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The History of the Bulgarian Jews

1
The History of the Bulgarian Jews
2
B.H.
THE HISTORY OF THE BULGARIAN JEWS
The history of the Jews in Bulgaria dates to at least as early as the
2nd
century
CE.
Since
then,
the
Jews
have
had
a
continuous
presence in the Bulgarian lands and have often played an important
part in the Bulgarian society from ancient times through the Middle
Ages until today.
Jews may have first come to what is today Bulgaria after the Roman
conquest of the region. The earliest written artifact indicating the
presence of a Jewish community in what
was then the Roman
province of Moesia Inferior dates to the late 2nd century CE. A Latin
inscription
found
at
Ulpia
Oescus
(modern
day
Gigen,
Pleven
province)
bearing
a
menorah
and
mentioning
‘archisynagogos
Josephus’
(
archisynagogos
was
a
Greek
title,
used
by
Jewish
synagogue leaders in most of the Roman Empire) testifies to the
presence of a Jewish population in the city. A decree of Roman
emperor Theodosius I (
Flavius Theodosius Augustus,
347
395)
from 379 C. E. regarding the persecution of Jews and destruction of
synagogues in Illyria and Thrace is also a proof of earlier Jewish
settlement in Bulgaria.
After
the
establishment
of
the
First
Bulgarian
Empire
and
its
recognition in 681, a number of Jews suffering persecution in the
Byzantine Empire may have settled in Bulgaria. During the rule of
Tsar Boris I of Bulgaria (also known as Knyaz Boris I Michael, died 2
May, 907) there may have been attempts to convert the pagan
Bulgarians to Judaism but in the end the Bulgarian Orthodox church
was established and the population of the Bulgarian Empire was
Christianized
in the 9th century. The title ‘tsar’ is used to designate
the supreme rulers in a few European Slavic monarchies, such as the
Bulgarian and the Russian ones. The names of many members of the
10th-11th-century Comitopuli dynasty - such as Samuil, Moses, and
David
could indicate partial Jewish origin, most likely maternal,
though this is disputed.
3
Jews also settled in Nikopol in 967 C. E. Some arrived from the
Republic of Ragusa and Italy, when merchants from these lands were
allowed to trade in the Second Bulgarian Empire by Tsar Ivan Asen II
(ruled 1218-1241). Later, Tsar Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria (ruled from
1331 to 1371) married a Jewish woman, Sarah (renamed Theodora),
who had converted to Christianity and had considerable influence in
the court. A church council of 1352 led to the excommunication of
heretics and Jews, and three Jews, who had been sentenced to
death, were killed by a mob despite the sentence's having been
repealed by Tsar Ivan Aleksander of Bulgaria
(
ruled 1331-1371).
Tsar Ivan Alexander (ruled 1331-1371) and his Jewish wife Sarah.
In between -
their son Ivan Shishman (ruled 1371-1391), the last Bulgarian ruler.
Miniature
from the “Tetraevangelia of Ivan Alexander”, written and illustrated in 1355
-1356
4
In fact, the really large influx of Jews to the Balkans began after 1492,
when they were expelled from Spain and Portugal. At this particular
point, Sultan Bayezid II or Sultan Bayezid-î Velî (December 3, 1447
May 26, 1512), the eldest son and successor of
Sultan Mehmed II
The Conqueror (30 May 1432
July 1491), allowed the refugees to
settle in the Ottoman Empire, and they were tolerantly treated both by
the authorities and by the population of the Balkan Peninsula as a
whole. These migrants came to be known as Sephardi, who currently
constitute 90 per cent of the Bulgarian Jews. Besides, the following
centuries saw the migration to Bulgaria of Ashkenazi Jews, mainly
from the German lands; their language, Yiddish.
Left: Bureks with white cheese
Right: Bulgarian white cheese
The so called Romaniotes (Sephardic Jews, who speak Greek
language) in turn, were assimilated, without a trace, by these two
groups. The medieval Jewish population of Bulgaria was Romaniotes
until the 14th-15th century, when Ashkenazi Jews from Hungary
(1376) and other parts of Europe began to arrive.
By the time the Ottomans finished their conquest of the Bulgarian
Empire in 1396 there were sizable Jewish communities in the cities
Vidin,
Nikopol,
Silistra,
Pleven,
Sofia,
Plovdiv
(Philippopolis)
and
Stara Zagora. Another wave of Ashkenazi, from Bavaria, arrived after
being banished from this country in 1470, and Yiddish could often be
heard in Sofia according to contemporary travelers. An Ashkenazi
prayer book was printed in Saloniki by the rabbi of Sofia in the middle
of the 16th century.
5
This is why, when it comes to Bulgarian Jewish cuisine and gourmet,
you’ll find it bears a resemblance to the cooking of Sephardic Jews in
Greece and Turkey. The Bulgarian
bureks with white cheese
, small
pockets of dough filled with savory cheese and spinach or sweet
pumpkin and spice, is similar to the Greek
spanakopita
(spinach pie
made of
phyllo
dough).
