Bulgarian Orthodox Church honoured for 1940s role in rescue of Bulgarian Jews from Holocaust

The organisations of Bulgarian Jews in this country and in Israel conferred honours on March 8 on the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for its role in the prevention of the deportation of Bulgarian Jews to the Nazi death camps of the Holocaust.

The ceremony, at the headquarters of the Holy Synod in Sofia, was part of commemorations in 2018 of the 75th anniversary of the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews and in memory of the 11 343 Jews from neighbouring territories then under Bulgarian administration who were deported, to be murdered at Treblinka.

On behalf of the church, Bulgarian Patriarch Neofit accepted the Shofar award given by the Shalom Organisation of the Jews in Bulgaria and a certificate of eternal memory conferred by Shalom and the Ehud Oley organisation of Bulgarian Jews in Israel, given in gratitude for the active role that the church had in preventing the deportation and in fighting anti-Semitic discrimination between 1941 and 1944.

At the ceremony, attended by the leaderships of the Jewish organisations and a delegation visiting from Israel for the 75th anniversary commemorations, Patriarch Neofit said: “Always we have felt love and appreciation for you. The friendship between us must remain, because we will never forget what our predecessors did for the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews”.

“‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ it says in the Bible, and we will love you as ourselves, feeling heartfelt closeness and gratitude,” Neofit said.

He said that over the years, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Jewish community always had remembered the difficulties of the Second World War, but also with a feeling of gratitude for the good deeds done by the brave Bulgarian church metropolitans, led by Exarch Stefan and Patriarch Kiril.

Shalom President Dr Alexander Oscar said: “We teach our children to remember, not to forget, that worthy Bulgarians saved not only their brothers and sisters of Jewish origin, but also saved Bulgarian society as a whole”.

Bulgarian Jews from the delegation from Israel spoke movingly of their recollections from the time of the resistance by the church and by ordinary Bulgarians against the deportation and against anti-Semitism. It was noted that a Bulgarian school in Israel was named for Patriarch Kiril.

After the conclusion of the ceremony, Patriarch Neofit led the delegation to show the meeting room where the Holy Synod’s decisions to take a stand against the deportations and against anti-Semitic legislation and measures were taken.



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.