In Bulgaria, there is a debate over who was the savior of Bulgarian Jews, what was the role of Tsar Boris III, and whether the country, which was an ally of the Third Reich, applied anti-Semitic laws to save its Jews, as some historians claim. There is also the question of whether the state of Bulgaria is responsible for the fate of those over 11,000 Jews from Belomorska Thrace, Skopje and Pirot, who were then administered by the Bulgarian state.
Menachem Rosensaft – Associate Executive Vice President and General Counsel of the World Jewish Congress commented on the topic in an interview with BNR.
“First of all, a memory is only valid if it is accurate. The only thing we owe the dead is the truth. Let me start with France. For many years after the end of World War II, the mythology was that French Jews were sent to Auschwitz by the Germans with the involvement of several Vichy collaborators. Well, that wasn’t true. The Jews in France were arrested, taken to the internment camp and put on a train not by the Germans but by the French police, acting at the behest of the French authorities. And it wasn’t until 1995 that French President Jacques Chirac admitted this and publicly stated that France was far more responsible for the deportation and ultimate destruction of French Jews than previously acknowledged. I say this because of the parallel.
Yes, about 50,000 Bulgarian Jews were indeed saved from deportation from Bulgaria. This is a fact. And the best evidence we have today is that the Bulgarian civil society and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Stefan of Sofia and Cyril of Plovdiv contributed much more to the Bulgarian Jews not being deported than all members of Hitler’s allied government, including Tsar Boris.
I came across the book published by Jackie Conforti – “The Stolen Narrative of Bulgarian Jews and the Holocaust”, in which he quoted Tsar Boris III on June 22, 1943, as saying, “The great damage to mankind throughout the generations has been caused by the Jewish spirit of profiteering,” end quote. This suggests that precisely Boris the Third did not have particularly warm views of his Jewish subjects.
This is of particular importance to me because on June 22, 1943, in a town in southern Poland, my father and his wife, along with her daughter and 5,000 other Jews, were deported from the Auschwitz ghetto. My father escapes from the train by jumping into the Vistula River. Everyone else, including my father’s wife and her daughter, were killed on arrival. So that, we must be historically accurate and view the story of the Holocaust in its true context.”
According to Rosensaft, the Bulgarian civil society and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church acted “in a true Christian spirit and concern for the endangered”.
“But we simply cannot ignore the fact and we know the number – 11,343 Jews from Greece and Macedonia who were arrested and handed over to the Germans by the Bulgarian police and the Bulgarian troops. These are the realities. And the only way to deal with history is to face it. No one claims that anyone alive today bears any responsibility for this. The past is the past. But there is a responsibility to historical truth. The Bulgarian government is obliged to admit the truth. And to make that part of his duty to ensure that historical data is recorded accurately. Nobody’s doing anybody a favor by twisting history or suggesting that all those 11,343 Jews, you see, they weren’t that important.”
Asked whether he thinks that if the Bulgarian authorities admit responsibility for the Jews who were not saved, it will cast a shadow over the other fact – that 48,000 Bulgarian Jews were in fact preserved alive, Menachem Rosensaft emphasizes:
“History is not black and whiteis not one or the other. There are very few saints, although there are many devils. Oskar Schindler saved, I think, about 1,200 Jews on his list. To those Jews he saved, he was a hero. And for their descendants, the man was an absolute hero. But in the concentration camp where he took these Jews and made them work in his factory, thus saving them, there were number 1201 and number 1202 – those who did not make it onto his list and whom he did not save. And that’s a reality too, and he did the best he could. Now, however, the Bulgarian civil society, the Bulgarian people deserve enormous gratitude and deserve enormous recognition for what they did to protect and save the lives of their Jewish fellow citizens. And no one can ever take that away from them.
And whether Tsar Boris the Third participated in saving the Jews, or it happened in spite of him, does not change the fact that 48,000 Jews were saved. This only affects his role in the story and how he is presented. Right now, the question about the current government of Bulgaria is how will it be presented? Will they be portrayed as men and women facing history – the good and the bad? Who take credit for the good they have done? And they fail to recognize that the Bulgarian government 80 years ago acted cruelly towards the Jews in Thrace and Macedonia. These are two facts that must be considered together. You can’t take one of them. The fact that the Jews of Thrace and Macedonia were killed takes nothing away from the fact that 48,000 Bulgarian Jews were saved. The fact that 48,000 Bulgarian Jews were saved in no way diminishes the tragedy and does not diminish the horror of those 11,343 Jews who were sent to their deaths by the Bulgarian authorities.”
What do you think about the fact that today’s Bulgarian caretaker government, elected by the Bulgarian president, and himself, actually went to the memorial plaques, which are written to be copies of the plaques placed in the Bulgarian forest near Jerusalem, as a sign of appreciation. I am talking about the tablets of Tsar Boris the Third and Queen Joanna, who are named on these tablets as saviors of the Bulgarian Jews. What is the truth? Are they copies of tablets that stand in the Jerusalem Forest? Or are they just removed from there after a decision in Israel that there is not enough evidence that the king is the savior of the Jews?
“I know that these plaques were put up at one point. By the way, I also know that in the Bulgarian media it was said that one of these plaques or one of these awards was from the World Jewish Congress. At some event in Los Angeles in 1994 at the Simon Wiesenthal Center under the auspices of an organization called the American Congress of Jewish Concentration Camp Survivors. Something that is not true! I have found that out. I have no idea what that Los Angeles based organization was. It has nothing to do with the World Jewish Congress. Just as you are not responsible for something that a Bulgarian does in Los Angeles, neither we at the World Jewish Congress have nothing to do with it.
What if there are plaques? History, unfortunately, is not written through the prism of memorial plaques. It is not seen through the prism of the speeches that are made. It is seen through the prism of facts, through the prism of witnesses and documents about what actually happened. As a reporter, you know that if someone makes a statement, whether it’s the president or the prime minister, just because that person makes a statement doesn’t make the statement true. You should research it.
And in this particular case, whatever the historical belief was at the time when these plates were placed, they do not correspond to the truth, to the realities of history. In this sense, we, as the World Jewish Congress, are completely on the side of our Bulgarian affiliate – the organization of Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom”. And we want the Bulgarian government to simply face the truth and the historical reality in order to move forward… Because we know one thing. During the Holocaust, Nazi Germany and its allies killed an estimated 6 million Jews. Fortunately, 48,000 Bulgarian Jews were not among the 6 million, but also tragic is the fact that 11,343 Jews from these lands were. This is the reality. These are the facts. And one part of the equation cannot override the other.”
If one side of the equation is the distortion of the truth about the Holocaust, then what will we see on the other? Anti-Semitism? Does distorting the truth about the Holocaust lead to new forms of anti-Semitism today?
“Yes unfortunately. Distortion of Holocaust history as well as Holocaust denial is a very troubling part of the resurgence of anti-Semitism around the world. And it is very disturbing that 80 years after one of the most terrible events in human history, after the end of the Holocaust, after the release of the prisoners from the Nazi concentration camps, we are once again faced with marches in different parts of the world led by anti-Semitic, xenophobic and racial hatred. And in this respect, unfortunately, Jews are never the only victims of hatred and bigotry. They may be the first ones that are most easily attacked. But soon after them other minorities appeared – Roma, Muslims, immigrants, LGBT people. Xenophobia and hatred do not end at just one characteristic and do not stop at just one place, they continue and destroy society. Yes, the distortion of the facts about the Holocaust is a very alarming sign. But it’s a sign that doesn’t just affect us Jews, it affects all of us as human beings.”
Tags: Menachem Rosensaft Distorting Holocaust History Rekindles AntiSemitism Stories