Jewish community in Bulgaria
From 379 AD Jewish communities have lived in Bulgaria.
Many of the early Synagogues were destroyed in the early days. Many Jewish people have taken refuge from wars and persecution over the centuries, in Bulgaria. They were mainly merchants and traders and one Jewish woman even married the Tsar Ivan Alexander, she was renamed from Sarah to Theodora. Alas in 1352 heretics and Jews were excommunicated and this led to some Jew’s being murdered by a mob.
This did not stop the influx of Jewish people into Bulgaria and around 1300’s many Jews began arriving from Europe and Hungary.
When the Ottomans entered Bulgaria there was a large Jewish community in Sofia, where there is still a large Synagogue standing today.
It seems under Ottoman rule, that the Jewish people thrived in Bulgaria, however, when the Ottomans began to retreat, many Jewish businesses and homes were looted.
The Bulgarian army however, consisted of many enlisted Jewish men who fought for their country (Bulgaria) in not only the Serbian Bulgarian war of 1995, the Balkan War but also the first world war, followed by achievement of equality, until the second world war began, when they were again demoted and not allowed to vote or work in positions of power. Many intermarried with local Bulgarians and those that didn’t had to pay a large tax to the Bulgarian authorities. Even the orthodox Church of Bulgaria opposed this, but, they still had to pay.
Now, along came this World War II and Bulgaria was on the side of the Germans. However, this did not sway the Bulgarians into passing over any of their Jewish citizens. The Jewish population were safe from death by concentration camp, in the arms of Bulgaria.
However, there were laws imposed whereby they could not own rural land, live with a Bulgaria and on using a telephone. But not only King Boris, local citizens, but the Bulgarian Orthodox Church ensured their safety and hence more than 50,000 Jews survived while living in Bulgaria.
Jews living in Greece and Yugoslavia did not get to live and were sent direct to the death camps and the Germans took a large number of Jews leaving from Komotini and Kavala onto a passenger boat, massacred them then sunk the boat.
The surviving Bulgarian Jews had all their personal and business possessions conviscated, yet have more recently officially thanked the Bulgarians for sparing their lives and have since erected ‘the Bulgarian Forest’ in Israel as a credit to the Bulgarians warmth. The Bulgarians even kept this a secret while the communists were in power as reprisals were feared.
From Thessaloniki alone more than 55,000 Jews were sent to the death camps although there are rumours that the Bulgarians offered some protection to Jews that were not Bulgarians and who had managed to flee from the Nazi occupation of Greece and surrounding countries, who gave no such safety to the Jewish people.
After the second world war, the vast majority of the Bulgarian Jewish population left for Israel, it is estimated that there are currently less than 1,000 Jewish still living in the Bulgaria that they still thank for saving the lives of their families.