And as is the case in Greek and Turkish Jewish cooking, spinach,
peppers, eggplant, and squash are widely used in Bulgaria; so are
honey and sugar syrups scented with rosewater over delicious light
pastries. The meat dishes of Bulgarian Jewry, however, are not
flavored
with
the
sweet
spices
indigenous
to
Turkish
or
Greek
cuisine;
they
contain the
onion,
garlic,
and
pepper
or
pimentos
reflective of their Spanish roots.
Bulgarian Jewish cuisine emphasizes salads, stuffed vegetables and
vine leaves (
sarmi
), olive oil, lentils, fresh and dried fruits, herbs and
nuts, and chickpeas. Meat dishes often make use of lamb or ground
beef. Fresh lemon juice is added to many soups and sauce
.
Left: Cold yogurt and cucumber soup
Right: The famous Shopska salad, made with cucumbers, tomatoes and
peppers, topped with Bulgarian white cheese
The Tzfat cheese or Bulgarian Tzefatit, a white cheese in brine,
similar to feta cheese, became known as Bulgarian cheese due to its
popularity in the early 1950s among Bulgarian Jewish immigrants to
Israel.
Other
dairies
now
also
produce
many
varieties
of
these
cheeses. Bulgarian yogurt, introduced to Israel by Bulgarian Jewish
survivors of the Shoah, is used to make a traditional yogurt and
cucumber soup (
tarator
).
6
A Jewish woman in typical Sephardic costume worn by the Bulgarian Jews, in
20’s of the 20th century
The first waves of Sephardim came from Spain (through Salonika,
Macedonia, Italy, Ragusa, Bosnia) after 1494, and settled in the
already established centers of Jewish population
the major trade
centers of Ottoman-ruled Bulgaria. The modern capital, Sofia, had
communities of Romaniotes, Ashkenazi and Sephardi until 1640,
when a single rabbi was appointed for all three.
7
In the 17th century, the ideas of Shabbetai Tzvi (August 1, 1626
September
17
1676)
became
popular
in
Bulgaria.
He
was
a
Sephardic kabbalist and supporters of his movement were Nathan of
Gaza and Samuel Primo, being active in Sofia. He claimed to be a
messiah but ,unfortunately, it prove that these claims are false.
Shabbetai
Tzvi
sent
a
letter
to
the
Jewish
community
of
Sofia
announcing that the
y do not have to keep the fast day of Tisha B’Av
“fast day in commemoration of the destruction of the temple in
Jerusalem” but rather they should celebrate it as a festival because
he,
the
messiah,
has
arrived
and
the
four
fast
day’s
in
commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temples will
be now changed and celebrated as festivals.
Joseph Karo (1488
1575), author of Shulchan Aruch, was raised in Nikopol,
Bulgaria and immigrated later to Eretz Israel and settled down in Safed where he
wrote his famous Law Codex, Shulchan Aruch, the most authoritative Halacha
codex of Judaism.
He had a very active supporters
a big community of believers in
Bulgaria. Jews continued to settle in various parts of the country
(including new trade centers such as Pazardzhik), and were able to
expand their economic activities due to the privileges they were given
and the banishment of many Ragusan merchants (from Ragusa, a
maritime republic, centered on the city of Dubrownik, in present days
in Croatia) who had taken part in the Chiprovtsi Uprising of 1688.
8
After Bulgaria was liberated from Ottoman rule following the Russo-
Turkish War in 1877-78, some small-scale looting took place of
Jewish property by people who regarded them as supporters of the
Ottomans. However, the Jews in Bulgaria were secured equal rights
by the Treaty of Berlin (1878). The rabbi of Sofia, Gabriel Mercado
Almosnino, (the first chief rabbi of Sofia after the liberation between
1880 and 1885) together with three other eminent members of the
Jewish community in Bulgaria welcomed the Russian forces to the
city and took part in the Constituent National assembly of Bulgaria in
1879.
Jews were drafted into the Bulgarian army and fought in the Serbo-
Bulgarian war in 1885, the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), and the First
World War. The Treaty of Neuilly after World War I emphasized their
equality with other Bulgarian citizens. In 1936, the nationalist and
anti-Semitic
organization “Ratnik” was established.
Memorial of the Bulgarian Jewish soldiers, killed during the Balkan and the First
World Wars, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
9
The saving of the Bulgarian Jews during the WWII
Before World War II, though their numbers increased, the percentage
of Jews in the population steadily declined compared to that of other
ethnic groups. In 1920 the 16,000 Jews were 0.9% of all citizens of
Bulgaria. By 1934 there were 48,565 Bulgarian Jews (0.8% of the
population), with more than half living in Sofia. The Ladino (also
known
as
Judeo-Spanish,
is
the
spoken
and
written
Hispanic
language of the Jews of Spanish origin) was the dominant language
in
most
communities,
but
the
young
often
preferred
speaking
Bulgarian. The Zionist movement was completely dominant among
the local population ever since Hovevei Zion (
ציון
חובבי
,
lit. Lovers of
Zion),
a movement which refers to the organizations, considered as
foundation-builders of the modern Zionism.
