Contrasting Destinies : The Plight of Bulgarian Jews and the Jews in Bulgarian-occupied Greek and Yugoslav Territories during World War Two

15 Mars, 2017
Nadège Ragaru

The author wishes to thank Roumen Avramov and two anonymous readers for their valuable comments on an earlier version of this article.

The Context

Bulgaria’s policy towards the Jews during World War Two was long perceived as resembling the two faces of Janus. Indeed, Jews were not deported from what was known as the “old” kingdom, i.e., inside the borders as they stood before April 1941. Although they were subjected to a wide range of anti-Jewish measures, roughly 48,000 Jews holding Bulgarian citizenship survived the war. 1 An estimated 200 to 300 Jews successfully avoided deportation in Vardar Macedonia, most by escaping to Albania and/or joining the resistance. Only approximately 200 Jews from Western Thrace, most of whom were foreign citizens, were able to avoid being deported. 2

Rival explanations for the differences in fate of Jews in the “old” and “new” kingdoms lie at the heart of historiographical and memorial controversies in recent decades in Bulgaria and worldwide. Despite increasing internal and international pressure, no Bulgarian political leader to this day has officially accepted responsibility for the arrests and deportations of Jews during World War Two in territories under Bulgarian occupation. Several different debates are enmeshed with each other regarding this point. First, they involve opposing views about Bulgarian sovereignty within the occupied zones. On March 1, 1941, Bulgaria, an irredentist power 3 that had been defeated in the First World War and whose territory was reduced under the Treaty of Neuilly (1919), had joined the Tripartite Pact. Bulgaria had allowed German troops to cross Bulgarian territory in their assault against the Yugoslav and Greek Kingdoms. At a summit meeting on April 17, 1941 between King Boris III, Hitler, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Count Ciano, Bulgaria was granted responsibility for administering most of Vardar Macedonia (a portion of the banovina of Vardar that was created in 1929, a province of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia), Northern Greece (i.e., Western Thrace 4) and the Serbian region of Pirot (part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia). Unlike Southern Dobrudža, whose return to Bulgaria by Romania in September 1940 was subject to the signing of an international treaty, the Treaty of Craiova, the final status of Western Thrace and Pirot was supposed to be determined at the end of the war. From April 1941 to September-October 1944, however, these regions were under Bulgarian military and administrative rule.

A second, related point of contention concerns the amount of room to maneuver actually available to Bulgaria as an occupying power in the shadow of Nazi Germany, Bulgaria’s imperious and demanding protector. It should be recalled that German troops never occupied Bulgaria, which held an unusual position in the Tripartite Pact in refusing to declare war on the Soviet Union or send an expeditionary force to the Eastern Front. 5 On the 70th anniversary of the “rescue of Bulgarian Jews” —the Bulgarian description—on March 8, 2013, the Bulgarian Parliament unanimously approved a resolution placing responsibility for the deportations on Nazi Germany and lamenting Bulgaria’s powerlessness to prevent the roundups: “an objective evaluation of the historic events today could not ignore the fact of the 11,343 Jews deported from North Greece and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which were at that time under German jurisdiction. We denounce this criminal act, undertaken by the Hitler’s commandment, and express our regrets for the fact that the local Bulgarian administration had not been in a position to stop this act.” 6 Bulgarian state archives do contain substantial evidence, however, suggesting that Bulgarian authorities actively helped organize and conduct the roundups. 7 

More importantly, the competing analyses of Bulgarian policies in the “old” and “new” kingdoms tend to gravitate around two poles. On one extreme, the Bulgarian state is portrayed as having protected the Jews inside of the pre-1941 borders and of persecuting Jews beyond those borders. Scholars who defend this view take the end of the war as the end of the question, emphasizing the contrast between the non-deportation of Bulgarian Jews, and the deportation of Jews from occupied lands. They assume that there was a distinction between policies in the “old” and “new” borders and attempt to trace the root causes of these differing rationales. For that purpose, they tend to research themes such as the German-Bulgarian alliance and the constraints that this alliance could have placed on Bulgarian decision-makers. These scholars’ writings also invite a comparative approach to the pre-war integration of Jews, in Bulgaria but also in Yugoslavia and Greece. Finally, the social protests that made it possible to postpone deportations from the “old” kingdom are key factors in these accounts. 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, instead of being considered from their end point, anti-Jewish policies are envisioned from their inception. This approach places the emphasis on the similarities between the wartime experiences of the Jews in the “old” kingdom and the occupied territories. Historians who adopt this perspective call attention to an anti-Semitic project within the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, and elsewhere, that would have doomed both Bulgarian and non-Bulgarian Jews to extermination if the course of the war and public protests against deporting Bulgarian Jews had not frustrated those plans. In attempting to explain the non-deportation of some Bulgarian Jews, these historical accounts tend to emphasize German military losses and fears of Allied reprisals more than Bulgarian social mobilizations on behalf of the Jews. Scholarly interest is geared to the inner operations of state-sponsored anti-Semitism. 

The Participants

Two phases of anti-Jewish policies can be identified based on the participants, the institutions involved, and the scale of anti-Jewish persecutions. The first phase, which lasted from 1940 until the summer of 1942, involved the implementation of policies for the political, social, and professional exclusion of Jews. These measures were managed by the routine state bureaucracy. The second phase, which began in June 1942, entailed an overall anti-Jewish plan whose ultimate objective was to eliminate the entire Jewish population of both the “old” and the “new” kingdoms. The plan was assigned to specialized institutions, chiefly the newly created Commissariat for Jewish Affairs (KEV) in the Ministry of the Interior, and was endorsed by the executive branch of the government. In June 1942, the National Assembly had given the Council of Ministers plenipotentiary authority to adopt any measures deemed necessary for solving the “Jewish question.” 

This timeframe was not the exclusive result of local actions. Bulgarian anti-Jewish policies are best thought of within the broader context of the Nazi “Final Solution.” They should also be considered as connected to the schedule of regular roundups, deportations, and exterminations taking place in non-Bulgarian occupied zones in Greece and Yugoslavia. Still, it would be an over-simplification to cross-reference the dates of visits by high-ranking Bulgarian officials to Germany with the dates of anti-Jewish activities. Anti-Jewish measures took on a life of their own after they began. Step by step, in the midst of a climate of war, anti-Bolshevik and anti-Jewish government propaganda, and the routinization of practices that would have been unthinkable even a few months earlier transformed opportunity structures, anticipations, and social norms. 

Furthermore, a counter-narrative to a version of events that might attempt to place the blame for anti-Jewish activities on only two protagonists—the head of the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs, Aleksandăr Belev, and the Minister of the Interior and National Health, Petăr Gabrovski— would recall that a long list of state institutions and official organizations was involved in creating and enforcing anti-Jewish policies, including the Central Bank, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Buildings, Roads, and Public Works, the Ministry of Railways, Postal Services, and Telegraph, the police, intelligence, justice, army, resupply services, as well as regional and municipal officials. The professional associations and the Central Consistory of the Jews in Bulgaria also obeyed the authorities, often relaying their demands.

The Law for the Defense of the Nation (December 1940-January 1941) 

In July 1940, while the potential beneficiaries of territorial rearrangements created by the German-Soviet Pact (August 1939) were competing with each other to show loyalty to Germany by implementing anti-Jewish policies, a member of the fascist organization Combattants for the Advancement of the Bulgarian National Spirit (Ratnici za napredăk na bălgarštinata), Aleksandăr Belev, also a legal counsel in the Interior Ministry, was sent to study the Nuremberg Laws in Germany. On October, Belev’s protector, Petăr Gabrovski, the Minister of the Interior, himself a former leader of the Ratnici, issued a proposal for a Law for the Defense of the Nation to the Parliament (Zakon za zaštita na nacijata) that targeted Freemasons and international organizations that “threatened” the country’s national security in addition to targeting Jews. Economically dependent on Germany (its trading partner in 1939 for more 65% of its exchanges) and bound to Berlin by an arms contact, 8 Bulgaria had already benefited from German sponsorship when Southern Dobrudža was returned to Bulgarian control on September 7, 1940. Adopting anti-Jewish legislation came to be seen as a way to advance Bulgarian territorial claims in the political class and the Court. 

The announcement of the proposed law instantly divided the elites and society, however. Objections took a variety of forms, including open letters, petitions, and requests for audiences with the King and Prime Minister Bogdan Filov (1940-1943). The Central Consistory of the Jews in Bulgaria, professional unions (including the Lawyers’ Union, the Doctors’ Union, and eminent figures in the Writers’ Union, among others), high-ranking officials from the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church, the journalist and public figure Dimo Kazasov (1886-1980), as well as a range of anonymous tradesmen, craftsmen, laborers, and simple voters, lodged protests. 9The government enjoyed a majority of 115-121 representatives out of a total of 160 seats in the National Assembly, which reviewed a draft of the new legislation on November 15, 19, and 20. Limitations on Jews’ rights were also denounced by two important opposition voices, the former Prime Minister and jurist Nikola Mušanov (1872-1951, center-right), as well as the former minister and diplomat Petko Stajnov, a highly-reputed law professor (1890-1972, center-left). Opposition to the law also received support from the communist deputies Ljuben Djugmedžiev (1882-1967) and Todor Poljakov (1896-1960), as well as the majority representative Ivan Petrov (1887-1945). 10 Arguments against the text were legal (evoking equality before the law), political (demonstrating that, in numerical and economic terms, the modest Jewish minority could not realistically pose a threat), and moral (referring to the “national tolerance” of the Bulgarian people). 

It is nevertheless worth recalling that the anti-Jewish measures were endorsed by nationalist and/or extreme right circles such as the Ratnici, the Union of Bulgarian National Legions, the Union of Bulgarian Youth ‘Otets Pajsi,’ the National Union of Bulgarian Students, and Brannik, a pro-government youth organization, as well as some professional organizations (the Shopkeeper and Pharmacist Unions, in particular). The shipwreck of the “Salvador” on December 14, 1940, which was transporting 326 Bulgarian and foreign Jews to Palestine and left 230 dead, provided a tragic backdrop to discussions of the law’s wording during its second legislative review on December 20. Ratified on December 24, the law was signed by the King on January 15, 1941 and published in the State Gazette on January 23.

Modeled on the Nuremberg Laws, the law--whose second chapter concerns the Jews and which was applied after April 1941 in the occupied territories--set the stage for identifying and socially and economically marginalizing Jews. 11 The notion of “persons of Jewish origin” (licata ot evrejski proizhod) was defined as combining a racial criterion (any person with at least one Jewish parent was considered a Jew) as well as a religious criterion (persons not considered as Jewish included those who had “adopted or who are going to adopt Christianity as their first religion” [prior to the enactment of the law]). The Bulgarian legislation did not introduce the notion of Mischlinge [half-breeds], nor did it consider baptized children or mixed couples to be Jews. The second planned mechanism for identifying Jews, intended as a way to make them more visible, banned Jews from using the suffixes -ov, -v, or –ič--typical endings on Bulgarian patronymic names. The Law for the Defense of the Nation also forbade granting Bulgarian citizenship to Jews. 

Several provisions ensured the segregation of Jews and non-Jews, including the banning of mixed marriages and of Bulgarian household staff being employed by Jews. Changes of residence were to be subject to police control, and the policies empowered the Council of Ministers to designate—subject to Interior Ministry approval—the neighborhoods, villages, and cities in which Jews could reside, a provision that subsequently proved to have tragic consequences. The most powerful mechanisms of social and economic exclusion prevented Jews from holding elected office or occupying civil service positions, introduced professional quotas, and limited Jewish capital in the pharmaceutical and health sectors, publishing, the arts, leisure, the arms trade, and banking and credit firms. Finally, Jews were given one month to declare all of their material and real estate possessions to the Central Bank. The law permitted some exceptions, however. First, it did not apply to Jews who had converted to Christianity before September 1, 1940 or were married to “persons of Bulgarian ascendency” before September 1 and had converted before the regulations came into effect. Second, some provisions did not apply to war orphans or veterans who had volunteered, been disabled, or who had been awarded military honors or medals. 

The Aryanization of Jewish Property and Assets

Between January 1941 and June 1942, the Ministry of the Interior determined how many Jews would be permitted to continue to practice certain professions and extended the number of prohibited activities and professional bans (including the mining sector after December 1941, for example). Discriminatory fiscal policies further contributed to the impoverishment the Jewish population. Beginning on July 1941, Jews faced an ad hoc 20% to 25% tax on property and assets such as real estate holdings, equipment, inventories, and other valuables (Zakon za ednokraten danăk vărhu imuštestvata na licata ot evrejski proizhod). 12 Many tradesmen, craftsmen, and petty entrepreneurs were forced to give up all or part of their property in order to pay the new tax. In February 1942, a Law against Real Estate Speculation (Zakon protiv spekulata s nedvižimi imoti) forbade Jews from “possessing real estate properties beyond those necessary for housing their families and employees or required for the exercise of their trades.” The State reserved the right to confiscate any possessions found to be excessive. 13 There continued to be a limited degree of flexibility for negotiating due dates, exemptions, and asset transfers during this early phase of the crackdowns, but the application of the new policies became more stringent after the summer of 1942. 14 

Forced Labor

Another “deprivation” strategy involved requisitioning Jewish labor. The Law for the Defense of the Nation had already required Jews to fulfill their military service by participating in labor battalions. A forced labor service (trudova povinnost) was established in 1920 under the government of the agrarian Aleksandăr Stambolijski to provide an inexpensive labor force for developing infrastructure while also employing soldiers who were demobilized after the Treaty of Neuilly (1919). The labor battalion program also skirted Treaty stipulations that terminated obligatory military service and reduced troop numbers. Between 1920 and 1929, approximately 154,040 Bulgarians, primarily minorities (particularly Muslims) and other poor segments of society, served in compulsory labor units. 15 The program was progressively militarized as it became clear that a new world conflict was inevitable, and in 1934, it was attached to the Ministry of War. By 1936, military ranks were introduced, and in 1940, “labor soldiers” (trudovi vojski) became a separate armed corps that was used to enforce anti-Jewish policies during World War Two. 16 

