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With the message that 'It can be forgiven, but not forgotten,' Macedonia on Monday marked the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Jewish community to Nazi death camps.
Representatives of the Community of the Jews in Macedonia, the Holocaust Fund of Macedonian Jews, the President, the government and other organizations laid flowers on Monday in front of the tobacco factory in Skopje where all 7,144 Macedonian Jews were incarcerated on March 11, 1943 before deportation to the Nazi death camp in Treblinka, Poland.
“We can forgive, but not forget, because forgetting takes mankind to new crimes and historical damnations. Standing on this place it is very hard to describe what happened on this day 70 years ago”, the president of the Community of the Jews in Macedonia, Bjanka Subotic, said.
Most of Macedonia during the Second World War was occupied by Bulgaria, then an ally of Nazi Germany. The Jews were arrested in Skopje, Stip and Bitola, put on trains and on three days, March 22, 25 and 29, were deported to death camps.
On March 8, 2013 the Bulgarian state for the first time since World War Two expressed regret for not having saved about 11,000 Jews in territories then under its administration.
In a declaration, the Bulgarian parliament praised the efforts of Bulgarian institutions in stopping the deportation of more than 48,000 Jews from Bulgaria proper.
But, it could "not be disputed that 11,343 Jews were deported from northern Greece and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia [to which Macedonia belonged]," it added.
“We denounce this criminal act, undertaken by Hitler's command, and express our regrets for the fact that the local Bulgarian administration had not been in a position to stop this act," the declaration continued.
The president of the Macedonian World Congress, Todor Petrov, said the apology was important for regional reconciliation.
“The resolution... contributes to the reconciliation between the Balkan peoples and Jews that lived on these territories,” Petrov said.
A joint commemoration by Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece in honour of the victims of the Holocaust will be held on March 13 in Lom, northern Bulgaria, where the Nazi deportations of Jews from the Balkans started in 1943.
At a ceremony in Brussels earlier this week, Israeli President Shimon Peres hailed Bulgaria for rescuing most of its Jews from death, calling it "unique in Europe", and adding that "no other country, no other people showed the sort of courage that the Bulgarian people did."
At the same time, he expressed regret that what happened in Bulgaria had not been emulated in Greece and Macedonia, "whose Jewish communities all but disappeared at the hands of the Nazis".
Donors spent hundreds of thousands of euro building a new museum in Gjirokastra - but the results were questionable and it ultimately closed over an ideological dispute.