Monument in honor of the Bulgarian people who saved Bulgarian Jews during
the Shoah (
השואה
), Jaffa
10
During World War II, the Bulgarian Parliament and Tsar Boris III of
Bulgaria
(
1894-1943)
enacted the 1941 Law for Protection of the
Nation, which introduced numerous legal restrictions on Jews in
Bulgaria. Specifically, the law prohibited Jews from voting, running for
office, working in government positions, serving in the army, marrying
or cohabitating with ethnic Bulgarians, using Bulgarian names, or
owning
rural
land.
Authorities
began
confiscating
all
radios
and
telephones owned by Jews, and Jews were forced to pay a one-time
tax of 20 per cent of their net worth. The legislation also established
quota
a limited number of Jewish people, who were admitted in
Bulgarian universities.
Jewish leaders protested against the law, and
the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, officials of the Bulgarian Worker's
Party, some professional organizations, and twenty-one writers also
opposed it numerous clausus and was practiced in almost all Eastern
Europe in order to keep Jewish from the Universities
Students in the 2
nd
grade in the Jewish school of Dupnitza, and their teachers,
1930
11
A reunion of the Jewish masonic lodge B’nai B’rith in Varna, May 1937. On this
picture we can notice
the degree of assimilation of the Bulgarian Jews in Varna
as none of the members is wearing a kippah.
During the Second World War, unlike some other allies of the Nazi
and
most
German-occupied
countries,
apart
from
Denmark
and
Finland,
Bulgaria
managed
to
save
its
entire
48,000
Jewish
population from deportation to the Nazi Concentration Camps, with
Dimitar Peshev (25 June 1894
20 February 1973), leaders of the
Bulgarian Church, led by Metropolitan Stefan of Sofia (7 September
1878
14 May 1957), Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria (30 January 1894
28 August 1943), and ordinary citizens, all playing a crucial role in
preventing such deportations.
The story of the Bulgarian Jews during the War has been told in
Beyond Hitler's Grasp: “The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria's Jews
by
Michael Bar-Zohar, an Israeli historian, politician and former member
of the Israeli Parliament, who was born in Bulgaria.
12
On the eve of the planned deportations demanded by Nazi Germany,
the Bulgarian government asked for a breakdown of the German
plans for the destinations of the deportees, and was told that roughly
one-half would be employed in agriculture in Greater Germany and
one-fourth, reported to be semi-skilled laborers, would be "allowed to
redeem themselves" by "volunteering to work" in the war industries of
the German Ruhr Valley, while the remaining one-fourth would be
transported to the General Government (German-occupied Poland)
for
employment
in
"work
directly
connected
to
the
war".
(This
information was also distributed to the neutral countries via German
diplomatic channels and was reported on March 24, 1943, in the New
York Times from Berne, Switzerland, along with the rather cynical
statement that "the former death rate in the Jewish colonies of
occupied Poland has shown a considerable decrease in the past
three months", the reason given being that "now many of the male
Jews are employed in army work near the fighting zones", and were
receiving approximately the same rations as German soldiers.)
Hesitating to comply with German deportation requests in late 1942
and early 1943, following rumors of mistreatment of Jews transported
to Poland, the Bulgarian government made use of Swiss diplomatic
channels to inquire whether it was possible to deport the Jews to
British-controlled at that time Palestine by ships across the Black
Sea,
rather
than
to
concentration
camps
in
Poland
by
trains.
However, this attempt was blocked by the British Foreign Minister
Anthony Eden (12 June 1897
10 January 1957). Following that
failure, the Bulgarian authorities permitted Germany to deport the
majority of the non-Bulgarian Jews residing in Bulgarian-occupied
parts of Greece and Yugoslavia. The Bulgarian Government even
discussed the cost of deportation with Nazi Germany, as recorded in
the German Archives which document that Nazi Germany paid the
Bulgarian Government 7,144.317 leva for the deportation of 3,545
adults
and
592
children
to
the
killing camp
at
Treblinka
(an
extermination camp built by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during
the World War II). Thus, 4,500 Jews from Western Thrace and
Thessaloniki, and Eastern Macedonia were deported to Poland, while
7,144 from Bulgarian-occupied Vardar Macedonia and Pomoravlije
(on the territory of Serbia) were also sent to Treblinka. None of them
survived.