In August 1941, the Bulgarian government responded to a German demand relayed by the German Minister Plenipotentiary in Sofia, Adolf-Heinz Beckerle, by transferring responsibility for Jewish forced labor from the War Ministry to the Ministry of Buildings, Roads, and Public Works. fn]Ruling n° 113, Council of Ministers, protocol 132, 12.08.1941. A Bulgarian was appointed to lead Jewish labor units that had previously been supervised by Jews, and laborers were no longer in uniform. Jewish reserve officers were also demoted to the rank of ordinary laborers. A further line was crossed on January 29, 1942 when the War Ministry announced of the formation of new all-Jewish forced labor units. 17 Twelve additional battalions were created in the course of the year, bringing the total to 24. One quarter of the men in the new battalions consisted of unemployed Bulgarians, while 75% were minorities, including separate Jewish units, but also Turks, Russians, and residents of the occupied territories. 18 Discriminatory policies governing the length of required service, the number of holidays and rest time, and food became increasingly strict. 19 A disciplinary unit created on July 14, 1942 imposed new punishments, including the banning of visitors for three months and withholding hot food for ten days, a bread-and-water diet, and forcing prisoners to sleep without mattresses. 20 The severity of the measures intensified as the war continued and as more Jewish workers tried to escape, particularly during attempted roundups and deportations in the spring of 1943. 21 

Full Authority Granted to the Executive and the Formation of the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs 

In the summer of 1942, official Bulgarian anti-Semitism assumed its definitive institutional form. In the wake of the Wannsee conference (January 20, 1942), the Bulgarian government proposed a law authorizing the executive branch “to take all measures necessary to handle the Jewish question and any attendant problems.” The Assembly adopted the law on June 28, 1942 and relinquished its legal authority to oversee policies towards the Jews. 22 On August 29, the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs was set up, with Aleksandăr Belev appointed as director. 23 Belev was employed in the legal department of the Interior Ministry at the time and was closely involved in drafting the Law for the Defense of the Nation

The Commissariat was divided into four departments--administration, public and professional activities, economic activities, and a department responsible for managing the “Jewish Community Fund” with the authority to conduct a census of the Jews, manage expropriations of their assets, and define and limit housing sizes and locations in designated neighborhoods. The “Administration” department managed relations with the Central Consistory of the Jews of Bulgaria and with Jewish municipalities (evrejski obštini), as well as restrictions on circulation and travel. The Commissariat was later made responsible for scheduling and supervising deportations, while the “Public and Professional Activities” department supervised professional exclusions. The economic department orchestrated the plundering of Jewish property and the temporary administration of Aryanized properties, as well as a network of informers to help locate Jewish assets. The Commissariat was funded by the “Jewish Community Fund,” which was paid for by Jewish assets in frozen bank accounts and taxes and fees levied on Jews for administrative services. After the deportations in March 1943, the fund also received the proceeds from liquidated Jewish assets in the occupied territories. Located on the Boulevard Dondukov inside a requisitioned Jewish firm, the Commissariat staff increased from 13 in October 1942 to 58 in November. By early 1943, the number of personnel exceeded 100, not including roughly sixty contractual employees. 24 This specialized bureaucracy continued to rely on the ordinary government bureaucracy of the Central Bank, the Finance Ministry, the police, and judicial and municipal authorities.  

The deterioration of Jewish economic activities accelerated dramatically with the expansion of professional exclusions and the imposition of a two-week deadline for ceasing activities and liquidating inventories in occupied zones and a two-month deadline in the “old” kingdom. 25 With the arrival of the winter, the paper-trail left behind by the increasingly destitute Jewish communities in Thrace, Macedonia, and the Pirot region proliferated, as growing numbers of Jews filed requests for exemption from special taxes levied on Jews (who were considered “foreign residents”) in the occupied territories and from professional bans. There were also reports filed with the Commissariat by delegates for Jewish Affairs. Responsibility for Aryanization policies was transferred to the Commissariat, which used auctions to transfer property, with profits deposited in former owners’ blocked accounts at the Central Bank. The Council of Ministers issued final approval of transfers, and assets that found no buyers at auction were either liquidated or became property of the state. At the same time, rules regarding the segregation of Jewish places of residence and limitations on Jewish housing were rigorously enforced. In Bitola, after November 1942, for example, letters between the delegate on Jewish affairs and the Commissariat discussed establishing a Jewish ghetto. This initiative abruptly ended with the deportations that took place in March 1943. 

Deportations at the Heart of Government Plans

The August 26, 1942 decree-law that created the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs mandated other policies, including the requirements that Jews wear the yellow star and that signs be posted to indicate Jewish businesses. A close reading of the decree indicates that by the summer of 1942 at least some members of Bulgaria’s ruling elite had began to consider the deportation of Jews from the “new territories” and the “old” kingdom as the final phase in the implementation of anti-Jewish policies. Article 7 of the decree-law stated that the “Jewish municipalities” (evrejskite obštini –under the authority of the Commissariat) were responsible “for the task of preparing the deportation (izselvaneto) of the Jewish population,” while Article 29 envisioned possible expulsions of Jews from Sofia “to the provinces or outside of the Kingdom.” 26 As early as October 1942, two lines of communication intersected (between the German Minister Plenipotentiary in Sofia, Adolf-Heinz Beckerle, and the Minister of the Interior, Petăr Gabrovski, and between the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Religious Cults and the Reich Central Security Office, the RSHA) to prepare for deportations, while the government and Court closely followed the reactions of other German allies such as Romania, Hungary, and Italy to the German demand that their governments manage the “Jewish question.” An agreement was reached on January 21, 1943 between the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the RHSA to assign Theodor Dannecker, Eichmann’s representative, to Bulgaria. Dannecker had helped prepare roundups and deportations in France and was brought to Bulgaria to help organize anti-Jewish programs. Belev and Dannecker orchestrated the details of the roundups such as logistics, transportation, and stripping the Jews of Bulgarian citizenship. On February 4, 1943, the Commissioner for Jewish Affairs addressed a detailed report to the Interior Minister confirming that Germany was ready to welcome 20,000 Jews from the “new territories” as well as “undesirable” (neželatelni) Jews from the “old” kingdom “in a number to be defined by the Commissariat.” 27 

On February 22, 1943, Dannecker and Belev signed an agreement to deport 20,000 Jews from the “new Bulgarian territories of Thrace and Macedonia” with no reference to the “old” territories. 28 The total number of Jews in the occupied zones identified by the administration and the police was smaller than the target number of 20,000, however. 29 The reference to the “new territories” (only) was subsequently scratched out by hand on the agreement--and it remains unclear to this day by whose hand and on what date this modification was made. Six temporary detention centers in Skopje, Bitola, Pirot, Gorna Džumaja, Dupnica, and Radomir were planned for, but only three centers, at Skopje, Gorna Džumaja, and Dupnica, ever functioned. Bulgarian Jews (i.e., those from the “old” kingdom) were to be automatically stripped of Bulgarian citizenship upon deportation, and the government agreed not to ask for their return. It is impossible to ascertain whether some members of the government had reservations about this plan based on available sources. The fact is that on March 2, 1943, the Council of Ministers approved decrees related to the implementation of the deportation plan, ordering the mobilization of the Commissariat’s employees through May 31, 1943 (to avoid potential defections), and planning roundups of Jews and transportation to internment camps, as liquidating and nationalizing Jewish property and assets. 30 Significantly, these rulings never appeared in the state gazette. More importantly, ruling n°127 did not explicitly refer to Jews from the “old” kingdom, a silence that was later used as an argument by opponents of the deportations of Bulgarian Jews. 31

Oversight of the Assembly, Internment, and Transportation of Jews from the Occupied Territories 

Arrests were supervised in each region by designated members of the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs--Jaroslav Kalicin in Thrace, Zahari Velkov in Macedonia, Penčo Lukov in Samokov, Dupnica, Kjustendil, and Gorna Džumaja. Ivan Gjošev was responsible for transit camps and economic matters, and overall coordination also involved delegates for Jewish Affairs, high-ranking police officials, the army, and regional officials. 32 Roundups started in Western Thrace at dawn on March 4, 1943 in Gjumjurdina, Dede Agač, Kavala, Drama, Ksanti, and Seres. On March 11, they expanded to include Bitola, Štip, Skopje, and smaller communities in Vardar Macedonia that had a sprinkling of Jewish residents, and on March 12 they shifted to the Serbian region of Pirot. The approach at each location was identical: The Army would seal off a designated neighborhood while teams of police conducted arrests in a specified number of streets and residences. In the “old” kingdom, delegates for Jewish Affairs compiled an initial list containing the names of approximately 6,000 future deportees, with instructions to select Jews who were “rich, more visible, and who enjoy social recognition” or were suspected of subversive behavior. Converted Jews and Jews married to non-Jews were spared (as stipulated in Paragraph 1 of Article 33 of the Law for the Defense of the Nation and reiterated in the decree-law of 26 August 1942), as well as Jews in mixed marriages. There was no provision for sparing those awarded medals, invalids, widows, or war orphans (see Paragraph 2, Article 33). 33 Of the approximately 9,000 names forwarded to Belev, his final list included 8,400. He concentrated his efforts on the deportation of all Jews living in cities near the Macedonian and Greek borders and towns in which transit camps were planned (Dupnica, Gorna Džumaja, and Kjustendil). 34

Jews in Western Thrace were arrested in the dead of night, sometimes in their underwear, before being transported from Greece under Bulgarian escort (by police or occasionally soldiers 35) to transit camps in Gorna Džumaja and Dupnica. Unhealthy conditions, under-nourishment, and poor treatment in the camps caused a number of deaths, including five at Dupnica and between one and three at Gorna Džumaja. 36 On March 19, the Jews from Pirot, who had been incarcerated in the local high school and subjected to especially harsh treatment, were transferred to Sofia, where they joined Greek Jews in transit to the Danube port city of Lom. A total of 43 Bulgarian police officials--one commander, two ranking officers, and forty policemen--accompanied the trains transporting detainees between the Gorna Džumaja and Dupnica camps and Lom. 37 On March 20 and 21, a total of 4,219 Jews, guarded by Bulgarians and Germans, were transported in four river convoys from Lom to Vienna, where they were turned over to the Germans. One Jew reportedly died en route aboard the “Saturnus” and seven aboard the “Tsar Dušan.” 38

Jews from Bitola, Štip, and Skopje in Vardar Macedonia were held under Bulgarian guard in Skopje in a warehouse belonging to the national tobacco company, Monopol. They remained—with an average of 240 people packed into each room--from March 11 until the final group was finally deported on March 29. Poor hygiene and food supplies and a lack of medical care, combined with strip searches and physical humiliation and abuse, resulted in four deaths. 39 The camp was directed by Pejo Draganov and later by Asen Pajtašev. It guarded by Bulgarian police and soldiers, who were under close Gestapo supervision. Officials from the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs, including Belev, inspected the camp twice, and the German Consulate General in Skopje also toured the facility. Detainees were transported to Treblinka in three convoys on March 22, 25, and 29, respectively containing 2,338, 2,402, and 2,404 individuals, with several dozen Jews from Kavala added to the final convoy. 40Draganov supervised the loading of the first two convoys and Pajtašev oversaw the loading of the third convoy, all of which were guarded by German police during transport. 41 

It is estimated that out a total of 7,144 deported Jews, 7,132 were delivered to Treblinka, with 12 fatalities en route. 42 This number is smaller than the total number of victims--7, 320--who transited through the camp at Skopje, in part because 98 Jews were liberated because they were considered foreign nationals, including 74 Spanish citizens, 19 Albanians, and 5 Italians, and partly because 67 were freed along with their families because they were either doctors or pharmacists. 43 Three Jews are also known to have managed to escape. 44 Four sources provide deportation statistics. First, the reports of the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs indicate that 7,165 Jews were deported from Macedonia, including 42 Thracian Jews who were attached to the final convoy, 4,039 from Thrace, and 158 from Pirot, a total of 11,362 individuals. 45 The second source is a report that gives an account of the activities of the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs between March 1 and March 31, 1943. In the report, Belev states that a total of 11,357 Jews had been deported. 46 The third often-cited source is a report by the German police attaché, Adolf Hoffmann, dated April 5, 1943. The document talks about 7,122 deportations from Skopje and 4,221 from Lom (i.e., primarily Jews from Thrace and the Pirot region). These data are close to the figures (7,123 and 4,211) included in a report sent by Adolf-Heinz Beckerle, the German Minister Plenipotentiary in Sofia, to the Reich Central Security Office in late March. 47

As mentioned earlier, the exact number of Jews who were able to evade the roundups remains unknown. One case has been documented, however: In March 1943, after learning about the presence of Greek and Yugoslav Jews among forced laborers from the “old” kingdom, the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs demanded their immediate transfer to the Gorna Džumaja camp. 48 Although an estimated 42 Jews from Thrace (including six forced laborers earlier deployed to the region of Sveti Vrač, in Southwestern Bulgaria) were sent to the camp and ultimately deported, 49 several other Jews survived because their transfer orders were delayed. 50 

Arrests in the “old” kingdom were scheduled for March 9. The events leading to the suspension of these roundups (see The Witnesses) are discussed later. In any event, the arrests had begun in several municipalities, including Kjustendil, Plovdiv, Dupnica, Gorna Džumaja, Pazardžik, Haskovo, and Šumen, and the order counter-manding the arrests was only received on the following day. Above all, public protests had not persuaded the Commissariat to abandon the roundup process. In the weeks that followed, Belev prepared a new deportation plan to remove Jews from the “old” kingdom before September 30, 1943. 51 His plan called for 16,000 Jews per month to be deported via the Danube. Two separate phases were planned. First, Jews were to be expelled from Sofia and driven into the provinces, “diverting suspicion of responsibility for the deportations towards Germany.” Next, the Jews in Sofia (25,000 individuals) and the provinces (approximately 23,000) were to be assembled. Assembling the Jews was intended to facilitate their transport by rail to the ports at Lom and Somovit. 52 

The Council of Ministers, however, did not follow Belev’s more drastic proposals on this occasion, and on May 21, 1943, the government voted to expel the Jews from Sofia (and several other cities) to the provinces. On the eve of Cyrillic Alphabet Day (May 24), Sofia’s Jewish residents were given three days to leave, with a maximum of thirty kilograms of luggage per person. There were exceptions made for Jews married to non-Jews, mobilized Jews, those who were baptized (by August 29, 1942), and those carrying potentially infectious diseases. 53Within days, the streets of Sofia were full of purchasers eager for bargains on the furniture, personal effects, and other souvenirs that Jews were forced to leave behind. Departure orders assigned the dates and times of transport trains, separating families, amid the suspension of bread rations. House arrests, housing scarcities, bans on professional activity, circulation restrictions, and curfews produced extremely precarious living conditions for the Jews, who did not always receive a warm welcome from local inhabitants in their new place of residence. 

