Today, the tension between Bulgaria and the Republic of Northern Macedonia is escalating on the basis of different readings on a number of issues from the recent and distant history of the two neighboring countries. One of the sensitive issues is Bulgaria’s participation in the Union of Axis Powers during World War II and the Holocaust.
The German archives contain documents that testify not only to Berlin’s constant pressure on the Bulgarian government on the Jewish question, but also to the resistance of Bulgarian politicians to obey. Let us allow the archives to tell the story through a report by Schellenberg from 1942:
To the Director of Security Police
and the Security Service
sent on November 9, 1942
received on 17 November 1942
To the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Secretary of State Luther
Dear Mr. Secretary of State!
I am sending you a report on the latest developments in the approach to the Jewish question by the Bulgarian government.
Soon after the publication of the latest provisions on Jews and the appointment of a Commissioner for Jewish Affairs, high and senior representatives of the Bulgarian government apparently came to the conclusion that these heightened measures had exceeded the tolerable measure. As a result, after the expiration of the August deadlines, for example, for Jews to leave certain cities or for the latter to be marked with small Jewish stars, various benefits have recently been reintroduced for Jews.
The behavior of Interior Minister Gabrovski, who initially showed at least a sharp enough attitude towards Jews, has recently been extremely moderate in this regard. This can be seen from a number of facts below.
On 27.9. about 350 Jews gather in the courtyard of the interior ministry. They want to submit before the deadline 29.9. prescribed personal belongings and declarations. Minister Gabrovski, who saw this gathering through his window, went down to the yard of the Jews and, in front of all the officials and employees of the ministry and to their great surprise, gave a half-hour soothing speech. He tells them, among other things, that they should not worry: the government takes care of everything, the worst has already been overcome, and so on. He then stood at the entrance of the ministry and received the personal belongings, finding soothing words for everyone.
The result of these actions of the Minister is that the Jews, who until then had come to terms with their fate and followed the orders of the Jewish Commissioner, regained their courage and now allow themselves to be impudent and inappropriate behavior both in the Commissariat and in public.
One day later, Minister Gabrovski forbade the Bulgarian press to publish materials on the Jewish question and the activities of the Jewish Commissariat. His explanation is that the Jewish question in Bulgaria has already been resolved and the people are not satisfied with the measures against the Jews.
Minister Gabrovski has repeatedly hinted to Jewish Commissioner Belev that the Council of Ministers and the Palace want mitigation of measures against Jews. While in Plovdiv and Skopje, for example, there are already restrictions on visits to restaurants, theaters and others, the relevant order for the capital, prepared in late September, has not yet been signed by him.
* In addition, Gabrovski mentioned to Belev that even some well-known German economists had been critical of the overly strict measures against Jews. Germany thus lost, in the opinion of these economists, qualified specialists occupying important positions.
The Minister of Justice Partov had on 30.9. a meeting with Commissioner Belev, at which he insisted that the wearing of the signs prescribed for the Jews should not be obligatory, that they should not be evicted and that the measures against them should not be bound by deadlines. The minister also asked the commissioner to alleviate the situation of the Jews in principle.
Along with the intercession of numerous deputies from the government majority before Belev, the king himself intervened several times through various of his relatives in favor of the Jews. Thus, King’s adviser Balan asked the commissioner for information about a sick Jew living not far from the king’s summer residence. Balan literally said, “The king orders.” Various people from the royal chancellery took steps before Belev and gave direct instructions for concessions and relief to the Jews.
Initially, all Jews who married after 1.9.40 were required to wear yellow stars. In the meantime, however, Prime Minister Filov has released not only them but all baptized Jews. This happened without the knowledge of Commissioner Belev, in response to a request from Sofia Metropolitan Stefan. Filov motivated this relief with the anniversary of the coronation of Tsar Boris. Metropolitan Stefan, who in general, in accordance with his Anglophile attitude, is very active in this guideline, issued in early October an instruction based on Filov’s order to church officials to inform the Jews of this relief.
More on 27.9. Stephen gave a sermon in his cathedral saying that the Lord had punished the Jews for crucifying Christ by expelling them and depriving them of their own state. This is how he determined their fate. However, people have no right to torture and persecute them. Especially for Jews who have converted to Christianity, it is the task of Christians to view them as brothers and to support them in every way possible. God can, Stephen emphasized, punish up to two or three times, but Christians do not have such rights.
Until the beginning of October, only about 20% of the Jews living in Bulgaria were provided with yellow badges, as they were not available in sufficient quantities. However, their production was stopped at the same time, under the pretext that there is a shortage of electricity in Sofia and the electricity supply in some companies should be stopped. Among them is the workshop that produces Jewish stars. The marking of Jewish shops and homes, which had to be completed by September 29, was also incomplete. These measures were, in any case, doomed to failure from the outset, as no body, including the police, was tasked with controlling the wearing of badges and the marking of homes and shops. Therefore, many of the Jews soon after the introduction of the stars, they took them down again. The arrogant behavior of the Jews, their non-compliance with state regulations, is encouraged by the completely indifferent reaction of the majority of the Bulgarian population. As a special omission, the bystander is impressed by the fact that there is a complete lack of targeted propaganda, publications in newspapers, etc. to explain to the population the purpose and meaning of these measures. The masses are not at all aware that she herself must be actively involved in the isolation of the Jews. In the early days, Jews clearly did not feel well wearing the stars in public. In the meantime, however, they have so much sympathy from the deluded population that they are proud of these badges. It is especially impressive that they often hang national symbols, portraits of the king or queen next to them. “