The Myth of Bulgarian Rescue of Jews
[Presented to the Conference "Jews Across the Balkans: History, Society and Culture"]
The recently-reconstructed Jewish Cemetery at Manastiri/Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.
I will begin by thanking Bar-Ilan University and its departments concerned with the subject of this conference, the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia, Ashkelon Academic College, the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Ss. Cyril and Methodius University, and the Ministry of Religious Services of the State of Israel for permitting presentation of my paper. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the conference to deliver the text in person. Instead, it will be read to the audience in English by my friend and colleague, Madame Xhangyle Ilijazi, vice president of the "Dr. Haim Abravanel" Kosova-Israel Friendship Association, who is in attendance. I should also specify that I am not an academic and do not possess a doctorate. I am an author and journalist.
I dedicate this paper to another friend and colleague, Nissim Yosha (1933-2011), a courageous and truth-telling Israeli from Manastiri/Bitola in the Republic of Macedonia, and a survivor of the Holocaust, about whom I will offer some personal recollections.
Much of what I will here describe will already be well-known to Macedonians, and I apologize for repeating historical lessons of which they cannot but know much more than I do.
Jews in Yugoslavia, the catalogue for the 1989 Zagreb exhibition with the same title, edited by Dr. Slavko Goldstein, former president of the Jewish Community of Croatia, an exhaustive and authoritative volume marred by few flaws, avers that the territory of today's Republic of Macedonia suffered the second-highest loss of Jews of any then-Yugoslav territory during the German occupation of World War II. Citing research by the eminent Yugoslav Sephardic writer Jaša Romano, the accounting of Jews from Macedonia exterminated by the Germans stands at 6,982 out of 7,762, or 90 percent. Only about 600 survived, although some numerical estimates of the Macedonian remnant after the Holocaust are as low as 200. Among the republics and regions of ex-Yugoslavia, this terrible number of slain Jews is exceeded only by the destruction of 3,800 of 4,200 Jews, or 93 percent, in Banat. Seized by Serbia in 1918 and incorporated into the province of Vojvodina, Banat had belonged to the defunct Austro-Hungarian empire. After 1941, Banat was occupied and administered as a military zone by Germany.
The pre-Holocaust Jewish population of the entirety of Yugoslavia comprised about 82,000 people, or about 0.5 percent of the national census.
The extreme victimization of Jews in Vojvodina and Macedonia reflects differing historical, social, and demographic phenomena in the two entities. Vojvodina included numerous "Volksdeutsche" or ethnic Germans, established for centuries as colonists and their descendants, and quickly absorbed into Hitler's administrative apparatus of war and genocide. Jews in Vojvodina were typically Ashkenazim and belonged to the liberal professions, such as medicine and veterinary services, or earned their living as village traders and farmers. Their legal settlement in Vojvodina dated from the 18th century of the Common Era (CE), when they migrated there from Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, and Poland. During Ottoman domination of Hungary in the 16th and 17th centuries, some Jewish merchants, probably Sephardim, i.e. descendants of refugees from the Iberian expulsions of 1492-97, accompanied and provisioned the Turkish garrisons in Vojvodina. Therefore, with the eventual withdrawal of the Turkish forces, Jews were banished from residence in the towns of Vojvodina until the mid-18th century. Vovjodina Jews were Orthodox and Liberal/Neolog (Reform) in their observance.
By contrast, ex-Yugoslav, or "Vardar" Macedonia was, as it is today, a multiethnic country of Macedonian and Serbian Orthodox Slavs, Macedonian Muslim Slavs (including Pomaks), Albanians, Turks, Roma, Vlachs, Greeks, and Armenians, as well as Sephardic and Romaniot Jews. Indeed, Macedonian Jewry is the oldest Hebrew community in the Western Balkans. Its presence is recorded in the 4th and 3rd centuries Before the Common Era (BCE). The primordial members of the Mosaic faith in Macedonia were Romaniot Jews, i.e. Greek-speaking in language and ritual. In the 14th-15th centuries CE Ashkenazi refugees from Austria and Hungary began to migrate in small numbers to the Ottoman Macedonian city of Solun/Selanik. During the huge influx of Sephardic Jews to the Turkish empire, beginning at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, Solun/Selanik became the main port of entry, and the center of commerce, religious studies, and social life, for Sephardic Jews in the southern Balkans and Ottoman Greece, if not for the Ottoman polity in general.
The Sephardic wave accounted for the majority of Jews in "narrow Bulgaria," who had gone there via Turkey. Except in Vardar Macedonia and the Janina area of northwest Greece (on the borders of Vardar Macedonia and Albania), the prior Romaniot tradition was largely submerged in the Balkans by Sephardic Judaism. The Portuguese and Catalan vernaculars spoken by many of the expelled Iberian Jews were assimilated into Judeo-Spanish, i.e. Judeo-Castilian.
In 1943, the eradication of Vardar Macedonian Jewry was carried out not by local residents as in Vovjodina, but at the order of the kingdom of Bulgaria, an ally of Berlin, which occupied approximately 75 percent of Vardar Macedonia from 1941 to 1944.
