Deportation of Jews by Bulgarian occupation authorities. Skopje, Yugoslavia, March 1943.
Central Zionist Archives
Between 1919 and 1945, Bulgaria was one of several kingdoms located in southeastern Europe, an area often referred to as the Balkans. In 1934, Bulgaria had a population of more than six million people. In that year, Jews constituted 0.8 percent of the total population, or roughly 50,000 individuals.
After Bulgaria's defeat in World War I, the Allies stripped the country of territory and placed restrictions on the size of the Bulgarian armed forces. King Boris III established a military dictatorship in the early 1930s and aligned the country closely with Germany, its World War I ally, hoping to restore the territories it had lost. The military dictatorship removed all restrictions on Bulgaria's armed forces.
In early March 1941, Bulgaria joined the Axis alliance and, in April 1941, participated in the German-led attack on Yugoslavia and Greece. In return, Bulgaria received most of Thrace from Greece, and Macedonia as well as parts of eastern Serbia from Yugoslavia. Though Bulgaria participated in the Balkan Campaign, it refused to enter the war against the Soviet Union in June 1941.
PERSECUTION OF JEWS IN BULGARIA
Beginning in July 1940, Bulgaria instituted anti-Jewish legislation. Jews were excluded from public service, discriminated against in their choice of places of residence, and restricted economically. Marriage between Jews and non-Jews was prohibited.
During the war, German-allied Bulgaria did not deport Bulgarian Jews. Bulgaria did, however, deport non-Bulgarian Jews from the territories it had annexed from Yugoslavia and Greece. In March 1943, Bulgarian authorities arrested all the Jews in Macedonia and Thrace. In Macedonia, formerly part of Yugoslavia, Bulgarian officials interned 7,000 Jews in a transit camp in Skopje. In Thrace, formerly a Bulgarian-occupied province of Greece, about 4,000 Jews were deported to Bulgarian assembly points at Gorna Dzhumaya and Dupnitsa and handed over to the Germans. In all, Bulgaria deported over 11,000 Jews to German-held territory. By the end of March 1943, most of them had been deported to the Treblinka extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Jews of Bulgarian citizenship were relatively secure from deportation to German-held territory. However, all Bulgarian Jewish men between the ages of 20 and 40 were drafted for forced labor after 1941, and in May 1943 the Bulgarian government announced the expulsion of 20,000 Jews from the capital, Sofia, to the provinces. (The 1934 Jewish population of Sofia was about 26,000; in that year Jews formed 9 percent of the capital's total population.) Protests staged by both Bulgarian Jews and non-Jews were brutally suppressed by the police. Within about two weeks, almost 20,000 Jews had been forcibly expelled.
Also in the spring of 1943, the Bulgarian government made extensive plans to comply with the Nazi demand to deport Bulgaria's Jews. Significant and public protest from key political and clerical leaders moved King Boris to cancel these deportation plans.
Although Bulgaria was allied with Nazi Germany, for most of the war the Soviet Union maintained diplomatic relations with the Balkan nation. As Soviet forces approached in late summer 1944, however, the Soviet Union declared war on Bulgaria. In October 1944, Bulgaria switched allegiances and declared war on Germany. Bulgaria retained the Dobruja region, which it had acquired from Romania in 1940. After the war, Yugoslavia and Greece took back the territories annexed by Bulgaria in 1941.
In 1945, the Jewish population of Bulgaria was still about 50,000, its prewar level. Beginning in 1948, however, more than 35,000 Bulgarian Jews chose to emigrate to the new state of Israel.