Inaccuracies in petition to Treblinka about Bulgaria

A petition addressed to the Treblinka Museum calling for the removal of a stone memorial with the word Bulgaria on it, and an apology from the museum for the word being there as a “grave mistake”, has raised the ire of two academics who supposedly signed it but did not.

The petition is not backed by any leader of a representative organisation of the Bulgarian Jewish community.

It says that it is signed by “Bulgarian citizens and recognised (current and future) opinion leaders”.

Given that Professor Todor Tanev and Associate Professor Albena Taneva have made it clear they did not sign the petition, and reject its message, it is not currently clear how many of the supposed signatories consented to their names being used.

The petition says: “The monument at the entrance of the death camp of Treblinka, stating ‘Bulgaria’ simply does not belong there”.

No Bulgarians reached Treblinka because trains were cancelled, the petition says, in a reference to the prevention in 1943 of the planned deportation of Bulgarian Jews to the Nazi death camps of the Holocaust.

The petition’s statement ignores the fact of the 11 343 Jews deported to and murdered at Treblinka from parts of the former Yugoslavia then under the administration of Bulgaria, at the time an ally of Nazi Germany.

While within the pre-1941 borders of Bulgaria, the deportation of Bulgarian Jews was prevented – an achievement by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, some political leaders, intellectuals, civil society and ordinary Bulgarians – Bulgarian government officials, military and police were complicit in the deportation from Vardar Macedonia.

The deportations of Jews from Vardar Macedonia and Aegean Thrace took place in terms of an intergovernmental agreement between Nazi Germany and Bulgaria, that also had encompassed plans to deport Bulgarian Jews to be murdered by the Nazis.

The Yad Vashem Museum website provides information on the history of what happened to Jews in those parts of Yugoslavia. Of those thousands taken to the Treblinka death camp, only a handful were not murdered.

Associate Professor Taneva, in a letter to the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom”, said that the initiator of the petition, Yaakov Djerassi, had allowed himself to include her name and that of her husband without their consent.

“In principle, I do not approve of the inclusion of my name in any political document on historical issues. As a researcher of this period, I know the documentation very well. The legacy of the Holocaust should make us sensitive to all suffering,” she said.

Taneva said that Bulgaria is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and as such has the opportunity, together with the entire civilised world, to participate honestly in preserving the whole truth about this catastrophe of European civilisation.

For more than a decade, a succession of Bulgarian Foreign Ministers – including Nikolai Mladenov, Radi Naidenov, Daniel Mitov and Ekaterina Zaharieva – when speaking of the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews, did not omit what happened to the Jews in neighbouring territories then under Bulgarian administration. In March 2018, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov travelled to Skopje to join his counterpart in a ceremony commemorating Holocaust victims in that country.

Relations between Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia are currently strained over issues in history, notably figures from the time of the struggle for liberation from Ottoman rule. Governments in Skopje also have been extremely sensitive on the issue of monarchist Bulgaria’s role in the deportation of Jews from Vardar Macedonia. This sensitivity could easily by vexed by statements omitting these facts from Holocaust history, even if coming from people speaking neither for the government nor any broadly representative organisation.

(Photo, of a memorial at Treblinka: Marco Rafolt from Pixabay)

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The Sofia Globe staff

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