The destruction of Vardar Macedonian Jewry with Bulgarian complicity differs sharply from the portrayal of Bulgaria as a foremost rescuer of Jews during the Holocaust – an image cultivated assiduously by Sofia after 1946. While some 48,000 Jews within the pre-1941 borders of "narrow Bulgaria," and others with Bulgarian citizenship were shielded from the Germans by the Bulgarian authorities, the latter mollified insistent German demands for deportation of the Jews by handing over the distinguished Jewish community of Vardar Macedonia. In addition, Bulgaria surrendered some 4,000 Jews from Greek Thrace, which it also occupied, to the Germans. Some Jews may have been captured and turned over to the Germans in southern Dobrudja, a strip along the Black Sea coast transferred from Romania to Bulgaria by Germany and Russia in 1940, during the Stalin-Hitler pact, but data on this area is unreliable.
The "Bulgarian myth," or, better, the "Bulgarian lie," is epitomized by a book of documents edited by the Bulgaro-French literary critic and philosopher, Tzvetan Todorov. With the cloying title The Fragility of Goodness: Why Bulgaria's Jews Survived the Holocaust, Todorov's collection of documents and commentaries reeks of special pleading. As a published author, I am well aware that the writers of books seldom have control over the "blurb" or publicity comments on their wrappers, but Todorov's "contribution" bears, on its back cover, an outrageous statement: "With the exception of Denmark, Bulgaria was the only country allied with Nazi Germany that did not annihilate or turn over its Jewish population." In his introduction to the book, Todorov quotes the controversial Jewish commentator Hannah Arendt, who wrote pompously in her Eichmann in Jerusalem, "not a single Bulgarian Jew had been deported or had died an unnatural death… I know of no attempt to explain the conduct of the Bulgarian people, which is unique in the belt of mixed populations."
Todorov's anonymous blurb-writer, and the much-overpraised Arendt, were both wrong. Denmark saved some 7,000 Jews by ferrying them to neutral Sweden. But Finland, a German ally, rejected Berlin's claims to any of the 2,300 Jews residing in the country, although conflicting accounts assert that numbers as small as four Finnish Jews were victims of the Holocaust. Albania, occupied by the Germans after 1943, protected several thousand local Jews and Jewish refugees from elsewhere in Europe, with a loss of under 50 in a unique raid in German and puppet-Serbian controlled northern Kosova. Diplomats representing Japan, a major German ally, saved Jews in Europe, including by transporting Lithuanian Jews by rail across Eurasia to Japan, as well as by rebuffing German demands to seize and deport the large Jewish settlement in Shanghai, China. Francoist Spain, a de facto ally of Germany that dispatched volunteers to fight alongside Hitler's troops on the Eastern Front, protected tens of thousands of Jews who crossed its territory from France, as well as Sephardim holding Spanish passports issued in the 19th century and resident in Greece and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
One may excuse the laziness of publishing blurb writers, and the often-inaccurate allegations of Hannah Arendt. In the latter case, when the self-regarding commentator wrote about the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel in 1961, she doubtless knew nothing about protection of Jews in Finland and Albania, as well as by officials of Japan, Spain, and in the Balkans, Italy.
The discourse of Todorov is, however, different, in that it was produced almost 40 years after the Eichmann trial, and is disingenuous and nationalistic in its fulsome excuses for the Bulgarian betrayal of Macedonian Jewry. Todorov swerves around the horrific fate dealt to the latter, writing, "the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews, even if partial (since the Thracian and Macedonian Jews were in fact deported [and physically liquidated], was undoubtedly a meritorious act." But was the salvation of Jews inside "old Bulgaria," accompanied by the mass murder of Jews under Bulgarian administration in the "new territories," so virtuous? One may argue, as a believer in either Judaism or Islam, that "to save one life is to save all of humanity," but the corollary to that Talmudic and Quranic principle is that "to kill one person is to kill all of humanity." Todorov's simpering description of "the fragility of goodness" embodies the question of Bulgarian responsibility that, after a further review of earlier Macedonian Jewish history, I will address.
Within Vardar Macedonia, Manastiri/Bitola was the main Jewish center from the pre-Christian era, when it was called Heraklea, until the first world war. Prosperous from its advantageous position on the west-east trade route from Durrës in Albania to Solun/Selanik, and a late 19th century exemplar of Ottoman modernization, with many foreign consulates, Manastiri/Bitola had been mainly destroyed by bombing during the first world war. Its Jewish population of 7,000 in 1910, served by five synagogues, had been reduced to a little more than half that in 1941, largely by emigration to the United States. One of the five Jewish houses of worship that remained in Manastiri/Bitola (earlier the site of 10 synagogues) was the Kahal Kadosh Aragon, described as "the largest and most beautiful of the synagogues," and possibly founded by Catalan-speaking Jews who adopted Judeo-Castilian. Another synagogue in the town was the Kahal Kadosh Portugal, serving Portuguese-speaking Jews eventually assimilated into the Judeo-Castilian linguistic stream. By the onset of the second global conflict of the 20th c., the center of Macedonian Jewish life had shifted to Skopje, another ancient city, known in the classical age as Scupi.
Manastiri/Bitola, after its influx of Sephardim in the 16th c., was a leading rival in commercial and Jewish legal relations of Solun/Selanik, which was then experiencing its "golden age of Sephardism." Jews arrived in Skopje from Flanders, France, and Italy, as their first destination in the Ottoman domain. In 1588, a group of Jewish conversos to Christianity from Ferrara in Italy arrived in Skopje, where they became the "uncontested masters of commerce in the Slav lands south of the Danube," according to an authoritative account of Jewish history in Solun/Selanik. The Sephardim of Skopje were soon dominant in trade with Bulgaria, and served in business negotiations between Solun/Selanik and the northern Balkans.