In the summer of 1943, a combination of internal and external factors caused the Bulgarian authorities to have second thoughts about solutions to the Bulgarian “Jewish question” that involved deportation. On August 18, the German Minister Plenipotentiary, Adolf-Heinz Beckerle, noted this reluctance in a memorandum to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Berlin. 54With the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and Italian capitulation in September, the prospects for Nazi victory were rapidly waning. The Germans were in the process of shifting their priorities, and they expected Bulgaria to expand the occupation zone in Yugoslavia and Greece in order to allow the Germans to focus their military efforts on the Eastern front. Against this background, leaked information about the Bulgarian deportation plans, coupled with assertions by the Allies that anti-Jewish persecution would play an important role in post-war war-crime prosecutions, further convinced the Bulgarian government to postpone the arrests sine die

The authorities were also weakened domestically. On August 27, 1943, King Boris III died of a heart attack several days after returning from a trip to Germany. As assassination rumors swirled through the capital, 55 a regency council was formed and the government struggled on. On October 25, 1943, Hristo Stomanjakov was named to replace Belev as the head of the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs. These developments confirmed the realignment of Bulgarian policy and, when the Allies began shelling Sofia, particularly in January and March 1944, the search for a solution became the principal preoccupation of an increasingly feverish executive branch, which came under the leadership of the Minister of Agriculture, Ivan Bagrjanov after June 1944. 56 In late August, the Prime Minister encouraged the renewal and changes in the leadership of the Central Consistory of the Bulgarian Jews, 57 also ordering partial repeal of anti-Jewish laws on August 31, 1944, a decision that was subsequently expanded by the Muraviev government (September 2-9, 1944). These decisions were followed in quick succession by the Soviet declaration of war on Bulgaria on September 5, the Red Army invasion on September 8, and a takeover of the country’s government by the communist-led Popular Front on September 9. Two days earlier, on September 7, all Jews who had been sentenced under anti-Jewish laws were granted amnesty. In September, the majority of Jewish forced laborers were demobilized, and Jews who had been expelled from Sofia gradually began to return. A series of decisions by the Council of Ministers in October and November 1944 attempted to regularize the status of Jewish students who had been forced to suspend their education in Bulgarian schools and universities in 1943 and 1944, including a two-month postponement of the beginning of the academic year. 

In March 1945, a decree was finally issued returning plundered Jewish assets to their owners and reimbursing Jewish property that had been nationalized but not returned. During the same month, the 7th Chamber of the People’s Court (Naroden săd), an exceptional tribunal established to judge war criminals, began hearings, effectively reinforcing the Popular Front’s grip on power. 58 The 7th Chamber was unique in Europe at the time in being entirely focused on finding and putting on trial the perpetrators of anti-Jewish crimes. The fact that the creation of this specialized judicial body was also partly motivated by a desire to influence the outcome of peace negotiations with the Allies in no way overshadows its truly unusual character in the historical context of the times. Fifty-four defendants were prosecuted before the 7th Chamber, and two of them--including Belev--were sentenced to death in absentia. 59 Despite the restoration of Jewish rights, however, the gap between supporters of a future Zionist state (in Israel) and a communist project (in Bulgaria) widened in early 1945. While the communists considered the prosecution of war criminals to be proof that anti-Jewish violence had been provoked by specific elites and was confined to a particular political regime, the Zionists argued that hopes for Jewish integration in Europe had been dashed by the persecution and destruction of European Jewish communities. Communist repression of bourgeois elites--both non-Jewish and Jewish--and the nationalization of private businesses decreed by the government in 1947 ultimately persuaded many Bulgarian Jews to emigrate, and by May 1949, only 9,926 Jews remained in Bulgaria to support the communist dream. 60

The Victims

Bulgaria was home to a pre-war and mostly Sephardic Jewish community that was estimated at 48,398, or .80% of a total population of 6,077,939, in the 1934 census (a figure that was based on religious self-identification). 61

 Except for a small Romaniote minority dating to Antiquity, minor settlements during the Byzantine era, and fourteenth-century migrations of Ashkenazi Jews from Hungary and from Bavaria in the fifteenth century, most Jews arrived in the region – at the time part of the Ottoman Empire - after they were expelled from Spain and Portugal in 1492. During the eighteenth century and the second half of the nineteenth century, some Ashkenazi Jews arrived from Central Europe and Russia seeking better living conditions in a country that had offered equal rights to Jews after it gained de facto independence in 1878. 62 The Jewish community in Bulgaria consisted primarily of small businessmen, shopkeepers, and craftsmen with relatively modest incomes and living standards. Although a small Jewish middle class had formed in Sofia and a few other urban centers such as Plovdiv, Varna, and Vidin, on the eve of World War Two it was unusual for Bulgarian Jews to be part of the political, intellectual, or artistic elites. This pattern differed sharply from that in Hungary and Romania, a possible reason why anti-Semitic accusations about Jewish capital were slow to take root in Bulgaria. Although relations between Jews and non-Jews may not have been as idyllic as stated in mainstream discourse – there were few episodes of interethnic tensions 63 -, they were generally relaxed throughout the 1930s and until the eve of the war. 

Identifying Powers and Citizenship Policies: The Creation of Different Categories of “Jews” 

The subject of victims raises the question of official Bulgarian identification policies and practices with respect to Jews, as well as the Jewish response to state-sponsored persecution. Bulgarian rulers employed two specific sets of procedural mechanisms to differentiate between populations identified as Jewish--legal definitions of Jewishness, and citizenship policies. 

In December 1940, the Law for the Defense of the Nation defined several categories of individuals considered to be “of Jewish origin.” Jews with Bulgarian citizenship who had converted to Christianity or had married non-Jews before September 1, 1940 (Art. 33, Para. 1) or were baptized before the law took effect (Art. 33, Para. 2) were not defined as Jews. Further, some anti-Jewish regulations did not apply to Jews with military honors, volunteer veterans, invalids, or war orphans (Art. 33, Para. 2). However, these distinctions tended to fade as the grip of anti-Jewish policies slowly tightened during the war. The decree-law of August 26, 1942, which was – among other goals--intended to facilitate identification by the administration and the police, extended the parameters of Jewishness by adopting a bewilderingly complex definition. “Persons of Jewish origin” henceforth encompassed anyone who, “independently of their citizenship or religion,” had at least one parent or three grandparents of the Jewish faith, or at least one Jewish grandparent and another secondary ancestor who had adopted Judaism (Article 8). 64 Self-declaration was to become proof of Jewishness because, according to Article 9, “persons who have not made a declaration pursuant to Article 16 of the Law for the Defense of the Nation, but have declared themselves to be of Jewish nationality (narodnost) in official documents before or after January 23, 1941, [were] considered Jewish” unless they could produce documentation confirming their non-Jewishness (Art. 9). Nevertheless, albeit under more restrictive conditions, children of mixed marriages continued to avoid being designated as “Jews.” 

The decree-law of August 26, 1942 also reduced the range of exceptions, which were thereafter labeled “privileges” (privilegii). The yellow star was required for all Jews except for those who had received the sacrament. A distinction was made, however—a circular label was substituted for the six-branched star of David--in an inter-faith marriage who had adopted Christianity before the Law for the Defense of the Nation took effect, as well as for Jews with foreign citizenship who had resided in Bulgaria for less than a month (Art.15). Significantly, however, Bulgarian Jews married to non-Jews “according to Christian ritual” before September 1, 1940 and baptized before January 23, 1941, were no longer exempted from the new legal framework. Jews with military distinctions and invalids, war orphans, or un-remarried war widows were granted preferential treatment only “in the event of competition with other Jews.” This clause also applied only if they had not been convicted of violating a law and had not espoused “communist” or “anti-government” convictions (Article 52). 

The existence of distinct legal profiles nevertheless continued to allow room to maneuver for religious and civil officials who were attempting to intercede with Bulgarian bureaucrats on behalf of Jews. The Holy Synod and some Orthodox Church dignitaries protested on several occasions against the imposition of the requirement to wear a yellow star on baptized Jews, which violated recent regulations. 65 In at least one case, reference to military valor helped save Rafael Kamhi, a Jew from Bitola (Macedonia), from being deported after he was arrested in Salonika (a Greek city under German occupation) in the spring of 1943. The Bulgarian authorities granted him citizenship in recognition of his contribution to the anti-Ottoman struggle. 66

In addition to legal categories, laws governing nationality provided a second instrument for identifying individuals as Jewish and according the various subgroups differential treatment. In Bulgarian historiography and public discourse, the fact that Jews from the occupied territories were unable to obtain Bulgarian nationality has sometimes been cited as evidence that Bulgaria lacked jurisdiction over these populations and that local officials were powerless to prevent the implementation of German policies. 67 A more attentive examination of citizenship policies suggests that this argument may need to be reconsidered. 68 Three elements of these policies are of particular interest, specifically those relating to the government’s management of foreign Jews residing in Bulgarian territory, of Jewish Bulgarian citizens residing in zones under German control, and of Jews in the occupied lands. These three sets of public policies have often tended to be lumped together, but they merit separate examination. They should also be considered within a European context in which nationality and the status of Jews were intricately linked, 69 and in which the awarding or withdrawing citizenship was as a tool used to manage wartime populations.

First, the assertion that the Bulgarian government protected all Jews possessing Bulgarian nationality is not entirely accurate. In November 1941, the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ivan Popov, spoke with his German counterpart, Joachim von Ribbentrop, about the difficulty of applying anti-Jewish legislation to Jews with foreign nationality residing in Bulgaria after a number of foreign legations protested the application of discriminatory policies against some of their citizens. 70 A month later, in a note addressed to Von Ribbentrop, Martin Luther, the German Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, defended plans for broader regulations to allow national legislation to apply to all foreign Jews in a particular country. 71 In late December 1941, a report from the counselor of the German legation in Sofia recalled that the equal treatment of citizens was regulated principally through trade agreements relating to exchanges of populations. He also emphasized the difficulties involved in reaching a collective agreement, suggesting instead a bilateral approach. Some partner countries may have feared uncompensated economic losses if they did not defend the interests of Jewish citizens residing abroad, and that reciprocity measures would not compensate for these losses. 72 

The question of the treatment of citizens of different countries took on greater significance in 1942, but this time, the Germans took the initiative with the goal of paving the way for a “Final Solution.” Although Nazi officials asserted that they were still unprepared to process Bulgarian Jews for subsequent transfer to the East, they expressed a desire to immediately incorporate any Jews with Bulgarian citizenship located in areas under German control “into overall deportation procedures.” Martin Luther, estimating that there were as many as “several hundred” such Bulgarian Jews abroad, primarily in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, envisioned an exchange of memoranda concerning the respective treatment of citizens of both countries rather than a formal bilateral agreement. 73 On July 4, 1942, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dimităr Šišmanov, noted that he had received approval from the Prime Minister, Bogdan Filov, and confirmed to German authorities that “the Bulgarian government had nothing against the deportation (preselvaneto) of Jews, Bulgarian citizens, located on German territory.” 74 Bulgaria’s only conditions were to be provided with a list of deportees and the immediate transfer of expropriated Jewish assets to “internal [Bulgarian] government agencies,” pending the signature of a bilateral agreement. 75 On April 3, 1943, a report from the counselor to the German legation, Horst Wagner, confirmed that Bulgarian authorities had agreed that all anti-Jewish policies adopted by the Reich applied to Bulgarian Jews in Germany or in any other territories under German control, including “transfers to the East,” and that the Bulgarian government agreed not to request their return. 76

In the spring of 1943, Nikola Balabanov, the head of the Bulgarian legation in Paris, noted that roundups of foreign Jews, including Jews with Bulgarian citizenship, had taken place in occupied zones. Balabanov further noted that the Vichy authorities had asked governments with Jewish citizens living in France to clarify whether they intended to request their repatriation prior to March 31, 1943, adding that Italy, Portugal, and Switzerland had expressed support for this position. 77 Underscoring the state of alarm among Bulgarian Jews living in France on April 7, 1943—who were less fearful than those living in the Southeast, which was still under Italian control--Balabanov asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clarify its position. 78 In October, Balabanov again asked for the Minister’s position, referring to “40 to 50 Bulgarian-Israelite citizens” from the Nice area after Italian capitulation. 79The only available source on this matter is a reply – in the negative – from the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs dated November 4, 1943. 80 It is estimated that approximately 140 Bulgarian Jews residing in France were subsequently rounded up and interned at Drancy, many of whom were deported to the East. 81

Second, claims that Bulgarian authorities interceded systematically on behalf of Jews with foreign nationality traversing Bulgarian territory do not stand up to the evidence. Bulgarian police officials, for example, were hesitant to allow Central European Jews fleeing persecution in their countries of origin to enter the country after September 1938. 82An April 1939 memorandum from the Ministry of the Interior confirms Bulgarian reluctance. The memorandum stated that Ministry authorization would be required for entry, transit, or passage visas to be issued to Jews from Romania, Germany, Poland, Italy, or ex-Czechoslovakia. 83 Responding to a question from the English legation in Sofia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed this policy in September 1939, which subsequently included Hungarian Jews. 84

What became of the foreign Jews who were already living in Bulgaria? In 1941, there were approximately 4,000 foreign Jews residing in the “old” kingdom. 85 Bulgarian official communications credited the diplomatic corps with saving “thousands of human lives” by issuing “transit visas for Jews from Romania and Hungary.” 86 Some diplomats undeniably exhibited great courage, but it should also be noted that Bulgarian visa policies fluctuated considerably over time. In the early months of the war, Bulgarian authorities made it easier for Jews to depart for Palestine, including 302 Central European Jews—principally minors—who had been refugees in Yugoslavia, and received approval to leave the country from the Police Directorate on April 1, 1941. 87 However, this policy should be considered within the context of the Police Directorate’s specific encouragement of such departures: “the Bulgarian government has every interest in freeing itself from the foreign element.” 88 Moreover, stricter policies that conformed to Nazi requests were adopted beginning in 1942. 