13
King Boris III of Bulgaria (1894-1943) was posthumously awarded the Jewish
National Fund's Medal of the Legion of Honor Award, the first non-Jew to receive
one of the Jewish community's highest honors. In 1998, to thank King Boris III,
Bulgarian Jews in the United States and the Jewish National Fund erected a
monument in the “The Bulgarian Forest” in Israel, honoring him as a savior of
Bulgarian Jews. In July, 2003, a public committee headed by Israeli Chief Justice
Dr. Moshe Beiski decided to remove the memorial from the “The Bulgarian
Forest," because Bulgaria had consented to the delivery of the Jews from
occupied
territory
of
Macedonia
and
Greek
Thrace
(Thessaloniki)
to
the
Germans.
Although
Bulgaria
had
effectively
controlled
these
regions
immediately beyond its borders, the German authorities, who were in
charge, recognized only the Bulgarian military administration and not
the civil one. Bulgaria granted citizenship to all ethnic Bulgarians
living in the occupied territories, and also to those of other ethnicities
who
wished
to
acquire it,
with the
exception
of
the
Jews.
It is
important to note, however, that the territories of Aegean Thrace,
Macedonia and other lands controlled by Bulgaria during the Second
World
War
were
not
considered
Bulgarian;
they
were
only
administered by Bulgaria, but Bulgaria had no say as to the affairs of
these lands, the orders came from Germany.
14
Nevertheless, on March 4, 1943, Bulgarian soldiers, assisted by
German soldiers, took the Jews from Aegean Thrace off to the four
river
steamships “Karageorge”, “Voivoda Mihach”, “Saturnus” and
“Tsar Dushan” at the port of Lom on Danube. The ships sailed from
Lom between 20-22/03/1943, reaching Vienna 10 days later. On
26/03/1943, the Jews were taken from Vienna, via Katowice, to the
Treblinka extermination camp. This information is based on details in
the book, "History of the Jews of Bulgaria," by Haim Keshales, Vol. II,
Part I, Tel Aviv: Davar, 1971.
The Bulgarians also confiscated all of the Jewish properties and
possessions. In contrast with the old Bulgarian territories, where
widespread protests against the deportations took place, including
petitions
to
the
government
in Sofia,
in
Aegean
Thrace
and
Macedonia such organized movements were lacking.
Jewish refugees in the Community Center on their way to “Eretz Israel”. Varna,
1941. “Beit Hatfutsot”, the Visual Documentation Center, Tel Aviv, Israel
15
As to the Jews in the kingdom of Bulgaria itself, German requests for
their deportation to the concentration camps were not complied with.
Later, the government of Israel officially expressed its gratitude to
Bulgaria for its defiance of Nazi Germany. This story was kept secret
by the Soviet Union, because the royal Bulgarian government, the
King of Bulgaria Tsar Boris III and the Church were responsible for
the huge public outcry at the time, causing the majority of the country
to defend its Jewish population. The communist Soviet regime could
not allow a credit to be given to the former authorities, the Church, or
the King, as all three were considered enemies of communism. Thus,
the documentation proving the saving of Bulgaria's Jews only came
to light after the end of the Cold War in 1989.
Guard the camp of "second Jewish Task Force office temporary labor service in
the fourth labor Bunch" - camp for temporary labor service for persons of Jewish
origin established by the PNA (Law for Protection of the Nation).
16
The number of 48,000 Bulgarian Jews was known to Hitler, yet not
one was deported or murdered by the Nazis. In 1998, to thank the
Bulgarian Government and Tsar Boris III, Bulgarian Jews in the
United States and the Jewish National Fund erected a monument in
"The Bulgarian Forest" in Israel, honoring Tsar Boris III as a savior of
Bulgarian Jews. However, in July, 2003, a public committee headed
by Dr. Moshe Bejski (29 December 1921
6 March 2007), who held
the positions of Supreme Court judge in Israel and a President of the
Righteous Commission of “Yad Vashem”, decided to remove the
memorial
from
"The
Bulgarian
Forest"
because
Bulgaria
had
consented to the delivery of the Jews from the occupied territories of
Macedonia and Aegean Thrace to the Germans.
The Bulgarian occupational zone included neither Thessaloniki, with
over 55,000 Jews, nor the western part of Macedonia, including the
towns of Debar, Struga, and Tetovo, which were part of Italian-
occupied Albania. The Bulgarian authorities did offer protection to
Jews
who
were
not
Bulgarian
nationals
residing
in
Bulgarian
territories, including those who had fled there from Nazi occupied
regions in other countries.
Labor camp for persons of Jewish origin, bur field in Enikyoi, 1942
17
At a time when the neighboring Balkans are engulfed in the mire of
ethnic hatred, Bulgaria stands as a living symbol of a country where
tolerance and human rights are values deeply established in society
and culture. Respect for human rights and tolerance toward ethnic
and religious minorities has been deep-rooted in the history and
culture of Bulgaria during the XXth century. For example, Bulgarians
welcomed thousands of Armenians during the early years (in the First
World War) of the 20th century, when they were subject to suffering
and persecution in Turkey.
