(JTA) — Bulgaria’s president was on hand on Friday for a ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the country’s dramatic decision to save its 48,000 Jews from the Nazis.
So were representatives of the Bulgarian Orthodox church whose predecessors instigated the rescue, as well as a prominent Bulgarian-born Israeli historian and politician, Michael Bar Zohar, who published an early history of the episode, which was barely known until after the fall of communism.
Together they marched from Bulgaria’s national library — where an exhibition about Bulgaria’s World War II-era king, Tsar Boris III, is being held — to Sofia’s oldest church, where they lay flowers on a memorial to Boris and his wife, Tsarina Joanna.
But conspicuously absent from the ceremony with President Rumen Radev were any representatives of Bulgaria’s contemporary Jewish community,
Community leaders were invited only at the last possible minute, on Thursday afternoon, according to Alexander Oscar, president of Shalom The Organization of Bulgarian Jews. His group had already planned its own observance of March 10, known by Bulgarian Jews as “Day of Salvation.”
But Oscar said he would not have attended even if he’d been invited earlier — and he thought no one else from the local Jewish community would have either.
“Nobody from the community would have taken part in an event honoring the imaginary role of King Boris in rescuing the Bulgarian Jews and presenting a distorted history of the Holocaust,” Oscar told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Oscar’s comments point to a longstanding and increasingly potent dispute over how Tsar Boris III should factor into Bulgaria’s Holocaust memory. Though Boris did sign off on the order to halt the deportation of the country’s Jews, he was also the leader of a fascist government that allied with Nazi Germany, imposed oppressive racial laws on its Jews and facilitated the murder of more than 11,000 Jews in territory it occupied. Boris died under mysterious circumstances shortly after returning from Germany where he met with Hitler in 1943.
Bulgarian troops deported more than 11,000 Jews living in Western Thrace, Vardar, Macedonia and the town of Pirot in today’s Serbia to Nazi death camps, where almost all were murdered.
St. Sophia Church, where the president’s ceremony took place, is home to plaques honoring Tsar Boris III and his wife that briefly stood in Jerusalem’s Bulgarian Forest. The plaques were removed in 2000 after protests by Bulgarian Jews and their descendants who were uncomfortable with lionizing someone who oversaw the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.
Past “Day of Salvation” commemorations have not specifically exalted Boris. But the wartime leader is a favorite of Bulgaria’s far right and those who admire the country’s pre-communist governments, and his profile has only risen in recent years as Bulgaria, like many other countries, has experienced a strengthening of its right wing.
“What we choose to remember and what we choose to omit when telling our own story is a mark of wisdom, courage and dignity,” wrote Bulgarian Jewish journalist Emmy Barouh in an open letter to Radev before the commemoration event.
“There is no morality to be found in the sinister arithmetic that the lives of 50,000 were ‘paid for’ by the lives of 11,343,” Barouh wrote. “Skipping half of this sad ‘equation’ turns ‘80th anniversary of the rescue’ into another episode of political use of Bulgarian Jews.”
Immediately after the war, the Jewish population of Bulgaria was still about 50,000, its prewar level, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. But unlike in most communist countries, the government allowed Jews to emigrate in large numbers and in fact encouraged them to do so; the vast majority departed for Israel in the late 1940s. Today, the World Jewish Congress estimates the country’s Jewish population at between 2,000 and 6,000; the country recently saw the creation of a Jewish school in Sofia and a cultural center in the remains of a crumbling synagogue in the coastal city of Vidin.
Local Jewish leaders marked the anniversary in other ways. Earlier in the week, some traveled to Kavala, Greece, for a ceremony at the site where Bulgarian soldiers deported thousands of Jews to Treblinka in 1943. On Friday, they also held their own ceremony at a different monument in Sofia commemorating both the rescue and the murder of the Jews in Bulgarian-occupied regions. They were joined by public figures including Sofia’s mayor and Bulgaria’s foreign minister, Nikolay Milkov, and its prosecutor general.
Some Bulgarians had openly called for their country to pay greater homage to Tsar Boris III at this year’s March 10 commemorations. Daniela Gortcheva, a Dutch-Bulgarian right-wing media figure, circulated a petition calling for him to be recognized.
The petition asserted that leaving Boris out of the commemoration would be akin to what happened in the Macedonian city of Ohrid last year, when a Bulgarian cultural club named after Boris drew protests from those who noted that Boris’s government was responsible for the murder of thousands of Macedonian Jews.
That incident, the latest in a long-running conflict between the two Balkan nations over World War II history, rocketed Tsar Boris back into the national spotlight in Bulgaria and made his rehabilitation a focus of Bulgarian nationalists.
After Jewish groups rebuffed the petition, Gortcheva attacked her critics on Facebook as ungrateful “heirs of Communists,” “a fifth column of Moscow” and traitors — claims that Jewish leaders say echo antisemitic smears made against Jews in the past.
Shalom, Bulgarian Jewry’s leading organization, has filed a complaint against Gortcheva with Bulgaria’s prosecutor general — the same official who last month ruled that Bulgaria could bar a neo-Nazi march honoring a Nazi collaborator.
“Gortcheva — a great supporter of the Lukov march — has been persistently involved in the spread of Holocaust denial and distortion,” World Jewish Congress Executive Vice President Maram Stern said in a letter to Milkov. “She combines such statements with slanderous claims that the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria SHALOM and the Organization of the Bulgarian Jews in Israel are disloyal to Bulgaria.”
Following last week’s ceremonies, a group of Bulgarian scholars have circulated their own appeal this week, calling on Bulgarian leaders to acknowledge the deportations of Jews under the country’s rule during the Holocaust.
“Our state never tried to find the appropriate language to mark two inseparable and yet antipodal historical facts: the preserved life of the Jews from the prewar territories of Bulgaria and the deportation to Treblinka (4-29 March 1943) of those from the lands occupied in April 1941,” the appeal reads. “The Bulgarian state should acknowledge publicly, sincerely and unconditionally its responsibility by apologizing for the persecutions and deportations of Jews during World War II.”
“It is a matter of basic decency and tactfulness that emphasizing the salvation should be done by those who were saved and not by the savior,” the petition added. “Here, exactly the opposite occurs: Bulgarians are engaging in self-glorification and inviting the Jewish community to pay them eternal gratitude.”
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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