'Bulgaria did not bow to Nazi pressure'

Peres visits Sofia to receive award and thank Bulgarian people.

311_Peres in Bulgaria (photo credit: Mark Neiman)
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 racist laws.
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.