Then,
during
the
darkest
days
of
the
“Shoah”,
Bulgarians
demonstrated a remarkable example of courage and heroism when
they acted to save the country’s Jewish population, estimated at
50,000 persons, from deportation to Nazi concentration camps.
Beyond Hitler’s grasp by Michael Bar
-Zohar, Adams Media Corporation, 1
st
edition (November 1998), ISBN-13: 978-1580620604
18
Bulgaria was allied with Germany in the Second World War. In 1940,
it gave into intensive German pressure to the enact Nuremberg-type
racism laws in Bulgaria but in reality, the laws were never really
enforced. Adolf Hitler’s doctrine was alien and incomprehensible to
the
vast
majority
of
Bulgarians.
Then,
in
March
1943,
when
deportation
trains
were
w
aiting
to
take
Bulgaria’s
Jews
to
concentration camps, Bulgarians defied Germany and ordered the
expulsions canceled. Instead of being sent to the camps, Bulgaria’s
Jews were sent into the provinces from the capital city of Sofia. Many
were assigned to public works projects. At the end of the Second
World War, not a single Bulgarian Jew had been deported or killed in
the “Shoah”.
Metropolitan Stefan of Sofia (1878-1957), leader of the Orthodox
Church in Sofia, went to King Boris III and told him, “If the pe
rsecution
against the Jews continues, I shall open the doors of all Bulgarian
churches to them and then we shall see who can drive them out.” He,
along
with Metropolitan Kiril
of
Plovdiv,
was
awarded
Righteous
Among the Nations by “Yad Vashem” (Israel’s of
ficial memorial to the
victims of the Shoah, established in 1953 through the
Yad Vashem
Law
passed by the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament).
A memorial dedicated to the non-Jewish community for saving the lives of the
Bulgarian Jews on March 10, 1943: “With
gratitude to all, who helped for our
salvation on March 10
th
, 1943. From the grateful Jews in Plovdiv.”, Plovdiv,
Bulgaria
19
His counterpart in Plovdiv, Metropolitan Kyril of Plovdiv (1901-1971),
also sent a telegram
he threatened to lie down on the railroad
tracks to block the deportations and to take up arms against the
government.
Despite its alliance with Germany, Bulgaria managed to maintain its
institutions
of government
the
monarchy
and
Parliament
throughout the World War II. This enabled the country’s leadership
and people to resist to Hitler and Nazi Germany.
Burgas
synagogue
built
in
1909
CE
in
Moorish
Revival,
Neo-Byzantine,
Neoclassical architectural style. Currently the building is used as an Art Museum.
(Petko Zadgorski Burgas Art Gallery)
This remarkable story has been reported by Michael Bar-Zohar, an
internationally acclaimed Israeli writer of Bulgarian ancestry, in his
later book -
Beyond Hitler's Grasp: “The Her
oic Rescue of Bulgaria's
Jews. Mr. Bar-Zohar reports that the history of Bulgarian Jews would
have been very different, were it not for the actions and courage of
many
civic
leaders
and
intellectuals,
the
resistance
of
Bulgarian
church
leaders,
and
the
decency
and
tolerance
of
hundreds
of
nameless Bulgarians who remained immune to racism, anti-Semitism
and ethnocentrism.”
20
At
the
height
of
German
efforts
to
deport
Bulgarian
Jews
to
concentration camps, a member of the Bulgarian Parliament, Todor
Kozhuharov (23 July 1891
1 February 1945), put the case against
giving in to the German demands in terms of Bulgaria’s survival as an
independent entity. Todor Kozhuharov is a Bulgarian politician and
journalist. "The only moral capital a small nation has is to be a
righteous nation. Only a righteous Bulgaria can demand that her
rights be respected by stronger nations," he said. It remains true to
this day.
During the war, Germany began to exert an increasing pressure on
the Bulgarian authorities to arrange the so-called "final solution of the
Jewish question" (
die Endlösung der Judenfrage)
. So, in December
1940, the National Assembly adopted the disgraceful Defense of the
Nation
Act,
which
initiated
a
state-organized
terror
against
and
persecution
of
Jews
(and
freemasons).
Intermarriages
were
contracted only illegally, a ban was imposed on being in practice of
certain professions, extraordinary taxes were applied. This is how the
everyday consequences of this law were described by Bohor Pilosov
from Dupnitza, "the most Jewish of all towns in Bulgaria" (one fourth
of its population):
21
A memorial in the form of a shofar, erected by the Jewish community in Varna to
thank the Bulgarians who saved them from the Nazis, located in a garden in front
of the Archeological Museum, Sofia, Bulgaria. The shofar is one of the most
powerful symbols in the Jewish
tradition, a symbol of freedom and self-
awareness. According to the famous Jewish philosopher Maimonides (Cordoba
1138
Fustat, 1204), the sound of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah is meant to
wake up soul and turn its attention
to the important
task of repentance
(teshuvah). In the Jubelee year, on Yom Kippur, the shofar was blown to mark
the freedom of the Hebrew slaves (in the biblical times). According to Leviticus,
slaves would be freed and their debts would be forgiven.
