Beyond Hitler’s Grasp

Have you ever heard or read about the fact that Bulgaria was the only country whose Jewish population was preserved throughout the Second World War (WWII)? Bulgaria is the only country that managed to save its Jews. Not a single Bulgarian Jew in Bulgaria proper went to the gas chambers even though the country aligned with Nazi Germany in March 1941, signed into law an anti-Semitic bill called Defense of the Nation Act, and had a pro-German government led by Bogdan Filov, a germanophile?

Michael Bar-Zohar, a Bulgarian Jew born in the town of Kyustendil, who after the war went to live in Israel and even became a member of the Knesset for a while, the Israeli legislature, dedicated that book to the Bulgarian people who, through their tolerance, hospitality and friendliness, did whatever they could to save the lives of their Jewish friends.

“Beyond Hitler’s Grasp. The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews” is not a biased book. The author doesn’t miss to discuss the Defense of the Nation Act, the pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic stance that some government officials had, the harsh and humiliating conditions in which the Bulgarian Jews lived a small number of whom unfortunately even died, the humiliating way that the Bulgarian army largely treated them, and the sad reality that Jews from Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, whose territory was then given to Bulgaria by Nazi Germany, were eventually sent to the gas chambers.

However, none of the about 55,000 Bulgarian Jews in what is Bulgaria today went to the gas chambers, and after WWII their number even rised, as Mr. Bar-Zohar mentions, an unseen record in Europe. The Bulgarian clergy, intellectuals, some politicians, Tzar Boris III, and most of the local people were stubborn enough to make sure that their fellow citizens would live after the war, despite even the existence of pro-Nazi groups within their society.

As Bulgarian and a person who reveres life, I felt chills when I read the beginning of the book. Tucked in wagons in Yugoslavia coming from Bulgaria, and informed that WWII is over, they stood up, looked toward east where Bulgaria was, and sang the Bulgarian anthem with tears in their eyes – grateful that their country rescued them from horrific dead.

“Beyond Hitler’s Grasp. The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews” is not an autobiography, and contains works cited. I would recommend it to everyone interested in history, and especially WWII.

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