(JTA) — Bulgaria’s ambassador to Israel did not attend a conference on Bulgarian Holocaust history last week, in a move that organizers said displays her government’s attempts to whitewash that history.
An embassy spokesperson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Ambassador Rumiana Bachvarova had received “a last-minute invitation to greet the conference” and “decided that it was good for the conversations and discussions to remain at an expert historical level, without any political presence or participation in them.”
The three-day event, titled “Persecution and Collaboration, Rescue and Survival: New Perspectives Regarding Bulgaria and the Holocaust 80 Years Later,” was hosted by Yad Vashem, Bar-Ilan University and the Tel Aviv Cinematheque from May 22-24.
“We believe that in the future the conversations and discussions between Bulgarian and Israeli historians will continue,” the spokesperson wrote, “and will contribute to an objective and comprehensive clarification of historical events.”
This year marks 80 years since protests in Bulgaria famously thwarted the deportation of its Jewish population. But respected historians have argued that King Boris III delivered over 11,000 other Jews to Nazi camps from the Bulgarian-occupied zone, in what is today North Macedonia. It’s a story that Bulgaria doesn’t want to face, critics say.
“The gruesome unvarnished truth that it was the Bulgarian government of King Boris III — not Nazi Germany — that rounded up 11,343 Jews from Macedonia, Thrace and Pirot and knowingly sent them to be murdered at Treblinka is an ‘historical event’ that does not require ‘clarification,’ comprehensive or otherwise,” historian and attorney Menachem Rosensaft, who had delivered a keynote speech at the event, told JTA.
“By refusing to even greet the conference participants, Ambassador Bachvarova, perhaps acting under orders, seems intent on continuing her government’s obfuscation of history by studiously refusing to admit that Bulgaria has the blood of these 11,343 Jews on its conscience,” Rosensaft, also associate executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress, added via a WhatsApp text.
Event organizer and filmmaker Jacky Comforty, author of “The Stolen Narrative of The Bulgarian Jews and The Holocaust” (2021) and director of a film about how Bulgaria foiled Hitler, told JTA that Bachvarova’s approach to the history is “propaganda oriented.” He added that in Bulgarian “neo-Nazi circles” it can often be read that “Jews are not grateful that they were saved.”
Comforty said Bachvarova was previously invited to give audience feedback on a film of his about this history while it was in progress. “She said she would not come because it was an anti-Bulgarian event,” Comforty said.
“Bulgarian officials have tried to use this story” of the rescue of Jews “and they are overdrawing on their humanitarian credit,” he said.
Jacky Vidal, chair of the Jaffa-based Bulgarian Jewry Heritage House, said he had sent the invitation to the ambassador. “I didn’t hear back, and I don’t know the reason,” he said, adding that he understood she was attending a ceremony honoring the memory of Dimitar Peshev, “one of the biggest rescuers of Bulgarian Jews.”
Peshev was a pro-German politician who nevertheless intervened to prevent King Boris from deporting its Jews in 1943.
“Bulgaria does have a very laudable credit with respect to the Holocaust,” Rosensaft said. “It is a fact that 48,000 Jews from Bulgaria were not deported to the death camps and therefore survived. It is also a fact that his process was not led by King Boris.”
The rescue was, he said, initiated by Bulgarian Orthodox church bishops, Metropolitan Stephan of Sofia and Metropolitan Kiril of Plovdiv — both of whom were posthumously recognized together with Peshev by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust history authority and memorial.
In March, according to the online publication Balkan Insight, Bulgarian journalist Emmy Barouh sent an open letter to Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, saying that she feared the anniversary of the rescue of Bulgarian Jews might be “used for political purposes.”
“The names of all 11,343 people put into sealed wagons and deported to Treblinka by the Bulgarian police and army are known. The manner in which the Bulgarian soldiers and officers treated them on behalf of the state and under the Bulgarian flag is also known. The astonishing cruelty in the last days of their lives is documented. The indifference to the tragedy of those whose last life was spent under the control of the Bulgarian army and police shows a particular moral bankruptcy,” she wrote.
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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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