Memories of Bulgarian Jews flashed back when I visited the Holocaust History Museum designed by Yad Yashem. The holocaust has left behind many victims, but the brave act of a few non Jews in Bulgaria saved over 12,000 Jews from a gory death in the gas chambers. In 1943, Vladimir Kurtev and three others met the Deputy Speaker in Sophia to get revoked a deportation order signed by the Bulgarian government and Germany. This act of bravery under trying conditions left an indelible mark, and I was curious to know more about Bulgarian Jews and how well they blended with the others. Records were slowly being recovered, and it was only in 2010 that Vladimir Kurtev was honored by the Jewish Government.
A Brief History Of The Bulgarian Jew
Jews arrived into Bulgaria as early as the 2nd Century BCE to escape the wrath of the Romans and persecution elsewhere. Basically a Christian population, the locals allowed Jews to mingle with them. They were industrious and fair-skinned as they were mostly from Europe itself. Through the years, they were inducted into the army and performed other important functions. I came across this interesting bit of information that the Tsar Ivan Alexander actually married Sarah, a Jewish woman, though later she converted to Christianity to have considerable legal clout.
The monarchy never fully appreciated the role Jews played in society and were largely influenced by what happened in other parts of Europe. World War II saw the Jews losing all their rights as citizens. They could not vote, join the army, or marry an ethnic Bulgarian. When nearly 50,000 Jews were saved from the holocaust, most of them left for Israel to avoid communist Russian rule.
How the Political System Has Evolved
I did not think the Soviet rule after World War II could leave such a big impact on the political system of Bulgaria. Before the war, there was participation of many different parties together with the monarchy. However, after the war, Todor Zhivkov headed the Communist Party for 35 years with absolutely no opposition. Government plans could be easily implemented as means of production was in the hands of the government. The communist rule did not last after the wave of liberalization spread across Europe. Today, Bulgaria as a parliamentarian republic has separate entities for the judiciary, executive body, and legislature. Bulgarian Jews have not much to worry, as the anti-Semitism wave has waned. Life of Jews though is more about blending with local cultural reforms.
Keeping My Memories Intact
“The Sacred Road,” an exhibition devoted to the lives of Bulgarian Jews has kept my memories alive. It relives the history of Jews from the 15th century till the late 1940s with documents, photos, and objects collected from the Jewish community. It was open to the public until 1969, and I learned so many things about Jews and their patriotism by going back in history. Today, there may be just a few thousands of them left in Bulgaria, but personalities like Isaac Passy, Elias Canetti, and Albert Afalion have left their mark forever.