A case of revisionism, or How interested circles in Bulgaria try to turn the main responsible for the killing of 11,363 Jews into someone that is “more than a Bulgarian Schindler”

The events about which I am talking here took place more than 70 years ago and are extremely well documented. But until today there are two competing narratives regarding the interpretation of these events and a recent interview of the former Bulgarian Czar and later Prime Minister Simeon Sakskoburggotski (Simeon von Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha) brought them to the surface again and created a quite heated discussion in the public sphere in Bulgaria.

The facts: Bulgaria, whose government at that time had since long very close ties to Nazi Germany, joined the Axis officially on March 1, 1941. Bulgaria had lost territories in the Balkan Wars and WWI that it considered to be rightfully part of Bulgaria, and Nazi Germany supported these territorial claims to Macedonia, a part of Kosovo, the Dobrudzha, and the Greek part of Thrace. Part of the deal to join the Axis was on the other hand to actively support the extermination of the Jews – it was later agreed that Bulgaria will “deliver” as a starter 20,000 Jews to the Nazis. So, in the end of the day it was a deal “territory against handing out the Jews for extermination”.

Even before joining the Axis, the Bulgarian government started to support actively the anti-Semitic policy of the Nazis. Bulgaria issued laws that deprived Bulgarian Jews of most of their rights; the laws were inspired by the anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany that in a way prepared the population to accept the fact the Jews were no citizens, and actually not even human beings in the ideology of the Nazis and their willing helpers.

In spring 1943, the Bulgarian parliament issued a supportive vote to deport for now 20,000 Jews from the territory of Bulgaria (including those territories that were to be annexed by Bulgaria) to Poland. 11,363 Jews from Bulgarian-occupied Macedonia and Western Thrace were rounded up by Bulgarian police and military, put in trains guarded by Bulgarians and sent mainly to Treblinka. There was literally only a handful of survivors.

When in March 1943 the Bulgarian authorities started to announce their intention to round up also the Jews from the “Old” Bulgarian territory, i.e. Bulgaria in the borders before 1941, courageous Bulgarian citizens, a few politicians with a conscious (such as Dimitar Peshev), and some of the leaders of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (Metropolit Kiril and Metropolit Stefan), organized public resistance in Kyustendil, Sofia, Plovdiv, and other places. A demonstration of the illegal Communist party in Sofia resulted in the arrest of more than 400 participants.

Bulgaria was a country where antisemitism was not a mass phenomenon, most Bulgarians traditionally held good relationships with their Jewish neighbors and felt that they were Bulgarian citizens just like everybody else. It became obvious to the government and to the powerful Czar Boris III that they had underestimated the supportive reaction of the Bulgarian population for the Jews; at a time when it was already clear that Nazi Germany will lose the war (this happened after the capitulation of Stalingrad), the Czar and the government decided to “play on time”.

In order to avoid a serious crisis and threat to their power by a possibly very strong reaction of a considerable part of the Bulgarian population if they would deport the remaining Jews to Poland, they found all kind of excuses to delay the deportation – much to the anger of Dannecker, the highest Nazi representative in Bulgaria who was dealing with the organisation of the endlösung, and of Hitler personally. But knowing fully well that he was on the losing side, Boris (who died a few days after he visited Hitler in Germany) tried to gain some leverage for the time after the war. And to be considered the “savior” of the Bulgarian Jews would be possibly part of that leverage, so he hoped.

As a result, all Jews within the pre-1941 territory of Bulgaria survived (unless they perished as part of the partisan movement); almost all Jews in the annexed territories were killed.      

In his recent interview with CNN, the son of Czar Boris III, the former Czar Simeon II, and later Prime Minister of Bulgaria, mentioned his hopes that his father will be declared one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a title awarded by Yad Vashem to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

The basic criteria to be awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations, according to the official website of the Yad Vashem Memorial are as follows:

  1. Active involvement of the rescuer in saving one or several Jews from the threat of death or deportation to death camps;
  2. Risk to the rescuer’s life, liberty or position;
  3. The initial motivation being the intention to help persecuted Jews: i.e. not for payment or any other reward such as religious conversion of the saved person, adoption of a child, etc.;
  4. The existence of testimony of those who were helped or at least unequivocal documentation establishing the nature of the rescue and its circumstances.

