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News 03 Nov 17

Sofia Rejects Russia's Claims About Saving Bulgarian Jews

Bulgaria’s foreign ministry has accused a Kremlin spokeswoman of distorting history, after she claimed that the Soviet Red Army saved thousands of Bulgarian Jews in World War II. 

Mariya Cheresheva
Maria Zakharova. Photo: Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Bulgaria on Friday reminded Russia that it was not the Soviet Red Army but the Bulgarian people who saved thousands of Bulgarian Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps in 1943.

Sofia responded with irritation after Kremlin spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that Soviet Red Army troops had “prevented the deportation of Jews from Bulgaria and saved some 50,000 people from imminent death”.

Zakharova was commenting on anti-Semitic graffiti painted on the Monument of the Soviet Army in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia, on Tuesday, which said: “100 years of Zionist Occupation”.

Bulgarian authorities condemned the sign and had it removed from the monument shortly after it appeared.

“Those who bring jackhammers, shovels and paint to desecrate monuments are, unfortunately, completely unaware of the glorious pages of their own history, let alone anyone else’s,” Zakharova said.

She urged Bulgaria to take firm action to prevent “the maligning of the memory of Soviet soldiers who gave their lives to save the European continent from Nazism".

Clearly riled, Sofia was quick to point out that it was the Bulgarians themselves who prevented the mass deportation of the country's Jews at great risk to their own safety, when the Russians were nowhere in the vicinity. The Soviets did not advance into Eastern Europe until 1944.

“When Bulgarian citizens stood on the trains in front of the trains travelling to the Nazi death camps, when representatives of the Bulgarian political, economic and intellectual elite were writing protest letters in support of the Bulgarian Jews and when top hierarchs of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church were joining the Jews, gathered for deportation ... the Red Army was thousands kilometres away," the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said.

The ministry added that it does not intend to downplay the role of the Soviet Army in defeating Nazism in Europe, but said “such attempts at changing historic facts do not contribute to the human cause of fighting against the revival of anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance”.

A German ally during World War II, Bulgaria enforced anti-Jewish laws against its Jewish minority and signed a deportation order for 20,000 Jews in 1943.

Over 11,000 Jews then living in Bulgarian-occupied Greece and Macedonia were duly sent to death camps.

However, the government’s plan to deport all its 48,000 Jews in May 1943 encountered fierce resistance from the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, as a result of which the royal government cancelled the order, saving the whole Jewish population in old Bulgarian territory.

In 2016, the Bulgarian Jewish community in Israel proposed nominating the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for a Nobel Peace Prize for its role in rescuing Jews from the Holocaust.

Attacks on the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia are nothing new.  The trend peaked in March 2014, when  it was repainted three times in one week, sparking outrage in Moscow.



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