The bilateral relations between Israel and Bulgaria are unique in the world because they are based on gratitude, ambassador Irit Lilian told an international academic conference in Sofia that is part of events marking the 75th anniversary of the rescue of Bulgarian Jews from the Holocaust.
Israel consistently has expressed gratitude for the fact that in 1943, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and a number of political and civil society leaders successfully opposed plans to deport Bulgarian Jews to Nazi death camps.
The conference was titled “75 Years. The Unforgotten Faces of the Rescue,” using the title of a newly-published book by the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom”, dedicated to ordinary Bulgarians who courageously protected Bulgarian Jews.
Ambassador Lilian quoted Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel on the topic of indifference, including his point that indifference is not the end, but the beginning.
Some Bulgarians had not been indifferent, and had taken action and changed the course of history, she said.
She posed the issue that some wrote that Bulgarians acted to rescue Bulgarian Jews because the country had traditions of tolerance and the concept of equality before the law. But this has been the case in other countries too, where the Jews were deported. Anti-Semitism had existed in Bulgaria, as in other countries, and in the territories in northern Greece and Yugoslavia that were under Bulgarian administration, the Jews were deported to be murdered at Treblinka.
It was in Bulgaria that there were a civil uprising to prevent the deportations of Bulgarian Jews, while the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was alone among the denominations in having declared the deportations a non-Christian act, defining them as a sin.
Bulgarians had retained their humanity and acted to make a change, she said.
The world, unfortunately, had not learnt a lesson and there had been genocides after the Holocaust.
On the topic of contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism, she asked why, when an anti-Semitic article had appeared in a local newspaper, there had been no letter to the editor to protest, or, if one had been sent, it had not been published.
Maxim Benvenisti, speaking on behalf of Shalom, one of the co-organisers of the conference, underlined that ordinary people had been actively involved in the prevention of the deportations, as well as people from different parts of the political spectrum. As he put it, from anti-fascists to people employed in the palace.
The conference was co-organised by Sofia University’s faculty of history and faculty of philosophy, the Israeli embassy, Shalom, the Bulgarian delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and the Israel Institute in Washington.
(Photo: Embassy of Israel in Sofia)