Bulgaria issues commemorative stamp honouring Julio Palencia, the ‘Spanish Schindler’

Bulgaria validated on November 28 a commemorative postage stamp depicting Julio Palencia y Tubau, Spain’s ambassador in Sofia from 1940 to 1943, who risked his career and life to rescue several hundred Jews in Bulgaria at the time of the Holocaust.

The ceremony was hosted by the Sofia Regional History Museum and Sofia municipality, represented by Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova and deputy mayor Todor Chobanov.

Participants in the ceremony included deputy transport minister Dimitar Genovski and deputy minister of foreign affairs Georg Georgiev, who is also Bulgaria’s co-ordinator for combating anti-Semitism, as well as Spanish ambassador Francisco Javier Pérez-Griffo, US ambassador Eric Rubin and representatives of the Bulgarian Organization of the Jews Shalom, including its president, Alexander Oscar.

Addressing the ceremony, Oscar said that “the history of the Holocaust, alongside the tragic fate of millions, including more than 11 000 Jews deported from the territories under Bulgarian rule in March 1943, contains the unrecorded history of very good people who have shown humanity and bravery and have accepted the role of rescuers voluntarily. “

Oscar thanked the municipal and state institutions for making consistent efforts to keep the Holocaust story in Bulgaria from being forgotten.

Ambassador Palencia sent a top-secret diplomatic dispatch to his foreign minister Francisco Gómez Jordana in March 1943 after the ambassador became aware of plans to deport the Jews from Bulgaria, at the time of the Second World War an ally of Hitler’s Germany.

He followed up with further messages seeking support to rescue the Jews, telling his foreign minister in May 1943 that he wanted permission to repatriate all Jewish people of Spanish nationality living in Bulgaria and recently-annexed territories. He said that this would be done at the cost of the people affected, and would involve about 300 people.

Palencia, though he had no support from Madrid, sought to deceive the ambassador of Nazi Germany in Sofia by telling him that he had permission to repatriate the Jews.

Not only did Palencia proceed with his efforts to rescue hundreds of Jews, he adopted two Bulgarian Jewish children, of businessman Leon Arié, who had been executed at Sofia Central Prison after a kangaroo-court trial.

These actions led to fury from Nazi Germany and to Palencia being declared persona non grata by the Bulgarian government. These events ran in parallel with the successful campaign by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, politicians notably including Dimitar Peshev, intellectuals and other members of civil society as well as ordinary Bulgarians to prevent the deportation of Bulgarian Jews to the death camps of the Holocaust.

Palencia, who was sanctioned by his ministry on his return to Madrid, died in 1952. Those who know of his heroic actions dub him the “Spanish Schindler”.



Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.