The claim that the wartime rescue of nearly 50 000 Bulgarian Jews from the Holocaust was the result of Soviet, not Bulgarian, efforts is factually untrue and a blatant example of historical revisionism at its worst, American Jewish Committee chief executive David Harris said.
His November 6 statement was in reaction to the statement four days earlier by the spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry that the prevention of the deportation of Bulgarian Jews to Nazi death camps in the Second World War was thanks to the Soviet troops.
The Russian claim caused indignation in Bulgaria, with the Foreign Ministry in Sofia pointing out that the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews was the work of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and members of Bulgaria’s political and intellectual elite of the time – while the Red Army was thousands of kilometres away.
The Russian embassy in Sofia subsequently posted on Facebook a response recognising Bulgaria’s heroic “contribution” to the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews, but also added a comment from the Russian Military History Society’s “scientific director” saying that the Russian foreign ministry’s claim was correct.
Harris said: “I have the greatest respect for the monumental Soviet contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany, after Hitler betrayed the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement and invaded the USSR in 1941.
“No Allied nation suffered a heavier human toll than the Soviet Union in confronting Berlin and its Axis partners. And that effort included the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the infamous Nazi concentration camp.
“And I fully understand that Bulgaria was part of that Axis, hence on the wrong side of the war.
“But, and it is a big but, notwithstanding its allegiance to Berlin, Bulgaria rose up in 1943 to do a remarkable thing — defy the Nazi orders and protect nearly 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from deportation and almost certain annihilation. Many were courageously involved in this heroic rescue effort, which has been gratefully acknowledged by Yad Vashem, historians of the Holocaust, and the survivors themselves,” Harris said.
He said that the Bulgarian record was not perfect. Eleven thousand Jews from Thrace and Macedonia, under Bulgarian occupation, were deported to the death camps, and this cannot ever be forgotten. Still, no other European country under Nazi control managed to protect the vast majority of such a large Jewish population.
“And after the war, Bulgaria laudably permitted the surviving Jews to emigrate to Israel after its rebirth in 1948, which most opted to do.
“Now Moscow wants to claim credit for the Bulgarian wartime action to save Jews. This is another example of Russian attempts to distort history and interfere in the lives of its neighbors and former satellite nations,” Harris said.
“Moreover, for all of Russia’s invaluable actions to vanquish the Nazi regime, the record of Stalin’s virulent prewar and postwar anti-Semitism is beyond dispute, as is his record of preventing emigration for Jews in either period.
“AJC honours the Bulgarian rescue effort and will pay tribute to it next year, which marks the 75th anniversary, when we will welcome Bulgarian Prime Minister (Boiko) Borissov to our Global Forum in Jerusalem,” Harris said.