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COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL A GUIDE TO Jewish Bulg ri"A must for everyone interested in Jewish heritage in Eastern Europe"
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL A Guide to Jewish Bulgaria fills an important and all-too-frequently neglected niche in Bulgarian history. Elizabeth Kostova, North Carolina, USA In a country that has been populated by Jews for many centuries and that prides itself on having saved its Jews from the Holocaust, there is surprisingly little Jewish heritage beyond the very obvious. What remains – a disused synagogue here, an old, neglected cemetery or the ruin of a building there – is sometimes extremely difficult to find. Unless you know exactly where to look. This superbly researched, written and photographed book is a must for everyone interested in Jewish heritage in Eastern Europe in general and Bulgaria in particular. Samuel Finzi, Berlin Bulgaria did not turn over its Jews in World War II but afterwards, when they left for Israel, it did nothing to preserve their heritage, synagogues and cemeteries. This informative, well-documented, and above all very impressive book does much to rectify this. It is not a requiem for the Bulgarian Jews, but rather a historical and artistic testimonial to the remnants of the Bulgarian Jews’ comprehensive contribution to the country that once was their motherland. Dr Baruch Hazan, Tel Aviv Elegant and eloquent, this book is a fascinating journey through one of the least known lands in Europe. Wonderful throughout! Dr Milena Borden, London
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL This book is dedicated to those who come to find their roots, and then return in order to understand themספר זה מוקדש לאלה הבאים לגלות את שורשיהם ולשוב אליהם על מנת להבינם ם ולשוב אליהם על מנת להבינםא אGilad Gilad
COPYRIGHTED MATERIALCONTENTS Preface Early History From the Middle Ages to 1878 Jews in Independent Bulgaria Second World War Karnobat Emigration to Eretz Israel Plovdiv Rescue of Bulgarias Jews Pazardzhik Exodus Gotse Delchev Time of the Commissars Kyustendil New Beginnings Samokov Sofia Dupnitsa Vidin Off the Beaten Track Ruse Stara Zagora,Yambol, Sliven, Shumen Kazanlak, Nikopol, Lom, Svishtov, Silistra Pleven, Haskovo, Kardzhali, Dobrich, Varna Sboryanovo Burgas Antisemitism in Bulgaria
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL Preface When asked about the sources and attitudes changed. The regal figure ofof their national pride, most educated Bulgarias King Boris III, a war-time allyBulgarians dont have to think too long: of Hitler, emerged. It was because of his"The salvation of the Bulgarian Jews from cunning policy of procrastination and histhe Holocaust" is usually one of the top manoeuvring that not one Jew was sent tothree answers. Bulgaria, they will assert, certain death, the story went. But it wouldstands unique in Europe and the world in soon transpire that things in Bulgariasthat it did not allow its Jewish citizens to be recent history were not so black-and-white.transported to extermination in the Nazi The name of Dimitar Peshev, the 1940sdeath camps. Christians, Jews, Muslims and deputy speaker of parliament, came to theGypsies lived in peace and harmony, they will fore. Ignored and largely forgotten underadd, reinstating the Bulgarians "proverbial" Communism, Peshev now shone as a valianthospitality and tolerance.Your Bulgarian in citizen who not only stood against thethe street will probably omit to mention governments intention to make Bulgariathe Bulgarian State Railways cattle cars Judenfrei, but was the organiser of a popularthat brought over 11,000 Jews to Treblinka movement to prevent what had seemed likeand Auschwitz from the then Bulgaria- an accomplished deed.administered territories of Aegean Thrace These theories, of course, conflicted withand Vardar Macedonia. Any question likely to each other, and Bulgarias post-Communistarise will not be about the fact of the rescue, leaders settled for the least controversialbut about who should be credited for it. option. It was the Bulgarian people as a As leaders and political systems changed whole, they claimed, it was the Bulgarianin Eastern Europes post-Communist years, nation as such that rose up and savedso did the answers to this question. Initially, its Jews. It was a nation of selfless Raoulthe Communist school textbooks claimed Wallenbergs and not a single Maurice Papon.that it had been the Communist Party and But can virtue, the other side of crime,its leading functionaries who were personally be collectivised? Is it not individuals who areto be lauded for the heroic deed. With the to be held responsible for whatever good orfall of Communism in 1989, perceptions evil happens?8 JewishBulgaria
