Court upholds right of Bulgarian Holocaust victims to compensation

Bulgarian Jews ordered to resettle in frontier towns during WWII are eligible for compensation by government.

court gavel 88 (photo credit: )
court gavel 88
(photo credit: )
Dozens of Bulgarian Jews who were ordered to resettle in frontier towns during World War II are eligible in principle for compensation by the Israeli government in accordance with the Disabled Victims of Nazi Persecution Law, the Supreme Court ruled Sunday. The precedent-setting ruling by an expanded panel of seven justices reversed an earlier decision. It could pave the way for other victims of Nazi-influenced persecution to receive compensation from the Israeli government if their freedom had been restricted during the Holocaust in ways short of being forced to carry out deeds by direct threat of arms. In 1943, after Bulgaria joined the Nazi-controlled Axis, the Bulgarian government ordered the Jews to leave Sofia, the capital, and move to frontier towns as the first in a two-stage plan to deport them to death camps in Poland. Most of the Jews were sent away in cattle cars that were not guarded by armed soldiers or civilians. There were reportedly armed men at the train station overseeing their departure and at the end of the journey to see that they had arrived. Other Jews made their own way to the frontier towns without any escort. The Bulgarian government had warned all Jews that if they did not leave on their own, security officials would forcibly remove them and take them to their new homes. The appellants, several dozen Bulgarian Holocaust survivors, applied for compensation under the Disabled Victims of Nazi Persecution Law on the grounds that a Nazi ally, Bulgaria, had taken away their freedom. The law was passed by the Knesset in 1952 after Israel accepted compensation in the name of all Nazi victims living in Israel from the German government according to the same terms that the German parliament had legislated. According to German law, Holocaust victims who were living outside German territory were only eligible for compensation if their freedom was denied altogether. The committee invested by Israel's law to determine who was eligible for compensation ruled that the Bulgarian Jews were not entitled to the compensation because they lived outside the Third Reich and their freedom was not denied them altogether in the sense that they were not jailed or placed in concentration camps. Both the district court and a panel of three Supreme Court justices upheld the committee's ruling. But the expanded panel, headed by Justice Mishael Cheshin, ruled that the circumstances involved in the expulsion of Bulgarian Jewry was tantamount to "near conditions of imprisonment," which satisfied the provisions of the German law and therefore obliged the Israeli government. Cheshin said he could not make a sweeping ruling that all the appellants were eligible for compensation because it depended on the specific circumstances of each case. However, he ordered the lower court to rehear each individual demand for compensation and to judge them in the context of the principles handed down in the new ruling.