Meanwhile, however, the long-established merchants of Manastiri/Bitola were compelled to oppose regulations by the Jews of Solun/Selanik intended to restrict the commerce of the "Monastiriots." The Manastiri/Bitola region exported animal skins to Solun/Selanik as a transit port to Ancona and Venice; this was the main economic activity of the Jews in Manastiri/Bitola and supported a considerable number of families. But purchasers from Solun/Selanik bought hides directly in Manastiri/Bitola, restricting the opportunities of their local Jewish compatriots in the trade. The "Monastiriots" then began taking large quantities of uncured skins to Solun/Selanik, where the Macedonian Jews sold them at a discount. The Jewish authorities in Manastiri/Bitola prohibited any member of their community from selling hides to merchants traveling north from Solun/Selanik. During the 16th c., a trade war broke out between the Sephardim of the two cities that damaged both parties. Hides from Manastiri/Bitola were inadequately prepared and conditioned for transport, and lost their high prestige. Sellers of hides and finished leather goods in both Manastiri/Bitola and Solun/Selanik suffered devastating losses, and a long and expensive repair of relations was required to restore economic cooperation between the two cities. Nevertheless, the merchants of Solun/Selanik continued purchasing in Manastiri/Bitola most of the wool they used for production of fabric. From the 16th century in Solun/Selanik, textiles and items of dress were the leading commodities produced and sold by the Sephardim of the Eastern Mediterranean, known throughout the Ottoman empire as well as in Christendom.
Centuries passed. In the 19th c. Manastiri/Bitola experienced new economic vitality, with construction of a railway line from Solun/Selanik to the city. Jewish-owned shops and other enterprises multiplied in Manastiri/Bitola, a boulevard with Western European-style emporia was laid out, and as described by a leading historian of the Sephardim in Manastiri/Bitola, Mark Cohen, the town was "once again a city ready to compete with [Solun/Selanik]," and overshadowed Skopje. Manastiri/Bitola became a paragon of modernization in the Ottoman empire.
Still, at the beginning of the 20th c., a number of Manastiri Sephardim joined or contributed financially to the social revolutionary, and then-multiethnic Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization [Внатрешна Македонска Револуционерна Организација (VMRO/BMPO)]. One such person, Rafael Kamhi, became a close associate of the VMRO leader Damian Gruev [1871-1906] in the well-known 1903 Macedonian Ilinden armed insurrection against Ottoman rule. Kamhi assumed the curious alias "Skenderbeg," or "İskender Bey," perhaps in emulation of the 15th century Albanian patriotic fighter against the Ottomans, Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeu, but also possibly identifying the Macedonian nation with Alexander the Great. VMRO received large stocks of weapons from Albanians who, while Muslims as well as Catholics and Orthodox Christians, had a common enemy with the Macedonians, in their own national rebellion against Turkish rule. Manastiri/Bitola was a center of VMRO activity, as described in a little-known memoir by an American journalist, Albert Sonnichsen from San Francisco, California, USA, who travelled to Macedonia as a reporter for the New York Evening Post in 1904-06.
Jewish life in Manastiri/Bitola before the first world war included the temporary presence, as Chief Rabbi appointed in 1913, of one of the greatest modern adepts of Kabbalah, R. Ariel Bension, a brilliant student of the Zohar, the supreme classic of Jewish mysticism. Manastiri/Bitola was a center of Kabbalistic activity. The town hosted a charismatic and popular Chief Rabbi, Shabtai Ben Josef Djaen (1883-1946), from 1924 to 1928. R. Djaen was a poet and theatre author as well as a religious scholar. In the interwar period the Manastiri/Bitola environment produced notable academic studies of the Judeo-Spanish dialect of Castilian, including Max A. Luria's "A Study of the Monastir Dialect of Judeo-Spanish Based on Oral Material Collected in Monastir, Yugo-Slavia," and Cynthia M. Crews' Recherches Sur Le Judéo-Espagnol Dans Les Pays Balkaniques.
Cohen has noted that in the 20th c., like the Sephardim of Sarajevo, those in Manastiri/Bitola retained their Judeo-Spanish idiom and did not quickly adopt any Slavic language, although Serbian became the official idiom of both Macedonia – designated as part of Južna Srbija or South Serbia – after 1912-13, and later in interwar, monarchist-ruled Bosnia-Hercegovina. In the immediate aftermath of the first world war, 98 percent of Manastiri/Bitola Jews spoke Judeo-Spanish, while 60 percent did so in Sarajevo, compared with only 35 percent of the Sephardim of Beograd that remained faithful to this fundamental cultural attribute. In addition, while the Alliance Israélite Universelle established a school in Manastiri/Bitola, following its program of replacing Judeo-Spanish with French as a medium of expression, the Sephardim of the town were dissatisfied with the Alliance and did not forsake their Iberian legacy. This phenomenon, while laudable and precious for Hispanists and linguistic scholars, perhaps reflected the decline of Manastiri/Bitola as a commercial center after its detachment from the Ottoman empire in 1912-13.
The Alliance, however, introduced a hitherto-unknown secular element into the cultural environment of the Manastiri/Bitola Sephardim. Cohen portrays a Jewish community that under Alliance influence turned away from its Sephardic folk literature, of which Manastiri/Bitola was "one of the greatest preserves… in all the Ottoman Balkans," as also revealed in the work of Crews, to Western literature, but, typically, I believe, in Judeo-Spanish translations printed at Solun/Selanik using Hebrew typography. The Manastiri/Bitola Sephardim also perceived efforts to replace Judeo-Spanish among them with Serbian, after 1913, as an attempt to undermine their cultural identity. In the 1920s the Manastiri/Bitola Chief Rabbi Avram Romano refused to distribute the Zagreb Zionist newspaper Židov (The Jews), saying the local Jews could not read "Serbo-Croatian," and he demanded that a periodical in Judeo-Spanish be established.