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL Details from a parochet curtain, Sofia Central Synagogue Any reflection on these questions will evoke other questions. If the Kingdom of Bulgaria of The Axis is to be credited with saving about 48,000 Jews from the gas chambers, why were there so few Jews left in the Peoples Republic of Bulgaria of the Warsaw Pact? If so many Jews had lived in these lands over the centuries, why are there so few reminders of them? What happened to their synagogues, cemeteries, neighbourhoods and communal properties? What happened to the individual people who once had a life here? This guide aims to help anyone with an interest in Jewish history in Eastern Europe and the Balkans arrive at their own conclusions. It is designed to be a journey through both territory and time: illuminating the historical backgrounds while directing the reader along the paths of topography. Many of the monuments described in this book are hard to find and in various stages of disrepair. Unless a traveller knows where exactly he is going and what he is seeking, they can easily be overlooked; but once discovered, they will open up gateways to a rich and fascinating, if largely forgotten, part of Europes Jewish heritage. Welcome to Bulgaria – and Shalom! JewishBulgaria 9
COPYRIGHTED MATERIALEarly History The first evidence that Jews lived in Yet the question of when exactly the first Vrana Stena, near Kyustendil, indicates thewhat is now Bulgaria dates from at least 500 Jews came to Bulgaria is open to speculation. presence of Jews in the hinterland as well.years before the first Bulgarian state was Some hypotheses contend that the earliest Excavations of a Late Antiquity fort datingactually founded. Jews in the Balkans moved here after the back to the 3th-5th centuries CE unearthed Interestingly, the inscription in question, destruction of the First Temple. Other an amulet clearly showing a six-pointed starfound on a tombstone, was in Latin: "Ioses, theories suggest that Jews arrived as a result and the inscription: "Solomon Stamp, Keeparchsynagogus, son of Maximin, erected this of Alexander the Great’s conquests, which Me." What this find indicates is that in thosestone while he was still alive in memory turned the Mediterranean and the Middle times there was a significant demand forof himself and his wife Kyria..." The actual East into a common area where migration such amulets and so there would have beentombstone, dating back to the 2nd Century was relatively easy and unimpeded. Jewish smiths to manufacture them.CE, was discovered during the excavation The Roman conquest of the Balkans Perhaps the most spectacular remainsof the Roman town of Ulpia Oescus, in the played a crucial role in settling Jews of this early Jewish presence in Bulgaria isvicinity of the present-day village of Gigen, throughout the area. Many were exiled the Antiquity synagogue in Philippopolis,near the Danube River. there by Emperor Vespasian after the Siege modern-day Plovdiv. Philippopolis was Ioses had apparently been influenced by of Jerusalem in 70 CE and also after the Bar a major city on the road connectingthe Roman fashion of preparing tombstones Kokhba Revolt of 132-136 CE, while others Constantinople with Central Europe. It hadfor posterity during one’s lifetime. His accompanied the legions as traders and emerged as a large cosmopolitan centre, atombstone bore no images of ivy leaves or artisans, a standard Roman practice. patchwork of nationalities and religions thatother pagan symbols of eternity, for the man One of these might have been Annanias, outshone other large cities of the colourfulwas not only a Jew but an archsynagogus, a whose tombstone, carved in Roman letters, Roman Empire.rabbi who had charge of several synagogues. was discovered in the modern Bulgarian city The synagogue of the Philippopolis JewsHis presence on the Danubian shores of Vidin, once the Roman fortress Bononia. had a fantastic mosaic floor, with intricateindicates the existence of a Jewish diaspora, The Jews who came to the Balkans geometrical motifs as well as lions, birds,which had probably arrived a century earlier in Antiquity were Romaniots, the oldest panthers and menorahs. It was constructed inalong with the Roman legions stationed Jewish settlers in these lands. Some of their the 3rd Century CE, but would be destroyedthere to guard the empire’s northern descendants, arguably, are still living here and rebuilt several times over the next fewborders. Further testimony to the Jewish today. centuries.diaspora is another Gigen find, a marble slab The Jews did not inhabit only the The trials and tribulations of thebearing an image of a menorah. Danubian shores. A find in the village of Philippopolis synagogue illustrate how10 JewishBulgaria
