Two colliding bodies

On the Holocaust in Macedonia and the politics of Bulgaria in World War II

Macedonia ashes521 (photo credit: Reuters)
Macedonia ashes521
(photo credit: Reuters)
Although March this year marked the 70th anniversary of the execution of the Final Solution in Macedonia, this particular chapter remains on the margin of mainstream Holocaust narrative.
While the issue of the Holocaust in Macedonia is almost invisible in discussions concerning Europe’s delineation of the tragedy’s peripheral geographical borders, the fact remains that it did occur in Macedonia and is neither a scientific, historical nor political secret. The events that took place in are verifiable and the information is accessible, hence not hidden history; and any objection to this fact would be – at the very least, inappropriate – and would only reveal a most unseemly approach to the eschatological dimensions of the Holocaust in relation to the utter annihilation of the Jews of Macedonia.
Under Bulgarian occupation and the German-Bulgarian alliance, the Holocaust brutally took the lives of 7,148 Jews from Macedonia, deported to Treblinka and murdered upon arrival in the gas chambers of the Treblinka II death camp. After their bodies were burned their ashes were plunged into the ground by a bulldozer. This occurred in March 1943.
Among the compromises Bulgaria had to make in order to save itself from German occupation or a war with Germany, was the solution of the Jewish Question. As a reward for its loyalty, territories Bulgaria had lost in the Second Balkan War in 1913 and World War I were returned, thus realizing King’s Boris imperial dream of a united and powerful royal Bulgaria. In April 1941 the new map of Bulgaria, included most of already-divided Macedonia and the Vardar area, over which the Bulgarian occupier now celebrated the victory of so-called “newly liberated” territory.
The then-fascist Bulgarian government, lead by Bogdan Filov, adopted and implemented the Final Solution over the Jews from Vardar Macedonia in a grand manner. The Bulgarian administrative-political system was urgently established and actively implemented. The ideological, linguistic, cultural and other assimilation of the Macedonian people was implemented, while simultaneously the Final Solution was urgently institutionalized by way of the Law for Protection of the Nation and the numerous anti- Semitic laws that were meticulously implemented in all their phases.
The Macedonian subject was renamed the Bulgarian subject, and Jews in Macedonia were treated as “temporary residents.” This last was a crucial element in the tragic destiny of the Jewish people of Macedonia.
The deportation of the Jews from the Vardar area of Macedonia was fastidiously organized by the Bulgarian political elite, administration and police, and conducted by way of the Bulgarian State Railways in three “Jewish transports” (on March 22, 25 and 29, 1943), from the Monopol temporary concentration camp in Skopje to the central railway line between Warsaw and Bialystok and finally to the Malkinia station at Treblinka.
Here the Macedonian Jews were delivered to the German authorities, who took them to immediately to the gas chambers in Treblinka II for execution.
The previously signed agreement between Aleksandar Belev, head of the Commissariat for Jewish Questions and his German colleague, SS Hauptsturmführer Theodor Dannecker on February 22, 1943, legally regulated the institutional guarantee “that Bulgaria in future shall not under any circumstances demand the deported Jews back, nor shall exhibit any interest in them.” Not one deported Jew returned from Treblinka II to Macedonia.
Exactly 70 years have passed since then.
DURING BULGARIA’S deportation of Jews from the “newly liberated” section (occupied Vardar Macedonia) of its reunited kingdom, in its older sections, a powerful institutional resistance was taking place, organized by Bulgarian intellectuals, artists and writers, the Managing Council of the Bulgarian Lawyers, then-justice minister Dimitar Peshev, the Lawyers’ Association, the Central Consistory in Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Physicians’ Union, as well as the Holy Synod.
Forty-eight thousand Jews from the old parts of Bulgaria were not deported and were saved.
The Final Solution implemented over the Jews from Macedonia must rise from its anonymity and marginalization and receive proper, correct and explicit treatment within the general science of the Holocaust.
I suggest a comparative approach towards the difference in the treatment of the Jews from the newly liberated areas, compared to that of those from the old parts of Bulgaria during the same period by the same anti-Semitic administrative-ideological Bulgarian cabinet, and the same fascist government of Bogdan Filov. I suggest a scientific review and reexamination.
Seventy years after the deportation of the Macedonian Jews and their annihilation, and just as many years after the non-deportation of the Jews from the old parts of Bulgaria – Europe’s attitude to the peripheral borders of the Holocaust remains vague.
On few occasions the European Parliament has said that the modern European state of Bulgaria today holds resolutely remains to the “Denmark” model, emphasizing solely the fact that 48,000 Jews were saved from the Holocaust, the Jews from the old parts of Bulgaria, today’s Bulgarian Jews.
Questions need to be asked. Is the guarantee that Bulgaria gave, in writing, to its German partner in 1943, claiming that “in no case shall Bulgaria demand back the deported Jews, nor exhibit any interest for them in the future,” still valid today even after 70 years? Is the stand which hides the truth about the tragic ending of Jews from Vardar Macedonia being exported? At the time Macedonia bore the status of newly liberated territory within Bulgaria, and yet it would appear that the political elite deported the Jews from Vardar Macedonia and thus, implemented the Final Solution over the Jews of Macedonia.
Does this then mean that Europe has still not closed the question of the Holocaust on its periphery, as in the case of Macedonia, regarding the responsibility of implementation despite the fact that the Holocaust did away – among many others – with the lives of 7,148 Jews from Vardar Macedonia, at the time of the Bulgarian occupation and the Bulgarian-German partnership? ■
Sofija Grandakovska, author of: The Discourse of the Prayer (2008) and The Portrait of the Image (2010) is editor and co-author of the bilingual chrestomathy The Jews from Macedonia and the Holocaust: History, Theory, Culture (2011) and coeditor of the bilingual bookzine edition DOMA [HOME], vol. 1 (2010). She is co-curator of the multimedia exhibition “The Jews from Macedonia and the Holocaust” (Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, 2011, and Gallery of the Jewish Community Belgrade, 2013).