It is obvious that Czar Boris III is not fulfilling a single one of these criteria.

I would not have mentioned the attempt of a son to whitewash his father from his responsibility of the death of more than 11,000 people, if it would be a private matter only. But Simeon is not a private person only. He came back to Bulgaria after decades of exile to become Prime Minister, making the promise that after 800 days the Bulgarians would live better under his rule (he and his sister live indeed much better now – one of the first laws he issued was about the restitution of the private property of the family of the Czar, and now he and his sister own land and properties that were never theirs, and which make them the by far biggest landowners in Bulgaria).

The reason why I am writing about this topic is another one. What we can witness in Bulgaria is the attempt of interested circles to whitewash history, to deny historical responsibility for the deeds of the past, or even for serious crimes that were committed in the past. That is not limited to Bulgaria of course, and it is not limited to the role of the Czar in the survival of the Bulgarian Jews living on the pre-1941 Bulgarian territory. Revisionism is in my opinion a very serious threat for Bulgaria. Only when you know who you are and what you did in the past and for what you are responsible, you have a chance to learn from history.

An article written by Manol Glishev, a poet and intellectual, shows clearly the very ugly side of this kind of revisionism. I was really shocked and aghast when I read it.

After an introduction which he is using to insult everyone who dares to be critical regarding Boris’ role and Simeon’s objective lies about that part of history (see below), saying that “negativism transferred from father to son or from son to father is a totalitarian practice”(!!!), we “learn” in his article how Boris III was working hard for years to preserve the life of every Bulgarian – but “unfortunately” the Jews in the occupied and annexed territories were not Bulgarians, so there was nothing he could do. (This is ignoring the fact that it was Boris III and his government that “made” all inhabitants of the occupied and annexed territories into Bulgarians – except for the Jews, for which he had already other plans.)

In one of the paragraphs that is dealing with the fate of the Macedonian and Thracian Jews, Glishev is writing that Macedonia was not part of Bulgaria at the time of the deportation and that the Czar made “big efforts” to save the Macedonian and Thracian Jews. Both is simply a fabrication. I would recommend Mr Glishev to read a bit about the historical facts. As a start I could recommend him the excellent book by Rumen Avramov: “Salvation” and fall: Microeconomics of the state antisemitism in Bulgaria 1940-1944, which shows among other things the very strong involvement of the Bulgarian state, its government and its ruler, Czar Boris III in the deportation and killing of the Jews in the annexed territories. That the Bulgarian state and Boris himself bear the responsibility for the extermination of the Jews in Macedonia and Western Thrace is also evident from the documents published recently by Avramov and Nadia Danova from the archives of Alexander Belev, the “Kommissar für Judenfragen” in Bulgaria, the organizer of the activities against the Jews. Mr Glishev could also inform himself by reading the Dimitar Peshev biography by Gabriele Nissim. Or Arno Lustiger’s excellent book Rettungswiderstand, in which the author describes clearly and with plenty of documentary support that the main responsibility for the extermination of the Jews in Macedonia and Western Thrace was with the Bulgarian government and Boris III.

When Mr Glishev even writes that “Boris is more than a Bulgarian Schindler” (headline of his article), I feel really that I am running out of words. To read a headline like this from an intellectual and poet is sickening. His intervention on behalf of an opportunistic ruler who sided with the Nazis because it suited his policy to increase the Bulgarian territory (and let – if possible – others do the dirty job for him), someone who didn’t have the slightest problem to turn the Bulgarian Jews into slaves that were deprived of almost any human rights, someone who ordered his policemen and military to round up the Jews in Macedonia and Western Thrace and send them to Treblinka, is not a worthy cause by any means.

