Bulgaria held ceremonies on March 10 commemorating the 70th anniversary of the prevention of the deportation of Bulgarian Jews to Nazi Holocaust death camps and honouring the memory of the victims from Northern Greece and Yugoslavia, while in Macedonia, commemorations were to be held on March 11 for the thousands of Jews sent to Treblinka.
In Sofia, ceremonies were held at Parliament, with mayor Yordanka Fandukova unveiling a plaque, and there was a commemorative event held at the Synagogue, with the ambassadors of Israel and several other countries in attendance as well as Jewish community leaders.
On March 10, Shofar awards were handed to the mayors of 12 Bulgarian cities whose residents and individuals had contributed to preventing Bulgarian Jews being sent to World War 2 death camps.
Maxim Benvenisti, president of the Shalom Organisation of the Jews in Bulgaria, said that the Bulgarian people should feel very proud of the actions to prevent the deportation.
“This was not just saving a single life, it was rescuing an entire nation,” he said.
Fandukova said that March 10 was a day that was a symbol of eternal values, courage and unity shown 70 years ago by a united Bulgarian people, including politicians, writers, public figures, representatives of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and ordinary Bulgarian citizens.
“Seventy years ago, our ancestors showed courage and humanism and built one of the proudest chapters in our history,” Fandukova said.
The plaque at Parliament commemorates not only the prevention of the deportations but also the 11 343 Jews deported from northern Greece and parts of Yugoslavia.
On March 8, Bulgaria’s Parliament approved unanimously and without debate a declaration on the saving of the Jews and the deportations that Bulgaria had been in no position to prevent.
Israeli ambassador Shaul Kamisa-Raz reiterated Israel’s gratitude to Bulgaria for the intervention in 1943 to prevent the deportations.
The step that Bulgaria took in 1943 had played a major role in building the Jewish state, he said. Many of the Jews rescued in Bulgaria had been involved in Israel’s struggle for independence and had contributed to the growth of the country, the ambassador said.
In Skopje, Macedonia’s Alfa TV reported that the Jewish community in Macedonia would on March 11 mark the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Jews to Treblinka.
Delegations from the Jewish community, the government and parliament of Macedonia were to lay wreaths at monuments. This past week, events were held at the Holocaust memorial centre in Skopje.
On March 10 and 11, Jews were rounded up and held at a temporary concentration camp before being deported.
Alfa said that the Jewish community in Skopje rejected the Bulgarian declaration on the anniversary. Macedonian perspectives on the events of March 1943 have been sharply critical towards Bulgaria and in 2012, the Macedonian film The Third Half painted a portrait of Bulgarians as willing collaborators in the deportations from what is today the Republic of Macedonia’s territory.
Working towards resolving difficulties in differing perspectives on historical events has been the focus of work by representatives of Sofia and Skopje in recent months towards a good neighbourliness agreement between the two countries.
(Photo of the interior of Sofia Synagogue: Neil Carey)