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Bulgarian Jews being loaded on boxcars
On the quiet bank of the Volga river lie the ruins of
Velikiye Bulgaria, once the capital of the renowned and mighty state that has gone down in history under the name of Bulgary.
Bulgaria is located in southeastern Europe and is bordered by the Black Sea, Romania and Turkey. The area is slightly larger than the State of Tennessee. The total population today is approximately 8.2 million. This is one of the poorest countries of central Europe with an unemployment rate of 14% (1997 estimate). Jews represent today only 0.8% of the various religions as compared to 85% of the Bulgarian Orthodox.
All about Bulgaria
Jews arrived in the country at least as
early as the second century C.E., long before the Bulgars.
Like the earliest Jews in Greece, they called themselves
Romaniotes, and Greek Jews joined the community in the
ninth century. Czar Ivan Alexander (1331-1371) married a
Jewish woman named Sarah who converted and became Queen Theodora.
Bulgaria later became part of
the Ottoman Empire. From the fourteenth and fifteen centuries,
Ashkenazim expelled from Hungary and Bavaria arrived
and established their own communities. Then came a wave of
Sefardi Jews, expelled from Spain and speaking
Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) whose language and customs would become
A great many Jew knows 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.
On June 29, 1942, Jews in Sofia were forced to wear the yellow star.
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,
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 1942, Alexander Belev, the anti-Semitic Bulgarian commissar of Jewish Affairs, signed a plan to deport 20,000 Jews to Germany, beginning with those in the occupied territories of Thrace and Macedonia.
At the time, 11,343 Jews were arrested and sent to the death camp Treblinka, and more deportations were scheduled for March 1943. But Parliament members petitioned the prime minister and the Jews were sent home. King Boris withdrew the expulsion decree and in May 1943, the plan of delivering 50,000 Jews to the concentration camps was stopped. Though some Jews stayed in Bulgaria until 1948, others made Aliyah to Israel after its establishment in 1948.
Many live in Jaffa.
In late 1942 the Jews of Salonika 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 Kirili, 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, Bulgaria 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 not as Jews. And, being a small country, like Denmark, where there was 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.
There are 9 provinces (oblasti, singular - oblast)
The National Capital is Sofia.
An excellent site to find information about most European countries is at
and type in the name of the country you wish to research in the search field. This site is a great source to find information for almost every European country. Another valuable site to help find a person, maps, etc.
and type in the name of any country you wish to research. This service is free.
A great web site. It is a directory of 2,880,532 of the world's cities and towns, sorted by country and linked to a map for each town. A tab separated list is available for each country
Open Street Maps
The crowd-sourced mapping project OpenStreetMap has
amassed a million contributors since its inception in 2005 and,
according to navigation app maker Skobbler, boasts greater accuracy in
than rivals such as Google Maps. I tried the site and found an
accurate drawing of my father's ancestral town
Almost every country is available as is most towns
"The Balkan Jewish Communities: Yugoslavia, Bulgaria,
Greece and Turkey"
Authored by Daniel J. Elazar and published by University Press of America in Lanham, Maryland and London, England in 1984;
"Beyond Hitler's Dream"
Authored by Michael Bar Zohar. This is about the Jews of Bulgaria survival from the Nazis.
"Beyond Hitler's Grasp,"
written in 1998, by Michael Bar Zohar, 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 and her Jews: The History of a Dubious Symbiosis"
Authored by Cicki Tamir and published/Created in New York by Sepher-Hermon Press for yeshiva University Press in 1979.
"Les Juifs de Bulgarie" Bibliographie"
Authored by Mathilde Tagger and published by ETSI in 1998 is an article about
Bulgarian Jewry. Additional references about Bulgarian Jewry include:
"Project to Document Jews of Turkey, Salonika, Bulgaria
Authored by Sallyanne Amdur Sack, and published in Avotaynu, volume 14, no. 2, page 40 in 1998; and "A Sephardi Life in Southeastern Europe: The Autobiography and Journal of Gabriel
Ari, edited by Esther and Aron Rodrigue Benbassa and published by the University of Washington
Press in Seattle and London in 1998.