On June 13, 1942, the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs granted approval for 200 minors from Hungary and Romania to transit the country as part of an operation coordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Jewish Agency in Palestine. An initial convoy of 75 minors was scheduled to reach Istanbul on March 18, 1943, but 3 adolescents aged 17 to 18 years were arrested by German police in Svilengrad and transported back to Sofia. On April 6, 1943, in violation of the agreement, the Bulgarian legation in Bucharest received orders to forbid the departure of a second convoy of 73 children. 89 Additionally, Bulgarian authorities opposed plans to allow 4,000 children and 500 Bulgarian Jewish adolescents to leave for Palestine. 90On May 7, 1943, the Chief of Staff of the War Ministry, General Konstantin Lukaš, also expressed official opposition to the emigration of Bulgarian Jews, who were “of enemy-like disposition” (vraždebno nastroeni), in a report to the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior, because of the risk that they could join the British or divulge information about the Bulgarian political situation. 91 He later ruled that only the State Security Directorate could issue transit visas. Bulgarian policy became more flexible in late 1943, as it became clear that the chances of a Nazi victory were fading. 92 This is not intended to shed doubt on the efforts of some diplomats—particularly in the Consular Service of the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Legations in Budapest, Bucharest, Ankara, and Bernto facilitate departures in defiance of top administration and police instructions. 93

Early in the course of the conflict, Bulgarian leaders had zealously handed Jews over to the Nazis who were seeking refuge in the “new lands.” In October 1941, informed by the Gestapo of the presence of Serbian Jews in Skopje, occupation authorities ordered them to register with the police, and 213 Serbian Jews were arrested on November 25, 1941. Forty-seven men over eighteen years of age were later transported to Serbia 94 to the concentration camp at Beograd-Banjica, where they were executed on December 3, 1941. 95

The refusal to grant Bulgarian citizenship to Jews in occupied territory had other serious ramifications. When Southern Dobrudža was returned to Bulgaria, the authorities had promptly crafted a citizenship law governing citizenship in the conquered lands (Zakon za ureždane na podanstvoto v Dobrudža). 96 Ratified in November 1940, the law focused on the right of jus soli and authorized the granting of Bulgarian citizenship to all persons residing on Bulgarian territory on the date that sovereignty was transferred, independently of religious or cultural affiliation. Roughly 500 Jews were granted citizenship, as were Romanians, Turks, Greeks, and Roma people. By contrast, the status of residents of Yugoslav and Greek territories was left in suspense for over a year. In the spring of 1942, the Prime Minister finally appointed an ad hoc commission, chaired by the legal counselor for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bodgan Kesjakov. 97 The commission met on May 19, 26, and 28, 1942. Until that time, the only means of differentiating Jews from non-Jews was the color of their identity cards--green for non-Jews and blue for Jews. Jews’ cards also stated whether their original citizenship was Yugoslav or Greek.

The status of Jews in the occupied territories was finally stabilized on June 10, 1942 in a decree-law that covered citizenship in liberated territories in 1941 (Nerada za podantstvo v osvobodenite prez 1941 godina zemi). The policy was inspired by earlier legislation and received Parliament’s approval without debate, although it would have profound impact. 98The archives contain no trace of the Commission’s debates, but their final report has been preserved. 99 Two factors appear to have been of particular interest to Commission members--the reinforcement of “the Bulgarian element” in the “new” territories (notably in Western Thrace, where Bulgarians were clearly a minority), and concern about not infringing on the acquisition of citizenship by persons “of Bulgarian origin” who were not residents of the “new lands” when the decree was adopted but who might move there subsequently (i.e., “Bulgarian” external minorities). The document confirmed that nationality could not be granted to Jews by referring to the provisions of the Law for the Defense of the Nation, effectively banning all foreign Jews from obtaining Bulgarian citizenship. At the time (in December 1940), this provision had been intended to prevent recently arrived Central European Jews from becoming naturalized. In advance of the meeting of the Council of Ministers, the Minister of Justice drafted a report that was also completely silent on the matter of Jew’s citizenship. fn]CDA, F 242K, o 4, ae 897, l. 6-10.  

It is a challenge for historians to uncover traces of the factors that shaped Bulgarian government decisions about these topics. At best, three observations can be made. First, it is very possible that German authorities pressured Bulgaria. Future archival research may someday allow the channels and nature of this pressure to be documented. Second, it should be remembered that the Bulgarian Parliament had passed a citizenship law in December 1940 that updated an earlier 1904 statute. The new law provided for the loss of citizenship under specific circumstances and on a case-by-case basis. One of the principal changes concerned the specific mechanisms that could lead to the revocation of citizenship. Article 21 stipulated that citizens who chose to emigrate automatically forfeited citizenship upon leaving the territory. The legislation furthermore stipulated that individuals could be stripped of their nationality if they were deemed “dishonorable and dangerous for the security of the State and the public order.” The Council of Ministers possessed the authority to revoke nationality after receiving a report from the Minister of Justice and consultation with the Citizenship Council established by the law. 100 Granting and revoking citizenship were thus seen as closely tied to national security. 

It is ultimately difficult to imagine that the Bulgarian leadership was unaware that by refusing to grant nationality to Jews in the occupied territories they were relinquishing any possibility of intervening on their behalf if it should later become necessary. As noted earlier, Bulgarian officials had complained that foreign legations were using the citizenship argument to resist the application of Bulgarian anti-Jewish policies to their citizens. In February 1941, for example, Bulgarian diplomats demanded reciprocal respect for Bulgarian Jewish citizens and non-Jewish citizens in France, including similar protections and allowing Jews holding Bulgarian citizenship to continue to exercise their own occupations. 101 An additional request a month later asked that temporary Bulgarian—not French—administrators be appointed for Bulgarian Jewish businesses that were Aryanized in occupied France. 102

While the Bulgarian decision-making process at the time remains somewhat opaque, the impact of the June 10, 1942 decree is well known. The new policies made Jews residing in territories that had recently become part of Bulgaria both legally and economically vulnerable. Legally, Jews in the newly annexed territories could no longer be considered Bulgarian nationals, an option that continued to be available to other Greek and Yugoslav citizens “of non-Bulgarian origin” until April 1943; they were registered as either “Yugoslav” or “Greek” citizens (in other words, citizens of states that no longer existed in a legal sense). Economically, because they were assigned the status of foreigners, Jews in the occupied territories owed a tax on foreign residents that further weakened the Jewish community. 

Jewish Reactions to State Anti-Semitism

How did the Jews respond to exclusion measures and state violence? The historiography of the Holocaust in Europe--and to an even greater extent in Israel--has long been haunted by a debate surrounding the alleged “passivity” of Jews in the face of the Nazi extermination campaign. The Bulgarian context does not appear in the same light, however, because under socialism, the history of the Jews during World War Two was subsumed under the narrative about “the Bulgarian people’s heroic struggle against fascism.” This narrative inherited elements of the dominant “bourgeois” patriotic retelling of the struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire. According to this mainstream narrative, the partisan movement, with Jewish help, resisted Fascism. The conventional portrayal of relations between Jews and non-Jews emphasized armed solidarity. Supported by testimony collected in the wake of the war, this narrative culminated in the 1958 publication of The Jews in the Anti-Fascist Struggle. 103 Several heroic episodes were typically cited, including one of the first acts of resistance in Bulgaria, the sabotage of a fuel depot in Ruse by Leon Tadžer in October 1941. Other episodes included the assassination of General Hristo Lukov by Violeta Jakova in February 1943, the leader of the Legionnaires, and the elimination of the former police director by Menahem Papo in May 1943. Also frequently mentioned was the dedication of a number of Jewish figures to the Communist Youth or the Communist Party, including Colonel Tadžer (the highest-ranking Jewish officer in the Bulgarian Army and a member of the Central Committee) and the journalist Emil Šekerdžijski, who died in a resistance action in August 1944. 

In the late 1970s, as the Bulgarian regime became increasingly nationalist, the Annual of the Organization of Jews of Bulgaria, which was founded in 1966, praised the degree of Jewish integration into Bulgarian society. 104This narrative followed a continuous story of historical Jewish military valor from 1885, against Serbia, to 1912 to 1913 in the Balkan wars, to 1914-1918, World War One, and finally in combat alongside the communists during World War Two. 105 Between 1984 and 1986, the Annual also published a list of 180 Jews who had died fighting with the resistance. The timeframe of Jewish contributions to national defense was gradually extended to cover the years 1923-1944. In 1923, a coup d’état took place against the agrarian leader, Aleksandăr Stambolijski, followed by an abortive attempt at communist insurrection, and it was discovered that 593 Bulgarian Jews were held in the regime’s prisons over these two decades. 106 The journal also issued a call for testimonials about “Jewish participation in the struggles of the BKP and the RMS” (the Communist Youth organization) that were later published in a column entitled “The Archives Speak.” 107 

In this retelling of the past, one key date--May 24, 1943--was singled out. On that date, several hundred people protested the announced expulsion of the Jews from Sofia. Several hundred Jews assembled at the synagogue and, led by the Grand Rabbi Daniel Cion, marched to the King’s residence to request the cancellation of expulsion order. 108 The crowd was brutally dispersed by police armed with machine guns and automatic rifles before they were able to exit the Jučbunar neighborhood. The authorities proceeded with an estimated 400 arrests, and 147 Jews were interned in the Somovit concentration camp. 109 Meanwhile, a delegation of Jews and converts visited Metropolite Stefan of Sofia to implore him to support their cause before the Court. After failing to obtain an audience with the King, the Metropolite spoke from his pulpit in Nevski Cathedral about the persecution of the Jews. 110 Communist historiography maintains that the marches on May 24 were led by the Communist Youth and the Communist Party, supported both Jews and non-Jews joined in solidarity. A less biased account of these events that records the number of participants--estimates ranged from several hundred to several thousand participants, depending on the source111--remains to be written. Corroboration of the presence of non-Jews among the Jewish protesters and details concerning the reactions of Jewish communists and Zionists to the protests would also deepen understanding of this critical set of events. 

The Witnesses

Widespread opposition to anti-Jewish policies is among the most well known aspects of wartime Bulgarian history. For several decades after the war, emphasis on overt resistance to deportations of Bulgarian Jews caused numerous historians underestimate or neglect the number of Bulgarians who were actually implicated in creating and enforcing anti-Jewish policies. The resulting culture of silence muzzled reactions to other anti-Jewish programs, particularly the Aryanization of Jewish property and assets. Indeed, one of the blind spots of Bulgarian, Macedonian, and Greek historiography of the period concerns the evolution of relations between Jews and non-Jews as the war progressed. A line has often been drawn in Bulgaria between the pro-Fascist government and affiliated organizations (including Ratnici, the Legionnaires, the mass youth organization Brannik, which is occasionally compared to the Hitler Youth), 112 and other elements of Bulgarian society said to have massively opposed anti-Jewish policies, either through non-public gestures of solidarity towards Jewish neighbors or in public protests. References to the occupation in Macedonia and Greece, and the lack of local power and of records, and the speed of the deportations have made it difficult to develop critical accounts of the fluctuating levels of solidarity shown by local Greek inhabitants towards their Jewish neighbors. Recent studies have begun to tarnish the rosy image of unswerving support for Jewish victims of persecution in Macedonia among members of the Partisan movement, for example. 113

Close examination of the Aryanization of Jewish properties in Bulgaria and the plundering of Jewish assets and property following deportations in occupied territory reveals a range of predatory practices that included pilfering, theft, abusively low purchase prices, and efforts by some individuals to obtain favors from delegates for Jewish Affairs and members of the Commissariat. Obviously, the outcome of these strategies was that Bulgarian officials and neighbors appropriated the worldly possessions and property that had been confiscated from local Jews. 114 Further research into diverse local histories, multiple political preferences, patterns of self-definition, professional backgrounds, and forms of social integration into the wider societies of the Jews in the region would allow the emergence of deeper understandings of the diversity of individual Jewish trajectories. The challenges faced by historians attempting to write balanced accounts of these events include keeping the exceptional nature of the Bulgarian public outcry against anti-Jewish legislation in the fall of 1940 firmly in view. It also requires consideration of later opposition to the attempted deportation of the Bulgarian Jews in March 1943, and the existence of situations in which individuals – sometimes the same individuals – simultaneously took advantage of opportunities for enriching themselves made possible by official anti-Semitic policies. 

Several particularly significant episodes are also worth pausing to consider. The Law for the Defense of the Nation was referred to earlier in this article, but not a full account of the protests that contributed to the postponement of roundups of Bulgarian Jews in March 1943. The facts surrounding this exceptional series of events were reported in a seminal book by the American historian Frederic Chary. 115This narrative was also discussed in the late 1990s in more popular accounts by public figures Michael Bar Zohar and Gabriele Nissim, whose writings helped generate international visibility of the idea of the Bulgarian exception during the Holocaust. 116 These authors relied on three documentary sources, including depositions by participants, witnesses, and victims before the Bulgarian People’s Court in 1945, memoirs by Bulgarian Jewish and non-Jewish participants, and retrospective interviews with protagonists or their descendants. 

Although the actual preparations for deportations were shrouded in secrecy, some information did circulate prior to the arrests. On February 25, 1943, Jews living in Dupnica--a town in the “old” kingdom in which deportees from Northern Greece were scheduled to arrive--were placed under house arrest. On March 7, the town’s inhabitants watched as exhausted Thracian Jews were marched from the railway station to a tobacco warehouse converted into a transit camp. In early March in Kjustendil, another Bulgarian town near the Macedonian border, an agent for the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs, a corrupt local doctor, and the regional prefect broke the silence surrounding the preparation of the arrests of Bulgarian Jews. Requests for containers and food from the Delegate for Jewish Affairs in Kjustendil to Jewish community leaders confirmed suspicions of the arrests, as did the fact that thirty-five railcars were parked at the railway station in nearby Radomir. While some Jews from Kjustendil were seeking help and funding in hopes of finding corrupt officials of the Commissariat, Parliament members and other figures with potential influence on government decisions--a delegation that included a Parliament representative from Kjustendil, Petăr Mihalev, an activist from the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), Vladimir Kurtev, an attorney, Ivan Momčilov, and a businessman, Assen Suišmezov--reached Sofia on the evening of March 8 and contacted the vice president of the National Assembly, Dimităr Pešev, who was also from Kjustendil. On the fateful day of March 9, as parliamentary debates resumed, Pešev was received on two separate occasions by the Minister of the Interior, Petăr Gabrovski, the second time in the presence of delegation members. After initially denying the imminence of the roundups, the Minister at last agreed to place a telephone call suspending the arrests. To this day, the reasons for his change of heart have never been fully accounted for. There is no definitive proof, for example, of consultations between the Interior Minister, the Prime Minister, and/or King Boris III in the interval between Pešev’s two visits. Supporters of an interpretation that would have involved the King in “rescuing” Bulgarian Jews propose that he supported the report, and that the cancellation was decided before Pešev’s second meeting with Gabrovski. 117

On March 17, as the Jews from Thrace and Macedonia remained in “old” kingdom territory in Gorna Džumaja and Dupnica, the Vice President of the National Assembly took the initiative of circulating a petition that opposed Bulgarian policies towards the Jews. He only submitted the petition to pro-government Parliamentary representatives, hoping to persuade the Prime minister, Bodgan Filov, that he risked exposing himself to public opprobrium after forty-two Parliament members signed the letter (one member later withdrew his support). 118 In response, the Prime Minister called for Parliament to convene on March 24. Members representing the majority confirmed their support for the government’s anti-Jewish program, with 66 voting in favor of sanctions against Pešev and 33 opposed, in addition to 11 abstentions and 4 members who left the hall. Two days later, after heated debate, several opposition politicians, including Nikola Mušanov and Petko Stajnov, again denounced the anti-Jewish persecutions, and Pešev was unseated as Vice President of the Assembly. 119 

