The event was dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews during the World War II.
In his opening speech, Ambassador of Bulgaria to Azerbaijan Nikolay Yankov stressed that the rescue of 48,000 Bulgarian Jews in 1943 is an outstanding historical example that shows how personal and political courage, civic conscience and determination can resist the most devastating policy.
The exhibition chronicles the resistance of the Bulgarian citizens, the brave refusal of society to obey the authorities’ plans to send Bulgarian Jews to Nazi concentration camps.
The event was supported by the Embassy of Israel in Baku and Ambassador of Israel to Azerbaijan Dan Stav also made opening remarks at the presentation of the exhibition.
“It is a great honor to say a few words on the opening of the exhibition “The Power of Civil Society: The Fate of the Jews in Bulgaria 1940-1944”,” Dan Stav said.
“I am grateful to Ambassador Yankov for granting me the opportunity to share my thoughts you. The story of the salvation of the 50,000 strong Bulgarian Jews is unique and should be remembered for its merits as a great humanist approach of so many brave individuals. It should also serve as a constant reminder of the ability of leading individuals blessed with courage and conscience to form an active civil society that stands up firmly against gross injustice, despite facing hostile government that joined hands with Nazi Germany and very powerful fascist elements in Bulgaria,” Dan Stav noted.
“Historically, the Bulgarian Jewry did not face the same ferocious anti-Semitism that existed in many parts of Europe,” he noted. “Racist approaches towards Jews were not common, though manifestations of Anti-Semitism were evident in Bulgaria including pogroms conducted by a number of Fascist organizations. The overall acceptance of Jews, however, prompted Karl Franz Reich, the German representative in Bulgaria to admit in April 1943 that transport of Jews from Bulgaria will face difficulties. He attributed it to the different approaches prevailing in Bulgaria to the so-called Jewish issue in comparison to those that prevailed in Germany.”
“The resistance to the expulsion of Jews from Bulgaria was impressive,” he added. “In October 1940, 21 of the most important Bulgarian writers signed a petition urging the government not to enact the law on “The Protection of the Nation” that limited the Jews’ rights and in fact paved the way for the mass deportation of Jews. The Physician association and the lawyers’ bureau joined hand in expressing strong objection to that l.aw. The Metropolitans Stephan from Sofia, Cyril from Plovdiv, Naupit from Vidin and Sofronii from Vratsa were also very active in this protest. Due to these activities, the government was hesitant to push for the endorsement of that law, yet it was finally endorsed in 1941. This courageous resistance reflected a wide spread sympathy among the Bulgarian people towards the Jews.”
“When the government finally ordered the first deportation of Jews from Kyustandil in March 1943 a delegation representing organizations from right and left warned the government against it and succeeded in preventing the deportation,” he said. “When the government was trying to deport the Jews of Sofia the move met with almost cross the board objection from the intelligentsia, the religious leaders and many other rank and file Bulgarians. The bottom line is that 50,000 Jews were internally displaced but not deported to a certain death in the death camps such as Treblinka. Out of 26,000 Sofia Jews, about 19,000 were internally displaced. They faced enormous hardship, harassments and suffering. One should not forget the forced labor camps in which thousands of Jewish men were interned. Yet they survived.”
“Sadly, the same can’t be said about the fate of the Jews living in Macedonia, Trace and the eastern parts of Serbia, territories that were annexed to Bulgaria during the Second World War,” he noted. “About 12,000 Jews from these territories were handed over to the Wehrmacht and sent to Treblinka concentration camp.”
As many as 50,000 Bulgarian Jews were saved by the hard work of many members of the Bulgarian civil society, he noted.
“By enlarge, the Bulgarian people displayed compassion for the Jews,” he said. “They did it at the risk to their own well-being if not even their lives. It is a matter for historians to debate about the role played by the Communist resistance movement, the partisans, ordinary people, the civil society in the rescue of the Bulgarian Jewry and to what extent the changing external circumstances contributed to this salvation. Yet the moral importance of the role played by the civil society in Bulgaria at that time of extreme trial cannot and should not be underestimated.”
The exhibition has been shown more than 40 times on three continents since its premiere in 2008. It was realized in collaboration with the Centre for Jewish Studies at Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski and State Institute for Culture at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria.
The exhibition will stay open for visitors from Nov. 30 to Dec. 1, 2018.