Today, the significance of the Liberty bell
an iconic symbol of the American
Independence, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
is similar.
The bell was
commissioned in 1752, and was cast with the lettering "Proclaim LIBERTY
throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof," a Biblical reference from
the Book of Leviticus (25:10).
The Liberty Bell
22
Inmates and guards of the camp for temporary labor service for persons of
Jewish origin established by the PNA (Law for Protection of the Nation).
23
"Then we had to wear a yellow David star, we were put under curfew,
we could buy bread from only one particular baker's shop, there were
streets where we were forbidden to step in. Six or seven months a
year the men, starting from pre-recruit age up to 50-55 years old,
were sent to "labor camps". Food was enough, but of incredibly poor
quality. Among the Nazi collaborators, most of them retired officers
and
sergeants,
there
were
human
beasts,
but
also
regular
Bulgarians, who made every effort to alleviate our plight."
Nevertheless, anti-Semitism, as well as the Defense of the Nation
Law itself were utterly alien to the Bulgarian way of life and national
mentality. The anti-Jewish campaign met with no understanding by
both peasants and city dwellers, by the intelligentsia, the Orthodox
church, and the ruling circles. The planned secret deportation of the
Jewish population to the German concentration camps was held back
by the civil protests, as well as by the official counteraction of the
deputies. The Deportation Act was repealed by the then deputy
chairman of the National Assembly, Dimitar Peshev [(June 25 1894
February 20 1973), (even so, after the war, there was not a single
person to defend him, and he was sentenced as a Fascist and ... anti-
Semite by the communist regime)]. Apart from this, many Romanian,
Polish, as well as Czech, Hungarian and Lithuanian Jews traveled
through Bulgaria and Romania on their way to Israel, among them
some members of Rabbi Daum’s paternal family.
Judge Clarence Thomas says in his Francis Boyer Lecture (American
Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research Washington, D.C.,
February 13, 2001): "Peshev was a man like many, simple and
straightforward, not a great intellectual, not a military hero. Just a civil
servant, doing his job as best he could, raising his family, struggling
through a terrible moment in European history."
In present-day Bulgaria there is an ongoing argument as to whom to
thank
for
saving
the
Jews.
There
is
some
evidence
that
this
happened with the help also of some secretive combinations of King
Boris III himself. In any case, one thing is beyond question: the local
Jews were not sent to the gas chambers owing to the energetic
opposition of the majority of the Bulgarian society.
24
Dimitar Peshev (June 25 1894
February 20 1973), Minister of Justice (1935-
1936) and Deputy Chairman of the National Assembly of Bulgaria,
largely
responsible for saving of the Bulgarian Jews. Peshev's deeds went unrecognized
for years after the war as he lived an empty, destitute and isolated life. In January
1973,
“Yad
Vashem”,
Israel's
Shoah
Museum,
awarded
him
the
title
of
"Righteous Among the Nations” for his role in saving Bulgaria's Jews at
considerable risk to himself. He died that same year and has only been since
recognized by Bulgaria as having performed a great service to humanity during
the war years.
Unfortunately, this did not affect the Jews from Aegean Thrace (now
in Greece) and Vardar Macedonia (now Republic of Macedonia),
which
were
then
under
German
occupation
and
Bulgarian
administration. In March 1943, about 11 000 Jews from these parts
were deported and later perished in “the Shoah” in the Nazi death
camps in Poland. It is impossible to find words of excuse to express
our sorrow about it.
Bulgaria’s
actions
during
“the
Shoah”
(Ho
locaust)
are
a
demonstration of a country that views ethnic tolerance and minority
rights as an essential foundation for civilized society. This continues
to the present day.
25
Since the fall of Communism in 1989, Bulgaria has taken steps to
improve the poli
tical, economic and social conditions of the country’s
ethnic Turkish population, which today numbers 800,000 persons.
Israel marked the “Day of the Shoah” (Yom HaShoah) on Sunday,
April 30, 2000, and the Israeli Parliament (“the Knesset”) paid tribute
to the memory of the Deputy Chairman of the National Assembly of
Bulgaria in 1943 Dimitar Peshev, who is believed to have saved the
Bulgarian Jews.
Sofia Synagogue and its History Museum
The largest Sephardic (Spanish
Jewish) synagogue in Europe is
situated
in Sofia on the corner of the “Ekzarh Yosif” and “George
Washington” streets. This is the only Jewish house of prayer in Sofia.
The
Sofia
Synagogue
is
one
of
the
most
beautiful
architectural
monuments in
Bulgaria.