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL The Roman town Ulpia Oescus, near the modern village of Gigen, is where the earliest Jewish artefact in the Bulgarian lands was unearthedeasily the fate of the Jews changed under change. The Middle Ages dawned, and newthe Romans. Unlike Christianity, Judaism peoples had arrived in the Balkans. After 681had the status of Religio licita, a "tolerated the Jews found themselves living in a newreligion." In the 4th Century, however, state set up by Slavs and Proto-Bulgarians.when Christianity was gaining momentumas an official religion, the pressures beingput on Jews intensified, yet official attitudescould change like the breeze. EmperorTheodosius I (379-395), who actually madeChristianity the state religion of the RomanEmpire, officially ordered the governor ofMoesia, in present-day northern Bulgaria,not to persecute Jews and demolish theirsynagogues. The Philippopolis synagogue is proof ofthese changing attitudes. When Theodosiusdied, his sons Arcadius (395-408) andHonorius (393-423) ruled the easternand the western parts of the empirerespectively. Anti-Jewish sentiment was onthe rise. During their reign, the Philippopolissynagogue was destroyed for the first time,either as a result of antisemitism, or whenthe Huns conquered and ravaged the cityin 447. The synagogue would be rebuilt and thendestroyed yet again a century later. At thattime, however, the whole political pictureof Europe and the Balkans was beginning to JewishBulgaria 11
COPYRIGHTED MATERIALExodus "Not a single person will be ableto say that 40,000 Jews will leave Bulgariafor good," stated a member of the JewishFatherland Front, a by-blow of the rulingleftist Fatherland Front, in 1946; and headded: "We Communists do not want tohelp set up a Jewish state in Palestine. TheFatherland Front wants to create a life forthe Jews in Bulgaria." Real life turned out to be quite differentjust two years later. Bulgaria-proper emerged that would characterise life in Bulgaria for the In the meantime, the fight to set upfrom the Second World War with as many next 45 years: the introduction of laws whose the State of Israel intensified. While theJews as it had had at its outset. In 1948-1951, lawmakers had no intention of enforcing. Communists supported the Jewish efforts32,099 Jews left for Palestine. They had been Over 70 percent of the country’s Jews had in the British Mandate, they continued topreceded by about 7,000 who had left during little or no means of subsistence. Communist oppose all manifestations of Zionism ator immediately after the war. In this way apparatchiks sometimes refused food home. Zionist feelings, however, turnedBulgaria parted with over three quarters of coupons to Jews and the Jewish community out to be a lot stronger than anyoneits Jewry. was plagued by fears that there might be a expected: in 1946 the United Zionist The mass emigration of Bulgarian Jews return to the antisemitic policies of the past. Organisation had as many as 14,000 activewas the result of many and complex reasons. These fears were not assuaged by the new members. In the following years this The war-time antisemitic legislation was rulers’ attitude towards other Bulgarian number would rise.repealed in full shortly after the 9 September ethnic minorities, especially the Muslims. Georgi Dimitrov, Bulgaria’s Stalinist leader,1944 Communist coup, and the Fatherland Bulgaria was rapidly becoming a model had returned to Bulgaria from Moscow inFront, which took over, adopted various Soviet state. Whilst the Communists had 1946. Echoing Soviet attitudes, he told Jewishmeasures designed to bring about the vowed to return all Jewish properties to leaders that emigration to Palestine wouldrestitution of Jewish properties confiscated their erstwhile owners, a law nationalising "in principle" be allowed. The real changeby the pro-Nazi government. But the "large" town properties was adopted in 1947. came after the Soviet Union consolidated itsFatherland Front was actually in no hurry to Rich Jews again found themselves turned out stance towards emigration to Palestine, andimplement the measures, creating a situation of their factories, banks and residences. especially after Andrei Gromyko supported34 JewishBulgaria
