The defacing of the Soviet Army monument in Sofia with an anti-Semitic slur has taken a new twist with the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson saying that it was “thanks to our soldiers that the deportation of Jews from Bulgaria was prevented and thus about 50 000 people saved from certain death”.
Speaking at a briefing in the Russian capital on November 2, foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that the defacing of the Soviet Army monument in Sofia on the night of October 31 had provoked indignation in Moscow.
“Vandals, and I cannot call them anything else, attacked the monument literally a week ago, but now have outdone themselves, placing slogans of blatant anti-Semitic character on the memorial.
“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.
“The worst thing is not even the insult itself, but that the facts I presented do not make much sense, because the people who did the defacing have no idea about their history. This is the scary part,” Zakharova said.
“The facts that I mentioned have a value and importance to people who know history and would never allow themselves to agree with something like this. Those who come with jackhammers, shovels and paint to deface monuments, unfortunately, do not even know the glorious pages of their own history, never mind others.”
She said that Russia was convinced that such criminal actions will never be met with sympathy and understanding by the majority of Bulgarian people.
“We insist that the government of Bulgaria finally does everything possible to prevent any future acts of mockery of the memory of soviet soldiers, who gave their lives to save the European continent from Nazism.”
In recent years, much to the chagrin of Moscow, the Soviet Army monument in the Bulgarian capital, which recalls the September 1944 invasion of Bulgaria, has been targeted in sundry ways.
In June 2011, unidentified individuals repainted a frieze to depict the Russian soldiers as Western popular culture figures such as Superman, Ronald McDonald and Father Christmas. The following year, Guy Fawkes masks, of the kind that became widespread after the film V for Vendetta, were added. In August 2013, an apology for the Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring was depicted, while the following year, it was partially repainted in Ukrainian colours in protest against Russian aggression against Ukraine. All of these episodes led to formal protests from the Russian embassy in Sofia.
Zakharova’s claim that the Soviet Army prevented the deportation of the Bulgarian Jews to the Holocaust would not be endorsed by the majority of historians of the period. She appears to be referring to the theory that Bulgaria did not proceed with the deportations because the Nazi defeat at Stalingrad, at the end of the August 1942 – February 1943 siege, made the fall of the Hitler regime to which Bulgaria then was allied, inevitable.
This theory, that Bulgaria realised Hitler would lose and thus wanted to escape retribution by not being party to the murder of more than six million Jews in the Holocaust (though it was party to the deaths of more than 11 000 Jews from territories in northern Greece and Yugoslavia), is not countenanced by most historians, who attribute the prevention of the deportation of the Bulgarian Jews in March 1943 to the courageous campaign by the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, ruling majority politicians notably including then-Deputy Speaker Dimitar Peshev, numerous intellectuals and many ordinary Bulgarians who sent a torrent of letters of protest.
Before March 1943, voices including that of the leadership of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and of intellectuals had been raised against the approval of the anti-Semitic Defence of the Nation Act, two years earlier.
The regime in Sofia at the time had tried to keep the 1943 deportation plan secret, but more than one official leaked to Bulgarian Jewish leadership about it, who then quickly gained support from fellow Bulgarian leaders and ordinary people. The plan for the deportation, technically, was postponed and not cancelled.
The 1941 Defence of the Nation Act, a package of anti-Semitic measures modelled on the Nuremberg laws, which provided for numerous institutional persecutions of Jews, as well as ruinous economic measures against Bulgarian Jews, was scrapped in the second half of 1944, as Bulgaria faced defeat.
The Shalom Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria – which along with the embassy of the State of Israel and Bulgaria’s National Co-ordinator for Combating Anti-Semitism Georg Georgiev had condemned the daubing of the Soviet Army monument – responded on November 3 to Zakharova’s statement by reiterating the position on the prevention of the deportation of Bulgarian Jews that it had adopted in December 2011.
This position states that the salvation of the Bulgarian Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps was the result of the actions of the majority of the Bulgarian people, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Bulgarian non-fascist community. “For this act of the Bulgarians, Jews will always be grateful.”
“The deportation of the Jews from Aegean Thrace, Vardar Macedonia and the town of Pirot, at the time these territories were under Bulgarian administration in the years of the Second World War, is a historical fact that can not be denied. We, the Bulgarian Jews, mourn for the innocent victims, honour and will continue to honour their memory.”
The Shalom position is that the German authorities, together with the Bulgarian pro-Nazi government, were to blame for the deportation of the Jews from these territories.
“It is therefore important that the Bulgarian Government, at a time and place it judges, should assume moral responsibility for the actions of the pro-Nazi government against the Jews in the period 1941-1943.”
Historical facts about the fate of the Jews during the Second World War in Bulgaria and the lands administered by the Bulgarian pro-Nazi government cannot be a reason for anti-Bulgarian propaganda today and in the future, Shalom’s position says.
Bulgaria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responding on November 3 to the Russian statement, said: “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.”
Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry said that, without diminishing the importance and role of the Red Army in the eradication of Nazism in Europe in the course of the Second World War, “we would like to emphasise that such attempts to replace historical facts do not contribute to the universal cause of combating the revival of anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance and to the categorical condemnation of Nazism and neo-Nazism in its contemporary manifestations”.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it was consistent in its position on the desecration of monuments and anti-Semitism in the country: “We categorically condemn such acts, condemn acts of intolerance and racism in all its forms, and work with other institutions and law enforcement authorities in Bulgaria to identify and hold perpetrators to account”.