It
was
built
where
the
old
synagogue
‘Ahavah and Chesed’ used to be. On September 9
th
, 1909, the
Central Synagogue of Sofia was formally opened.
The Synagogue in Sofia, up to date photo
The Synagogue in Sofia, in the 20th century CE.
26
As a show of respect for the many Bulgarian Jews who actively
participated
and
suffered
many
casualties
in
the
recent
Serbo-
Bulgarian war (1885), the country's leaders attended the consecration
of the Synagogue. Led by Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria (1861-1948),
Prime Minister Alexander Malinov (1867-1938), other Ministers and
Bishops entered the Synagogue where they were greeted by the
Chief Rabbi Dr. Ehrenpreis. Abraham Moshé Tadjer (1858-1937),
the historian of the Sofia Jewish community, describes the event in
his book "Notas Historikas" as follows:
"The ninth of September,
1909 will be a historic day for Bulgarian Jews. On this day the Sofia
Synagogue was opened, a great holiday not only for the Jews of the
capital,
but
on this
day
the
prestige of
all
Bulgarian
Jews
was
elevated. With the opening of the Sofia Synagogue the respect for the
Jewish community and all Bulgarian Jews was increased a great
deal. All the stores were closed as for a holiday, and the whole
Bulgarian population congratulated these children of Israel in honor of
the festive opening of the Synagogue."
Interior of the Synagogue in Sofia, the only functioning Synagogue in Sofia
27
Friedrich
Grünanger
(1856-1929),
the
most
famous
architect
in
Bulgaria
at
the
time,
was
selected
to
design
the
Synagogue.
Grünanger had been trained in Vienna but worked in Bulgaria for
much of his career. He designed a number of Sofia landmarks
including the Surmadjief House (presently the Turkish Embassy), the
Yablanski House (the former Chinese Embassy), the Ecclesiastical
Seminary, and the Religious A
cademy of Sofia University “St. Kliment
Ohridsky”.
The holy Sanctuary of the Synagogue of Sofia
The
architecture
of
the
Sofia
Synagogue
is
magnificent.
The
Synagogue consists of a central domed building and an aima. The
prayer hall is in an octagonal shape. There are semicircular niches
with rectangular premises between them in the four corners of the
hall. The prayer room for the women is situated over the niches.
The sanctuary, surrounded by a beautiful railing, stands on a platform
of white marble.
The capacity of the hall is 1,170 seats. The interior
and the facades are richly decorated with architectural elements,
plastic ornaments and stone carvings. The floor of the synagogue is
covered by Venetian mosaic.
28
Sofia Synagogue celebrating 100
th
anniversary, 2009
The Central synagogue regularly conducts public worships. It was
only closed during the period 1943 - 1944, when most Jews from
Sofia were deported to the province. During the bombing of Sofia in
1944
the
Synagogue
was
partially
destroyed. The
balcony
and
several columns in the main hall were affected. The famous Jewish
community library was destroyed.
Israeli prime minister Netanyahu (1949) visiting the synagogue in Sofia on the 8
th
of June 2011, greeted by Rabbi Solomon the synagogue’s Shliach.
29
Sofia Jewish cemetery. The first evidence of the existence of a Jewish cemetery
in Serdika (nowadays Sofia) dates back to IV century CE.
A Jewish History Museum of the Organization of the Bulgarian Jews
“Shalom” has been operating in the Sofia Synagogue since 1992.
The
museum
is
a
continuation
of
the
earlier
exposition
entitled
“Rescue of the Bulgarian Jews 1941 –
1944”. The purpose of the
museum
is
to
find,
explore
and
preserve
items,
pictures
and
documents, related to the Jewish culture and historical heritage in the
country. It has two permanent exhibitions
“The Jewish Communities
in Bulgaria” and “The Shoah and the Rescue of the Jews in Bulgaria”.
They recreate the Jewish way of life, culture and community history
from its settlement on these lands to the establishment of Israel. A
general emphasis of the museum is the rescue of many Bulgarian
Jews during the Second World War.
30
Abraham David Pipano (1851
1925), formerly Chief Rabbi of Sofia, 1920-1925.
Author of “Hagor ha
-
Efod” (1925) and other books. He served as the head of the
rabbinical court of Sofia.
List of the Chief Rabbis of Bulgaria:
1880-1885
Rabbi Gabriel Almosnino (Nikopol 1805 - Sofia 1888);
1885-1889
Rabbi Presiado Bakish;
1889-1891
Shimon Dankowitz, former Bohemia Chief Rabbi;
1891-1893
Moshe
(Moshonachi) Tadjer
Interim
Chief
Rabbi
(Sofia 1832- Kiustendil 1913).
