At a ceremony in Sofia, Bulgarian President Roumen Radev conferred on Israeli historian and author Professor Michael Bar-Zohar the country’s highest state honour, the Stara Plana First Class.
The award was given for Bar-Zohar’s contribution to making known the history of the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews from the death camps of the Holocaust during the Second World War, and his contribution to the development of bilateral relations between Bulgaria and Israel.
Radev said that Bar-Zohar, who had left Bulgaria in 1948 at the age of 10, had remained a model of a true Bulgarian patriot all his life.
The rescue of the Bulgarian Jews had been a bright moment of national pride, in years of mortal danger and darkness, a whole nation had stood up to protect its fellow citizens, Radev said.
Bar-Zohar said that the honour was a reward for the Bulgarian people, because it was they who had rescued the Bulgarian Jews, though today “false historians” were trying to attribute the deed to other “rescuers”.
He said he always remembers the words of his father who, when he left Bulgaria in tears, said that the Jews left a beloved country that had been good to them.
Bar-Zohar said: “Every time I hear the (national) anthem ‘Mila Rodino’, I remember that day in November 1948 when we left a freight train from Bulgaria through Yugoslavia to Israel. When we crossed the border, the train stopped for an administrative problem and we all went down – then 1000 people turned to the Bulgarian border and one man began to sing, then the second and the third. Within a few minutes, in a beautiful green valley, there was a huge choir of 1000 people singing ‘Mila Rodino’ and my father and mother were singing and weeping”.
Bulgaria had made a huge gift to Israel, as Bulgarian Jews have contributed to the development of Israel’s political and social life. These people remain Bulgarian because they have a special attitude towards Bulgaria as a country that should be an example to the whole world, Bar-Zohar said.
He said that both Bulgaria and Israel are small countries, but with moral principles, and this is one of the lessons of saving Bulgarian Jews.
“We have no natural wealth, but we have a moral legacy. So, when there is a violation of human rights, however small we are, we must fight this and give an example of how a little David can defeat a huge Goliath,” he said.