Sofia marks anniversary of prevention of deportation of Bulgarian Jews

March 10 in Sofia saw a March of Tolerance, speeches and floral tributes marking the 81st anniversary of the prevention of the deportation of the Bulgarian Jews, and mourning for the more than 11 000 Jews deported from territories administered by Axis member Bulgaria during the Holocaust.

The March of Tolerance, organised by the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria Shalom and Sofia municipality, followed a route from St Sofia church to the monument commemorating the prevention of the deportation of the Bulgarian Jews.

Those in attendance at the ceremony included Justice Minister Atanas Slavov, National Assembly Deputy Speaker Kristian Vigenin, Sofia deputy mayor Nikola Barbutov, the ambassador of the State of Israel Yosi Levi Sfari and other foreign diplomats, as well as leaders and members of Bulgarian and international Jewish organisations.

Opening the ceremony at the monument, Shalom president Professor Alexander Oscar said that the day was one of honour of all Bulgarians who came together and saved the lives of close to 50 000 Jews, but the day was also one of remembrance.

“We will not forget those who were not saved – over 11 000 people,” he said.

Deputy mayor Barbutov, citing the resistance in 1943 to the planned deportations, said: “I am convinced that these ideals are still alive today and we all must not only uphold them, but also teach them to our children, passing on the memory of March 10 1943.

“Sofia is a city of tolerance and wisdom, bequeathed to us over the centuries. That’s why I thank you for standing together here united in the name of goodness and basic human values,” Barbutov said.

“Our ancient city is part of the European family and the principles of dignity and human rights are the basis of our actions. And humanity and goodness are a cause for which we must be united and strong,” he said.

Sara Luna, a survivor of the Holocaust now in her late 80s, told of the memory of the restrictions and repression under Bulgaria’s 1940 antisemitic Defence of the Nation Act, and the sense of insecurity and anxiety she experienced 81 years ago.

She thanked the Bulgarian people, the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the MPs of the time, headed by Dimitar Peshev.

“The rescue of the Bulgarian Jews is a reason for national pride, it is a means of education and an example of the fact that unity makes strength, and united people do miracles. Let us remember the lessons of the past and let us continue our efforts in the fight against all forms of antisemitism, discrimination and hatred,” Luna said.

Sfari said: “Very few nations can proudly claim that their entire Jewish community survived the genocide perpetrated on the Jewish people by the Nazis. That there were more Jews in their country at the end of the Second World War than at its beginning”.

“It is our responsibility to pass on the essence of true friendship and brotherhood between the Jewish and Bulgarian people to the next generations,” he said.

“It is an unbreakable bond that will last forever until the end of time. Unlike many other places in Europe, the Bulgarians said clearly: it will not happen in our society. We will not allow the killing of the Jews of our nation, ‘our’ Jews. We thank them today, as we always will. They changed the course of history in the darkest of times, often risking their own lives,” Sfari said.

Wreaths and flowers were laid in honour of the Bulgarian Righteous Among the Nations – those non-Jews recognised for their roles in resisting the Holocaust – and 134 yellow tulips were laid, a symbol of the demand for the release of the 134 hostages taken by the Hamas terrorist group in its attack on Israel on October 7 2023.

(Photos: Sofia municipality)

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