According to the logic applied by Mr Glishev, Joseph Goebbels should be given the title of a Righteous Among the Nations too. It was Goebbels, who ordered the release of about 2,000 Jews in Berlin in 1943, after a group of women demonstrated in the Rosenstrasse in Berlin, after the arrest of their Jewish husbands and fathers. As a result of these unexpected demonstrations, and after a major bombing raid, Goebbels decided not to fuel possible protests and to release these people – for the time being. Does that make Goebbels a “savior of the Jews of Berlin”? The answer is obvious, and I feel ashamed that some people, among them even intellectuals and writers have the chutzpah to make a “savior of the Jews” out of an opportunist and bootlicker of the Nazis, who partnered in their crimes whenever it was favorable for him.

In an emotional, but factually correct response, the writer and survivor Lea Cohen answered to Glishev’s unsupportable article and Simeon’s interview.

Contrary to what Simeon said in the interview, Bulgaria was not an occupied country; Macedonia and Western Thrace were occupied by Bulgarian troops; to say that Boris “was hiding the Jews in labor camps” is so ridiculous and outrageous as to say Stalin was “hiding the opposition in labor camps”; it was not Simeon’s mother, but the Spanish ambassador that issued passports to the Bulgarian Jews; it was not the Nazi administration, but the Bulgarian administration that sent the Jews from Macedonia and Western Thrace to Treblinka; Boris III name was removed by the Jewish National Fund from all commemorative signs after a committee headed by an Israeli High Court judge came to the result that he in no way was responsible for saving the Bulgarian Jews – Simeon is just outright lying in this interview.

It makes me angry to see a person spreading so much obvious revisionist lies as Simeon does; it is sickening to see some intellectual and writer running to his help for his outrageous lies, trying to manipulate the public opinion in Bulgaria in accordance with Simeon’s revisionist agenda.

That the Jews in the pre-1941 Bulgarian territory were saved, is and will always be an honorable act by the part of the Bulgarian population responsible for it and by those people who voiced their resistance to the planned deportation; Boris III doesn’t belong to that group of honorable people, and revisionist campaigns like the one his son, with the support of interested circles, is running now, will hopefully have no success. This is not only a question of the interpretation of historical events; it is also a question of morals and ethics.

It is high time to admit that also Bulgaria had its share of responsibility in the Holocaust, and that the saving of a part of the Jews is just a (convenient) part of the whole story. It is also important to remember who was responsible from the Bulgarian side for this participation in the Holocaust: the Bulgarian government at that time, and the monarch Czar Boris III. That may be painful for some people who still prefer a made-up version of history to the truth – but it is indispensable for the country’s future. Only a Bulgaria that acknowledges its past – and not a revisionist parody of it – will be able to build a future free of the ghosts of antisemitism, racism and fascism.

kniga_roumen_1

Румен Аврамов: „Спасение“ и падение, Университетско издателство „Св.
Климент Охридски“, 2012 (Rumen Avramov: “Salvation” and fall: Microeconomics of the state antisemitism in Bulgaria, 1940-1944), Sofia 2012

Румен Аврамов и Надя Данова: Депортирането на евреите от Вардарска Македония, Беломорска Тракия и Пирот, март 1943 г./ Т. I-II (Rumen Avramov and Nadya Danova, eds.: The deportation of the Jews from Vardar Macedonia, Aegean Thrakia and Pirot, March 1943, 2 vol.), Sofia 2013

Arno Lustiger: Rettungswiderstand. Über die Judenretter in Europa während der NS-Zeit. Wallstein, Göttingen 2011

Gabriele Nissim: The Man who stopped Hitler, I. Borouchoff, 2002

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

9 thoughts on “A case of revisionism, or How interested circles in Bulgaria try to turn the main responsible for the killing of 11,363 Jews into someone that is “more than a Bulgarian Schindler”

  1. Manol Glishev

    I found this article shared by an acquaintance, I followed the link and I read it. A few remarks. First, my article was a response to that of Mrs. Cohen and not vice-versa. Secondly, the more correct form of the title of Bulgarian monarchs in English is “tsar” while the form “czar” is used mainly for the Russian Emperors. Thirdly, it is not correct to call Boris III a “ruler” as he was the head of a monarchy based on the civic model of Louis-Philippe. But this is of relatively small importance.

