The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria's Jews
by Gad Nahshon
Dr. Michael Bar-Zokar was born in Bulgaria. In 1948 he immigrated to Israel together with his family. Almost 50 thousand Jews made aliyah and greatly contributed to Israel's well being and culture. Bar Zokar turned to be a popular politician and member of the Knesset for many years. But today he is famous as an acclaimed international writer of fiction and non-fiction.
Bar-Zokar also has developed an academic career in this country. As an historian, he learned that only few people know about one of World War II's exceptional miracles: the heroic rescue of the Bulgarian Jews. It is an unknown chapter of the history of the Shoah (the Holocaust). It is a unique story of Jewish survival inside the belly of Nazi Germany, inside the shadow of the 'Final Solution.'
Bar-Zokar decided to tell this story of a miracle. He conducted a deep research in many countries. He exposed many new primary sources. He used oral history as well. He, first of all, went back to his original country, Bulgaria, and checked every archive. The outcome of this emotional research is an excellent analytical account; a book: "Beyond Hitler's Grasp - The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria's Jews" (Adams Media Corporation, Holbroke, Massachusetts, 1998).
This book, an historical, thriller is a must for anyone who wants to learn about the Holocaust and learn the most important conclusion of this book - when the local population refused to cooperate with the Nazi's, the scope of the 'Final Solution' shrunk dramatically. The Bulgarians refused to expel their Jews. They objected to the Nazi plans to bring the final solution to their country. Of course, many Bulgarians were Fascists and pro-Nazi. Of course, the Bulgarian government established a special office for 'Jewish Problems' but at the end of World War II, Dr. Bar-Zokar concluded in this 268 pages the following: "No one Bulgarian Jew was sent to the death camp in Poland. The Bulgarian Jews became the only Jewish community in the Nazi sphere of influence whose number increased during World War II" (p. 268). Well, sad to say, the Nazi's and their Bulgarian collaborators managed to arrest and expel around 12,000 Jews into Treblinka - the Jews of Macadonia and Tkrace. Their fate was terrible because they legally were not Bulgarian citizens. But as Bar-Zokar stated, Bulgarian Jewry was rescued and survived until its soviet liberators came in September 1944.
The survival of these Jews was like playing for time, a crusade against extinction. Everyone knew in Bulgaria, Jews and gentiles alike, that deportation meant only one thing: death!
Bar-Zokar outlined the following facts in order to explain the coming of the miracle.
A. King Boris III refused systematically, to give in to the Nazi demands. He was a patriot. For him to deport Jews meant losing his Bulgarian patriotism, a treason. Also, he was not an anti-semite per se. In Aug. 1943, he was poisoned and died. (The Nazi's?) Boris always said to the Nazi's: We need the Jews for the building of our transportation infrastructure. It was Boris' perfect excuse. But in fact, he did not object to the anti-Jewish laws of persecution and discrimination. He did cooperate with his Fascist pro-Nazi government and Parliament as well.
B. The weakness of the anti Jewish camp: The "activists" of this camp were Prime Minister Bogdan Filov and the Minister of Interior Peter Gabrovsky. Their agency to deal with the 'Final Solution' was the "Commissariat for Jewish problem" or "KEV." Their 'hangman' was a young pro-Nazi, Alexander Belon, the "Commissar." Their patrons and advisers were (in Sofia): Ambassador Adolf-Heinz Beckerle and Adolf Eichman's representative in Bulgaria, Theodore Dannecker. These monsters challenged the survival of Jews, time and again up to Sept. 1944. But they had a problem: The majority of the Bulgarians were not anti-semites and they did not perceive Jews as a danger to their well-being. They did not 'digest' the notorious Nazi propaganda. The Nazi machine could not function effectively without a grass root anti-Semitic environment. Bar-Zokar managed to fine an unknown document, an agreement between Dannecker and Belev from Aug. 1942 in which, secretly, Bulgaria would give a 'present' to these beasts: 20,000 Jews! As I pointed out, the victims were the Jews of Macadamia and Tkrace.
C. The 'pro-Jewish Lobby': The Bulgarian Jews were lucky to have so many powerful friends inside the various Bulgarian elites.
First, the church and its courageous leader, the metropolitan Stefan. His 'Holy Senod' defended the Jews and prevented deportation or persecution. Stefan was almost arrested for his pro-Jewish crusade. By the way, we still do not have a good account of the Eastern Churches (Greek) behavior in the 'Shoah Era' toward the Jewish survival.
Second, many Bulgarian politicians who supported the government fought for the Jewish well-being and against their deportations. The prominent leader among this elite was Dimitri Peshev.
Third, the intellectual elite was also willing to risk its neck for the Jews. Some writers put pro-Jewish pressure on the King, Boris III. This powerful lobby encountered the pro-Nazi government and its Fascist organizations such as the "Brannik." Of course, the 'lobby' saved the Jews but it could not prevent their sufferings and victimization. Many were arrested, wounded and sent to 'labor camps'. But they did survive at the time when their brothers and sisters in Romania and Hungary were deported to the death camps.
D. Dr. Bar-Zokar, also an expert on the history of intelligence and espionage, discussed the issue of the Nazis and their secrecy. The Nazis were masters of secrecy, camouflage and dis-information. One can argue that 'Shoah' took place, partly, as the result of Jewish omission: They did not establish, as a persecuted minority, a network of Jewish intelligence - espionage!
This international Jewish omission and the total dependency on gentile's sources of information contributed to the level of effectiveness of the Nazi's 'final solution' apparatus. As to the Bulgarian scene: There is no doubt that a young secretary, Liliana Panitza, has deserved many thanks from Jews. As a worker in Commissar Belev's office, she leaked information about deportation or other news to the Jews. She betrayed Belev, her 'Boss' and even risked her life. But she met with her friend, Dr. Nissim ('Buko') Levy and warned him about her 'Boss' plans or policies toward the Jews. The vital information helped to expose the plans. With their veil of satanic secrecy lifted, the beasts retreated.
In the 'Shoah Era' the story of the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews sounds like a miracle. Furthermore, in 1944, the Bulgarians dismantled anti-Jewish laws and even apologized for their terrible behavior. Another miracle took place when the government allowed 50 children to immigrate to Palestine in March 1944.
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