Jewish society in the territory of today's Republic of Macedonia was therefore fruitful in ways other than economically and religiously. The arrival after the first world war of Zionism as a movement, to which the increasingly isolated and impoverished Manastiri/Bitola Jews responded as a remedy for their distressed state, included, according to Cohen, "Jewish sports clubs, music and dance societies, summer camps, a library, schools, a newspaper, and a youth orchestra." Under the seeming ruin of Manastiri/Bitola, in the ashes of the Macedonian-Turkish conflict and the first world war, the Jewish spirit was, it seems, remarkably vibrant. Aliyah to the yishuv in Palestine was a challenge for the Manastiri/Bitola Jews, since it required a British visa obtained through the Jewish Agency. For this reason, more of the Vardar Macedonian Sephardim departed for Skopje, Beograd, and Zagreb, as well as America, Canada, and Chile. In the United States, they had established a significant presence in New York City beginning with the devastation of Macedonia in the anti-Turkish uprising. Yet, paradoxically, Cohen points out that in the 1920s-30s, Sephardim from Manastiri/Bitola "accounted for the overwhelming majority of [then-]Yugoslavia's emigrants to Palestine." A minority among the overall population of Jews leaving Manastiri/Bitola, they were a majority in the ranks of those who went to Eretz Israel.
Within the Zionist context, Manastiri/Bitola saw organization of a branch of Hashomer Hatzair [Young Guard], a socialist-Zionist group, in 1930. The same organization established a popular branch among the Sephardim of Skopje in 1931. On the other side of the Zionist spectrum, Manastiri/Bitola and Skopje also formed branches of the right-wing Betar movement. As for Jewish involvement in VMRO, that phenomenon had mainly developed in a Slav nationalist direction, while splitting between rightist and pro-Communist left factions, the latter identifying with Bulgarian ethnicity. "Bulgarianism" was a threat to the Slav Macedonian national movement throughout its 20th century history. But nothing embodies the "Bulgarian problem" for Slavic Macedonia more eloquently than the betrayal of the Vardar Macedonian Jews during the second world war.
In the Yugoslav population approximations of 1931 – apparently not an exact census, but the statistics from which were still in official use in 1940 – the Jewish population of the Vardar Banovina, which also included areas in Macedonia, Kosova and Sandžak, stood at 7,258, with about 3,600 in Manastiri/Bitola, 2,800 in Skopje, and 580 in the Macedonian town of Štip (plus 280 in Novipazar, 240 in Prishtina, and 90 in Mitrovica [Kosova]). More than Manastiri/Bitola, Skopje, as capital of the Vardar Banovina, became assimilated into the new "Yugoslav" identity, which was predicated on Serbian cultural hegemony. This ethnic affiliation was reflected in the politics of the interwar monarchist regime, which suppressed, with considerable brutality, Macedonian Slav aspirations as well as those of the Croats and Albanians. Still, the Sephardim of Skopje retained their Judeo-Spanish idiom according to a contemporary and authoritative Jewish observer from Sarajevo, Dr. Moric Levi, "mixed with the Macedonian dialect." Skopje possessed a considerable range of active Jewish social institutions, as well as Zionist groups, but at times could not support a rabbi, a distinct difference from conditions in Manastiri/Bitola. The first synagogue in Skopje has been dated to 1361 CE, when the community was doubtless Romaniot. Economically, the Jews of Skopje, whose main commercial link in the Renaissance had been with Dubrovnik, in the interwar period of the 20th c. were "dominant" in mining, controlling chrome ore extraction and exports that had been developed by Sephardim from Solun/Selanik.
The small Sephardic community of Štip, the classical Astibo, had a sparse history until the Sephardic influx of the 16th c., but like that of Manastiri/Bitola, it was traditionalist and loyal to Judeo-Spanish with Portuguese linguistic vestiges. Economically, its Jews contrasted with those of Manastiri/Bitola and Skopje in being mainly farmers, harvesting rice, tobacco, and cotton. Socially, it supported cultural and religious bodies, as well as Zionist activities, similar to those in both of the other Sephardic centers in Vardar Macedonia, but in 1925 Štip completed rebuilding of its synagogue, destroyed during the Balkan Wars of more than a decade before. In the matter of assimilation to "Yugoslavism" (i.e. Serbianism), the Štip Jews diverged somewhat in the direction of Skopje, since the town's location relatively near the Bulgarian frontier exposed it to terrorist raids from that country. Štip was also a center of support for the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ).
We must now take up the bitter history of Bulgarian policy toward occupied Vardar Macedonia during the second world war. The course of events is summarized easily and because many details are widely known or will be commemorated at the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia, I will not reiterate them.
Vardar Macedonia and Greek Thrace were attacked by the Germans on April 6, 1941, with troops that had transited the Bulgarian state of King Boris III. Skopje was conquered by April 10, and on April 17, monarchist Yugoslavia capitulated. On April 21-22, 1941, Vardar and Greek Macedonia and Greek Thrace were partitioned between Italy, which received the extreme Western zone bordering Albania and inhabited by many Albanians; Germany, which imposed a military administration in Greek Macedonia, and Bulgaria, which received the rest of Vardar Macedonia and Greek Thrace. Some 300 Jews from elsewhere in monarchist Yugoslavia fled into the Bulgarian zone of Macedonia, believing that there they would be treated leniently. They were deluded tragically in this expectation.