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL Time of the Commissars The Communist-engineered and Impoverished and humiliated by theSoviet-backed coup on 9 September 1944 Defence of the Nation Act and fearfulmarked the beginning of a 45-year system of new repressions, the Jews were besetin which, theoretically, there was no private by infighting. On the one hand were theproperty, everyone enjoyed equal rights, Zionists who wanted to resettle in Palestine.and you got whatever you needed. In fact, it On the other were the Communists whowas a system where the currency was not wanted to create a "new life" for the Jewsconvertible, travel was not allowed, people inside Bulgaria.might end up in a labour camp for telling As early as October 1944 the Zionists,jokes or listening to Western music, and any who by far outnumbered the Communists,indication of religiousness was suppressed. started to prepare for their departure to On 9 September 1944, however, few what would become the State of Israel. Theysuspected what was in store for them. were opposed, verbally and otherwise, by theFormally, a leftist coalition called the Communists who said they considered theFatherland Front had assumed power, urge to leave to be the product of "enemyand the Allied Control Commission was propaganda." The Zionists were billedsupposed to ensure the the first post- "traitors" and even "fascists." The Jewishwar election was democratic. But the Communists had their own branch of theCommunists were already paving the way Fatherland Front, a status no other minorityfor the sovietisation of Bulgaria. In 1946, in Bulgaria enjoyed.while the Red Army was still in the country, In 1946 the Communists and the Zionistsa rigged referendum abolished the monarchy formed a joint council to run the Consistory.and instituted a "people’s republic." In 1947- The Zionists were supposed to have a1948 private property was nationalised. larger representation because of their sheerPurges of "enemies with a party ticket" number, but in reality the whole enterprise Communist Bulgaria was friends with most of the Arab worldensued. Concentration camps for opponents was controlled by the Fatherland Front. (top); A mural depicting "labour and artistic freedom" in 1950sof the new regime were set up and Stalin’s The official line of the Bulgarian Bulgaria, at the former Jewish school in Kyustendil (above)cronies in Sofia were busy turning Bulgaria Communist Party was promulgated in United in death? A Jewish Communist gravestone in Kyustendilinto a model "New Order" state. 1948 and was endorsed by the leader (previous page) JewishBulgaria 37
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL on one of its walls. Friedrich Grünanger, a to the drawing board. Then it decided it reputable Viennese architect of the time, was wanted a synagogue for 1,100 rather than contracted to go ahead with the project. the originally planned 700 people. Work on Grünanger was instructed to erect a building the building began as late as 1905. similar to the great Sephardic synagogue in The synagogue was shut down in 1943- Vienna (now demolished). 1944, in keeping with the wartime Defence The project did not go very smoothly. of the Nation Act, as most Sofia Jews were The Consistory sent the initial project back deported to the provinces. During the Allied52 JewishBulgaria
COPYRIGHTED MATERIALbombings of Sofia a bomb fell on the roof. concert hall. Construction work on theIt failed to explode, but the walls of the building’s interior started in the 1980s,synagogue collapsed under its weight. The but was never completed. For much oflibrary as well as the community’s archives that period the synagogue’s interior waswere destroyed for good. enmeshed in scaffolding and ladders. The most serious changes to the The synagogue was given back tosynagogue were yet to come. The new the Jewish community after the fall ofregime of the Soviet-backed Communists Communism. In 2008, major renovationsdeclared itself officially atheist and started began. They were paid for by the Bulgarianto actively discourage religious practices. In Culture Ministry, as well as by private donors1950s then Chief Rabbi Asher Hananel was in Israel and the United States. The workstried for "malfeasance in office" and sent to ended in time for the 9 September 2009 Robert Djerassi (left), Maxim