site.btaBulgarian Writers' Union Chair: Our Society Must Not Forget the Time When Arrogant Politicians Humiliated Bulgarian Jews
Our society must not forget the time when arrogant politicians humiliated Bulgarian Jews, hiding behind the paragraphs of the pro-Nazi and racist Law for Protection of the Nation, the chair of the Bulgarian Writers' Union Boyan Angelov said in a BTA interview on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the rescue of Bulgarian Jews.
"Our society knows almost nothing about the firm rejection by Bulgarian writers and their Union of the adoption of the Protection of the Nation Act. Part of the most prominent Bulgarian writers wrote a letter to Prime Minister Bogdan Filov, who was also a member of the Writers' Union, chair of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and of the Bulgarian PEN club", Angelov noted.
He quoted part of the arguments from the letter, composed in October 1940 - as soon as the writers learned that such an inhumane law was in the works: "Our legislation must not include a law that would enslave a part of Bulgarian subjects and would leave a black mark in our modern history. In its historic past, the Bulgarian people was persecuted and humiliated. Are we about to follow a dangerous path of imitation and deny ourselves as a free and civilized people. We're not protecting one minority or another, our goal is rather to protect the good name of our people, created in the world of culture, and to implore the people this depends on - not to let the creation of such law to harm the prestige of the country and the established traditions of religious tolerance and humanity."
According to Angelov, "the times now are no less alarming than that distant period of fanatical national socialism".
Following is the full interview:
Q: Who bears greater responsibility for the preservation of the memory of the Holocaust - historians or men of letters?
A: The time of the Holocaust during the Second World War is among the darkest periods in human history. The murder of millions of innocent human beings is a horrible crime and the main culprits have received deserved punishment. But the memory of that barbaric timelessness preserves the horror of death. This memory we can observe in the cold crematorium ovens and half-rotten shacks of the Nazi concentration camps of Treblinka, Buchenwald, Dachau. Countless historical chronicles and documentary evidence remind of this shameful page in human history.
Historians are keen on analyzing thoroughly and conscientiously the tragedy that occurred. They search and find the causal links. In fact, the Holocaust isn't the only crime against humanity. Let's remember the genocide against the Armenian people in the beginning of last century, the crimes of the Khmer Rouge in Kampuchea, the massacre in Rwanda… Historians deal with facts and often they put them to subjective interpretation. The writer, on the other hand, places reality on an emotional pedestal and uses the power of words to model memorable, even unforgettable images.
Many literary works deal with the Holocaust. The Bulgarian-German film Stars (“Sterne“) with scenario from the world-famous Bulgarian writer Angel Wagenstein receives the Cannes Special Jury Prize in the distant 1959. I'm still under the influence of the movie Schindler's List, where the reality of the Nazi concentration camps is revealed with surgical consistency.
Indeed, some of the most touching testimonies of those dark times are the memories of Holocaust survivors. In his memoir novel Late Eye (Bulgarian Writer Publishing House, 2018), the writer Viktor Barukh recounts life in the camps where, in the early 1940s, thousands of Bulgarian Jews were forced by the then rulers to perform hard labor.
Q: Why our people never fell for antisemitic ideas?
A: The people of Bulgaria are compassionate and their compassion comes from centuries of slavery - Byzantine and Ottoman. No less terrible was the spiritual oppression of the people, exercised by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Phanariot overlords. This compassion was also inspired by the humane messages of the Orthodox religion. For more than a millennium, the Bulgarian Church has brought the apostolic messages of humility, modesty, chastity and compassion into the lives of our fellow countrymen. This Church created and preserved the Bulgarian language, writing and literacy as our most sacred value. We have been enslaved, but we have never been enslavers.
And the Jews come to Bulgarian land following the Alhambra Decree from March 31, 1492 by the Spanish royal family of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. According to this decree, Jews living in Spain could stay there only on condition that they converted to the Catholic religion. The others had until July 31 of the same year to leave the kingdom - or face the death penalty. Thousands of Sephardic Jews settled in the Ottoman Empire and mainly in its European part.
Bulgarians and Jews have thus lived together for centuries in the shadow of the Ottoman crescent, and I therefore believe that nothing and no one is capable of destroying this peaceful coexistence between us. The pro-Hitler Bulgarian deputies passed the disgraceful Protection of the Nation Act. It was introduced by Bogdan Filov's cabinet and came into force on January 31, 1941, and continued to be in force until November 1944.
Q: Why the Holocaust shouldn't be forgotten?
A: Human memory can be modeled in many ways. Forgetting is one of the easiest. That is why our society should not forget that time when arrogant politicians humiliated Bulgarian Jews, hiding behind the paragraphs of the pro-Nazi and racist law for the "protection of the nation". Empowered villains confiscated some of the property of Bulgarian Jews, evicted them from their homes, imprisoned men and young people in labor camps, even attempted to send nearly 50 000 of our compatriots of Jewish origin to death camps. And then the miracle happened! Our nation, led by its most worthy leaders, rose as one in defense of the Bulgarian Jews. Members of Parliament, writers, artists, musicians, the spiritual leaders of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church declared themselves in their defense and did not allow a single Jew from Old Bulgaria to reach the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
To their great regret, 11,000 Jews from Macedonia and Aegian Thrace were loaded onto echelons of death.