Beyond this well-established sequence of events, several methodological obstacles hinder developing a fuller account of bystanders’ actual attitudes towards plans to deport Bulgarian Jews. First, divergent accounts of what transpired reflect the political affiliations of various authors, even to the present day. As a result, protagonists, places, and times tend to appear or disappear depending on a particular author’s political position. One the one hand, the communist narrative of the “rescue of Bulgarian Jews” mentions Petko Stajnov (who pursued a career as a law professor after 1944), omits Nikola Mušanov (who was convicted by the People’s Court in 1945 and died in police custody in 1951), while briefly referring to the March 9 delegation and offering broad coverage of the May 24, 1943 protests. 120 On the other hand, the post-1989 (right wing) retelling of the “rescue” deletes the denunciation of the anti-Jewish policies by the communist “Radio Botev” and almost completely neglects to mention the May 24 events, while underscoring the contributions of conservative politicians (Dimităr Pešev), 121 the King, 122 and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. 123    

Pešev’s extraordinary visibility since the fall of communism is easier to understand when one recalls that the former Parliamentary vice-president was sentenced to 15 years in prison under the extraordinary authority of the People’s Court, although he actually served only 13 months before leading becoming a recluse. Pešev embodies the narrative that some anti-communist memory entrepreneurs attempted to promote after 1989. Their interpretations of history combine denunciations of the crimes of communism with praise for the heroic efforts of individual members of the former “bourgeois” elite. Unsurprisingly, a bust of Pešev donated to the European Council in 1999 was a right-wing political initiative. 124 

The second historiographical controversy involves how to interpret the principles underlying Bulgarian opposition to anti-Jewish policies. Most scholarship since the war – regardless of authors’ political preferences--has tended to attribute Bulgarian opposition to anti-Jewish measures to a supposedly collective moral virtuosity, a kind of “national tolerance.” This ostensible moral sense of purpose permeates the wartime writings of the Metropolite Stefan, 125and in indictments drafted by the prosecutors of the People’s Court in 1945. 126 It also suffuses the testimonies, memoirs, and scholarly publications, including a book coordinated by the French philosopher of Bulgarian origin, Tzvetan Todorov, in 1999. 127 In fact, the predominance of this “national tolerance” trope may have discouraged sociologically grounded studies of the conditions under which compassion and engagement developed in wartime, as well as the evolving relations between Jews and non-Jews. However, it is implausible to attempt to contradict this essentialization of collective representations by deploying arguments that are solely based on the exceptional moral rectitude of particular individuals. What is needed is systematic exploration of the social dynamics that enabled specific beliefs to take shape and lead some people – beyond questions of personal ethics – to publicly oppose anti-Jewish policies and to take action.

Memorial Controversies 

Controversies surrounding Bulgarian wartime policies towards the Jews were somewhat muted during the Cold War, but they have been the subjects of increasingly bitter debate since the fall of communism. The first variable that might explain this renewed rancor is the annexation of the Holocaust to political and identity-based debates that are only tangentially related with these events. The most important of these debates include the redefinition of national identities in post-Yugoslav Macedonia, the shaping of political cleavages in post communist Bulgaria and, somewhat less enthusiastically, the re-negotiation of the intricate relationships between the histories of the civil war and World War Two in Greece. A second variable involves the multiplication of stakeholders who have felt empowered to express “truths” about the past, including commemorative activists, scholars, and elected officials. As these competing voices attempt to institutionalize rival interpretations of the past, they should be considered within the context the growing transnationalization of Holocaust narratives. Bulgarian Jews settled in the United States and Israel, as well as non-Jewish Balkan diasporas, have actively contributed to these conflicting memorial initiatives. Relatedly, the salience of memorial issues surrounding Bulgarian wartime policies cannot be considered separately from more recent changes that have affected European and international memorial policies and have assigned a central place in European memory to the Holocaust. 

Until Yugoslavia imploded in 1991, the Holocaust in Macedonia was poorly represented in Yugoslavian historiography, and the attention of historians was primarily focused on massacres that took place in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. 128Other than studies by Aleksandar Matkovski, 129 local historical scholarship received only modest encouragement in the second half of the 1980s. 130At the level of the Federation, a commemorative policy was announced in Belgrade, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Novi Sad, and Đakovo in 1952. 131 The first monument in Macedonia was dedicated in 1958 in Bitola, a former center of Sephardic life. Before the 1980s, however, public policy had tended to represent Jewish suffering as secondary to the much wider population of “victims of fascism.” World War Two was not entirely absent from the Macedonian narrative, however. Denouncing “Bulgarian fascists” may in fact have masked the fact that the Bulgarian occupation of Macedonia may have been perceived as an improvement over the “Serbian yoke” of the inter-war period among some segments of Macedonian society. In the 1970s and 1980s, historical disputes between Bulgarians and Macedonians intensified, expanding to include the ethnic background of the Macedonian people and language. 132

The creation of an independent Macedonia in 1991 initially had only a minor influence on the importance of the Holocaust in the national historical narrative. The extermination of the Jews of Macedonia became far more visible after a law was adopted that denationalized property that had belonged to the Jewish community 133and created a Holocaust Fund for Macedonian Jews. Plans for a Holocaust Memorial Center were laid five years later, and the site was finally inaugurated in March 2011. The museum initiative is part of a series of similar initiatives around the world that are designed to encourage Holocaust remembrance. It is also important to note that the opening of the museum coincided with increased awareness of the nation’s past promoted by the Nikola Gruevski’s government (VMRO-DPMNE, right). This coincidence between the museum’s founding and the Gruevski government’s promotion of a national re-interpretation of Macedonian history--which elicits deep misgivings in Greece and Bulgaria--has encouraged the Bulgarian ruling elite to attach political meaning to this memorial initiative. This was accentuated by the fact that the official 2010 video, “Skopje 2014,” presented plans for the Holocaust Memorial Center as part of a new Macedonian capital filled with monuments and statues celebrating the nation’s past. 

The subject of the Holocaust first began to generate interest among Bulgarian politicians in the late 1960s. Their interest was concentrated at the time primarily on the idea of a “rescue of Bulgarian Jews.” 134 After the fall of communism, reinterpreting the war was initially useful for the creation of the new party system, as ex-communists and anti-communists attempted to legitimize themselves by referring to historical proxies and rival interpretations of the cycles of violence and brutality that defined the country’s twentieth-century history. Whereas the anti-communist opposition attempted to take credit for the “rescue” while discrediting the rival claims of members of the former Partisan movement, the Socialists (i.e., ex-communist) conveniently rediscovered the tragic fates of the Jews in the occupied territories under the anti-Semitic policies of King Boris III. 135 During the 2000s, however, a bi-partisan consensus emerged as divisions between the former and the anti-communists began to fade, and the part of this historical hodge-podge involving the “rescue” was attributed to an amalgamation of heroes representing the different political parties. Meanwhile, politicians uniformly stigmatized political uses of the past in Macedonia. 

Descendants of Jews from Bulgaria and Macedonia who emigrated to Israel or the United States have become full participants in these public debates. Two episodes illustrating their role deserve mention. The first, known as “the Bulgarian forest,” involved Bulgarian Jews in the United States, Yugoslav Jews in Israel, former communist Jews in Bulgaria, the Yad Vashem Institute, and a mosaic of Israeli and international experts. In 1993, a group of Bulgarian-American Jews was planning to commemorate the “rescue” by creating a “Bulgarian forest” near Jerusalem. The initiative drew opposition from Jews of Macedonian and Thracian origin, as well as some Bulgarian Jews, because they opposed giving any credit for the “rescue” to King Boris. Although an initial compromise was reached in 1996 that allowed homage to be paid to the King and his wife as well as to the Metropolite Stefan, Dimităr Pešev, and to the memory of the deportations of Jews from the occupied territories, it did little to resolve the dispute. The Yad Vashem Institute created an ad hoc commission to be presided by Judge Moshe Bejski. After a series of hearings with survivors, historians, and memorial institutions, in July 2000, Judge Bejski proposed a single monument to commemorate both the victims of extermination and those involved in the rescue of Bulgarian Jews. 136 The episode illustrates the complex dynamics that swirl around memorial debates, involving public and private actors and intra-Bulgarian and intra-Jewish political rifts and a range of transnational arenas. 

A second source of friction in 2011-2012 surrounded a movie by the Macedonian filmmaker Darko Mitrevski entitled “The Third Half-time” (Treto poluvreme). The movie tells the wartime story of the “Makedonija” football team and its coach, who was a German Jew. The Bulgarian occupation and deportation are told through a love-starred plot involving a young Jewish woman and a Macedonian football player. Even before the film was released, generous funding from the Macedonian state and a visit to the filming site by Nikola Gruevski, the Macedonian Prime Minister, were interpreted in Bulgarian governing circles as evidence that the Macedonian government had commissioned the film. The film was greeted with virulent protests in Greece, which adamantly objects to “Macedonia” as the name for the neighboring country because it considers it part of its own heritage, using the adjective “Macedonian” to describe Jews who were citizens of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia prior to the war. In November 2011, three Bulgarian members of the EU Parliament formally protested what they called a growing “political instrumentalization” of history as well as a threat to the rules defining “good neighbors” before Stefan Füle, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy. Once again, transnational dynamics played a key role in animating a public controversy. This time however, the key factor was the use of EU member-state status by Bulgarian politicians as a source of leverage over their Macedonian neighbor (which was a candidate for EU membership at the time). The EU provided Bulgarian officials with a broader theater for the debate, as well as the potential to influence the outcome. 137

The Holocaust had historically played a less tendentious role in Bulgarian-Greek relations. The relationships between the two countries, already friendly in the 1980s, warmed considerably when the two countries rallied around a shared denunciation of Macedonian “nationalism.” In addition to questions of bilateral diplomacy, research about the Holocaust in Greece has long been sharply constrained by the intricate connections between debates about World War Two, resistance/collaboration during the conflict, and the Greek civil war. A new body of scholarship has recently emerged under the impulse initially of foreign historians, followed by local scholars. 138 This revival in scholarly interest has focused primarily on the specific case of the ancient Sephardic metropolis, Salonika, however, only tangentially focusing on Bulgarian occupation zones. 139The low visibility of this chapter of Jewish history in Greece 140 may help explain the relative lack of controversy surrounding Bulgaria’s role in the Holocaust in Greece. 

Ultimately, the combination of political and identity-based processes, the EU’s increasing involvement in the domain of historical and memorial policies, and the rise of an international network of institutions dedicated to the preserving knowledge and memory of the Holocaust may pave the way for the gradual development of a body of empirical research concerning anti-Jewish policies in the Bulgarian “old” and “new” kingdoms. In tandem with these developments in historiography, it is possible that the Bulgarian government may come under increased internal and international pressure to acknowledge the role of the state in wartime roundups and deportations from territories under Bulgarian control. These changes will enable a better understanding to emerge of the truly exceptional nature of the social protests against Bulgarian anti-Jewish policies in 1940 and 1943.


Translated from the French by John Angell



Document Collections and Annotated Archives

Nadja Danova i Roumen Avramov, (Ed.) Deportiraneto na evreite ot Vardarska Makedonija, Belomorska Trakija i Pirot, mart 1943 g. Dokumenti ot bălgarskite arhivi [The deportation of the Jews of Macedonia from Vardar, Western Thrace, and Pirot, March 1943. Bulgarian archival documents], Sofia: Obedineni izdateli, 2013, 2 vol.

Dăržavna Agencija “Arhivi,” Truden izbor s goljamo značenie. Sădbata na bălgarskite evrei, 1943, Dokumentalna izložba [A Difficult Choice of Major Significance: The Fate of the Bulgarian Jews, 1943. Documentary exhibit], Sofia: CDA, 2013.

David Koen, “Politikata na ‘okončetelnoto rešenie na evrejskija văpros v Bălgarija i nejnijat proval po germanski dokumenti,” Godišnik na Obštestvena kulturno-prosvetna organizacija na evreite v Narodna Republika Bălgarija, 18, 1983, p. 87-115.

Petko Dobčev, Antievrejskoto zakonodatelstvo i negovoto preodoljavane (1942-1945) [Anti-Jewish Legislation and its Excesses, 1942-1945], Sofia: IK Feneja, 2010.

Natan Grinberg, Dokumenti [Documents], Sofia: Centralnata konsistorija na evreite v Bălgarija, 1945 (generally cited here is the edition that was replublished in 2015 by I.K. Gutenberg, Sofia).

Ivan Hadžijski, Sădbata na evrejskoto naselenie v Belomorska Trakija, Vardarska Makedonija i Jugozapadna Bălgarija prez 1941-1944 [The Fate of the Jewish Population of Western Thrace, Vardar Macedonia, and Southeastern Bulgaria from 1941 to 1944], Dupnica: IIA Devora MarBi, 2004.

David Koen (Ed.), Oceljavaneto. Sbornik ot dokumenti 1940-1944 [Survival. Collection of documents 1940-1944], Sofia: Izdatelski centăr ‘Šalom,’ 1995.

Vladimir Paunovski i Josif Iliel (Eds.), Evreite v Bălgarija meždu uništoženieto i spasenieto [The Jews in Bulgaria between Destruction and Rescue], Sofia: Adasa Press, 2000.

Nikolaj Poppetrov (Ed.), Socialno naljavo, nacionalizmăt - napred! [Socially to the Left, Nationally—Onwards!], Sofia: Gutenberg, 2009.

Albena Taneva i Vanja Gezenko (Eds.), Glasove v zaštita na graždansko obštestvo. Protokoli ot Svetija sinod na Bălgarskata Pravoslavna cărkva po evrejskija văpros (1940-1944) [Voices of Rescue in Civilian Society. Protocols of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church on the Jewish Question (1940-1944)], Sofia: Gal-iko & Centăr za evrejski izsledvanija pri SU ‘Kliment Ohridski,’ 2002.

Vărban Todorov i Nikolaj Poppetrov (Eds.), Sedmi săstav na Narodnija săd. Edno zabraveno svidetelstvo za antisemitizma v Bălgarija prez 1941-1944 [The 7th Chamber of the People’s Tribunal. Forgotten Evidence of Anti-Semitism in Bulgaria from 1941 to 1944], Sofia: I. Iztok-Zapad, 2013.

Vitka Toškova et al., Bălgarija, svoenravnijat săjuznik na tretija rajh [Bulgaria, A Stubborn Ally of the Third Reich], Sofia: Voennoizdatelski kompleks “Sv. Georgi Pobedonosec,” 1992.

