On the eve of World War 2 Bulgaria aligned itself with Germany, largely on the promise of recovering the territories of Thrace and Macedonia lost in World War 1. As the war progressed, Germany put pressure on its ally to implement its anti-semitic legislation and to send its Jews to Labour camps. In a concerted effort, the leaders and the people of Bulgaria resisted bravely to the end. Not one of the 50,000 Bulgarian Jews was deported to the death camps.
How could such a small country defy and stand up to Hitler's regime?
The answer is in Michael Bar-Zohar's book "Beyond Hitler's Grasp". It transpires that the Bulgarian people and most of their leaders were not in the least anti-semitic and not understand Germany's "problem" with the Jews. In a letter to his government in Berlin, the German Ambassador explains the difficulties his country was to face in Bulgaria,
"The Bulgarian Society doesn't understand the real meaning of the Jewish question. Besides the few rich Jews in Bulgaria, there are many poor people who make their living as workers and artisans. Partly raised together with Greeks, Armenians, Turks and gypsies, for the average Bulgarian the racial question is totally foreign to him."
We learn that most of the Jews were non-observant (very few went to synagogue), almost none kept Kashrut and most of them worked on the Sabbath. The reason for their popularity was their "normality", their non-Jewish behaviour, if you like. They were totally integrated Bulgarians. When King Boris wa s asked by Hitler to transfer the Jews of Bulgaria to German camps, he refused to do so on the pretext that they were needed in Bulgaria to construct roads and railway tracks. Although King Boris was an ally of Germany, anti-semitic legislation was not always observed and many times ignored. Most surprising was the pro-Jewish position of the country's leading Christian figurehead, Metropolitan Stefan, who voiced his opposition time and time again against anti-semitic actions.
The feature of this thriller-like book is that the author, Bar-Zohar, lived the drama of those times first-hand.
Scribe: Bulgaria was not without her anti-semite in the ranks of power. Bulgaria is the only country that had shot down in the early post-war years an El-Al aeroplane with the loss of the lives of hundreds of passengers.
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