Bulgaria takes pride in being 1st to give fire aid

Deputy FM Dimiter Tzantchev, a former ambassador here, says Sofia’s relief effort underlines "special relationship" with the Jewish people.

Bulgarian firefighters 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Bulgarian firefighters 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Bulgaria’s 92-strong fire-fighting delegation was the first foreign team to put boots on the ground in the fight against the Carmel wildfire, a fact that reflects the importance of the country’s ties to Israel, according to a former Bulgarian ambassador to Israel who is now his country’s deputy foreign minister.
“We didn’t bring the planes and helicopters that other countries sent, but we did send 92 people, all of them professionals with a great deal of experience in dealing with fires like this. Bulgaria is five times the size of Israel and is full of forests and mountains,” Dimiter Tzantchev said over the weekend.
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Tzantchev also related two stories from Bulgaria’s Jewish history that he said illustrated the country’s “special relationship” with the Jewish people.
He first spoke of the Holocaust and the efforts made by the Bulgarian people and local Orthodox Church to save the country’s 48,000 Jews. Bulgaria was the only country under Nazi occupation that did not deport a single Jew to the death camps, and after the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, nearly the entire community immigrated en masse to Israel.
“Since I’ve been up here, I’ve been approached by a number of older Israelis who were born in Bulgaria and immigrated to Israel after the state was founded. They told me that when they saw Bulgaria was the first country to send people, they said, ‘You cannot imagine how proud we were.’” Looking back further into history, Tzantchev spoke of then-chief rabbi of Sofia Gabriel Almosnino, who offered the help of the Jewish community when the Turks threatened to torch Sofia during the country’s revolt against its Turkish occupiers in 1878.
Tzantchev related how, as rioting and arson spread through Sofia in 1878, the Jewish community formed a militia and a team of firefighters that helped save the city from being set aflame by the retreating Turks.
After independence, the Jewish fire team stayed on, becoming part of the city’s first-ever fire department.
The former Bulgarian ambassador to Israel said such aspects of his country’s history help illustrate why “when [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu called our prime minister, there was no hesitation on his part.”
He added that the deployment was open-ended, and would continue “as long as the Israelis need us.”
Tzantchev said ties with Israel were important for a number of reasons, one of them being that the country is Bulgaria’s biggest trade and economic partner in the Middle East and shares security concerns.
Regardless of the realpolitik involved in the Bulgarian decision to send aid to Israel, Tzantchev said that at the end of the day, “this isn’t a political mission, it’s a humanitarian one. There is a country in need, and we are here to help them.”