On Holocaust Remembrance Day: Remembering Courageous Bulgarians

“He who saves a single life, saves the entire world.” (From the Talmud)

The world is commemorating the victims of the Holocaust today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Six million Jews, two million Roma, as well as thousands of homosexuals were murdered by Nazi Germany and other willing executioners, mostly in Auschwitz and many other concentration and labour camps.

The camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Red Army on January 27th, 1945, only 72 years ago today.

While Jews from Macedonia and other countries in this region were transported to Nazi Germany’s death camps through Bulgarian territory, most Bulgarian Jews were saved. This would not have happened without very courageous non-Jewish Bulgarians.

Some of the most famous, but also not too well known Bulgarian saviours of Jews were recognized by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, as Righteous among the Nations.

They include Petar Mikhalev, Asen Suichmezov and Ivan-Christov Momchilov from Kyustendil, who fought against deportation orders signed by Aleksander Belev, the Commissar for Jewish Questions, by travelling to Sofia as a delegation, in order to have the order rescinded. They also include Dimitar Peshev, who went in the opposite direction, from Sofia to his home town of Kyustendil, in order to save Jews, after listening to what the delegation had to say. “I had no doubt about what was going to happen, and my conscience and the understanding of the real meaning of the plans no longer allowed me to remain a bystander,” Peshev wrote years later.

There are more Bulgarian names among the Righteous of the Nations, including individuals who risked their own lives by hiding Jewish families in their homes. Stanka Stoicheva, Nadezhda Vasileva, Anna Georgieva, Pavel Gerdzikov and many other courageous Bulgarians stood up for what was right. This is the list of all Bulgarians among the Righteous of the Nations. Their stories can be read right there, on Yad Vashem’s website.

Thanks to these and other Bulgarians, this country was the safest place to be, for Jews in Eastern Europe. The courage of some, who stood up to the Nazis, saved many.

Not forgetting them, not forgetting the victims of the Holocaust, and fighting any form of racism, antisemitism or homophobia is what can be done today, in order to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.

By Imanuel Marcus

On the photo: Dimitar Peshev in Kyustendil. By Yad Vashem.

 

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