Beyond Hitler's Grasp
A great many Jews know the story of how the Danes
rescued 8,000 Jews from the Nazi's by smuggling them
to Sweden in fishing boats.
Very few Jews, know the story of how all 50,000
Bulgarian Jews were saved. Not a single Bulgarian
Jew was deported to the death camps, due to the
heroism of many Bulgarians of every walk of life, up
to and including the King and the Patriarch of the
Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
In 1999, Abraham Foxman, the National Director of
the Anti Defamation League flew with a delegation to
Sophia to meet the Bulgarian Prime Minister. He gave
the Prime Minister the first Bulgarian language copy
of a remarkable book, "Beyond Hitler's Grasp,"
written in 1998, by Michael Bar Oar, a professor at
Emory University. (A Bulgarian Jew who had migrated
to Israel and then to the USA).
This book documents the rescue effort in detail. The
ADL paid for and shipped 30,000 copies to Bulgaria,
so that the population could partake in the joy of
learning about this heroic facet of their history.
This story is clearly the last great secret of the
Holocaust era. The story was buried by the Bulgarian
Communists, until their downfall in 1991. All
records were sealed, since they didn't wish to
glorify the King, or the Church, or the non
Communist parliamentarians, who at great personal
risk, stood up to the Germans. And the Bulgarian
Jewish Community, 45,000 of whom went to Israel after the War, were
busy building new lives, and somehow the story remained untold.
Bulgaria is a small country and at the outset of the
War they had 8 million people. They aligned
themselves with the Nazi's in hopes of recapturing
Macedonia from Yugoslavia and Thrace from Greece.
Both provinces were stripped from them, after W.W.I.
In late 1942 the Jews of Selonica were shipped north
through Bulgaria, on the way to the death camps, in
sealed box cars. The news of this inhumanity was a
hot topic of conversation. Then, at the beginning of
1943, the pro Nazi Bulgarian government was informed
that all 50,000 Bulgarian Jews would be deported in
March. The Jews had been made to wear yellow stars
and were highly visible.
As the date for the deportation got closer, the
agitation got greater. Forty-three ruling party
members of Parliament walked out in protest.
Newspapers denounced what was about to happen. In
addition, the Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox
Church, Archbishop Krill, threatened to lie down on the railroad tracks.
Finally, King Boris III forbid the deportation.
Since Bulgaria was an ally of Germany, and the
Germans were stretched militarily, they had to
wrestle with the problem of how much pressure they
could afford to apply. They decided to pass.
Several points are noteworthy. The Bulgarian Jews
were relatively unreligious and did not stand apart
from the local populace by virtue of garb, or rites.
They were relatively poor by comparison to Jews in
other countries, and they lived in integrated
neighborhoods. Additionally, the Bulgarians had many
minorities, Armenians, Turks, Greeks, and Gypsies, in addition to Jews.
There was no concept of racism in that culture. The
bottom line here is that Bulgarians saw Bulgarian-Jews as Bulgarians,
And, being a small country, like Denmark, where there
a closeness of community, that is often missing in
larger countries. So, here was a bright spot that we
can point to as example of what should have been.
The most famous of those saved was a young graduate
of the Bulgarian Military Academy. When he arrived
in Israel, he changed his name to Moshe Dayan.....
What a great story to pass on to your e-mail list....