Retired boxer Evander Holyfield with Syrian refugees 370.
(photo credit: Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)
BERLIN – The former Kingsmen singer Yank Barry, of “Louie, Louie” fame, and
ex-world champion boxer Evander Holyfield relocated Syrian refugees into
permanent housing in Bulgaria on Monday and Tuesday.
In a Skype interview
with The Jerusalem Post, Barry said, “They call me Schindler,” in a reference to
the Bulgarian media, which dubbed him Oskar Schindler after the famous
non-Jewish German industrialist who rescued Jews during the
“I’m far from Schindler, but if that is what it takes...”
added Barry about his efforts to help Syrians who have escaped the bloody civil
war in their country.
For Barry, who was born Gerald Barry Falovitch in
Montreal, Bulgaria has a deeply personal connection. He said “two cousins
escaped to Bulgaria” during the Holocaust.”
Barry has connections to
Israel. At the age of 16, he said, “I took my guitar” and ran away to a kibbutz
and stayed in the Jewish state between 1964- 1966. He performed music at the
Minus 206 Club on the Sea Of Galilee.
“He is my angel,” said Mahmoud, a
Syrian refugee in Sofia, about Barry. The 39-year-old Syrian just moved into a
private hotel with his wife and three children. Private landlords declined to
rent rooms to Syrians, so the innovative Barry located well-kept empty hotels
for the refugees. Barry stressed the “Bulgarian government is being super
cooperative” with his work, but the “the EU has sort of neglected” the massive
refugee crisis in Bulgaria.
He spent a million dollars for the relocation
of over 50 Syrian families.
There are currently more than 6,500 Syrian
refugees in Bulgaria, and the number is expected to climb to 15,000 by year’s
end. There are currently over nine million displaced Syrians from a total
population of 23 million. More than 2 million Syrians have fled the war-scarred
country to Iraq, Bulgaria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
who cannot be identified by his real name because he has remaining family
members in regime-controlled Syria, said he protested in 2011 against the
“dictator Assad” because he wanted freedom.
Syrian President Bashar
Assad’s immediate response to peaceful dissent was to violently crack down on
it. Syrian security forces arrested Mahmoud and tortured him in two
They “hanged me from my feet for 8 hours,” he said. He described
seeing “hell” during his imprisonment in Assad’s notorious jails.
asked who is responsible for the Syrian civil war, Mahmoud said “Iran is sending
money” to Assad. In addition to Assad, he placed the blame for the war on the
terrorist groups Hezbollah and al-Qaida, Russia and the Islamic Republic of
Iran. “All together they kill the Syrian people,” said Mahmoud.
broke down in tears when describing Assad’s forces, who raped his wife and stole
the family’s possessions.
Mahmoud, who knows that Yank is Jewish,
stressed: “I don’t hate Israel and Jews. All of humans is one
Barry said “it is a nice thing for Judaism and Israel to show we
are there for them [Syrian refugees].”
However, one Palestinian family in
the Bulgarian camp declined Barry’s offer of assistance because he’s
Holyfield, widely considered one of the world’s greatest boxers
and former undisputed heavyweight champion, said “people copy people” about his
motivation to spur new aid for struggling Syrians.
“Somebody helped me,
and that gives me the opportunity to help someone else,” noted Holyfield, who
serves as an international goodwill ambassador for Barry’s NGO Global Village
He said the refugees did not choose their
situation, and he hopes that his popularity will attract more
Holyfield took over last year from Muhammad Ali – a close friend of
Barry – who served as the goodwill ambassador but is now too ill to
Ali and Barry jointly launched the foundation in 1995, and it
has provided more than 900 million meals to starving people across the globe.
Barry just sent five million meals to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the
Over 120,000 people have been killed since the spring of
2011 in Syria.
The high-energy Barry plans to continue with his
humanitarian work. He has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.