Benvenisti, chairman of Shalomprison. The synagogue was thus rendered Centennial Anniversary of the Sofia Central (second left), and Israeli ambassador to Bulgaria Noah Galrabbi-less, a situation that would continue up Synagogue. Gendler (fourth left) welcome Israeli President Shimon Peres, 2010 (above, left)until 1994. Nowadays Sabbath and other prayers The regime had no intention of leaving are usually held in the small hall of the Rabbi Bechor Kachlon (left) and Bulgarian President Georgithe synagogue empty, however. The building synagogue. The great hall is used for major Parvanov light Hanukah candles, 2010 (top); Hundreds of old Jewish book are stored at the synagogues depository (above)had excellent acoustics, and the government holidays, state visits and occasionallydecided, in the 1960s, to convert it into a concerts. Great Hall of Sofia Central Synagogue (previous page) JewishBulgaria 53
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL Sofia Cemetery Anyone approaching Sofia from the modern Vazrazhdane Square, in fact, stands West during the 16-19th centuries would get on a part of the erstwhile graveyard. Roughly a very interesting initial view of what would speaking, the whole area between Aleksandar become Bulgaria’s vibrant capital: a huge Stamboliyski Boulevard, Hristo Botev Jewish cemetery melancholically lined with Boulevard and Positano Street once used to semi-recumbent Sephardic tombstones. be a Jewish necropolis. The landscape started to change in 1888, In 1898, the Sofia Central Cemetery was when the new capital of the new country opened in the village of Orlandovsti, now started to experience an influx of migrants a part of metropolitan Sofia. The Jewish from the provinces. The outlying areas to cemetery was moved there, into a special the south-west of the city, where the Jewish Jewish Sector in the northern reaches of cemetery was, were gradually converted into the cemetery. The Orlandovtsi cemetery residential quarters. Some of the tombstones (on Zavodska Street, served by trams Nos. could be seen scattered around as late as 2 and 3, and bus No. 2) is still in use to this the first decades of the 20th Century, when day. Many of the tombstones, especially a poor Jewish neighbourhood existed in this those of the richer Jews, are pure works part of Sofia. Curiously, the living and the of art, amongst the best in Bulgaria. They dead coexisted happily: next to the remnants bear inscriptions in Hebrew and Bulgarian, of the cemetery there was a stadium where but many also have lines in German, French, the Jewish football team Akoakh (1919-1940) Italian and Ladino. used to train. The Jewish Sector is adjacent to the Today nothing indicates where that Jewish Muslim and Catholic sectors, and is easy to cemetery used to be. Since the 1930s the find. Make sure you enter the gates of the former Jewish Geren neighbourhood has cemetery from the entrance next to the last been a part of the Vazrazhdane area. The stop of trams Nos. 2 and 3. Sofia’s cemetery’s Jewish chapel is the only functioning cemetery ritual house in Bulgaria JewishBulgaria 57
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL Bulgaria’s largest Jewish cemetery has hundreds of exquisite headstones58 JewishBulgaria
COPYRIGHTED MATERIALPopulation: 55,000Long distance phone code: 094Regional Shalom Organisation:2/3 Bdin Street; firstname.lastname@example.orgThings to see: Stamboul Kapı Gate;Baba Vida Fortress; Osman PazvantogluMosque and Library; St Dimitar CathedralThings to do: Walk along the Danubewaterfront; Mingle with the locals in thecentral square; Explore the charm of thestreets and alleys in the old town; Passthrough the Stamboul Gate at nightMuseums: Baba Vida Fortress; HistoryMuseum (13 Tsar Simeon Veliki Street);National Museum of Natural History(1 Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard)Galleries: Nikola Petrov Art Gallery(2 Bdintsi Square)74 JewishBulgaria
