Fortytwo worthy Bulgarians: the saviors we have never heard of

by Daniel Pangev

On 10th March 1943 the trains left empty - the Bulgarian Jews remained within the borders of the country and never left for Auschwitz, Treblinka, Birkenau, Maidanek, Dachau.

On March 1, 1941, after attempts to remain neutral, the Kingdom of Bulgaria joined the Axis powers. We have learned that Bulgaria was involved in the war in order to restore the neighboring territories inhabited by bulgarians for many years. It turns out that this is not a true. At that time, 500,000 Nazi soldiers were sitting on the Danube river, waiting to cross the bulgarian territory. Probably for some circles in Sofia nowadays the Kingdom had to fight and be crushed by the Nazis (like half of Europe, including the neighbours Kingdom of Yugoslavia and Greece). I recall that on April 6, Nazi Germany invaded Yugoslavia, the latter even bombing Sofia and Kyustendil. Yugoslavia was overrun within two weeks and a puppet pro-Nazi government was installed. Greece was also run over for three weeks. Exactly 8 years ago, Atty. Joseph Geron said on this occasion: "The fact that the train of World War II did not pass through Bulgaria, and the bulgarian is a strong and good soldier... the effect would be much sadder than in Yugoslavia, Romania and Greece, because he knows how to fight and here rivers of blood would flow. The result would be sad for the Bulgarian Jews as well. None of them would remain or, exceptionally, anyone hidden". (1)

The inclusion of Bulgaria on the side of Nazi Germany, although as a result of geopolitical events, hides its dangers. On 20th January 1942, the pro-Nazi leaders gathered in a luxury villa near Berlin. This event goes down in history as the Wannsee Conference. Although the Holocaust began earlier, it was there where the plan for the "final solution of the Jewish question" was created. It was there where the Nazis drew up a list of Jews to be exterminated by countries. A total of 11 million people, of whom the figure of 48,000 are for Bulgaria. This is the exact number of Jews who time lived within the borders of the country at that. 

In the years of communism, the story of the salvation of the Jews was presented as an achievement of the partisans and the Bulgarian communist party. Even Todor Zhivkov was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. This has been renounced by the documents. However, 31 years after the democratic changes in Bulgaria, this story is shrouded in fog and the attempts of a small circle of researchers are met with sharpness and criticism. During the last 12 years I had made lots of interviews, gathered a rich archive of documents and books, went to Israel to try to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Other research teams are also working on the topic. However, in 2021 the Bulgarian and world community continue to be bombarded with the cliché that "the Bulgarian people, the church and Peshev saved the Jews."

This is a half-truth, and every half-truth is a whole lie as said Benjamin Arditi’s son from Holon.

How exactly did the Bulgarian people save the Jews? Did they hug and not give them to the Nazis? And do we count Paisievci, Brannici and Legionnaires as belonging to the Bulgarian people? Shall we count them as saviors? And one more thing - my grandfather had been in Greece during the WWII. I don't know if he saved anyone. In other words, this is a false statement. If you open the archives, you will see that the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews is not a one-time occurrence. It's not even a simple occurrence. This is a process! People from different circles of the Bulgarian society take an active part in it. They have shown their civil position. Their names and signatures are under protest letters and declarations, their speeches can be read in the stenographic diaries of the XXV National Assembly. For unclear reasons, however, we had never heard the concrete names, but only the general "Bulgarian people".

In the following lines I will tell you about these worthy Bulgarians who defended their countrymen of Jewish origin. The Jews who have lived in these lands for 450 years, countrymen who fought side by side with their bulgarian friends during three wars and who gave 952 victims in it. If we take into account the total number of the Jewish community, it will be seen that as a percentage this is more than the number of killed bulgarians. (952 killed of total 48,000 Jews living in the country).

The Law for Protection of the Nation has been introduced in the National Assembly and there are lively debates in October-December 1940. During it, those valiant and honest parliamentarians appear, who had expressed without any concern their deep disagreement with the provisions of the law. Among them are the speeches of Ivan Petrov (2), Nikola Sakarov (3-4) and Prof. Petko Staynov. Nikola Mushanov (5) has repeatedly spoken from the tribune, stating: “...For a small country like Bulgaria, which had its price only in the fact that the principles of freedom, justice and tolerance towards religion and towards foreigners can be applied in it subjects, you take away this ornament and in the minutes when perhaps our country will have the greatest need for the principles of its humanity. ”

