This Is our Village

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Great Holocaust Secret

A great many Jews know the story of how the Danes rescued 8,000 Jews from the Nazis by smuggling them to Sweden in fishing boats.
Very few Jews, know the story of how all 50,000 Bulgarian Jews were saved. Not a single Bulgarian Jew was deported to the death camps, due to the heroism of many Bulgarians of every walk of life, up to and including the King and the Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

In 1999, Abraham Foxman, the National Director of the Anti Defamation League flew with a delegation to Sophia to meet the Bulgarian Prime  Minister. He gave the Prime Minister the first Bulgarian language copy of a remarkable book, "Beyond Hitler's Grasp," written in 1998, by Michael Bar Oar, a professor at Emory University . (A Bulgarian Jew who had migrated to Israel and then to the USA ).
This book documents the rescue effort in detail. The ADL paid for and shipped 30,000 copies to Bulgaria , so that the population could partake in the joy of learning about this heroic facet of their history.
This story is clearly the last great secret of the Holocaust era. The story was buried by the Bulgarian Communists, until their downfall in 1991. All records were sealed, since they didn't wish to glorify the King, or the Church, or the non Communist parliamentarians, who at great personal risk, stood up to the Germans. And the Bulgarian Jewish Community, 45,000 of whom went to Israel after the war, were busy building new lives, and somehow the story remained untold.

Bulgaria is a small country and at the outset of the War they had 8 million people. They aligned themselves with the Nazis in hopes of recapturing Macedonia from Yugoslavia and Thrace from Greece . Both provinces were stripped from them, after World War I. In late 1942 the Jews of Selonica were shipped north through Bulgaria , on the way to the death camps, in sealed box cars. The news of this inhumanity was a hot topic of conversation. Then, at the beginning of 1943, the pro Nazi Bulgarian government was informed that all 50,000 Bulgarian Jews would be deported in March. The Jews had been made to wear yellow stars and were highly visible.
As the date for the deportation got closer, the agitation got greater. Forty-three ruling party members of Parliament walked out in protest. Newspapers denounced what was about to happen. In addition, the Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Krill,  threatened to lie down on the railroad tracks. Finally, King Boris III forbade the deportation. Since Bulgaria was an ally of Germany , and the Germans were stretched militarily, they had to wrestle with the problem of how much pressure they could afford to apply. They decided  to pass.

Several points are noteworthy. The Bulgarian Jews were relatively unreligious and did not stand apart from the local populace by virtue of garb, or rites. They were relatively poor by comparison to Jews in other countries, and they lived in integrated neighborhoods. Additionally, the Bulgarians had many minorities, Armenians, Turks, Greeks, and Gypsies, in addition to Jews.
There was no concept of racism in that culture. The bottom line here is that Bulgarians saw Bulgarian-Jews as Bulgarians, and not as Jews. And, being a small country, like Denmark , where there was a closeness of community that is often missing in larger countries. So, here was a bright spot that we can point to as example of what should have been.

The most famous of those saved was a young graduate of the Bulgarian Military Academy . When he arrived in Israel , he changed his name to ...Moshe Dayan.


  1. Thank you, Mollie. I had never heard this story. I just ordered the book from, only $7.99 including shipping.

  2. what are you talking about? Moshe Dayan was born In Israel on a Kibbutz and did not attend school in Albania.Not sure where that misinforation came from. As far as the Albanian protection of Jews, it was only "their" Jews. Jeews from Thrace etc were considered not theirs so not worthy of protection nor did they stop the trainloads of Greek Jews, so they saved some but could have done more. I guess, a little is better than nothing at all. like the rest of the world. Finally, your suggestion or inference that one reason they were not victimized there is that they did not look separate or diffent, not so observant,etc - is that what we should all do, not be who we are?!is it okay then to kill the different, blame the victim for the outrages of the violent criminals? Are we then to extend that theory to all sectors of society - Jews, Amish, Mennonite,etc?

  3. This is what's so valuable in getting information from various sources. The book apparently (I haven't received it yet) makes certain points, but Gerry S., you point out how it doesn't paint a complete true picture. As we read more and hear more, over time forming our judgments about the sources, we can hopefully come up with a correctly balanced view of some things. (Some things we'll probably never know enough about to have reliable opinions on them.)

    One thing that I find convincing in an author is if he says "I don't know" about some details or shares some things that DON'T buttress his main line. Then I think to myself, "This person cares about the truth more than pursuing his main line or emphasis," and I am likely to put more credence, not less, in what he says. I "listen up," as they say.

  4. I ordered “Beyond Hitler’s Grasp” and have just finished reading it. The author, Michael Bar-Zohar (not Michael Bar Oar), is an Israeli historian and former Knesset member, who was born in Bulgaria in 1938. He wrote the official biography of David Ben Gurion, I understand. I found “Beyond Hitler’s Grasp” detailed, interesting, informative, and eye-opening, as Mollie described it. This seemed backed up by what I read in several Google entries about the book. King Boris III is carefully described as the complex person he apparently was: a weak king but anxious to expand Bulgaria’s borders, which alliance with Hitler made possible; willing to compromise with Hitler but sly about this (Hitler called him a fox), often not doing what he said publicly he would do; yet strong in that he used his power to prevent the Nazis from deporting the Jews in Bulgaria itself (“old Bulgaria”). He did not hate the Jews. Other players in the drama are also described in their complexities.

    HOWEVER, I found no mention of Moshe Dayan in either the index (which I checked first) or the book itself. It seems that the claim about him is completely false and came in through an e-mail ABOUT the book. See a "Truth or Fiction" source I found in Google after typing in the name of the book. (I couldn't get the URL of this source to reproduce here.)

    What happened to the Jewish people during World War II is a tragedy beyond words. Our own Esther Dykman Gastwirth's poem "Nature Mourns" may say it best, to quote a part of it:

    "Now there is moaning and crying in the wind.
    Each flower looks back at you sadly like a human face. The trees are angry, Every branch grows an accusing finger."


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