COPYRIGHTED MATERIALA Jewish monument of gratitude adorns Vidin’s central square(below)Vidin’s synagogue, once the largest in Bulgaria, has been in astate of complete dilapidation in the course of decades (rightand opposite page) Situated in the northwestern by Ashkenazis fleeing persecution in Hungary. Vidin’s Jews were faced with a majorcorner of Bulgaria on a picturesque bend Rabbi Salomon Ashkenazi, who was born in threat in 1807. Maverick Osman Pazvantoglu,of the Danube,Vidin is now an economically Neustadt, founded one of the first rabbinical the local Ottoman governor who haddepressed town in the poorest area of schools in the Bulgarian lands in Vidin. quarrelled with the High Porte andEurope. Few young people want to stay. The Sephardic Jews came in the 15th Century. subsequently rejected the sultan’s supremacylocals hope that a new bridge across the By the end of the 17th Century there were in the Vidin area, fell sick. His death seemedriver connecting it to Romania will improve at least five synagogues, one of which was inevitable, and rumours that he had beenthe overall situation. Less than a century ago, Romaniot. poisoned by his Jewish physician startedhowever,Vidin was a bustling port city where The Jewish merchants in Vidin did circulating amongst the local Ottomans.a sizeable Jewish community prospered. business throughout the Ottoman Empire The Turks decided to murder all the Jews The first Jews are thought to have arrived and beyond. In 1658, for example, the main in retaliation for what they saw as an actin Antiquity, when the Roman fort of Bononia Vidin synagogue received a gift of a silver of high treason. But Pazvantoglu was notwas what Vidin was known for. The Invasion tablet from the Jews inhabiting one of quite dead yet. He learned of the plan, andof the Barbarians put an end to Bononia. the Danubian islands upriver. When the personally sent orders to do nothing against Jews would return several hundred years Dubrovnik merchants lost their privileges in the Jews. A massive celebratory party waslater, when Vidin again emerged as an aureate 1688 because of their support for the anti- held, and from that time on the local JewsMediaeval city. At the forefront were Jews Ottoman Chiprovtsi Uprising, their Jewish would celebrate a kind of Vidin Purim calledfrom Italy and Byzantium, who arrived as early peers were quick to seize the new business Purim de los borrachones, or Purim of theas the 13th Century.They would be followed opportunity. Drunken.76 JewishBulgaria
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL The Russo-Ottoman war of 1877-1878 severely affected the local Jewry. Thesynagogues were damaged or destroyedin the fighting, and the Jews lost their maintrading partner, the Vidin Ottoman garrison.After Bulgaria became independent in 1878,the population of Vidin amounted to about15,000 people, of whom 1,400 were Jews. The Jews of Vidin, however, did not wantto leave. In the first years of independentBulgaria the Jewish neighbourhood, in theKale area, saw the erection of a spaciouscommunity house. The grand Vidinsynagogue was constructed in 1894. Locatedat the intersection of today’s Baba Vida andJules Pascin streets, the Vidin Synagogueoutshone all other synagogues in Bulgaria.Its architecture was inspired by the GreatSynagogue of Budapest. Its ornaments werecrafted out of wood from Transylvania andHungary, and its chandeliers were importedfrom Vienna. JewishBulgaria 77
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL There are plans to refurbish the former Vidin synagogue into a Jules Pascin museum Jules Pascin, a portrait by Albert Weisgerber, 1906 The Prince of Montparnasse From Vidin "I went over and sat with Pascin and two models who were sisters. Pascin was a very good painter and he was drunk; steadily, purposefully drunk and making good sense." The author of this is, of course, Ernest Hemingway, who liked Jules Pascin so much that he described him in a chapter in his Moveable Feast (1964). Pascin, born in Vidin in 1885, originally bore the name Julius Mordecai Pincas, but would later be known as the Prince of Montparnasse. His father, a Sephardic Jew, was a grain merchant. The family moved to Bucharest in 1892. Pascin studied in Vienna and by 1905 was already a part of the Parisian Boheme. His new name, Pascin, was a partial anagram of Pincas. He spent most of his life in Paris, producing exquisite artwork and drinking in the Montparnasse cafés. Jules Pascin committed suicide in 1930. The Vidin house where he was born has not been preserved. JewishBulgaria 79
