The ‘Out of the Forest Theatre Company’ will shortly feature a play at the Edinburgh Fringe about King Boris of Bulgaria and how he saved 50,000 Jews from the Nazis. While no doubt well-intentioned, this projects a history that has been rewritten to perpetrate a myth.
A recent book, The Stolen Narrative of the Bulgarian Jews and the Holocaust by Jacky Comforty and Martha Aladjem Bloomfield, tells a different story.
Bulgaria was an ally of Nazi Germany. Non-Bulgarian Jews were already being deported on the outbreak of World War II. Antisemitic legislation was introduced in January 1941 — Jews were removed from the armed forces; mixed marriages were banned; Jews with Bulgarian names were forced to revert to their original ones; there was an expropriation of Jewish property and a quota system for Jewish students wishing to enter university.
In March 1941, Bulgaria formally joined the Axis powers and allowed the Nazis to cross its frontiers to attack Greece and Yugoslavia.
Boris approved the wearing of the yellow star by Bulgarian Jews and allowed a Commissariat, responsible for the fate of Jews, to be established in August 1942.
In January 1943, SS Hauptsturmführer Theodor Dannecker, an underling of Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust, visited Sofia and proceeded to sign an agreement with the Commissariat to engineer the deportation of Bulgarian Jews. Many Bulgarians in public life were outraged and pressured Boris not to deport Jews. This included the Orthodox Patriarchs, Stefan and Kirill who rushed to be present at round-ups of Jews and the parliamentarian, Dimiter Peshev who organised a petition against the deportations, signed by 42 deputies. It was this determined opposition that actually stopped Boris. It was for this reason that 20,000 Bulgarian Jews were sent to hard labour camps and not to extermination camps. Many came back as broken people.
The Bulgarian army, as an ally of the Nazis, occupied western Thrace and eastern Macedonia in Greece and was responsible for supervising the deportation of 11,343 Greek Jews. They were transported to Vienna where the Gestapo were waiting for them. From there, most made their last journey to Treblinka.
In a telegram to Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Nazis’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, on 22 June 1943, Boris said: ‘The great damage to humanity throughout the generations is caused by the Jewish spirit of profiteering.’
In an age of fake news, history should not be bent — not even in the cause of good theatre.
The Times (Scotland) 18 July 2023