Dr. Rumyana Marinova-Christidi recently came to give a lecture to our cohort on the lives of Jews in Bulguria before, during and after WWII. Dr. Marinova-Christidi is a professor at Sofia University in Bulgaria, and is a scholar on Communism in Bulgaria, WWII, interfaith relationships and modern Jewish history.
When the modern Bulgarian state was founded in the 19th century, the centuries-old Jewish community was well integrated within Bulgarian life. Bulgarian independence brought about political rights to all minorities, including Jews. Rulers had a good relationship with the Jewish community; the royal family was present at the grand opening of the new synagogue in 1909. In 1920, Jews made up about 1% of the total population. Most lived in large cities, such as Sofia, had professions in trade, medicine and craftsmanship. Dr. Marinova-Christidi pointed out that during this time, anti-Semitism was low. Pre-war Bulgarian Jews weren’t Orthodox like their Eastern European co-religionists. Following the rise of the Nazi Party in the mid-1930s, two anti-Semitic youth organizations appeared in Bulgaria. They both had unsuccessful attempts at copying Nazi anti-Jewish policies throughout the 1930s, in which they gained little popular support. With the onset of WWII, Bulgaria aligned with Germany and the Axis powers. This caused the government to initiate anti-Semitic policies, such as registering with the government, prohibition on relationships between Jews and non-Jews, and compulsion for Jews to sell their land to non-Jews. The anti-Semitic government complied with the deportation of 12,000 Jews to Treblinka in 1943.
Despite the anti-Semitic legislation and deportations, Dr. Marinova-Christidi included that there were Bulgarians, from both sides of the political scale, that protested the poor treatment of Jews. After learning of a planned deportation in March 1943, groups of civilians protested at Parliament, and said deportation was cancelled. For the remainder of the war, many Jews were forced into labor camps to do gruesome, sometimes deadly, manual labor. With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, 90% of Bulgaria’s Jewish population made Aliyah and moved to the new Jewish country. One student asked about this- if their status in Bulgaria after the war was good, why would they leave? Dr. Marinova-Christidi said, “They see Bulgaria as their motherland. They cherish this country. They left after the establishment of the state of Israel. In Bulgaria in 1948 and 1949, there was the communist regime. The government allowed them to leave. They arrived in Haifa with ships, once they arrived they were given weapons to fight for the state.” Students learned about Bulgarian Jews briefly at their November seminar at Yad Vashem, and this was a good opportunity for them to explore the topic more with a Bulgarian scholar.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/