Bulgaria adopted a series of anti-Jewish regulations, and in 1941-1942 negotiations over the destiny of the local and refugee Jews took place between the Germans and the Bulgarian authorities. Theodor Dannecker, a subordinate of Eichmann, agreed in 1943 that Bulgaria would deliver 20,000 Jews to the Germans, originating in Vardar Macedonia and Bulgarian-controlled Thrace. This figure could not be achieved in the Bulgarian "new territories" alone, where about 7,000 were arrested by Bulgarian personnel on the nights of March 10-11, 1943 in Manastiri/Bitola, Skopje, and Štip, along with 105 from other towns. As noted, the remaining 4,000 were captured in Thrace. They were transferred to the Germans, and by April 5, the Macedonian and Thracian Jews first began arriving at the death camp of Treblinka in German-occupied Poland. As previously indicated, the numbers of survivors were extremely low and remain ambiguous. In addition, as indicated, the goal of 20,000 deported was filled out by the removal of at least 3,000 Jews from Bulgarian-occupied Pirot, in Serbia. The fate of 3,000 each from the towns, within "narrow Bulgaria," of Gorna Džumaja, now called Blagoevgrad, and Dupnitsa, and 4,000 from Radomir, north of Blagoevgrad, totaling 10,000 more, seems to have been the same, notwithstanding Bulgarian self-promotion as "total rescuers of the Jews." Further, Bulgaria established two concentration camps, near the town of Somovit and at the town of Pleven, interning 527 Jews.
Long before spurious praise of the Bulgarians was advanced by such figures as Arendt and Todorov, the post-1946 Communist regime in Sofia had begun its campaign for recognition as a special savior of Jews. Incredibly, the late Communist dictator of Bulgaria, Todor Živkov, son of an alleged Jew-baiter, Hristo Živkov, even attempted unsuccessfully to compel the Bulgarian Jewish Community to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize as a participant in the protection of Bulgarian Jews, in which he played no role. To their credit, the Bulgarian Jewish community leaders rejected this bizarre ploy.
After the collapse of Communism in Bulgaria, a serious controversy erupted in 1993 when the Jewish National Fund (JNF/KKL – ללישרא תמ׳ק קרן – Keren Kayemeth Leisrael) announced its intention to dedicate a forest in Israel to Boris III and his wife, the Italian princess Giovanna, named as his queen, among other honors. These distinctions were to include erection of a memorial plaque to the monarch, who was, in reality, a fascist dictator and, as should be demonstrated by the material presented here, an appeaser and collaborator with German aggression and a war criminal. Such a proposed tribute was unique in Israel's history. The project was first laid out in a letter from the JNF to the pretender to the Bulgarian throne, the so-called King Simeon II. The family is of German aristocratic origin, and as Simeon Borisov Saxe-Coburg-Gotha the supposed heir to the Bulgarian throne, who has never renounced his royal claim, was elected prime minister of Bulgaria from 2001 to 2005.
A campaign against any Israeli honors to Boris or his government – for whom three plaques were placed in the forest site – was launched by Dr. Ezra Benjamin, a survivor of the Holocaust in what today is the Republic of Macedonia and resident of Israel, in 1994. Dr. Benjamin informed the JNF that in addition to the liquidation of Macedonian, Thracian, and other Jews, the Bulgarian state provided railroad facilities and employees for Greek Jews to be conveyed to Treblinka.
In 2000, the JNF appointed a committee under the direction of Dr. Moshe Beiski, a retired judge of the Israeli High Court, and including Professor Dalia Ofer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Mr. Aryeh (Liova) Eliav, an Israeli Labor Party politician to investigate the case. After a six months' enquiry, the Beiski Commission, as it is known, decided that the three monuments should be removed and replaced by a plaque of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust in the Bulgarian-occupied "new territories." The forest was renamed the "Bulgaria Forest" with no mention of Boris, the three offending plaques were removed, and a monument with inscriptions in Hebrew, English, and Macedonian now states "In memory of the 11343 Jews of Thrace, Macedonia and Pirot, who perished in the Treblinka Nazi death camp in 1943. May their memory be blessed."
Debate over Bulgarian official complicity in the Holocaust of Macedonian Jewry was revived in 2012 with the release of an exceptionally important film, The Third Half [Трето Полувреме], directed by the Macedonian cinéaste, Darko Mitrevski, and including the internationally-acclaimed Rade Šerbedžija in its cast of actors. The motion picture portrays the martyrdom of Macedonian Jews at the hands of the Germans and Bulgarians, and may be unique today as a dramatic film including considerable dialogue in Judeo-Spanish.
But Bulgaria has an uneasy conscience, to say the least, and release of The Third Half caused an ugly reaction among the political elite in Sofia. Nikolai Mladenov, Bulgarian foreign minister in 2012 and now head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, gave an interview to the Bulgarian news portal The Sofia Globe in which he in effect threatened the Republic of Macedonia, calling for caution "about the approaches that Macedonia should be taking to regional issues." Mladenov dismissed The Third Half contemptuously, commenting that Bulgaria is a country "big and serious enough that one film will not demolish it."
