President Rivlin inaugurates memorial to the rescue of the Jews of Bulgaria by the Bulgarian people during the Holocaust
(Communicated by the President's Spokesperson)
President Reuven Rivlin today, (Thursday) inaugurated a memorial to the rescue of Bulgarian Jews by the Bulgarian people during the Holocaust. He was accompanied at the ceremony by President of Bulgaria Rosen Plevneliev, who both spoke and together unveiled the memorial. Also addressing the event was Alexander Oscar, president of the Jewish community in Bulgaria. The memorial was designed by architect Yitzhak Lipovitsky, and an identical version is due to be inaugurated in Tel Aviv, which is twinned with Sofia.
In his address, President Rivlin began by quoting from the Talmud on Ethics of the Fathers, “In a place where there are not people, there is man,” and continued, “The Jewish people was alone, alone and disowned, in the dark days of the Holocaust. They were the darkest days in Jewish history, and the darkest point in human history. We will never forget those few who stood as ‘lone knights’ in the wilderness of hatred and darkness. Those who did not stand idly by, but stretched out a hand out of morality, humanity, and incredible courage. There is a special place of honor in Jewish history, reserved for the Bulgarian people who proved in their many that individuals have the power to change the course of history, and who helped to save the vast majority of Bulgaria’s Jews from the Nazi killing machine.”
The President continued, “This memorial highlights the stories of those who saved, and laments those victims who perished.” He added, “This memorial symbolizes the victory of the human spirit over evil. It memorializes the love of one’s fellow man, which overcame the desecration of human dignity. It memorializes the extraordinary stories of Bulgaria, and how its government made alliances with the Third Reich, yet fought with all its might to prevent the destruction of the Jews. In my name, in the name of the State of Israel, and the Jewish people, I say to you the people of Bulgaria – thank you.”
The President stressed the role of the Righteous Among the Nations, Deputy Speaker of the Bulgarian Parliament Dimitar Peshev, who was one of the leading voices protesting the expulsion of the Jews, and he quoted from a letter Peshev wrote to the Prime Minister of the fascist rule in Bulgaria during the war. The President read, “The expulsion of the Jews to outside the borders of Bulgaria cannot be considered, Peshev wrote, it will leave a stain on Bulgaria… that not only will mark her morally, but also will negate her ethical stance. We cannot be party to these deeds.”
"Peshev paid for his actions with his career." The President said and continued, "Nobody dared to act this way in any other parliament in Europe of those dark and terrible days. If they had, six million Jews - our brothers and sisters - would not have perished. Together with Peshev, other MPs rose up. Church leaders, public figures and ordinary people, Bulgarians, who all fought to save the Bulgarian Jews from hell. Two hours before the trains to the death camps left, the decree to postpone the deportation was given. The train carts were left empty. In May 1943 the plan to deport the Jews from Bulgaria was abolished - 48,000 Bulgarian Jews were saved from destruction, most of whom immigrated later to Israel ".
President Rivlin said, "History should be remembered and taught – as it is, both complicated and complex." He added, "As I stand today, along with feelings of recognition and appreciation, I cannot but bow my head in memory of those 11,343 Jews, my people, children, women and men from Macedonia and Thrace, who lived under the rule of the Bulgarians during the Second World War and who were murdered at Treblinka. These people, who were in life as well as in death, 'the orphans of the Balkans', at whose expense the fascist government in Bulgaria signed the terrible agreement with the third Reich, while at the same time sending them away and financing their journey on the trains to their death. These people that the rescue missions did not get to at all. These people who were transported to their death in trains that were crowded and full to the brim. My brothers and sisters, who nobody fought for and no one tried to save. We cannot and should not shake off the responsibility for their deaths and we must not forget their memory. "
“Once again, in our days, the world is facing the winds of evil and ultra-nationalism, of anti-Semitism and racism” continued President Rivlin, and said, “we must cut uproot these threatening phenomena, both peoples have a moral duty to bequeath to future generations the values of tolerance, democracy, social solidarity, and love for one’s fellow man created in the image of God. We must invest great efforts especially in educating all the next generation, the young generation to recognize the history of the Holocaust regardless of borders or place. We must teach the story of the rescue of the Jews of Bulgaria as a unique, inspiring and proud model. Yet, we must not forget the terrible fate of the Jews of Macedonia and Thrace.”
President Plevneliev said, “Today, we are witnessing an historic event, in the unveiling of the memorial to the rescue of the Jews of Bulgaria. The establishment of such a memorial in the heart of Sofia is a testament to our preserve the memory of the rescue of the Jews. Now, as we lose the generation which lived in the days of the Holocaust we must, more than ever, tell the stories of the Bulgarian people’s rescue of the Bulgarian Jews. The Jewish community in Bulgaria was the only one in Europe which grew during the years of the Holocaust. To our sorrow, the fate of the Jews of northern Greece and what was Yugoslavia was not the same, they were not saved and we are sorrowful for this tragedy. We will remember them always. The memorials in Tel Aviv and Sofia remind us of man’s ability to change the course of history. Even the greatest of evils can be halted by brave and active struggle. The Bulgarian public in 1943 saved not only their Jewish neighbors and friends, but themselves, they rescued tolerance and morality. We must not allow the truth to be forgotten or distorted. To forget the suffering could cause devastation. The wave of ultra-nationalism and various acts of violence is sweeping across Europe. There are those who think that hatred must be met with hatred. Specifically now, we must reach out a hand to show that tolerance and love for one’s fellow man can always overcome.”
Later, President Rivlin met with representative of the Jewish community in Bulgaria at the Great Synagogue in Sofia. The President received an emotional welcome, and thanked them for their warm hospitality.
“This is a flourishing community with a long history behind it, dating back as far as the second century of the Common Era,” said the President and added, “a community with a rich culture, and a deep tradition of diversity. To an extent, there is here an ingathering of the exiles. It is a great honor to be a guest in your home.”
As he departed from the meeting, President Rivlin added, “I want to assure you that you will always have a home if you wish in the State of Israel.”