Controversy continues over ‘Country of Rescued Jews’ exhibition, over Simeonov’s statement
Attempts are being made to mount a controversial exhibition “Country of the Rescued Jews” in other parts of Bulgaria after its one-day showing in Sofia in May 2018. The exhibition has been condemned as an attempt to distort Bulgarian history.
No less of a controversy has been generated by a statement by Valeri Simeonov, Deputy Prime Minister from government minority partner the United Patriots, made while speaking to the Skat television channel that he owns.
Simeonov, who spoke at the opening of the exhibition in Sofia on May 8, told Skat that his role in opening the exhibition was “just paying tribute to all those Bulgarians, of whom a large part were killed after September 9, unfortunately, no small part of them suffered precisely from the actions of the Jews, who had become part of the government of communist Bulgaria”.
The reference is to the September 9 1944 date of the Soviet invasion of Bulgaria that led to more than four decades of communist rule.
It is not the first time that a comment by Simeonov – co-leader of the grouping of far-right and ultra-nationalist parties that makes up the United Patriots – in connection with Jews has generated controversy.
In May 2017, Simeonov reportedly made comments to the effect that in the 1970s, he had been taken on a visit to Buchenwald and “Come to think of it, who knows what kind of joke photos we took there”. (Simeonov denied that he had made the comment, reported by daily Sega, and said that he would sue the daily).
The comments were condemned at the time by the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom” and by the Central Israelite Religious Council of Bulgaria. “When we talk about the Holocaust, joking is inappropriate,” the two organisations said. The joint statement said that this was not the first time that Simeonov made inappropriate jokes on ethnic, religious and community issues.
At the May 8 2018 opening of the “Country of the Rescued Jews” exhibition, Simeonov said that the rescue of Bulgarian Jews from the Holocaust had been possible only because of the “categorical position” of the Bulgarian government and Tsar Boris III.
Among the mainstream Bulgarian Jewish community, historians and specialists in the field, the claim of the exhibition and that statement by Simeonov caused outrage, given that the government of the time had been pro-Nazi and had agreed to the deportation of the Bulgarian Jews to the Holocaust. Boris III also signed anti-Semitic legislation, and the deportations of the Bulgarian Jews were stopped only because of opposition by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, some political leaders as well as leading intellectuals, professional associations and ordinary Bulgarian people.
Boris III’s government did not prevent the deportation of Jews from “new lands” in neighbouring territories, then under Bulgarian administration. From these “new lands”, 11 343 Jews were deported to be murdered at Treblinka.
No major Jewish organisation was involved in mounting the exhibition. Material for the exhibition said that it drew on archives from several international institutions, including the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, which denied any involvement in the exhibition and expressed doubt that any of the other institutions named could have been involved.
Both the US and Israeli ambassadors to Bulgaria have expressed serious concerns about the exhibition and denounced the outrageous statements by Simeonov.
It is understood that the organisers are attempting to mount the exhibition elsewhere in Bulgaria. An approach was made to Svetlozar Kalev, head of the regional organisation of Shalom in Plovdiv, for support. This was refused, as it will be by all other regional organisations of Shalom throughout the country.