Bulgaria recently recalled its record during the Holocaust.
With pride. And with shame.
Ceremonies (above, at Sofia’s synagogue) across the country last month marked the 70th anniversary of protests staged by a wide range of Bulgarians — politicians, members of the Christian clergy, professors and other citizens — that stopped the deportations of Jews by the Nazis, wartime allies of the Bulgarian government, literally in its tracks. The Bulgarians’ actions made the country the only one in Nazi-occupied Europe — besides Albania, on a smaller scale — where the number of Jews after the Shoah (some 49,000) exceeded the figure before World War II (48,000).
Two days earlier, the Bulgarian parliament expressed, for the first time, the country’s regret for allowing the deportation to their deaths in concentration camps of some 11,000 Jews who lived in Thrace and Macedonia, annexed territories then under Bulgarian control.
“We denounce this criminal act, undertaken by Hitler’s command, and express our regret for the fact that the local Bulgarian administration had not been in a position to stop this act,” the parliamentary resolution stated. “The objective evaluation of the historic events cannot ignore the fact that 11,343 Jews were deported from northern Greece and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, then under German jurisdiction.”
The Shalom Organization of Jews in Bulgaria, which repeatedly had called upon the government to take responsibility for Bulgaria’s wartime inaction, unveiled a memorial sign to the deportation at the Sofia Synagogue.
Bulgaria’s record during the war is the focus of an exhibition, “Tough choices that make a difference: The fate of Bulgarian Jews,” which Israeli President Shimon Peres and his Bulgarian counterpart, Rosen Plevneliev, opened last month at the European Parliament in Brussels.
After WWII, most of Bulgaria’s Jews immigrated to Israel. About 5,000 Jews live today in Bulgaria, most in Sofia, the capital.