311_Peres in Bulgaria.
(photo credit: Mark Neiman)
It is never too late to express appreciation for a noble deed.
President Shimon Peres, in the course of a state visit to Bulgaria on Wednesday, thanked Bulgarian President Giorgi Parvanov for the courageous and moral stand that Bulgaria took toward its Jewish population during World War II.
“In the name of my people and in the name of the State of Israel, I have
come to thank you for your stand during the Second World War, when as a
result of the combined efforts of the government and the people the
majority of Bulgarian Jews were saved,” he said.
Peres added that Israel and the Jewish world admire and respect
Bulgaria’s act of valor during the darkest hours of human history. The
Bulgarians, at the risk of their own lives, did not bow to Nazi
pressure, and in their refusal to do so, merited the highest distinction
of honor that humanity can bestow, he said.
“You stand at the head of an extraordinary nation,” Peres told Parvanov.
Even though Bulgaria was allied with Germany during the war, and
seemingly accepted the Nazi policy of racism, it never implemented any
Its remarkable tolerance toward its minorities is documented in the book
Beyond Hitler’s Grasp – The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews by
Bulgarianborn novelist, historian and former MK Michael Bar-Zohar, who
coincidentally has for many years been the president’s neighbor in his
private residence in an apartment building in Ramat Aviv.
According to Bar-Zohar the history of Bulgarian Jews would have been
very different were it not for the actions and courage of many civic
leaders and intellectuals, the resistance of Bulgarian church leaders,
and the decency of hundreds of nameless Bulgarians who remained immune
to racism, anti-Semitism and ethnocentrism. At the height of German
attempts to deport Bulgarian Jews to concentration camps, a Bulgarian
parliamentarian, Todor Kojukharov, argued against yielding to the German
demands in terms of Bulgaria’s survival as an independent entity.
“The only moral capital a small nation has is to be a righteous nation.
Only a righteous Bulgaria can demand that her rights be respected by
stronger nations,” he said.
Aside from meeting with Parvanov to discuss political, security and
economic issues, including the need for the Palestinians to negotiate
directly with Israel, Peres was in Bulgaria to receive that country’s
most prestigious award, the Stara Planina. In conferring it upon Peres,
Parvanov said that it represents the high regard in which Peres and the
State of Israel are held by all the Bulgarian authorities.
It also represents the continuing friendship between the two countries,
he said, adding that more than anything else it was in recognition of
Peres as a symbol of peace.