On the eve of the planned deportation of 48.000 Bulgarian Jews in April 1943, the Bulgarian Parliament, the Orthodox Church and civil society mobilised and prevented their departure for the death camps.
This is an act of courage without parallel. Bulgaria was then an ally of Hitler’s Germany. Another huge act of courage in this period of time was the refusal by Boris III to send troops to the Eastern front. He used as an argument that Bulgarians are grateful to the Russian people for having liberated the country from 500 years of Ottoman rule in 1878, and that they cannot fight against a brotherly people.
Some in Bulgaria believe that his mysterious death, on 28 August 1943, at the age of 49, 13 days after returning from a very unpleasant visit to Hitler in Wolfschaze (Wolf’s Lair) near Rastenburg. Many believe that he died after being poisoned there.
For understanding the latest scandal between Bulgaria and Russia, this background is necessary.
A few days ago the monument dedicated to the Soviet army’s role in World War II was vandalised with an anti-Semitic graffiti and by some of the bas-reliefs painted with yellow color.
This prompted Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova to say on 2 November that “this escapade is especially cynical in view of the fact that during the Second World War, it was thanks to our soldiers that the deportation of Jews from Bulgaria was prevented and thus about 50 000 people were saved from certain death”.
Russian foreign ministry spokesperson: ‘Soviet Army prevented deportation of Jews from Bulgaria’ to Holocaust https://t.co/uWrv46yjOA
— Maria Snegovaya (@MSnegovaya) November 3, 2017
Bulgaria’s foreign ministry reacted the next day, stating that “When Bulgarian citizens stood on railway lines, headed to the Nazi death camps, when representatives of the Bulgarian political, economic and intellectual elite wrote protest letters in defence of the Bulgarian Jews, and senior hierarchs of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church stood with the Jews gathered for deportation, stating that their compatriots could be taken to the camps only if they too were taken, the Red Army was thousands of kilometres away from the borders of Bulgaria.”
Moreover, Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev, whose political enemies in Bulgaria try to portray as pro-Russian, said today (4 November) that the claim that it was the Soviet army that rescued Bulgarian Jews from deportation to the Holocaust “is either deep ignorance of history or an attempt at provocation”.
— Radio Bulgaria (@RB_English) November 4, 2017
The Shalom Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria, also responding to Zakharova, published a statement, insisting that the refusal to deport the Bulgarian Jews to the Nazi death camps was the result of the actions of the majority of the Bulgarian people, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Bulgarian anti-fascist community.
On various talks shows on Bulgarian TVs and radios commentators reminded that this is not the first time that Russian officials provoke Bulgaria with fake news, and this trend is likely to continue during the Bulgarian presidency of the Council of the EU.
Haralan Alexandrov, a social anthropologist, said that the Kremlin’s policies are only further alienating the Bulgarian society from Russia, which may seem as a paradox, but in his words, thе Russia attitude makes this trend unstoppable.
After the publication of this article the Russian embassy in Sofia published a post in its Facebook page, in which it acknowledges “the undisputed heroic contribution” of the Bulgarian people “including in the rescue of the Jews living in the country from the death camps”.
— Посолство на Русия (@RusEmbBul) November 4, 2017
However, the Embassy three hours later also posted a commentary from Mihail Myagkov. a historian, who claims that the statement by Zakharova is correct, because in his words Bulgaria’s refusal to deport its Jews came after the historic battles of Stalingrad and Kursk (July-August 1943).
This is not only imprecise, but also self-contradicting. Nazi Germany had initially accepted the position of Boris III that Bulgarian troops should not be sent to the Eastern front. But precisely after Stalingrad this pressure increased, and it was even more difficult for the Bulgarian king to refuse the deportation of the Jews from the territory of Bulgaria.