World Jewish Congress marks 75 years since rescue of 48,000 Bulgarian Jews from Nazi deportation

SOFIA, Bulgaria - The World Jewish Congress joined the Bulgarian Jewish community on Saturday evening for a special ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the rescue of Bulgarian Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps. In an address at the Sofia Synagogue, in the presence of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Deputy Foreign Minister Georg Georgiev, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder praised the non-Jewish Bulgarians – among them ordinary citizens, clergymen, parliamentarians, and the liberal intelligentsia – who intervened on March 10, 1943 as the Germans were rounding up the 48,000 members of the community to stop the deportation. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder, and President of the Organisation of Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom' (Credit: Solomon Frances)

“Everywhere you turn in Europe, you are standing on a killing ground of such terrible loss and sadness. Not here in Sofia. What happened here is unique in the history of World War II, and frankly, it is unique in all of mankind,” WJC President Lauder said.  “Bulgaria has set an example for the world to follow. And you remind us all today to never be silent in the face of evil. To always have the courage to stand up for what is right. And to follow the simple rule that we all learned so long ago: to treat others as we would like them to treat us.”

The ceremony at the Sofia Synagogue was the culmination of three days of events held by the Organisation of Jews in Bulgaria, ‘Shalom’, to celebrate the 1943 rescue of the Bulgarian Jews and to mourn the simultaneous deportation of 11,300 Jews from Bulgarian-administered lands in Greece and Yugoslavia who were sent to their deaths in Treblinka.

Lauder expressed the World Jewish Congress’ deep appreciation for its partnership with the Shalom organisation, under the leadership of its president, Dr. Alek Oscar. “Here in Bulgaria, I can safely say there will be Jewish life – strong, dynamic Jewish life – for generations.”

Lauder also thanked the Bulgarian government for its support of the Jewish community and its denunciation of the annual neo-Nazi march honoring Bulgaria's notorious Nazi collaborator, Hristo Lukov. “The World Jewish Congress is grateful for the efforts the Bulgarian government has made to combat anti-Semitism. While we understand that you could not stop the Lukov march, it is clear to us that most Bulgarian citizens were disgusted by it. And that is in keeping with the fine traditions of your country. Today as Europe slides back into the old hatreds of anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and bigotry, the EU is fortunate to have Bulgaria now in leadership. I believe Bulgaria will guide Europe at this crucial time, with its strong moral compass.”

The Bulgarian Jewish community presented Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova with the community's special Shofar award of honor for the consistent efforts of the Bulgarian government in fighting anti-Semitism and hate speech, and for its commemoration of the Holocaust.

In culminating the commemoration events, Dr. Alek Oscar, president of the Shalom organization, said: “Today we honor those brave people who stood up against the evil and wrote with golden letters the name of Bulgaria in the book of humanity.”

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