Jewish School in Sofia. Picture from Hadassah Magazine 4/2004
Interested in a fascinating article on the how and why Jews came to Bulgaria? FYI, Jews were in the Balkans as early as the 2nd century.
History of Jews of Sofia
in History Museum display
In the twentieth
century, poor Jews lived among other ethnic minorities in small
with a tiny garden, west of Beit Ha'am and south of
Stambolijski Boulevard. Some of these tumbledown dwellings
still stand. For further information, see the article
published in the April 2004 issue of Hadassah Magazine.
Bulgarian Jews who moved to Israel
If interested in these Jews who have established the community of Hartuv Israel in 1895, email Carol Rombro Rider
CRomRider@aol.com who offers her help. Some of the family names are Levi, Giron, Ben-Bassat, Garti, Ben-Arova, Cohen, Tzarfati, Bechar and Rubissa.
Diplomatic representation in the US
Chief of Mission:
Ambassador Philip Dimitrov, Chancery:
1621 22nd St. NW
Washington, DC 20008
Phone: 1 202 387 7969 Fax: 1 202 234 7973.
here is a consulate in New York.
Business 2 business company directory and business in Europe, yellow pages access, international and European business directory (professional services, addresses and business classifieds
This is a kibbutz that was founded by Bulgarian Jews. On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the first agricultural settlement on the Judean Hills -- the settlement which was destroyed in the War of Independence, a small booklet ("Zichronnot Hartuv") was published and translated into English. It is a description of the 'before' and 'after' of this kibbutz and can be obtained from
The Afikomen Company
1503 East Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21231
Carol Rombro Rider
provided me with a copy and I must say it is fascinating reading.
Bulgaria managed to save its entire 48,000-strong Jewish population during World War II from deportation to
concentration camps, with
playing a crucial role in preventing the deportations, as well as Bulgarian Church officials and ordinary citizens.
8,500 Bulgarian Jews were the first to be scheduled to be deported
when the government of Bulgaria stopped the process.
The story of the Bulgarian Jews during World War II has been told in
"Beyond Hitler's Grasp: The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria's Jews"
an Israeli historian, politician and former Knesset member who was born in Bulgaria.
Jewish Bulgarian Surnames
Jewish Old Age Home
Located at 18
Kojuh Planina in the upscale Lozenetz neighborhood. It is a
beautifully renovated 1927 structure that was originally built as an
Phone: 359 2 865 0513.
Jewish Records from Bulgaria
Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria-Shalom Sofia
Search Engines for Bulgaria
Scroll down to 'Search Engines'
Sephardic Jewish Community
Introduction to Sophia; Bulgarian Jewish (Sephardic) Soldiers Killed 1912-1918 and more at Sephardic House - Institute for Researching and Promoting Sephardic History and Culture for information
A comprehensive guide to Internet resources on Russia and Central/Eastern Europe
A commercial site offering many language translating programs
Just in case you didn't think of it, contact a nearby university or college's foreign language department. They may offer to write letters and translate letters into English. A nominal fee is usually charged.
To supplement their meager incomes,
Jewish women crochet beautiful yarmulkes, embroidered challa covers
in dazzling colors and designs. Further information can be
Cities and Villages of Bulgaria
The first Jews appeared in the Balkans as early as the second century, after the conquest of their lands by Rome. This had been recorded on a tombstone found near the town of Nikopol
by the Danube river. These Jews were known as
Located in the Kovno Uyezd. In JewishGen's ShtetlSeeker, there are Yanovo's/Janowa's in Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Russia. There are also many towns named Janow in Poland, including a Janow Podlaski and a Janow Lubelskie. There is even another Yonavo in Lithuania other than the one in Kovno Uyezd - today it is called Jokavai.
Ada Green offered a listing of Jonava Societies and Associations associated with the JGSNY Cemetery Project in a message to the JewishGen Digest group on December 10, 2000.
60 miles southwest of
Sofia, it had, before WW II, about 60 Jews and it was the birthplace
of Dimitur Peshev, deputy leader of the Bulgarian parliament during
WW II and
hailed as a savior of the country's Jews. Peshev is
memorialized by a small museum and by a granite bust in the central
square opposite a triple arch where the synagogue once stood.