    What is more important is that in Bulgaria the accusations against Tsar Boris III are the real revisionism. It is common knowledge throughout the country (and I have mentioned part of the historical sources of that knowledge in my article) that the monarch had an important part in the saving of Bulgarian Jews. It is also a possibility that he has become the victim of a Nazi plot partly because of this part (as the German Nazi administration suspected him to be quite friendly to the Jewish community in Bulgaria not only before but also during the war). This possibility has been mentioned even by Hana Arendt.

    Of course, it’s a real tragedy and a reason for grief that the more than eleven thousand Jews from Vardar and Aegaean Macedonia could not be saved as those from within the pre-war Bulgarian frontiers. But it is a fact: they couldn’t. And I believe that it is explained why in my article.

    And I am definitely not defending Tsar Simeon II (or Mr Simeon von Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha/Saxkoburggotski, if you prefer). I am defending only the memory of a Bulgarian politician and monarch who did everything he could for all of his subjects during the war. To claim that Boris III was a Nazi is like saying that he was a Stalinist; it’s absurd.

    Of course, Bulgarian society has to free itself of many pseudohistorical myths. The “antisemitism” of Tsar Boris is one of them. I’m afraid its origins lie in many years of Communist propaganda against the former monarchy, to say the least.

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Maybe you are not familiar with the history and the use of the term “negativism” in the context of an intellectual discussion. It was and is used usually by representatives of fascist or communist systems to denounce any critical assessment of their systems. Goebbels was referring frequently to the “Jewish negativism” of his opponents, and I find it HIGHLY inappropriate to start a serious discussion (as you do in your article at ploshtadslaveykov.com) of such a topic with an expression that is an insult and a slap in the face of the (Jewish) survivors of Boris’ III policy. I am not suggesting you used this expression intentionally, but for someone who pretends to write from the standpoint of an informed historian, the use of such an expression to denounce people who have another viewpoint shows (at best) a complete lack of knowledge and sensitivity towards other people, particular the Bulgarian Jews, and other opinions in general.

      Furthermore, it is one of the strategies to immunize oneself against criticism – what you say basically with your reference to the criticism of Boris and Simeon is that those who for very good reasons are harsh critics of the role of Boris and Simeon use totalitarian practices. I find this sentence insulting and a cheap sophist “trick”. Let me tell you one thing very clearly: I am criticizing Boris not because he is the father of Simeon, and I am not criticizing Simeon because he is the son of Boris. I criticize both of them for the role they played historically, and because they are personally responsible for some very bad things that happened in Bulgaria. I find it outrageous that you dare to call this in your article “totalitarian practice”.

      Boris III had of course much more power as Louis Philippe ever had. Since 1934 he was heading an authoritarian regime that gave him personal powers that exceeded everything that Louis Philippe could ever even dream of. It is almost amusing to read this part of your comment, so far it is from the historical truth.

      You mention that it is “common knowledge in my country…that the tsar had an important part in the saving of the Bulgarian Jews”. (Only the Jews who should know best, they know unfortunately nothing about it – strange, isn’t it?) You refer also to the fact that you mentioned some of the sources.

      It seems that we are talking of different kind of sources. You mention Gruev’s book that is highly apologetic of Boris III and that also in many other respects not a reliable source; Hannah Arendt had an opinion, fine – but was she a historian that was familiar with the documents? No. In the last decades, and especially in the last years several important books that are based on the Bulgarian and foreign archives have been published. For good reason you are not mentioning a single one of these studies in your article. Because the findings contradict your thesis in every respect! I strongly recommend you to read these texts before you write truly embarrassing articles like the one on ploshtadslaveykov.com.

      True, the communists had also their share in trying to re-write the part of the Bulgarian history that deals with the saving of the Bulgarian Jews in pre-1941 Bulgaria; at one point it was official party line to claim that Todor Zhivkov himself was the organizer of the public resistance against the deportation order. That is of course ridiculous. But is it really a progress to replace one kind of revisionism by another one? A revisionism that makes Boris “more than a Bulgarian Schindler”, as you say? The answer is: no!

