- The Jewish population in Bulgaria at the outbreak of World War II was approximately 50,000, which constituted less than 1 percent of its six million people. At first, Bulgaria remained neutral during the war. This changed, however, in March 1941, when Germany recognized Bulgaria’s annexation of western Thrace from Greece and Serbian Macedonia from Yugoslavia, thus realizing its dream of a “Greater Bulgaria.” Germany also became Bulgaria’s principal trading partner, and paramilitary groups appeared throughout the country. Although anti-Semitism existed in Bulgaria, it was not until Bulgaria became a partner of the Axis that it was faced with a Jewish problem.Restrictions on Bulgaria’s Jews preceded its alliance with Germany, but its ties with the Nazis brought about heightened pressure for the enactment of anti-Jewish legislation. Germany demanded that Bulgaria decree additional anti-Jewish laws, which was in accord with the sentiments of Bulgaria’s anti-Semitic prime minister, Bogdan Filov. As early as December 1940, the Bulgarian parliament passed the Law for the Protection of the Nation, which closely copied the racial categories found in the German Nuremberg Laws of 1935. The Bulgarian government, however, exempted Jewish converts to Christianity from the racial definition, which led to an increase in mixed marriages and hundreds of “mercy baptisms.” Other categories of Jews exempted by the racial laws were Jews wounded in the war or who were decorated war veterans.A partial list of the restrictions resulting from the laws included barring Jews from certain types of employment, prohibiting them from owning real estate in rural communities, and requiring Jews to register their property with the government. Jews were also subjected to a curfew and prohibited from owning telephones and radios. In September 1943, spurred on by its German partner, the government enacted legislation that required all Jews to wear the yellow Star of David badge. The law was also applied to the 14,000 Jews residing in Thrace and the territory taken from Yugoslavia.In August 1942, the Bulgarian government established a Commissariat for Jewish Affairs with the objective of expelling the Jews of Bulgaria and confiscating their property. The ultimate aim of the commissariat, however, was not only for the Jews to finance the cost of implementing the Law for the Protection of the Nation but also to prepare them for shouldering the cost of deportation to the death camps in Poland.Alexander Belev, the head of the commissariat, secretly agreed to hand over to Adolf Eichmann’s representative in Bulgaria the Jews in Bulgaria proper and in the newly acquired territories. In March 1943, the Bulgarian government approved the agreement, and two days later, approximately 12,000 Jews from Thrace and Macedonia were placed in concentration camps, and an additional 11,384 Jews were deported to Treblinka. News of the deportations, however, outraged the Bulgarian population, which reacted with a determination to protect the Jews of Bulgaria proper. As the Germans continued to pressure the government to deport the Jews, public opinion, now joined by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, forced the government to withdraw its cooperation with the deportations. Although Bulgarian anti-Semitism continued to manifest itself in subsequent decrees promulgated by the government, the threat of deportation to the death camps was removed.In the fall of 1943, Germany realized the futility of forcing its policy on an unsupportive Bulgarian population and halted its pressure regarding deportations. By the middle of 1944, all anti-Jewish legislation was nullified. Factors that may explain the Bulgarian people’s opposition to the deportations include the presence of Armenians, Greeks, Gypsies, and other ethnic groups within its borders; as a consequence, Bulgarians shared no particular prejudice against Jews, as did other European countries. An additional consideration was Bulgaria’s decision to surrender to the Allies as the Red Army approached Bulgarian soil and subsequently declared war on the country in September 1945.
Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. Jack R. Fischel. 2014.