Deportation and murder of Macedonian Jews by Bulgarian Nazis in Bulgarian- occupied Macedonia ... as well as into Podolia, Galicia and Pokuttya, in exchange for delivering the Ukrainian Jews, resulting in the deaths of 10000 to 20000 people
This is a museum-town designated to preserve Bulgaria's cultural and natural riches. It is set
on a small, rocky peninsula, this is a city with ancient Thracian roots.
Plovdiv Synagogue Photo courtesy of Heritage Film
A city as old as Troy and older than Rome, Athens, Carthage and Constantinople - yet with a lively modern culture. It has the "Old Town" with 18th and 19th century architecture and the Ethnographic Museum.
It is about 70 miles southeast of Sofia and is Bulgaria's second
largest city and the country's second largest Jewish community of
about 500. The Jewish community office is at 20 Hristo Danov
and the phone number is: 011 359 32 632 622.
A small community existed here from the
third century C.E., as is evident from a synagogue floor found in
the city center. Some 300 Ladino-speaking families expelled from
Spain settled here in the sixteenth century.
The first transport of Plovdiv's 7,800 Jews was to be deported
to the death camps on March 10, 1943; Cyril, the local bishop,
obtained their release. A bronze plaque on the wall of the
former Jewish school at 18 Russki Boulevard, thanks Patriarchs Cyrl
and Stefan. A shofar-shaped memorial in Czar Kaloyan Square,
in the city center, is dedicated "To all who helped to save us on 10
Bulgaria's only functioning synagogue outside Sofia is the
220 seat Zion Synagogue at 13A Czar Kaloyan. Services are held on
Friday evenings, High Holy Days and festivals. Albert Behar,
the grandson of the last rabbi of Plovdiv, has the keys and
can be reached at 359 32 263 525.
For worship times and other information
contact Emma Magiar; home: 359 32 633 826; cell: 359 87 382 553;
This is the largest Bulgarian port on the Danube.
Sofia Synagogue Photo
Bulgaria's King Ferdinand cut the
ribbon when Sofia's 1,170 seat Moorish-style central synagogue was
completed in 1909. The white stone and red-brick building,
with 12 Stars of David topping its domes, has been declared a
Bulgarian cultural monument. Though this is a Sephardic synagogue,
the bima is on the wall facing the entrance door.
Sofia, today, is a city of 1.2 million, but only 3,000 Jews (there
are about 6,000 Jews in the entire country). A five story
building in the city center - 50 Stambolijski, is Beit Ha'am, the
heart of the Jewish community, housing nearly all the Jewish
organizations. Phone: 011 359 2 926 5301.
Kosher meat is available, and there is
a working mikve in the courtyard. There is also a small museum
in the building: contact the synagogue for opening times (16
Exarkh Yosif, entrance on Pirotska; Phone 359 983 1273).
Another contact is Becca Lazarova, 359 2 980 3462;
The city of
Varna, Bulgaria, is the country’s largest port city on the Black Sea. Its history can be traced to Odessos, a 6th century BCE Greek colony. The town was then controlled by Thracians, Persians and Romans and it was eventually incorporated into the Byzantine Empire.
Jewish life in
Varna started at the beginning of the 19th century. When the Ottoman rule ended, in 1878, there was an organized Sephardi community and a small Ashkenazi community. The first Jews to settle in
Varna were active as merchants and artisans. As industry developed, many came to work as handworkers and clerks and a few were active in export. The Ottoman rule ending had made possible a rapid increase of the Jewish population in Varna. The number of the Jewish inhabitants grew from 255 in the late 1870's to 719 in 1880, Jews comprised less than 1% of the total population of the city. Eight years later, there were about 760 Jews in a total population of more than 25,000. The number of the Jewish inhabitants continued to grow reaching 1,308 by 1903, 1,706 in 1910, and 1,615 in 1913, by then the general population numbered 37,417 inhabitants
Veliko Tarnovo (Greater Tarnovo)
Located along the Yantra
River, by the 12th century it ranked second only to
Constantinople as a regional power. Later, the town became an artisans center and a university town.
In the 5th Century, a massive Byzantine fortress was constructed on an overlook, with the river curving around below.
Arbanasi for more information
more to come ...
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