Protest letters against the Law for Protection of the Nation come from all sides: a letter is sent by Hristo Punev, Yanko Sakazov, Ivan Runevski, Lyudmil Stoyanov, Stoyan Kosturkov, Petko Stoyanov and Konstantin Neftyanov (6); a letter arrives from the Union of War Victims in Bulgaria, signed by Hristo Kovachev and Gancho Anastasov (7); a letter from Alexander Milenkov and Preslav Karshovski on behalf of the Union of Painters in Bulgaria (8). Disapproval also comes from Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The disapproval of the Bulgarian Church is clearly seen in the protocols - N 12, 13 and 14. It has been signed in many cases by all metropolitans, and these are not only Sofia's Stefan and Plovdiv's Kiril. Also included are Boris from Nevrokop, Neofit from Vidin - at that time deputy - chairman of the Holy Synod, Mihail of Dorostol and Cherven, Paisii of Vratsa, Joseph of Varna and Preslav, Filaret of Lovech, Evlogi of Sliven, Kliment of Stara Zagora. The archives also contain the letter from Neofit to the Prime Minister and the chairman of the XXV National Assembly with a request to soften the measures against the Jews. Dimo Kazasov (9) also sent a letter to the Prime Minister Bogdan Filov; besides him, a letter from the Union of Bulgarian Lawyers to the Prime Minister (10) 2, signed by Petar Boyadzhiev and Naiden Raichev. The Medical Union also protested in a letter to the chairman of the National Assembly Logofetov signed by Dr. Ivan Koychev and Konstantin Kusitasev (11). The letter states that "the bulgarian doctor, by virtue of his special knowledge and taking into account the long-term coexistence with the Jewish minority, does not see the existence of any danger." The writers also protested, saying that "we are not defending one or another minority. Rather, our goal is to protect the good name of our people created in the cultural world and to warn those on whom this depends - not to allow the drafting of such a law to damage the prestige of the country and the acquired traditions of religious tolerance and humanity. The letter is signed by Todor Vlaykov, Grigor Chesmedjiev, Lyudmil Stoyanov, Nikolay Liliev, Nikola Filipov, Trifon Kunev, Nikola Ikonomov, Elin Pelin, Stoyan Chilingirov, Dimitar Mitov, Konstantin Konstantinov, Miroslav Minev, Mladen Isaev, Minko Genov, Elisaveta Bagryana, Anna Kamenova, Petar Goryanski, Vladimir Rusaliev, Nikola Djerov, Iliycho Volin, Hristo Tsankov–Derizhan (12).

Despite criticism of the law, it was approved and became part of the legislation in January 1941. It should be strongly emphasized that it is aimed not only at the Jews, but also at the secret organizations like Masons. Subsequently, the measures were tightened in order to reach that day in March, when the gathering of the Jews in Kyustendil began. The quickly formed delegation, which includes Asen Suichmezov, Vladimir Kurtev from Internal Macedonian revolutionary organization (IMRO), Petar Mihalev and Ivan Momchilov, departed for Sofia, where they met with Dimitar Peshev. He, in turn, met with Minister of Interior Peter Gabrovski and demanded an end to the action. Peshev, although a representative of the National Assembly, can do nothing but protest. The policy in the country is guided by the Council of ministers. In the early morning of 10th of March, Bulgarian Jews heard the words: "The king canceled the deportation." Yes, in one Kingdom (Like Kingdom of Bulgaria) and in an absolute regime, nothing would have happened without the decision of king Boris III. He did not allow the Bulgarian Jews to sacrifice in those hours on the 9th to 10th of March. A letter signed by a "grateful mother" to him on the occasion of the liberation of the Jews of Plovdiv is kept in the archives. It is dated March 11, 1943, in which we read:

"Your Majesty, God's hand through you has ordered our release!" Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. May God bless you and your family..." (13)

As mentioned above, Peshev can protest, but he cannot change or cancel a decision of the government. On 17th March 1943, a week later, he prepared a protest letter, signed by 42 other Members of the Parliament. All of them - part of the parliamentarians who support the government and his foreign policy. This letter begins as follows: "The sense of great historical responsibility we carry with the government in the fateful moments that our people are going through, as well as our unwavering commitment to politicy and the regime and our desire to continually contribute everything we can to their success, give us courage to turn to you with hope that you will welcome our action with faith in its goodwill and sincerity."

Yes. There is no doubt about the intentions of these people as part of the majority in the National Assembly. The final of this letter is extremely emotional:

"The honor of Bulgaria and its people is not just a matter of feeling - it is above all an element of its policy. It is a political capital of a greatest value, and therefore no one is allowed to disperse it without an excuse that would be shared by the whole nation. Please accept, dear Prime – minister, our best regards to you." Sofia, March 17, 1943

The names of these 42 members of the parliament (MP) follow. Bulgarians and the world have never heard their names. All of them, together with the deputy chairman of the XXV National Assembly Dimitar Peshev, were from the government majority. Here are their names:

