they have their own organization, "Shalom." As a community and upbringing, they have always put emphasis on education, healthcare, culture and art, being people of principles and conscientious citizens of Bulgaria. They have close ties with Israel and international Jewish organizations. They have exceptional social programmes, which unfortunately do not exist in Bulgaria and which are of the type developed in Israel with a particular concern for the elderly and children.
     I have always felt Jewish and I am really part of this society, although I am not so actively involved in what happens every day. Often I write mainly on issues of culture and art in the community newspaper "Jewish News", which is one of the oldest newspapers preserved to the present day.
    What are your observations about the attitude of Bulgarians to ethnic Jews today?
    Things are contradictory. Firstly, Bulgarian Jews are very integrated into society. The majority of them are occupying good professional positions. There is even a Jewish school, which is at a very high level as an educational system and many Bulgarian families are interested in having their children there, but they can attend it only after a competition, as is the case of all elite schools in Bulgaria. However, I have observed some new manifestations of anti-Semitism in recent years, and not only in Bulgaria but in the whole of Europe. One of the things that can be immediately seen is the various comments on forums. It has been several years since the so-called "Lukov march" named after general Lukov, who was one of the most vocal anti-Semites, was restored in Bulgaria, for example. It resembles even the events of the 1930s in Germany, with torches with swastikas. Even in the streets of Sofia one can see such young people, in such clothes, with badges of Hitlerjugend and other signs typical of Nazism in Germany, who have no idea what it is.
     There has been a very serious attempt in recent years, within the context of the major discussion on the salvation of Bulgarian Jews, to exculpate Bulgaria from what happened in the years of the Holocaust. Yes, over 48,000 people did not go to the death camps but that does not mean that they were not subject to the Law on Protection of the Nation, that they were not deported and deprived of their property; that they were not in the labour camps and that they did not experience humiliation and suffering. The attempt to exculpate the Bulgarian state and blur the facts is not good. It is believed that talking about these events is part of some anti-Bulgarian propaganda. The truth is that these 48,000 people were really saved but the worst thing is that this matter is always politicized. Before 10 November, Todor Zhivkov had saved them and after that date Boris III, Tsar of Bulgaria, but this is not true.


     In your opinion, who contributed then most towards the saving of Bulgarian Jews during World War II?
     In terms of institutions, this was the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in the first place, with the overall behaviour of former Exarch Stefan and Metropolitan Kirill of Plovdiv at the time, who later became Patriarch. The policy of the Bulgarian church was very consistent unlike now when it is dealing only with its own matters. My father, who studied at the French College in Plovdiv, was in the schoolyard, where all the Jews in the city had gathered to get on the trains that would take them to the German Nazi death camps. Then Metropolitan Kirill came and said, "I will not let anyone go, I will go with you." Exarch Stefan in turn many times appealed in writing to the Tsar to terminate those operations.
     There is also something associated with Dimitar Peshev. He was Vice-President of the National Assembly at that time, from the ruling party at that, and one of those who had signed the Law on Protection of the Nation. But at some point, when it was clear what would happen, his childhood friend from Kyustendil wrote to inform him of the developments. Then Peshev took a stand against the sending of Bulgarian Jews to Nazi camps. This cost him his post in Parliament but his act created an atmosphere in Bulgaria that prevented the deportation of Jews.

Tags: Salvation of Bulgarian JewsDeportation of Jews from Thrace and Macedoniathe Holocaustthe Holocaust Museum in SkopjeZelma Almaleh
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