Bibliographical Resources

Jak Eskenazi i Alfred Krispin (Eds.), Evreite po bălgarskite zemi. Anotirana bibliografija [The Jews in Bulgarian Lands. Annotated Bibliography], Sofia: IMIR, 2002. 

Secondary Literature and Memoirs

History of the Jews of Macedonia, Greece, and Bulgaria

Štipskite evrei. Zbornik na trudovi i sećavanja. Učenički tvorbi ot fondacijata “11 mart 1943 – Štip” [The Jews of Štip. A Collection of Studies and Memories. Work by the Foundation Students, 11 March 1943 – Štip”], Skopje: Evrejska zaednica vo Republika Makedonija, 1999.

Aaron Assa, Macedonia and the Jewish people, Skopje: Macedonian Review, 1994.

Esther Benbassa and Aron Rodrigue, Juifs des Balkans: espaces judéo-ibériques, 14e-20e siècles, Paris: La Découverte, 1993.

Kristina Birri-Tomovska, Jews of Yugoslavia, 1918-1941: A History of Macedonian Sephards, Brussels: Peter Lang, 2012.

Mark Cohen, Last Century of a Sephardic Community: The Jews of Monastir, 1839-1943, New York: Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture, 2003.

Harriet Freidenreich, The Jews of Yugoslavia: A Quest for Community, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1979.

Albert Romano et al. (Eds.), Yahadut Bulgariya [The Jews of Bulgaria], Enziklopediyah shel galuyot: Sifrei zikaron learzot hagolah veedoteyha [The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora: Volumes in Memory of the Lands of the Diaspora and their Communities], Jerusalem & Tel Aviv: Encyclopedia of the Diaspora, 1968.

Haim Keshales, Korot yehudei Bulgariya [History of the Jews of Bulgaria], Tel Aviv: Davar, 1969-1973, 5 vol.

David Koen, Evreite v Bălgarija (1878-1949). Studii [The Jews in Bulgaria (1878-1949). Studies], Sofia: Iz. Fakel-Leonidovi, 2008.

Žamila Kolonomos (Ed.), Sefardski odglasi: studii i sećavanija za evreite od Makedonija [Sephardic Echoes: Studies and Memories of the Jews of Macedonia], Skopje: Evrejska zaednica na Makedonija, 1995.

Ženi Lebl, Plima i slom: Iz istorije Jevreja Vardarske Makedonije [Ebb and Flow: Of the History of the Jews of Vardar Macedonia], Gornji Milanovac: Dečje novine, 1990.

Ženi Lebl, Jevreji u Pirotu [The Jews of Pirot], Beograd & Pirot: Privredni pregled; Sloboda, 1990.

Saul Mezan, Les Jews espagnols en Bulgaria, Sofia: n.d., 1925.

Minna Rozen (Ed.), The Last Ottoman Century and Beyond: The Jews in Turkey and the Balkans 1808-1945, Tel Aviv: Goren-Goldstein Diaspora Research Center, Tel Aviv University Press, 2005, vol.1.

Shlomo Shealtiel, Ot rodina kăm otečestvo. Emigracija i nelegalna imigracija ot i prez Bălgarija văv perioda 1939-1949 [From Native Land to Fatherland. Illegal Emigration and Immigration from and through Bulgaria from 1939 to 1949], Sofia: U.I. Kliment Ohridski, 2009.

Proučvanija za istorijata na evrejskoto naselenie v bălgarskite zemi XV-XIX vek [Studies of the History of the Jewish Population in Bulgarian Lands 15th to the 19th Centuries], Sofia: Izdatelstvo na BAN, p.7-20.

Bojka Vasileva, Evreite v Bălgarija 1944-1952 [The Jews in Bulgaria, 1944-1952], Sofia: U.I. “Sveti Kliment Ohridski,” 1992.

Anti-Semitism in Bulgaria

Benjamin Arditi, Hasifrut haantishemit beBulgariya: Reshima bibliografit [Anti-Semitic Literature in Bulgaria: A Bibliography], Holon: Benjamin Arditi, 1972.

David Benvenisti, “The Unfavourable Conditions for the Dissemination of Antisemitic Propaganda in Bulgaria (1891-1903),” Annual. Social, Cultural and Educational Organization of the Jews in the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, 15, 1980, p.177-220.

William I. Brustein and Ryan D. King, “Balkan Antisemitism: The Cases of Bulgaria and Romania before the Holocaust,” East European Politics & Societies, 18(3), 2004, p.430-454.

Veselina Kulenska, “The Antisemitic Press in Bulgaria in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Quest. Issues in Contemporarary Jewish History, 3, July 2012.

Alfred Krispin (Ed.), Antsemitizăm v Bălgarija dnes [Anti-Semitism in Bulgaria Today], Sofia: IK Kolibri, 2004, p. 29-46.

Wolf Oschlies, Bulgarian - Land ohne Antisemitismus, Erlangen: Ner-Tamid-Verlag, 1976.

Nikolaj Poppetrov, “Bulgaria, a Country Devoid of Antisemitism? Historical Perspectives,” in: Nadège Ragaru (Ed.), The Holocaust in Southeastern Europe. The Jews in Bulgaria and in the Bulgarian Territories (1941-1944), Paris: E-Editions du Mémorial de the Holocaust, 2014, p. 52-63.

 Vicki Tamir, Bulgaria and her Jews: The History of a Dubious Symbiosis, New York: Sepher-Hermon Press, 1979.

Olga Todorova, “Obrazăt na ‘nečestivija’ evrein v bălgarskata knižnina ot XVIII-načaloto na ХIХ vek i văv folklor” [The Image of the ‘infamous’ Jew in Bulgarian from the 18th Century to the Early 19th century and in Folklore], Bălgarski folklor, 3, 1994, p. 10-22.

Stefan Troebst, “Antisemitismus im ‘Land ohne Antisemitisms’: Staat, Titularnation und jüdische Minderheit in Bulgarian, 1878-1993,” in: Mariana Hausleitner and Monika Katz (hrsg.), Antisemitismus im östlichen Europa, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1995, p. 109-125.

 The Holocaust in Yugoslav and Greek Territory under Bulgarian Occupation

Benjamin Arditi, Yehudei Bulgariya bishnot hamishtar hanatzi, 1940-1944 [The Jews of Bulgaria during the Nazi Regime, 1940-1944], Hulon: Israel Press, 1962.

Benjamin Arditi, Rolijata na Car Boris III pri izselvaneto na evreite ot Bălgarija [The Role of King Boris III in the Deportation of Jews from Bulgaria], Tel Aviv: Kooperativen pečat O.P., 1952.

Michael Berenbaum, The Jews in Macedonia during World War II, Skopje: Holocaust Fund of the Jews from Macedonia, 2012.

Steven Bowman, The Agony of the Greek Jews, 1940-1945, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Frederick Chary, The Bulgarian Jews and the Final Solution 1940-1944, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1972.

Lea Cohen, You Believe. Eight Views on the Holocaust in the Balkans, Skopje: Holocaust of the Jews from Macedonia, 2013.

Hagen Fleischer, Stemma ke svastika. I Ellada tis Katohis ke tis Antistasis [The Crown and the Swastika. Greece during the Occupation and Resistance], Athènes: Papazisis, 1995, 2 vol.

Hagen Fleischer, Im Kreuzschatten der Mächte: Griechenland 1941-1944 (Okkupation-Kollaboration-Resistance), Frankfurt/Bern/New York: Peter Lang, 1986.

Sofija Grandakovska (Ed.), The Jews from Macedonia and the Holocaust. History, Theory, Culture, Skopje: Eurobalkan Press, 2011.

Serge Klarsfeld, Le calendrier de la persécution des Jews en France, 1940-1944, Paris: Ed. Association “Les fils et filles des Juifs déportés de France” & The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, 1993.

Xanthippi Kotzageorgi-Zimari, I Voulgariki Katohi stin Anatoliki Makedonia kai ti Thraki 1941-1944 [The Bulgarian Occupation of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, 1941-1944], Thessaloniki: Paratiritis, 2002.

Zdenko Levental (Ed.), Zločini fašističkih okupatora i njihovih pomagača protiv Jevreja u Jugoslaviji, Belgrade: Savez jevrejskih opština Jugoslavije, 1952. 

Marc Mazower, Inside Hitler’s Greece. The Experience of Occupation, 1941-1944, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001 (1st ed. 1993).

Jaša Romano, Jevreji Jugoslavije 1941-1945, žrtve genocida i učesnici NOR-a [The Jews de Yugoslavia 1941-1945, Victims of Genocide and Participants in the War of National Liberation], Belgrade: Savez jevrejskih opština Jugoslavije, 1980.

Aleksandar Matkovski, “The Destruction of the Macedonian Jewry in 1943,” Yad Vashem Studies, 3, 1959, p. 203-258.

Aleksandar Matkovski, Tragedijata na evreite od Makedonija [The Tragedy of the Jews of Macedonia], Skopje: Kultura, 1962.

Aleksandar Matkovski, The History of the Jews in Macedonia, Skopje: Macedonian Review Editions, 1982.

Nadège Ragaru, “Juger les crimes antisémites avant Nuremberg: l’expérience du Tribunal populaire en Bulgaria (1944-1945),” Histoire@Politique, 26, May-août 2015 (2015a):

Nadège Ragaru, “The Liquidation of Jewish Properties in Bitola: Plunder by Decree during the Bulgarian Occupation (1943),” in: Berta Romano Nikolikj et al. (Eds.), Jews in Macedonia. History, Tradition, Culture, Language and Religion, Skopje: Jewish Community in the Republic of Macedonia, 2015 (2015b), p. 249-262.

Nadège Ragaru (Ed.), The Holocaust en Europe du Sud-Est. Les Jews en Bulgaria et dans les territoires sous administration Bulgarian (1941-1944), Paris: E-Editions du Mémorial de the Holocaust, 2014, à l’adresse:

Vasilis Ritzaleos, “I Evraiiki Koinotita Kavalas ston Elegho ton Voulgarikon Archon Katohis: organosi, ekmetalefsi, dialysi (1942-1944)” [The Jewish Community of Kavala under Bulgarian Occupation Authorities: Organization, Exploitation, Dissolution (1942-1944)], in: V. Dalkavoukis, El. Paschalousi, Il. Skoulidas, K. Tsekou (Eds.), Afigiseis gia ti dekaetia tou 1940 [Narratives from the Decade of the 1940s], Thessaloniki: Epikentro, 2012, p. 69-90.

Vasilis Ritzaleos, “I tyxi tis akinitis periousias ton Evraion stin Kavala prin apo ton ektopismo stin Polonia ton Martio tou 1943” [The Fate of Real Estate Property Belonging to the Jews of Kavala before their Deportation to Poland in March 1943] in: N. Roudometov (Ed.), I Kavala kai ta Valkania, I Kavala kai I Thraki [Kavala and the Balkans, Kavala and Thrace] (Kavala, 17-18 September 2010), vol. 2, Kavala: Historical and Literary Archives of Kavala, 2012, p. 751-770.

Vasilis Ritzaleos and Angel Čorapčiev, “An untold story: Testimonies on the salvation of the Greek Jews mobilized to the Bulgarian forced labor camp in Belitsa,” Communication, International Research Seminar “New Evidence on the Fate of the Jewish Diaspora in Europe,” Sofia, 4-5 November 2013.

Nadejda Slavi Vasileva, “On the Catastrophe of the Thracian Jews: Recollection,” Yad Vashem Studies, 3, 1959, p. 295-302.

Todor Čepreganov et Sonja Nikolova, “Učestvoto na evreite vo NOD vo Makedonija,” in:  Berta Romano Nikolikj et al. (Ed.), Evreite vo Makedonija. Istorija, tradicija, kultura, jazik I religija, Skopje: Jewish Community in the Republic of Macedonia, 2015, p. 219-228.

Plunder, Persecution, and “Rescue” of Bulgarian Jews 

Evrei zaginali v antifašistkata borba [Jews Who Died in the Anti-Fascist Struggle], Sofia: Nacionalen Komitet na Otečestvenijat Front, 1958.

Roumen Avramov, “Spasenie” i padenie. Mikroikonomika na dăržavnija antisemitizăm v Bălgarija, 1940-1944 [‘Rescue’ and Plundering. The Micro-economics of State Anti-Semitism in Bulgaria], Sofia: Universitetsko izdatelstvo ‘Sv. Kliment Ohridski,’ 2012.

Michael Bar-Zohar, Beyond Hitler’s Grasp: The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews, Holbrook: Adams Media, 1998.

Bălgaraska akademija na naukite, Institut po istorija, Obrečeni i spaseni. Bălgarija v antisemitskata programa na Tretija rajh, izsledvanija i dokumenti [Condemned and Saved. Bulgaria in the Anti-Semitic Plan of the Third Reich. Studies and Documents], Sofia: Sineva, 2007.

Eli Baruh, Iz istorijata na bălgarskoto evrejstvo: našite stradanija v evrejskite trudovi lageri prez fašistkija režim v Bălgarija, 1941-1944 [On the History of the Bulgarian Jews: Our Suffering in the Jewish Labor Camps under the Fascist Regime in Bulgaria], Tel Aviv: Yafor Printing House, 1960.

Nir Baruh, Otkupăt. Car Boris i sădbata na bălgarskite evrei [Ransom. Czar Boris and the Fate of the Bulgarian Jews], Sofia: UI ‘Sveti Kliment Ohridski,’ 1991.

Frederick Chary, The Bulgarian Jews and the Final Solution 1940-1944, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1972.

Julina Dadova-Mihailova, “Spasjavaneto na bălgarskite evrei meždu mitovete i realnostta” [The Rescue of the Bulgarian Jews between Myth and Reality], Istoričesko bădešte, 1-2, 2011, p. 162-177.

Kostadin Grozev i Rumjana Marinova-Hristidi (Ed.), Evreite v Iztočna Evropa i Săvestki Săjuz v godinite na Vtorata svetovna vojna i studenta vojna (1939-1989) [The Jews of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in World War Two and the Cold War, 1939-1989], Sofia: U.I. Sv. Kliment Ohridski, 2013, p. 87-96.

David Koen et al., Borbata na bălgarskija narod za zaštita i spasjavane na evreite v Bălgarija prez Vtorata svetovna vojna [The People’s Fight for the Rescue of the Jews in Bulgaria during World War Two], Sofia: BAN, 1978.

Natan Grinberg, Hitleriskijat natisk za uništožavaneto na evreite ot Bălgarija [Hitler’s Pressures in View of the Destruction of the Jews of Bulgaria], Tel Aviv: Amal, 1961.