1893-1895
Rabbi Dr. Mordekhay Gruenwald (1853 - London
1895);
1895-1898
Presiado Bakish - interim Chief Rabbi,
1898-1900
Moshe (Moshonachi) Tadjer
Interim Chief Rabbi;
1900-1914
Mordekhay Ehrenpreiss, former Bohemia Chief Rabbi,
1914-1918
M. Hezkeya Shabetay Davidov
Interim Chief Rabbi,
(Consitorium President) (Sofia1880- 1950);
1920-1925
David Pipano, formerly Sofia Rabbi;
1925-1945
No Chief Rabbi;
1945-1949
Rabbi Dr. Asher Hannanel (Shumen 1895- Israel 1964).
31
Rabbi Abraham Moshe Tadjer
Today Chief Rabbi of the Sofia Synagogue is Rabbi Bechor Kachlon
of the “Lubavitch
-Chaba
d” movement.
Bulgarian Jews after World War II
After the war and the establishment of a communist government,
most of the Jewish population left for Israel, leaving only about a
thousand Jews living in Bulgaria today (1,162 according to the 2011
census). According to Israeli government statistics, 43,961 people
from Bulgaria emigrated to Israel between 1948 and 2006, making
Bulgarian Jews the fourth largest group to come from a European
country, after the Soviet Union, Romania and Poland.
32
According
to the
latest
official
Bulgarian
census
in
2011
of
the
population carried out in late 1992, only 3461 persons reported their
Jewish identity. Now this figure is probably even smaller, since over
the
years
that followed
there
was
a
new wave
of
emigration
of
younger
generation
Jews
to
Israel.
Moreover,
according
to
data
presented
by
the
Jewish
organization
"Shalom”,
the
number
of
Bulgarian
citizens
of
Jewish
origin
is
nearly
6000,
including
individuals born of mixed marriages.
In the course of their in the
Bulgarian lands, the Jewish community continuously contributed to all
domains of life.
Passover Seder. Varna, 1992 “Beit Hatfutsot”, the Visual Documentation Center.
Courtesy of Ernesto Fayon, Bulgaria
Figures of world renown are the literature Nobel Prize laureate Elias
Canetti (1905-1994), born in Russe (a town in Bulgaria, situated on
the Danube), which country, and the wife of the Israeli politician and
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir
Shulamit Shamir (1923-2011).
Shulamit Shamir, born Sarika Levi in Bulgaria in 1923, immigrated to
Israel at the age of 17
only to be arrested immediately upon arrival
due to limitations imposed on Jewish immigration under British rule.
Shulamit was committed to a detention camp; and it was there that
she met Yitzhak Shamir, an activist in the Jewish underground.
Shulamit went on to join the underground group known as the “Lehi”,
or Fighters for the Freedom of Israel, and served as a courier and aid
to Yitzhak and his associates. She married her husband in 1940 and
they had two sons together.
33
Shulamit Shamir, Israeli pre-state resistance group (1923-2011)
After the
end
of the WWII
and
the first
big
wave
of
Bulgarian
immigrants
to
Israel,
in
Tel
Aviv
was
established
the
Union
of
Bulgarian Jews “Echud Olei Bolgaria”. There are also two regional
offices of the Union
in Haifa and Jerusalem. It provides help to the
newly arrived Bulgarian Jews to Israel and support the publishing of
books, related to the history and culture of the Bulgarian Jewish
community.
34
Yitzhak Shamir (1915-2012) is an Israeli politician and the seventh Prime
Minister of Israel, serving two terms, 1983-84 and 1986-1992
Today, unfortunately, there is a little future and hope for the Jewish
community in Bulgaria, due to the fact that very few of its members
still remain in the country and they are mostly in advanced age, the
youth has emigrated to Israel. But the Jewish tradition and way of life
are still kept by the saved ones, those who witnessed and lived to tell
us this story of kindness and integrity, a story that deserves to be
remembered and never forgotten.
35
Nissan/March 2015
Initiated and supervised by Prof. Rabbi Ahron Daum B.A. M.S.
Antwerp, Belgium.
Written and assembled by Desirée Ahuva Pashova
Bulgaria, now Spain, Alicante.
Revised and substantially edited with new important supplements by
Hans Weygers, Antwerp, Belgium.
Webmaster: Yitzhak Berger, son-in-law of Rabbi A. Daum
Antwerp, Belgium
Useful information:
Sofia Synagogue:
Ekzarh Joseph str.16,
1000 Sofia,
Bulgaria
Phone: +359 2 983 12 73
Mobile: +359 988 878 806
Fax: +359 2 983 12 73
E-mail: sofia.synagogue@gmail.com
Contact of the Rabbi Aharon Zerbib:
aronzerbib@gmail.com
Weekday Prayers:
Shacharit (Morning Prayer) is
Monday
through
Friday
: 8.30
(afterwards a breakfast is offered)
Shabbat / Holiday Prayers:
Friday night
19:15 (summer time)
Shabbat morning 10:00 am

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