Mladenov claimed that "a few days earlier, in Jerusalem, Bulgaria and Israel had agreed on commemorations in 2013 of the anniversary of the saving of Jews by Bulgaria, and that the commemorations would remember all who died in those years." Mladenov repeated his warning "against using history for political ends," apparently unaware of the irony of a Bulgarian politician, after almost 60 years of manipulation of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust for an illegitimate claim to Bulgarian virtue, offering such a criticism. One might add that if the Macedonians are, allegedly, using history for political ends, it is the truth of history, not a contrived and repellent lie presented as history.
Mladenov further expressed scorn for The Third Half as an "ideological construction out of the past." The Sofia Globe denounced the film as "one of a series of what Bulgaria has seen as provocations by Macedonia on historical issues." The news website concluded, in an insulting manner, "In a recent letter, Bulgarian President Rossen [sic] Plevneliev welcomed a stated call by his Macedonian counterpart Gjorge Ivanov to leave history to historians and to be orientated towards a European future – with Plevneliev adding that he hoped to see Macedonia show this in deeds and not just words." But when political leaders with great responsibility "leave history to historians" the typical outcome is one of forgetting or denying the crimes of the past, nationalist demagogy, and more tragedies and atrocities. I suggest that the Israeli scholars at this conference acquire copies of The Third Half before they depart the Republic of Macedonia.
I will conclude this paper with an observation and a recollection. The scholar Kristina Birri-Tomovska has stated that of 196 Macedonian Jews spared in the Holocaust, the lives of 116 were saved because they escaped to Albania, which protected its own small Jewish community and welcomed, sheltering them from the Germans, several thousand Jewish refugees from other European countries. I appreciate that Kosova and Macedonian Albanians present at this conference symbolize this meritorious and almost entirely unambiguous legacy. I will leave discussion of their experience to them.
Finally, I wish to recall and honor Prof. Nissim Yosha, from whom I first learned the details of Bulgaria's despicable hypocrisy during the Holocaust in today's Republic of Macedonia. In September 2007 I had the long-awaited pleasure of meeting Prof. Yosha, an Israeli expert in the writings of another "Balkan" Sephardic Jew, Abraham Kohen Herrera (c. 1570-1635). Kohen Herrera was the only major Kabbalist to write at length in the standard Castilian of his time, using a Latin alphabet. My encounter with Prof. Yosha came at a conference in Dubrovnik dedicated to Kohen Herrera, who had been schooled in Lurianic Kabbalah while in the Dalmatian republic. I was delighted to learn that Nissim Yosha was a Sephardi from Manastiri/Bitola and thus one of few survivors of that once-prosperous community.
In 2007 Nissim Yosha wrote an open letter to then-president Georgi Parvanov of Bulgaria, declaring, "I assume that in March 2008 there will be commemorated in Bulgaria the 65th anniversary of… the survival of the 48,000 Jews of old Bulgaria. In the same year  there also occurred the tragic… annihilation of the 11,343 Jews of Thrace, Macedonia and Pirot that were deported by the then-Bulgarian authorities directly to the gas chambers of Treblinka. Both events were connected as they occurred in the then so-called 'United Bulgaria' [under] the same government. Knowing your positive moral attitude regarding the historical truth and justice we hope that you will find [an] adequate occasion to [recall] the true facts to the people of Bulgaria and [all] civilized nations, asking the pardon of the 11,343 men, women and children who perished in March-April 1943 in the damned extermination camp of Treblinka. Such a presidential statement will elevate the image and the moral level of Bulgaria [as] an important member of the civilized family of nations."
Nissim Yosha was an exemplary son of Manastiri/Bitola and a powerful witness to truth. It remains unfortunate that the Bulgarian authorities are unwilling to follow his wise counsel.
 Jews in Yugoslavia, Zagreb, Muzejski prostor, Zagreb, 1989.
 Romano, Jaša, The Jews of Yugoslavia 1941-1945, Beograd, Jewish Historical Museum, 1980.
 See, for example, Матковски, Александар, Трагедијата на Евреите од Македонија, Скопје, Култура, 1962, cited in Birri-Tomovska, Kristina, Jews of Yugoslavia 1918-1941, A History of Macedonian Sephards, Bern, Peter Lang, 2012. The latter volume must be read with caution about some assertions.
 See Romano, as indicated in notes 1 and 2, and Tomovska, ibid.
 This figure is based on the population totals for European Jewry presented to the 1942 Wannsee Conference by Adolf Eichmann, as reproduced in Gilbert, Martin, The Dent Atlas of the Holocaust, London, Dent, second ed., 1993.
 See "Deportations to Killing Centers" in Holocaust Encyclopedia, Washington, U.S. Holocaust Historical Museum, at http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005372, checked September 2013.
 Todorov, Tzvetan, The Fragility of Goodness: Why Bulgaria's Jews Survived the Holocaust, Princeton, NJ, USA, Princeton University Press, 2001 [English tr. of the 1999 French ed.]
 Cited in Todorov, ibid, from Arendt, Hannah, Eichmann in Jerusalem, New York, Viking Press, 1964.
 See Hilberg, Raul, The Destruction of the European Jews, v. 2, New York, Holmes and Meier, 1985, rev. ed.
 See Sinani, Shaban, Hebrenjtë në Shqipëri: Prania dhe Shpëtimi, Tiranë, Naimi, 2009.
 Epstein, Eric Joseph, and Rosen, Philip, Dictionary of the Holocaust, Westport, CT, USA, Greenwood Press, 1997.