Jens Hoppe, “Juden als Feinde Bulgarians? Zur Politik gengenüber den bulgarischen Juden in der Zwischenkriegszeit,” in: Dittmar Dahlmann und Anke Hilbrenner (hrsg.), Zwischen grossen Erwartungen und bösem Erwachen: Juden, Politik und Antisemitismus in Ost- und Südosteuropa 1918-1945, Paderborn: Schöningh, 2007, p.217-252.

Raoul Hilberg, The Destruction of European Jews, Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1961.

David Koen, “Ekspropriacija na evrejskite imuštestva prez perioda na hitleristskata okupacija” [The Expropriation of Jewish Assets during the Hitlerian Occupation Period], Godišnika na obštestvena kulturno-prosvetna organizacija na evreite v NR Bălgarija, 2, 1967, p.65-110.

Gabriele Nissim, L’uomo che fermò Hitler, La storia di Dimităr Pešev che salvò gli ebrei di una nazione intera, Milano: Mondadori, 1998.

Dimităr Pešev, Spomeni. Săstavitelstvo, komentar, beležki Nikolaj Poppetrov [Memoires. Coordination, Commentaries, and Annotations by Nikolaj Poppetrov], Sofia: Izdatelstvo ‘Gutenberg’, 2004.

Nadège Ragaru, “La spoliation des biens Jews en Bulgaria pendant World War Two: un état des lieux historiographique,” Questions de recherche, 48, March 2016,

Tzvetan Todorov, La fragilité du bien. Le sauvetage des Juifs bulgares. Textes commentés par Tzvetan Todorov, Paris: Albin Michel, 1999.

Olga Todorova, “Obrazăt na ‘nečestivija’ evrein v bălgarskata knižnina ot XVIII-načaloto na ХIХ vek i văv folklor” [The Image of the “Infamous” Jew in Bulgarian Letters from the Eighteenth to the Early Nineteenth Centuries and in Folklore], Bălgarski folklor, 3, 1994, p. 10-22.

Evgenija Troeva, “Prinuditelnijat trud prez Vtorata svetovna vojna v spomenite na bălgarskite evrei” [Forced Labor during World War Two in the Memory of the Bulgarian Jews], in: Ana Luleva, Evgenija Troeva, Petăr Petrov (Eds.), Prinuditelnijat trud v Bălgarija (1941-1962). Spomeni na svideteli [Forced Labor in Bulgaria (1941-1962). Witnesses’ Memories], Sofia: Akademično izdatelstvo “Marin Drinov,” 2012, p. 39-54.

Dimitar Yonchev, “The Jews from the New Lands in the Policy of Tzar Boris III (October 1940-March 1943),” Annual of the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom,” 27, 1993-1994, p. 19-30.

Historiography and Memorial Factors

Association of Jews from Macedonia in Israel & Nissim Yosha, “The Active Role of Bulgaria in the Holocaust Against the Thrace and Macedonian Jews,” Rehovot, 07.08.2001, See

Emmy Barouh (Ed.), History and Memory. Bulgaria: Facing the Holocaust, Sofia: Open Society Foundation, 2003.

Nir Baruh (Ed.), Hashmada vehissardut beBulgariya hameouhedet vemaskanot veadat Beiski [Annihilation and Survival in Unified Bulgaria in1943 and the Conclusions of the Commission of Juge Beiski], Jerusalem: Association for the Research and Commemoration of the Jewish Communities in the Balkans, 2003.

Jovan Byford, “Between Marginalization and Instrumentalization: Holocaust Memory in Serbia since the Late 1980s,” in: John-Paul Kimka and Joanna Beata Michlic (Eds.), Bringing the Dark past to Light. The Reception of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Europe, Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 2013, p. 516-548.

Holly Case, “The Combined Legacies of the ‘Jewish Question’ and the ‘Macedonian’ Question,” in: John-Paul Kimka and Joanna Beata Michlic (Eds.), Bringing the Dark Past to Light. The Reception of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Europe, Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 2013, p.352-376.

Nadia Danova, “La deportation des Jews des territoires sous administration Bulgarian: savoir et mémoire en Bulgaria actuelle sur le mois de March 1943,” in: Nadège Ragaru (Ed.), La Shoah en Europe du Sud-Est, op. cit., p. 120-130.

Liljana Dejanova, “The non-Saved Jews: Recent Controversies and Political Uses in the Bulgarian Public Space,” in: Nadège Ragaru (Ed.), La Shoah en Europe du Sud-Est, op. cit., p. 162-172.

Liljana Dejanova, “Les Manuels après la bataille: les livres d’histoire nationale en Bulgarie après 1944 et après 1989,” Histoire de l’Éducation, 86, 2000, p. 171-186.

Jovan Džulibrk, Istoriografija Holokausta u Jugoslaviji [Historiography of the Holocaust in Yugoslavia], Beograd: Univerzitet u Beogradu, 2011.

Emil Kerenji, “Jewish Citizens of Socialist Yugoslavia: Politics of Jewish Identity in a Socialist State, 1944-1974.” A dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (History), The University of Michigan, 2008.

Tchavdar Marinov, “Historical Revisionism and Re-articulation of Memory in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” Sociétés politiques comparées, 25 May 2010.

Nissan Oren, “The Bulgarian Exception: a Reassessment of the Salvation of the Jewish Community,” Yad Vashem Studies, 7, 1968, p. 83-106.

Nadège Ragaru, “Ecrire l’histoire de the Holocaust en Bulgaria et dans les territoires occupés: esquisse d’un chantier historiographique transnational,” in: The Holocaust en Europe du Sud-Est. Les Jews en Bulgaria et dans les territoires sous administration Bulgarian (1941-1944), Paris: E-Editions du Mémorial de the Holocaust, 2014, p. 9-27.

Nadège Ragaru, “Commémorer et diviser en Europe: le 70ème anniversaire du sauvetage et des deportations juives depuis les terres sous administration bulgare,” Revue d’études comparatives Est-Ouest, 65, 3/4, 2014, p. 237-274.

Stefan Troebst, “Salvation, Deportation or Holocaust? The Controversy over the Fate of Bulgaria’s Jews in World War II – before and after 1989,” in: Muriel Blaive et al. (Eds.), Clashes in European Memory. The Case of Communist repression and the Holocaust. Innsbruck: StudienVerlag, 2011, p. 37-52.