Q: What isn't known about the events related to the rescue of Bulgarian Jews? Is there anything which is still not sufficiently studied?
A: Our society knows almost nothing about the firm rejection by Bulgarian writers and their Union of the Protection of the Nation Act. Part of the most prominent Bulgarian writers wrote a letter to Prime Minister Bogdan Filov, who was also a member of the Writers' Union, chair of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and of the Bulgarian PEN club. The writer-colleagues of Filov wrote to him: "Our legislation must not include a law that would enslave a part of Bulgarian subjects and would leave a black mark in our modern history. In its historic past, the Bulgarian people was persecuted and humiliated. Are we about to follow a dangerous path of imitation and deny ourselves as a free and civilized people? We're not protecting one minority or another, our goal is rather to protect the good name of our people, created in the world of culture, and to implore the people this depends on - not to let the creation of such law to harm the prestige of the country and the established traditions of religious tolerance and humanity. In the name of culture and Bulgaria's prestige, we ask you not to allow the creation of a law whose unfortunate consequences will darken our legislation and leave the worst of memories…"
Hardly anyone would doubt the sincerity of every word in this letter, written as early as October 1940 - as soon as the writers learned that such an inhuman law was being prepared. Under the letter are the names and signatures of: Todor Vlaykov, Elin Pelin, who chaired the Writers' Union at the time, Elisaveta Bagryana, Nikolay Liliev, Stiliyan Chilingirov, D. B. Mitov, Petr Goryanski, Mladen Isaev, Anna Kamenova, Trifon Kounev, Iliya Volen, Minko Genov, Konstantin Konstantinov, Grigor Cheshmedzhiev, Hristo Tsankov-Derizhan, Nikola Filipov, Nikola Dzherov, Nikola Ikonomov, Miroslav Minev, Vladimir Rusaliev, Lyudmil Stoyanov. Very soon, however, an allegation appeared in the press of the time that the writers had been bribed by the Jews. That was condemned by hundreds of honest intellectuals, and journalist Dimo Kazasov wrote in an open letter to Bogdan Filov: "With the permission of the censorship headed by you, a call was printed and distributed in thousands of copies, in which the most prominent writers, headed by T. G. Vlaykov and Elin Pelin are accused of bribery just because they stood up in valiant defense of the Bulgarian Jews... You have only one means of keep deceiving people on these and many such questions: censorship and the stick. "
Bulgarian writers did not cease in the following years to defend truth and justice, and some paid with their lives for this intransigence.
Q: Is there a question, related to Bulgarian Jews and their rescue, that you would like to ask?
A: The times now are no less alarming than that distant period of fanatical national socialism. My question is: Are we doing what is necessary to make sure that terrible time never happens again, and are we paying due tribute to those who saved us from Hitler's hatred?
Boyan Angelov was born of August 27, 1955 in Panagyurishte. He graduated in Philosophy and Bulgarian Philology at Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski. He has worked as an editor and editor-in-chief in publications in Sofia, in the Ministry of Culture, in the Committee for Television and Radio. He defended his doctorate at the Institute for Philosophical Studies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and from 1998 to 2005 he lived and worked in Switzerland, where he graduated from the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences with a recognized doctorate. He specializes and teaches in the fields of Waldorf pedagogy, the history of philosophical systems and social psychology. He is the author of more than 30 poetry books and other works. Since the end of 2012 he is the director of "Bulgarian writer" Publishing House, and since June 2014 - chair of the Bulgarian Writers' Union. Winner of national literary awards such as Hristo Smirnenski (2019), the Ivan Vazov Award for 2021, and on the eve of May 24, 2022 he was awarded the collar of the Order of Saints Cyril and Methodius for his particularly significant services in the fields of culture and art. In 2018 the Bulgarian Writers' Union, headed by him, was awarded the SHOFAR - an award for a praiseworthy position from the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom” on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the rescue of Bulgarian Jews.
Bulgaria will be marking the 80th anniversary of the rescue of Bulgarian Jews in 2023.
The anniversary raises many historical and historiographical questions about who the rescuers were, what made this great humanitarian act possible and why it happened in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian News Agency (BTA), in partnership with the Alef Jewish-Bulgarian Cooperation Center, set itself the task of answering these questions with the help of prominent scholars, public figures, and experts on the subject with a series of articles to recall the events of the past and the participants in them, and to present the importance of the rescue and the rescuers. Bulgaria and Denmark are believed to be the only countries that did not allow their Jewish citizens to be deported to Nazi death camps. Nearly 50,000 lives were saved in Bulgaria. According to information on the website of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center, Bulgaria had 50,000 Jews before World War II and zero victims. It is the only country with zero victims.