 Sebastián de Romero Radigales, the Spanish consul in Athens, prevented the German deportation of hundreds of Sephardim from Solun/Selanik. In Budapest, Spanish representative Àngel Sanz Briz saved up to 3,500 Jews. See Schwartz, Stephen, "Spanish Revision," The Weekly Standard [Washington, DC], June 1, 2009.
 See Cohen, Mark, Last Century of a Sephardic Community: The Jews of Monastir, 1839-1943, New York, Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture, 2003.
 Cohen, ibid, and Kolonomos, Jamila Andjela, Monastir Without Jews, New York, Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture, 2008. Jamila Kolonomos states that the Kahal Kadosh Portugal was destroyed by a fire during the first world war, and the Kahal Kadosh Aragon was demolished in 1943-44.
 On relations between Manastiri/Bitola and Solun/Selanik in the 16th c. CE, see Nehama, Joseph, Histoire des Israélites de Salonique, L'Age d'Or du Sefaradisme Salonicien (1536-1593), deuxième fascicule, Paris, Durlacher, 1936.
 Cohen, op. cit.
 See Cohen, ibid, and Birri-Tomovska, op. cit., on the Sephardic "Skenderbeg."
 On Albanian support for VMRO in 1903, see Brown, Keith, Loyal Unto Death: Trust and Terror in Revolutionary Macedonia, Bloomington, Indiana, U.S, Indiana University Press, 2012. Brown refers therein to "the anti-imperial sentiments of Macedonia's Albanian population," but is superficial and excessively "post-modernist" and "identity-centered" in his treatment of this aspect of the country's history. Brown ignores almost completely the Jewish presence in Macedonia at the time.
 Sonnichsen, Albert, Confessions of a Macedonian Bandit, New York, Duffield and Co., 1909; reprint ed., Santa Barbara, California, USA, The Narrative Press, 2004.
 See Schwartz, Stephen, "The Last Jewish Sufi: The Life and Writings of Ariel Bension [1880-1932] On the 75th Anniversary of His Book The Zohar in Moslem and Christian Spain And of His Death," Presented to the International Scholarly Conference on The Place and Role of Dervish Orders in Bosnia-Herzegovina – On the Occasion of the Year of Jalaluddin Rumi – 800 Years Since His Birth – Presented 2007, Revised 2010, Published in English in Mjesto i Uloga Derviških Redova u Bosni i Hercegovini, Zbornik radova povodom obilježavanja 800 godina od rođenja Džemaluddina Rumija, Sarajevo, Oriental Institute of Sarajevo and The Faculty of Islamic Studies, University of Sarajevo, 2011. Further revised 2012 and accessible at http://www.islamicpluralism.org/1188/the-last-jewish-sufi, checked September 2013. For Bension's The Zohar in Moslem and Christian Spain, see the English-language editions, London, Routledge, 1932, and New York, Sepher-Hermon Press, 1974. An edition in standard Castilian, El Zohar en la España Musulmana y Cristiana, was published with a prologue by the philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, who praised the Zohar as a Jewish equivalent of Don Quijote, Madrid, Ediciones Nuestra Raza, 1934. For a recent Portuguese-language edition of Bension's volume, see O Zohar, Sâo Paulo [Brazil], Polar Editorial, 2006. A notable catalogue of R. Bension's library is Aranov, Saul I., A Descriptive Catalogue of the Bension Collection of Sephardic Manuscripts and Texts, Edmonton, University of Alberta Press, 1979. R. Bension was an adherent, through his family, of the Beit El yeshiva in Jerusalem, considered the leading Kabbalistic study center in Jerusalem today and founded by a Yemeni Kabbalist, R. Shalom Shar'abi, known as the RaSHaSH [1720-80]. Kabbalistic practice at Beit El shows an exceptionally strong influence of Islamic Sufism. The great secular historian of Jewish mysticism, Gershom Scholem, commented in his classic, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Jerusalem, Schocken, 1941, that in "Beth-El, now a forlorn spot in the Old City of Jerusalem… even today as I write these lines, men who are thoroughly 'modern' in their thought may draw inspiration from contemplating what Jewish prayer may be in its sublimest form… Among the writings of the Sephardic Kabbalists of this school, which has exercised a considerable influence on Oriental [Mizrahi or Arab- and Persian-speaking] Jewry, it would be difficult to find a single one capable of being understood by the laity." Scholem comments in a footnote that the members of the Beit El yeshiva "were recruited among the Jews of North Africa, Turkey, the Balkans, Persia, and Yemen." Presumably, Balkan students at the yeshiva would have included some from Manastiri/Bitola and other Macedonian communities, a subject worthy of further and serious research. Bension composed a volume on Shalom Shar'abi in Hebrew, which remains untranslated: Bension, Ariel, שרעבי שלום שר, Jerusalem, Hotsaat Zuṭot, 1929-30. Also see Lebel, Jennie, Tide and Wreck: History of the Jews of Vardar Macedonia, Bergenfield, New Jersey [USA], Avotaynu, 2008. A recent and controversial volume, Giller, Pinchas, Shalom Shar'abi and the Kabbalists of Beit El, Oxford, Oxford U.P., 2008, does not mention R. Bension.
 New York and Paris, Revue Hispanique, V. LXXIX, issued as a separate volume.
 Paris, Librairie E. Droz, 1935.
 Cohen, op. cit.
 Birri-Tomovska, op. cit.
