How Bulgaria avoided the Holocaust

Bulgaria and the Holocaust

 

After WWI, Bulgaria had territorial aspirations: it wanted to regain Macedonia, Thrace and southern Dobrudja, provinces it had lost after the war. These territorial grievances led the Bulgarian government to become closer to the Nazi regime. In order to rejuvenate its economy, Bulgaria traded heavily with Germany, which accounted for 70 percent of the country’s foreign trade. (See Holocaust: A History, Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan Van Pelt, New York: Norton, 2002, 180). Once Bulgaria’s economic interests brought it within Germany’s orbit, it became obliged to align its political interest with Fascist ideology. King Boris III appointed Professor Bogdan Filov, a Germanophile, as prime minister, who in turn appointed the leader of the Bulgarian Ratnik (Fascist) Party, as minister of interior. Hitler rewarded Bulgaria for its loyalty by forcing Romania to give back southern Dobrudja. This in turn made the Bulgarians even more receptive to the Nazis. This rapprochement between Bulgaria and Germany did not bode well for the country’s Jews.

In the fall of 1940, the Bulgarian minister of interior proposed a law modeled after the Nazi Nuremberg Laws, called the “Law for the Defense of the Nation,” which discriminated and disenfranchised Bulgarian Jews. King Boris III himself signed this law. However, remarkably, the feelings of the Bulgarian citizens prevented the regime from falling into step with the harsh measures that would destroy the Jews of Nazi-controlled and Nazi-allied Europe. Apparently, the Bulgarian people never considered the 50,000 Jews in the country—a very small percentage of its population—as a problem. According to historian Deborah Dwork, the Bulgarian Lawyers Association wrote an open letter protesting the anti-Semitic laws. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church also took a stance against discrimination, stating that the people of Bulgaria “shouldn’t admit injustice and violence against others” (Holocaust: A History, 181). At this point, the government of Bulgaria heeded the predominant views of its people and did not enact the discriminatory measures against its small Jewish minority. Bulgaria is a wonderful case study of how the just views of a population can make a big difference in preventing government-mandated injustice and even genocide.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

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