  • 1. The number of Jews with Bulgarian citizenship put forward by the Bulgarian government archives is 48,398: see[/fn] By contrast, in the Yugoslav and Greek territories occupied by Bulgaria, a German ally, after April 1941, 11,343 Jews were rounded up and deported to Poland. According to a report by the German police attaché, Adolf Hoffmann, dated 5 April 1943, Yad Vashem, K 207604-207609. For a discussion of the number of deportees, see the section The Participants. To simplify reading and the search for sources, the following system has been used for citing archival sources: when documents were published in anthologies, a reference is usually made to these collections. One exception: I have chosen to cite the 2015 edition of the seminal collection by Natan Grinberg (1945) since it is more readily available. For those documents first published in Danova & Avramov, 2013, I have provided both the original archival records and the page numbers in the two volumes. Last, I have cited the original archival records of the unpublished documents, or when I believed the importance of the information made referral to the original sources appropriate.
  • 2. Chary, 1972, p. 104-105. By comparing location-by-location the number of Jews counted in the census and the number of deportees (based on the reports of the Bulgarian Commissariat for Jewish Affairs and Adolf Hoffmann’s report cited in note 3), Frederic Chary has estimated that 216 Jews escaped deportations, primarily Italian, Spanish, and Turkish citizens. He nevertheless noted statistical inconsistencies and the need to identify “approximately 60 deportees who were not recorded on the lists” (p.105). Nadja Danova and Roumen Avramov have proposed a re-evaluation of 199-230 non-deported Jews (obtained by subtraction between the number 4,224-4,269 of Jews that the authorities had planned to arrest and 4,025-4,039 who were actually rounded up and transported). See Danova & Avramov, 2013, vol. 2, p. 859. The Greek historian Vasilis Ritzaleos, one of the specialists on Bulgarian policy in Western Thrace, believes these data to be exaggerated, although he has thus far been unable to establish more accurate statistics (personal e-mail correspondance, 29 April 2016).
  • 3. Znamierowska-Rakk, 2013, p.102-125.
  • 4. The Bulgarian name of the area is “Belomorie,” a reference to the White Sea or the Aegean; it is conventionally called “Thrace” or “Western Thrace” in English. Considering the Greek prewar administrative divisions, these territories should be rather called “Eastern Macedonia” and “Western Thrace” (the author is grateful to Vasilis Ritzaleos for this information).
  • 5. It will be recalled that, describing its unusual status, Raoul Hilberg called Bulgaria a “half-allied, half satellite” of Germany: Hilberg, 2006 (1st ed. 1985), vol. 2, p. 1378.
  • 6. Dăržaven vestnik [State gazette], D.V., n° 27, 15.03.2013.
  • 7. See in particular the collections of documents published in Grinberg, 1945; Danova & Avramov, 2013, 2 vol., and Kolonomos & Vesković-Vangeli, 1986.
  • 8. Chary, 1972, p. 12.
  • 9. Several archival collections about protest movements against anti-Jewish policies have been published. See, for example, Oceljavaneto…, 1995; Todorov, 1999, p. 58-137; Obrečeni…, 2007, p. 199-244.
  • 10. Centralen Dăržaven Arhiv [Central State Archives], CDA, Fund (F) 173K, opis (o) 6, arhivna edinica (ae) 1087, list (l) 121, l. 247; CDA, F 1303K, o 1, ae 71, l. 1-17; CDA, F 996K, o 1, ae 86, l.1-24; CDA, F 366B, o 1, ae 93, l. 35-87.
  • 11. D.V., 16, 23.01.1941.
  • 12. D.V., n°151, 14.07.1941.
  • 13. D.V., n°32, 13.02.1942.
  • 14. Avramov, 2012.
  • 15. Bell, 1977, p. 171.
  • 16. Hoppe, 2004-2005, p. 311-338.
  • 17. Dăržaven Voenno-Istoričeski Arhiv [State Military-Historical Archives] DVIA, F 1, o 1, ae 434, l.37-38.
  • 18. DVIA, F 2000, o 1, ae 57, l.57–74.
  • 19. In August 1941, mandatory conscription applied to men from 20 to 44 years of age; the age limit was raised to 45in July 1942, and a year later, the War Ministry raised the age again to 50. See Hoppe, 2004-2005, p. 320.
  • 20. Ruling n° 125, Council of Ministers, protocol 94, 14.07.1942.
  • 21. For further information regarding these brutal events, see the records of the 7th Chamber of the People’s Court, which was designed to prosecute the perpetrators of anti-Jewish crimes and held hearings in March 1945: CDA, F 1449, o 1, ae 181. See also the oral narratives collected by Petrov, Troeva, & Luleva, 2012, p. 15-28, and Troeva, 2012, p. 39-54.
  • 22. D.V., n°148, 09.07.1942.
  • 23. D.V., n°192, 29.08.1942.
  • 24. Chary, 1972, p. 55-57.
  • 25. Avramov, 2012.
  • 26. Ruling n° 70, Council of Ministers, protocole 111, 26.08.1942 (DV, n°192, 29.08.1942).
  • 27. Grinberg, 2015, p. 8-11.
  • 28. Grinberg, 2015, p. 14-16.
  • 29. Belev’s February 3 report cited earlier includes the following totals: approximately 4,000 Jews in Skopje, 3,000 in Bitola, 800 in Štip, 300 in Pirot, “50 families” in Veles, and roughly 30 individuals in Gevgeli. The report also estimated that there were approximately 6,000 Jews in the Northern Greek territories that were under Bulgarian control. See Grinberg, 2015, p.9.
  • 30. Ruling n° 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 126, Council of Ministers, protocol 32, 02.03.1943.
  • 31. Grinberg, 2015, p. 40-41.
  • 32. Regarding the organization of deportations, in addition to plans for the roundups published by Natan Grinberg as early as 1945, see the depositions made by Jaroslav Kalicin, Penčo Lukov, Zahari Velkov, and Asen Pajtašev before the People’s Court, in Danova & Avramov, 2013, vol. 2, p. 565-642.
  • 33. Grinberg, 2015, p. 170; Avramov, 2012, p. 123-125.
  • 34. Chary, 1972, p. 87-88.
  • 35. Grinberg, 2015, p. 97. Grinberg cites a report addressed by A. Ovčarov to the chief of the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs, Jaroslav Kalicin, indicating that 10 police officers and 9 soldiers accompanied the March 7, 1943 train from Kavala.
  • 36. Grinberg, 1945, p. 107.
  • 37. Grinberg, 2015, p. 116.
  • 38. The members of the security detail accompanying the two convoys that left Lom on 21 March are included in two reports published by Natan Grinberg in 1945 and filed on 7 April 1943 to the Health Service of Sofia by two Bulgarian doctors responsible for escorting the deportees to the Austrian capital; the first escort consisted of 24 Bulgarian policemen (including a low-ranking officer) and two German military police officers; the second included 17 Bulgarian policemen, including one officer who was “subordinate to two members of the German military police.” The German presence was confirmed in a report to the German legation in Sofia dated April 5, 1943 referring to 2 German policemen on boats leaving Lom and an unspecified number on trains departing from Skopje. See Grinberg, 2015, p. 119-122.
  • 39. In addition to the archives of the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs, detention conditions at Skopje were described in testimony collected by the Yugoslav War Crimes Commission in 1945 (Držvna Komisija za Utvrđivanje Zločina Okupatora i njihovih pomagača), and in depositions before the Bulgarian People’s Court. Several extracts from testimonies before the Yugoslav War Crimes Commission are reprinted in Matkovski, 1982, p. 138-143.
  • 40. Matkovski refers to “approximately 90 young Jews from Kavala” in the third convoy, (Matkovski, 1982, p. 153); a Bulgarian report from the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs, on the other hand, mentions 42 Greek Jews (Grinberg, 2015, p. 124). Macedonian Jews also died at Jasenovac, Banjica, and Sajmište (in Yugoslavia), as well as at Auschwitz, Dachau, Lublin, Bergen-Belsen, Majdanek, and Mauthausen: Matkovski, 1982, p. 156.
  • 41. This information is derived from two sources: 1) The deposition by the second in command of the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs, Jaroslav Kalicin, before the Bulgarian People’s Court in March 1945, and 2) the testimony of Albert Serfati, one of the few survivors of the deportations from Macedonia: Grinberg, 2015, p. 164. In 1986, Žamila Kolonomos and Vera Vesković-Vangeli stated that “all of the trains were accompanied by the Bulgarian police, the second also by the Gestapo”: Kolonomos & Vesković-Vangeli, 1986, p. 59.
  • 42. Matkovski, 1962, p. 82-83; Nadja Danova and Roumen Avramov provide an estimate of 7,141 victims, based on lists containing the names of the Jewish deportees: Danova & Avramov, 2013, vol. 2, p. 9-286.
  • 43. Statistics cited in Matkovski, 1982, p. 147 (based on data from the Yugoslav War Crimes Commission). The author found that liberated Albanian and Italian Jews were compelled to leave Bulgarian territory; in Pristina, under Italian control at the time, 12 were arrested by the Gestapo and deported to Bergen-Belsen, where four died.
  • 44. Matkovski, 1982, p. 155 (Yugoslav War Crimes Commission). 
  • 45. Grinberg, 1945, p. 123, p. 151, & p. 164. N. Danova and R. Avramov published a list of Jewish foreign citizens freed from the Skopje camp, dated 29 March 1943. Found in the archives of the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs, the list reported 76 liberations (57 Spaniards, 14 Italians, 3 Hungarians, and 2 with no citizenships recorded): CDA, F 190K, o 3, ae 171, l.1-2 in: Danova & Avramov, 2013, vol.1, p. 682-684.
  • 46. CDA, F 190K, o 3, ae 103, l.9.
  • 47. Jevrejski istoriski muzej Beograd (JIMB), n° 2479, k.23-6-1/7, cited in Matkovski, 1982, p. 176.
  • 48. Grinberg, 2015, p. 123.
  • 49. Grinberg, 2015, p. 124. The archives of the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs include a list of 18 Jews from Drama, Kavala, Sofia, and Pravište, dated 28 March 1943, who were arrested and transferred to Gorna Džumaja after the roundups in early March: CDA, F 190K, o 1, ae 8522, l.12, in: Danova & Avramov, 2013, vol. 1, p. 723.
  • 50. Chorapchiev & Ritzaleos, 2013.
  • 51. The document contains some contradictions concerning the number of individuals targeted by the roundups. It indicates that Jews holding foreign citizenship were targeted only if they were in territories under German control, and that Jews who were married to non-Jews, mobilized Jews (“if and only if they are absolutely indispensible”), and Jews infected with contagious diseases were not to be deported. The total number of victims listed--48,000--corresponds to the total number of Bulgarian Jews residing in the “old” kingdom. CDA, F. 1568K, o 1, ae 122, l.49-51.
  • 52. Although the “Plan for the deportation of Jews outside the country” is  not dated, it can be assumed that it was written prior to the adoption of Ruling n°70 by the government (21.05.1943): CDA, F. 1568K, o 1, ae 122, l.49-51.
  • 53. Ruling n° 70, Council of Ministers, protocol 74, 21.05.1943.
  • 54. Yad Vashem, URO 190-192, a copy of which is in the private archives of David Koen at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (Bălgarska akademija na naukite, BAN: NA BAN, F 111, o 1, ae 41, l.1-3). The letter and other documents from German diplomatic records were published in German and in Bulgarian translation in Koen, 1983, p. 109-112.
  • 55. Miller, 1975, p. 137-143.
  • 56. Miller, 1975, p. 170-182.
  • 57. Baruh, 1960, p. 172.
  • 58. D.V., n° 219, 06.10.1944.
  • 59. Ragaru, 2015a.
  • 60. Shealtiel, 2009, p. 493.
  • 61. Statističeski godišnik, 27, 1935, p.14-25.
  • 62. Mezan, 1925; Eskanazi & Krispin, 2002; Benbassa & Rodrigue, 1993.
  • 63. Regarding the history of anti-Semitism in Bulgaria, see Poppetrov, 2013; Todorova, 1994, p.10-22; Kulenska, 2012.
  • 64. The text – a combination of very diverse criteria - designated any individual born of parents of Jewish faith, of a mixed marriage celebrated according to the Jewish rite, the child of a mixed marriage who was unbaptized before the age of one, or circumcised according to Jewish rites, or included in the registry of the Jewish communities before being baptized, etc. as having “adopted the Jewish religion.” (Art. 8).
  • 65. Taneva & Gezenko, 2002.
  • 66. Truden izbor s goljamo značenie, 2013, p. 58-59.
  • 67. See the pamphlet by the amateur historian and memory entrepreneur, Spas Tašev, 2012, p. 10.
  • 68. Regarding the centrality of these programs, see Hollander, 2008; Danova & Avramov, 2013; Dičev, 2013. Nadja Danova and Roumen Avramov have produced a detailed study based on previously unpublished archives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These analyses have greatly advanced understanding of Bulgarian policies towards Jewish nationals abroad, including foreign Jews in Bulgaria.
  • 69. The evolution of French policies regarding nationality is well known. As early as July 1940, adoption of a new nationality law was made a key priority by the Vichy administration. The authorities planned a thorough redesign of nationality based on three pillars--denaturalizations, restrictions on access to citizenship, and plans for a new code defining French nationality, a plan that was ultimately abandoned. See Weil, 2002, p. 144-202.
  • 70. National Archives USA (NA) Microfilm Publications, T-120/237, 179035-41; PA AA, StS, Bd. 4, in: Obračeni i spaseni…, 2007, p. 258-259.
  • 71. NA BAN, F 111, o 1, ae 7, l.3 (translated from the German).
  • 72. NA BAN, F 111, o 1, ae 8, l.12-14 (translated from the German).
  • 73. NA BAN F 111, o 1, ae 1, l.9-10 (translated from the German).
  • 74. CDA, F. 176K, o 8, ae 1110, l.3, in: Danova & Avramov, 2013, vol.1, p. 381.
  • 75. NA BAN, F. 111, o 1, ae 14, l.9 (translated from the German).
  • 76. Yad Vashem, K207526-207527.
  • 77. CDA, F 176K, o 1 “sh,” ae 488, l.86, in: Danova & Avramov, 2013, vol.1, p. 450.
  • 78. CDA, F 176K, o 1 “sh,” ae 256, l.2 r/v, in: Danova & Avramov, 2013, vol.1, p. 451-452.
  • 79. CDA, F 176K, o 8, ae 1184, l.252, in: Danova & Avramov, 2013, vol.1, p. 436-437.
  • 80. CDA, F 176K, o 8, ae 1184, l.252, in: Danova & Avramov, 2013, vol.1, p. 452-453.
  • 81. Citing data in a table presenting a “description by nationality of those deported and transferred to Drancy” supplied in March 1945 by Georges Etlin, an inmate appointed by camp authorities to manage statistics, Serge Klarsfeld observed that: “this table is not entirely exact because it lists not only convoys that were sent East, but also transfers of internees from Drancy to other internment camps.” (p. 1,126). Klarsfeld also noted the omission of several convoys totaling 9,773 deportees, including 120 Romanians and 100 Czechs; he does not indicate whether Jews of Bulgarian nationality were included in these groups. In fact, the nationalities of some victims were recorded as “unknown,” “to be determined,” or “stateless,” complicating the compilation of reliable data concerning the deportees’ origins (p. 1,127). It should also be noted that roundups in the Paris area on September 14, 1942 involving 208 individuals, including 27 children, specifically targeted Bulgarian, Baltic, Yugoslavian, and Dutch Jews (p. 1,227): See Klarsfeld, 1993, pp. 1,126, 1,127, & 1,227.
  • 82. CDA, F 370K, o 6, ae 928, l 75 r/v.
  • 83. CDA F 176K, o 11, ae 1775, l.10, in: Danova & Avramov, 2013, vol.1, p. 455-456.
  • 84. CDA F 176K, o 11, ae 1775, l.9: in: Danova & Avramov, 2013, vol.1, p. 457.
  • 85. Chary, 1972, p. 35.
  • 86. See the presentation “70 godini ot spasiavaneto na bălgarskite evrei,” 07.03.2013, on the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
  • 87. CDA, F 176 K, o 11, ae 2165, l. 10-25.
  • 88. CDA, F 176K,  o 11, ae 1779, l. 10.
  • 89. CDA, F 176K, o 1, ae 1176, l. 58, 60, 62.
  • 90. CDA, F 176K, o 8, ae 1176, l. 58; Chary, 1972, p. 134-137.
  • 91. CDA, F 176K, o 8, ae 1176, l 70.
  • 92. CDA, F 176K, o 8, ae 1176, l 77.
  • 93. When the Patriotic Front came to power in 1944, it attempted to document these activities as part of its policy of highlighting anti-Fascist resistance. A new round of eyewitness accounts was collected in the 1970s against the backdrop of the Bulgarian government’s campaign of “international diplomacy” to save Bulgarian Jews. In 1979, the diplomat Ljuben Zlatarov, a former executive of the Consular Service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated that he had located archival evidence that 430 visas were issued, estimating the actual total number at approximately one thousand, Zlatarov, 1979, p. 301-317. In recent years, the theme of “transit visas” has become increasingly prominent in Bulgarian public discourse.
  • 94. CDA, F 2123 K, o 1, ae 22 286, l. 56-57.
  • 95. Logor Banjica. Logoraši. Knjige zatočenika koncentracionog logora Beograd-Banjica (1941-1944), Vol. I, Beograd: Istorijski arhiv Beograda, 2009, p. 163-166. The author wishes to thank Milan Koljanin for making this information available.
  • 96. D.V., n° 263, 21.11.1940.
  • 97. CDA, F 264K, o 1, ae 180, l.17 (Ruling n°31 of the Council of Ministers, protocol 77, 5 June 1942). The decree was published in the Official Bulletin: D.V., n° 124, 10.06.1942).
  • 98. CDA, F 242K, o 4, ae 897, l.8-10. On April 2, 1942, the National Assembly had passed a law granting power to the Council of Ministers to adopt any provision necessary for the “rapid management of the questions unable to suffer any delay” in the occupied territories (D.V., 72, 02.04.1943). Government decrees (naredbi) issued under these expanded legislative powers, in a domain normally reserved for Parliament, and possessing the force of law, are translated here as “decree-laws.”
  • 99. CDA, F 242K, o 4, ae 897, l.8-10. On April 2, 1942, the National Assembly had passed a law granting power to the Council of Ministers to adopt any provision necessary for the “rapid management of the questions unable to suffer any delay” in the occupied territories (D.V., 72, 02.04.1943). Government decrees (naredbi) issued under these expanded legislative powers, in a domain normally reserved for Parliament, and possessing the force of law, are translated here as “decree-laws.”
  • 100. D.V., n° 288, 20.12.1940 et Dičev, 2013.
  • 101. See, for example, the letter dated February 13, 1941 from the Secretary of the Bulgarian Royal Legation in charge of Consular Affairs concerning the grouping of the general administrators of Jewish businesses: Fonds CGQJ, cote: XXXVI-85a, C.D.J.C., Holocaust Memorial, Paris.
  • 102. See the 22/03/1941 letter from the Secretary of the Bulgarian Royal Legation in charge of Consular Affairs, Doctor Blanke, economic military general counselor: Fonds CGQJ, cote: XXXVI-23, C.D.J.C., Holocaust Memorial, Paris. See also the undated note (1942/1943?) from Melchior de Faramond, Director of the Service of Control of Temporary Administrators, regarding the policies of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, and Iran in this area: Fonds CGQJ, cote: CIVb-215, C.D.J.C., Holocaust Memorial, Paris.
  • 103. Evrei zaginali, 1958.
  • 104. Rahamimov, 1984, p. 105-114.
  • 105. Botušarov, 1986, p. 125-147.
  • 106. CDA, F 88, o 7, ae 2.
  • 107. Godišnik, 1987, p. 388-398.
  • 108. CDA, F 1568K, o 1, l.1-5.
  • 109. CDA, F 1568K, o 1, ae 46, l.1-5.
  • 110. See excerpts from the Metropolite’s memoirs, cited in Todorov, 1999, p. 150-157.
  • 111. Todorov, 1999, p. 134; Bar-Zohar, 1998.
  • 112. See Poppetrov, 2009 regarding these movements.
  • 113. Kolonomos, 2012; Čepreganov & Nikolova, 2015, p. 219-228.
  • 114. Avramov, 2012; Ragaru, 2015b, p. 249-262; Ragaru, 2016.
  • 115. Chary, 1972.
  • 116. Bar Zohar, 1998; Nissim, 1998.
  • 117. Bar Zohar, 1998, p. 122; Arditi, 2013. See also Pešev’s retelling of events in his memoirs: Pešev, 2004, p. 227-232.
  • 118. Pešev, 2004.
  • 119. Narodno săbranie, Dnevnici, 25th ONS, 4th session, II, 26.03.1943, p. 1,163-1,171. Pages 1,167 to 1,170 are missing.
  • 120. See, for example, Maier, 1967, p. 21-40.
  • 121. In 1973, D. Pešev was awarded the title “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.
  • 122. Yonchev, 1993; Arditi, 2013.
  • 123. Gezenko & Taneva, 2002. Compared to other European Christian churches, the consistent backing of converted Jews by the Holy Synod, and more broadly of the Jewish community, was exceptional. It is worth calling attention to this high level of commitment on the part of the Church, although this does not suggest that Orthodox leaders showed perfect integrity (regarding the case of the Metropolite Neofit from Vidin, see Avramov, 2012, p. 192), or that the lower clergy uniformly welcomed newly baptized Jews (indeed, the study of their reactions would be a potentially very interesting historiographical topic).
  • 124. Ragaru, 2014.
  • 125. TanevGrinberg, 2015.
  • 126. Todorov & Poppetrov, 2013.
  • 127. Todorov, 1999, p. 43.
  • 128. Džulibrk, 2011, p. 33-133.
  • 129. Matkovski, 1958, 1962, 1982.
  • 130. Kolonomos & Vesković-Vangeli, 1986; Kolonomos, 1987.
  • 131. Kerenji, 2008, p. 194.
  • 132. Troebst, 1983; Marinov, 2010.
  • 133. Služben vesnik [State Gazette], S.V., 43, 30.05.2000.
  • 134. Danova, 2013, p. 3-4.
  • 135. Deyanova, 2010, p. 152-169.
  • 136. Baruh, 2003.
  • 137. Ragaru, 2014, p.237-274.
  • 138. Fleischer, 1986; Mazower, 2005; Benveniste, 1998; Bowman, 2008.
  • 139. Apostolou, 2000; Carpi, 2002; Bowman, 2002; Molho, 2005; Sealtiel, 2015.
  • 140. Ritzaleos, 2006; Ritzaleos, 2013; Ritzaleos, 2014.

Citer cet article

Nadège Ragaru, Contrasting Destinies : The Plight of Bulgarian Jews and the Jews in Bulgarian-occupied Greek and Yugoslav Territories during World War Two, Mass Violence & Résistance, [en ligne], publié le : 15 Mars, 2017, accéder le 17/05/2021,, ISSN 1961-9898
Retour en haut de page