Dimitur Iosifov Peshev              Kiustendil I

Georgi Zhelezov Svinarov          Provadiia II

Spas Marinov Popovski              Belogradchik

Aleksandur Gatev Krustev         Nikopol I

Todor Pavlov Kozhuharov           Sofia urban III

Petur Georgiev Mihalev             Kiustendil III  

Ignat Iliev Haidudov                  Pleven II

Marin Ivanov Tiutiundzhiev       Shumen I

Simeon Kirov Halachev              Omortag

Georgi Petrov Kenderov            Pazardzhik I

Sotir Ianev Drobachki                Dupnitsa I

Sirko Stanchev Petkov               Zlatograd

Doncho Dimov Uzunov               Gorna Oriahovitsa II

Dr. Ivan Kotsev Iotov                 Pazardzhik II

Danail Zhechev Kunev               Kotel

Dr. Petur Ivanov K’oseivanov     Peshtera

Andro Hristov Lulchev               Nikopol II

Georgi Mikov Ninov                   Pleven IV

Aleksandur Tsalov Tsankov        Sofia urban I

Nikola Stoichev Mushanov         Sofia urban II

Vasil Hristov Velchev                 Novi Pazar I 

Dimitur Nikolov Ikonomov         Dupnitsa II

Ivan Dimitrov Minkov                Stara Zagora III

Iliia Dimitrov Slavkov                Nevrokop  

Georgi p. Stefanov Prodanov     Sredets

Stefan Stoianov Statelov           Gorna Oriahovitsa I

Ivan Vasilev Petrov                    Teteven

Georgi Todorov Krustev              Plovdiv rural IV

Stefan h. Vasilev Karaivanov      Karlovo I

Tasko Stoichkov Stoilkov            Sveti Vrach

Aleksandur Simov Gigov             Breznik

Filip Dimitrov Mahmudiev          Gorna Oriahovitsa III

Dimitur Atanasov Arnaudov        Sliven I

Petur Markov h. Petrov              Elena

Kiro Kostadinov Arnaudov          Chirpan I

Dr. Ivan Kirov Vazov                   Stara Zagora I

Dr. Georgi Rafailov Popo         Nova Zagora II

Dr. Ivan Beshkov Dunov              Pleven III

Nikola Ivanov Gradev                 Popovo II 

Hristo Stoianov Taukchiev         Nova Zagora I

Rusi Ivanov Marinov                  Stara Zagora II

Panaiot Todorov Stankov           Vidin III

Dr. Nikola Ivanov Durov             Devina

The fate of these 42 members of the parliament (MP) is deeply tragic after September 9, 1944. Half of them were sentenced to death by the communist People's Court, and others were sent in prison. Dimitar Peshev received a 15-year sentence. King Boris III died on 28 August 1943. The documents clearly show- the death occurred as a result of poison. The important thing is that on 10th of March 1943 the trains left empty. Until the end of the war, the Bulgarian Jews remained within the borders of Bulgaria and never left for Auschwitz, Treblinka, Birkenau, Maidanek, Dachau.


(1) Speech by Joseph Geron, Roncalli center, Sofia, august 2013.
(2) Speech of Ivan V. Petrov against the Law for Protection of the Nation, diaries of XXV National Assembly, 13 sessions, 20 November 1940. Central State Archives, fond 366Б, opis 1, а.1 993, l. 56 - 63
(3) Speech of d-r Nikola Sakarov against the Law for Protection of the Nation, 25 December 1940. Central State Archives, fond 366Б, opis 1, а.е. 981, l. 1-16
(4) Opinion of d-r Nikola Sakarov, against the Law for Protection of the Nation. Central State Archives, fond 366Б, opis 1, а.е.1 933, l. 24-32
(5) Central State Archives, fond 1303К, opis 1, а.е. 71, l. 1-17
(6) Central State Archives, fond 1303К, opis 1, а.1. 121, l. 1-12
(7) Letter of the Union of the victims from the wars in Bulgaria, Central State Archives, fond 173К, opis 6, а.е. 1087, l. 68
(8) Letter of Alexander Milenkov and Preslav Karshovski. Central State Archives, fond 1303К, opis 1,а.е. 73, l. 10 
(9) Letter of Dimo Kazasov to Bogdan Filov. Central State Archives, fond 1397К, opis 1, а.е. 990, l. 1-3
(10) Letter on behalf of the Union of the Bulgarian lawyers. Central State Archives, fond 1335К, opis 1, а.е. 118, l. 20-21
(11) Letter on behalf of the Bulgarian medical Union. Central State Archives, fond 173К, opis 6, а.е. 1087, l. 56- 58
(12) Letter of Bulgarian writers to the Prime-minister Bogdan Filov and the Chairman of the National Assembly against the Law for the Protection of the nation. Central State Archives, fond 367Б, opis 1, а.е. 362, l. 1
(13) Letter from „a mother“ to King Boris III. Central State Archives, фонд 3К, опис 12, а.е. 963, l. 1

Attached you can find the original documents

Analysis by

15 November 2021

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