 See various authors, Jevrejska Omladinska Drustva na Tlu Jugoslavije – Jewish Youth Societes [sic] in Yugoslavia, 1919-1941, Beograd, Jevrejski Istorijski Muzej, 1995.
 Birri-Tomovska, op. cit.
 Jevrejska Omladinska Drustva na Tlu Jugoslavije, op. cit.
 See Banac, Ivo, The National Question in Yugoslavia, Ithaca, New York, USA, Cornell University Press, 1988, and Rossos, Andrew, Macedonia and the Macedonians: A History, Stanford, California, USA, Hoover Institution Press, 2008. The latter is an unsatisfactory work that ignores the Jewish presence in modern Macedonian history.
 Birri-Tomovska, op. cit.
 Banac, op. cit, and Rossos, op. cit.
 For Dr. Levi's observation, see Birri-Tomovska, op. cit.
 Birri-Tomovska, ibid.
 See note 1.
 Birri-Tomovska, op. cit.
 Kolonomos, op. cit. The statistics of deportation are widely reproduced in volumes on the Holocaust.
 See Algazy, Joseph, "Macedonia Jews fight Bulgarian monarch's memorial," Haaretz [Tel Aviv], February 21, 2001, reproduced in Baruch, Nir, Benjamin, Ezra, and Yosha, Nissim, eds., Annihilation and Survival in United Bulgaria, 1943, Association for the Research and Commemoration of the Jewish Communities in the Balkans, Tel Aviv, Tammuz Publishers, 2003.
 Letter of the Jewish Community of the Republic of Macedonia, February 19, 2000, in Baruch, Benjamin, and Yosha, ibid.
 Introduction to Baruch, Benjamin, and Yosha, ibid.
 Frances, Samuel, "Pushing It To the Breaking Point," Duma [Sofia], February 2, 2000. Translated into English and included in Baruch, Benjamin, and Yosha, ibid.
 Letter of the Jewish National Fund to "His Majesty King Simeon II" [sic], October 24, 1993, in Baruch, Benjamin, and Yosha, ibid.
 Benjamin, Dr. Ezra, Letter to Shapiro, Milton S., President, Jewish National Fund, September 4, 1994, in Baruch, Benjamin, and Yosha, ibid.
 See introduction and photographs in Baruch, Benjamin, and Yosha, ibid.
 A trailer for The Third Half is accessible at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2069100/. Accessed September 2013.
 Leviev-Sawyer, Clive, "Bulgarian FM Mladenov speaks on Macedonia's 'Third Half' film controversy," The Sofia Globe, September 14, 2012, accessible at http://sofiaglobe.com/2012/09/14/bulgarian-fm-mladenov-speaks-on-macedonias-third-half-film-controversy/. Accessed September 2013.
 Birri-Tomovska, op. cit.
 Yosha, Nissim, cited in Schwartz, Stephen, "Manastiri, City of Ghosts," Illyria [New York], January 29, 2008.
Note: There are many other useful sources on these aspects of the Holocaust. I will cite only three additional works I have consulted, and ask the indulgence of readers of this paper for citing my own volume on Jews in the Balkans:
Gaon, Haham Dr. Solomon, and Serels, Dr. M. Mitchell, Del Fuego: Sephardim and the Holocaust, New York, Sepher-Hermon Press, 1995.
Kerkannen, Ari, Yugoslav Jewry: Aspects of Post-World War II and Post-Yugoslav Developments, Helsinki, Finnish Oriental Society, 2001.
Kreso, Muharem, The Nazi "Final Solution" of the Jewish Question in the Occupied Countries of the Western Balkans From the Year 1941 to 1945, Sarajevo, Institute for the Research of Crimes Against Humanity and International Law, 2006.
Schwartz, Stephen, Sarajevo Rose, London, Saqi Books and the Bosnian Institute, 2005; Bosnian tr., Sarajevska Ruža, Sarajevo, Tugra, 2006.
Ешкенази, Ели, Гичев, Стрaxил, Опиc на еврейскитe старопечатни книги в България – Descriptive Catalogue of the Old Hebrew Books in Bulgaria, Sofia, Българска академия на науките, 1966.
Heller, Marvin J., The Sixteenth Century Hebrew Book, An Abridged Thesaurus, 2 vols., Leiden, Brill, 2004.
Kayserling, Mayer, Biblioteca Española-Portugueza-Judaica and other studies in Ibero-Jewish bibliography by the author, and by J.S. da Silva Rosa; with a bibliography of Kayserling's publications by M. Weisz, Selected with a Prolegomenon by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, New York, Ktav, 1971.
Lebl, Ženi [Lebel, Jennie], Jevrejske Knige Štampane u Beogradu 1837–1905, Gornji Milanovac [Serbia], Dečje Novine, 1990.
Nassi, Gad, ed., Jewish Journalism and Printing Houses in the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Istanbul, The Isis Press, 2001.
Nezirović, Muhamed, Jevrejsko Španjolska Književnost, Sarajevo, Svjetlost, 1992.
Tauber, Eli, Jevrejska štampa u BIH, 1900-2011, Sarajevo, Media Centar and La Benevolencija, 2011.
Special thanks are due my friend and colleague, the Macedonian journalist Cvetin Chilimanov, who will disagree with some aspects of this paper, but whose assistance was invaluable.
Related Topics: Albanian Muslims, European Muslims, Macedonia, Muslim-Christian Relations, Muslim-Jewish Relations, Sephardic Judaism, Turkish Islam receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free center for islamic pluralism mailing list
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