      As an aside: your article and the mentality behind it are a symptom for something that is very common among Bulgarians. They like to paint themselves as being ALWAYS the victims of history or forces against which they are helpless. (The perfect excuse for so many things!) And this is simply not true. Boris III was a bad man, a ruthless aggressive ruler who was obsessed by the wish to increase Bulgaria’s territory as much as possible, and the main responsible for the deportation and extermination of the Jews in the occupied and annexed Bulgarian territories. He did what he did, because he chose to do it, and not because he had no alternatives. That today the main proponent of the idea of a Greater Bulgaria and the main “willing helper” in Bulgaria for the Holocaust finds defenders in intellectual circles shows me that Bulgaria has still a long way to go to become a country that stops to believe in historical lies like the one’s spread by Simeon and his apologists.

      Reply
  2. adimtchev

    Unfocused article without any facts, hardly to convince anybody, only emotions do not work, regret that I waisted my time, did not bring me closer to the truth

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      adimtchev, in case you missed it – this article is posted as an opinion and it is also tagged as opinion. Unfocused? Definitely not. And I mentioned plenty of facts and even sources where you can read all about these facts on hundreds and hundreds of pages. So when you are such a truth-seeker as you claim to be, read these works and you will realize that your comment here is…unfocused.

      Reply
  3. GPBak

    Fascinating stuff! To the author – seems like you’re already well aware of the propensity most Bulgarians (including the so called “elite”) have to victim identity, with all its ensuing “benefits”. So good luck with that 🙂 As a Bulgarian I hate both Communism and Fascism the same, they both come from the same Ideological “mother” – socialism. Even though Communist scumbags & their regimes have actually killed a lot more people than the Nazis. But I digress. The study of the role Boris had in these deportations is quite important and these discussions should be welcomed not stifled by the Bulgarian society. Are there any direct sources (in whatever language) where one can examine the actual agreements signed between Boris and Hitler?

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Thanks for your interesting comment. Right now I have no access to my library since I am traveling but I would recommend you beside the books I already mentioned Stefan Troebst’s book Die bulgarisch-jugoslawische Kontroverse um Makedonien where you can find a lot of sources. There is a Macedonian translation of the book (Bugarsko-jugoslovenskata kontroverza za Makedonija), but as far as I know no Bulgarian (why am I not surprised?).

      I cannot reveal more details here, but I know that right now some research is done in the Bulgarian archives regarding exactly the question you are asking, and I am absolutely sure from what I have seen so far privately that the results of this research will be quite sensational since it will give documentary proof of Boris’ direct responsibility for the killing of some Bulgarian Jews and the deportation of the Jews in Vardar Macedonia and the other Bulgarian-occupied territories. There is also an interesting article in Bulgarian that you may find useful if you look for additional information: http://www.marginalia.bg/analizi/kogato-mediite-govoryat-s-polovin-usta/ – It is beyond me how an intelligent person can in all seriousness write something like Glishev.

      Maybe I am digressing too, but I find your remark about Communism and Fascism very much up to the point. I am opposed to all kind of totalitarian ideology and -isms, many of the radical anticommunists in Bulgaria are only against Communism and they seem to think that that entitles them to replace one revisionist lie (that the Communists saved the Bulgarian Jews) by another one (that Boris III was the savior of the Jews) and attack everyone that is opposing their revisionist inventions as a dirty bolshevist, or worse.

      The more radical among these revisionists have an obvious agenda: “first we rehabilitate Boris and construct an image of him as hero and saint, and after we achieved that, also the other shady figures and criminals (like Gen. Lukov, or people like Dyanko Markov) will be rehabilitated since they only followed the King’s orders and were good patriots and loyal fighters against the dirty commies who should be liquidated anyway.” People like Glishev or Daniela Gorcheva seem to have nostalgic feelings about fascism and antisemitism (and I can imagine why) – I definitely don’t.

      Reply
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