Shelomo AlfassaShelomo Alfassa is the former director of the US Campaign for International Rights and Redress for Justice for Jews from Arab Countries.
With the July 18, 2012 terrorist attack against Israelis in the city of Burgas, the Bulgarian government found itself the subject of praise, as a result of their protecting their nation's Jewish population during the Holocaust. The following day, an Arutz Sheva column and even Fox News extolled Bulgaria's record, noting that last week's bombing was the first such attack in the nation's history, and explaining how the Bulgarians saved their Jews during WWII.
This is an often repeated statement, but it is a half truth; there is another, dark chapter to the story.
The contemporary media reported how "Bulgaria became the only Nazi-allied country in World War II to protect its entire Jewish population" or that "Bulgaria saved all of its Jews from the death camps."
While the Bulgarian king, government, the public, and the clergy, did in fact take laudable actions which halted the deportation of a certain 50,000 Jews from parts of Bulgaria to German death camps in Poland, there is no reason why the Bulgarian government should not discuss - and admit to - the 13,000 non-Bulgarian Jews their soldiers dispossessed, imprisoned, and deported from land they were occupying during the war.
On March 1, 1941, Bulgaria entered into a pact with the Axis powers and participated in the German-led attack on Yugoslavia and Greece. As a reward from Adolf Hitler, Bulgaria received most of the Balkan area known as Thrace and Macedonia. Stating that Thrace and Macedonia were their ancient Bulgarian lands, they declared the territory "New" or "United Bulgaria" and, within one month, initiated a colossal national campaign of Bulgarization against the citizens of that area that included deporting all of the area's 13,000 Jews.
The Jewish communities of Yugoslavian Thrace and Greek Macedonia were made up mostly of Spanish-speaking Jews, descendants of refugees expelled from Spain in 1492. In March 1943, the Jews of the cities of Kavala, Drama, Komotini, Seres, Xanthi and Alexandroupolis, were dragged from their beds at midnight, barely dressed, in sub-freezing conditions and placed into warehouses in their respective cities.
The Bulgarian military established a blockade around the cities to prevent escape. Bulgarian soldiers broke into Jewish homes and hauled out their inhabitants. The Jews were forced to walk, for many miles, being whipped by troops; many Jews died along the way from cold, malnutrition and beatings. They were placed in tobacco warehouses, women were raped, and then locked inside freight trains as human cattle for the dreaded trip to Treblinka-many dying en route. The Jews of Monastir were locked in ghettos, their property looted and stolen by Bulgarian policemen, who checked house by house, to ensure that all the family members had left and all valuables were confiscated.
In all, over 13,000 Jewish people, husbands, wives, grandparents, sons, daughters, cousins, aunts and uncles, were deported by Bulgarians to Treblinka where they were murdered in German gas chambers. .
In the eyes of the Parliament at Sofia, Thrace and Macedonia soon became legitimately and completely Bulgarian. The governmental organization in Thrace and Macedonia, its infrastructure, civic administration, general educational system, institutes of higher learning, religious bodies, economy, and culture became wholly and legally Bulgarian. The government was extremely proud of this, and established and funded patriotic organizations in Macedonia to show the people and tell the world that Macedonia was their own. They formed cultural and charitable organizations in their beloved United Bulgaria, and commissioned, printed and issued, nearly seven million commemorative postage stamps in 1941, recalling the "recovery" of Macedonia.
Yet today, when it comes to discussing how 13,000 Jews from Thrace and Macedonia who were deported by Bulgarian police officers and soldiers to Treblinka where they were killed, Bulgaria remains silent. They laud themselves for not allowing the deportation of Bulgaria's 50,000 Jews, but it seems that the "price" paid to the Nazis for letting them save their "own" Jews was the deaths of the Jews of Macedonia and Thrace.
The deaths of 13,000 Jews occurred with the direct participation and knowledge of ho the Bulgarian government in alliance and volunteer partnership with Nazi Germany. 98 percent of Macedonia's Jews were deported - none survived.
To counter current accusations of lack of human rights on the world stage, on more than one occasion, Bulgaria has revisited the claim that it had saved 50,000 Jews, and that Bulgaria was "humanitarian," and that it would keep up its "respect for human life and human dignity." On at least one occasion, ex-president Peter Stoyanov said that the Jews' rescue from deportation was "the best answer to the constantly asked question, 'What have you contributed to European civilization?' "
Now, with the murdeous Islamist bombing attack on Israelis tourists visiting Bulgaria, the Bulgarians are basking in the glory of how they elected not to kill 50,000 Jews, how they saved them and how they have always been friends to the Jewish people. Not "always" and not to all of the Jewish people..