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL Vidin’s Jewish cemetery is among the most mercilessly vandalised in Bulgaria The synagogue fell into disrepair after The cemetery is indeed a gruesome almost all of Vidin’s Jews left for Israel in sight. While under Communism it was just the late 1940s. In 1950 the Communist ignored, in the turbulent years of Bulgaria’s authorities turned it into a warehouse. In transition to democracy it was actively 1964 it was declared a monument of culture, vandalised. Many of the porcelain portraits of but plans to convert it into a concert hall the deceased have been crushed with stones, never materialised. and many graves have been dug up and left Today the Vidin Synagogue is a sorry gaping to the sombre northern Bulgarian sight. It still stands there with its domes and skies. With its broken effigies, overturned turrets on the bank of the Danube, but it tombstones, scattered human and animal is nothing but a skeleton. Its roof has caved bones and graves that look as if their in, its windows have been broken, its paint occupants have just risen from the ground, has peeled off, and its prayer hall has been the huge cemetery evokes an eerie feeling of overwhelmed by weeds and even trees. Doomsday revisited. Trees grow from inside The only remains of its former grandeur the holes that were once tombs, and local are some intricately crafted wrought-iron Gypsies can still be seen digging in the hope ornaments and a few wooden Stars of David of finding a golden tooth here or a bit of in the windows. The building is ringed with metal there. a wire fence, but the fence door is usually The Vidin Cemetery is perhaps the unlocked and unprotected. Enter at your best (or worst) example of the general own peril because the structure may collapse dilapidation of Bulgaria’s Jewish heritage. It at any time. stands as a monument not so much to the Another Jewish site in Vidin is the Jewish individual people who were buried there, but Cemetery, located at what the locals refer as a memento to a whole culture, once rich to as Nula Redut, just off the road leading to and vibrant, that has irrevocably disappeared Vidin Ferry Port. The last burial took place from the Bulgarian lands. there in 1965.80 JewishBulgaria
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL In a pitiful condition, Samokov’s former synagogue (previous page) still retains some of its decorations: a wood-carved ceiling (right, top), a sign (right, middle), and a fresco (right, bottom) Samokov is now a quiet town at the foot of the Rila Mountains, known mainly for its potatoes and its proximity to Borovets, a major ski resort. No Jews live here. The town looked completely different 150 years ago, however. It was, in fact, an industrial town, one of the first in Bulgaria, and the centre of a lucrative mining enterprise. The Iskar River was lined with many tall chimneys belching out smoke. Iron ore was smelted in many foundries, and the very name of the town comes from the heavy water-driven hammers that pounded the metal into ingots. Trade was carried on with places as varied as Walachia and Stamboul and over 120 Jewish families lived in the large Jewish neighbourhood. The Sephardis came to Samokov at the end of the 17th Century, probably from Salonika. A century later they had been spreading roughly across today’s Vasil joined by Jews from as far away as Vidin and Zahariev Street (formerly Moyseeva Street), as nearby as Dupnitsa. Hristo Maksimov Street and Targovska Business picked up after 1802, when Street. the local authorities permitted Jews to buy Foreign travellers in the Balkans were and own plots of land as well as houses in impressed by the Jewish neighbourhood of the centre of town. In 1813, the Ottomans Samokov. Behind whitewashed brick walls allowed the local Jews to set up their own there were large houses with intricate neighbourhood, and in the following years it ornamentation and wood-carved ceilings. grew into Dolna Mahala, or Lower Quarter, The furniture was European, and many of JewishBulgaria 145
COPYRIGHTED MATERIALA huge wood-carved Star of David adorns the central hall ofthe Arie House (above); The Jews in Samokov were often theimporters of European culture (right)Oriental in exterior design, the Arie house in Samokov wasdistinctly Western European inside (opposite page, left andmiddle); The Aries had a special short-cut entry into thesynagogue next door (opposite page, right)146 JewishBulgaria
COPYRIGHTED MATERIALthem had both running water and in-house A couple of decades later, however, the railway pass through Ihtiman instead ofwater closets. hustle-and-bustle of industrial Samokov had through Samokov. In 1857-1860 the local Jews built a new, evaporated as fast as the Iskar mist. The town was impoverished and manymodern synagogue. It was a large building, One of the side effects of Bulgaria’s locals emigrated to Sofia. The Jews were noat 330 square metres, and was 8 metres tall, independence from the Ottoman Empire exception. While in 1887 and 1919 therewith 38 windows. Accounts of who built was the loss of lucrative markets. The were 962 and 1,000 Jews respectively init vary. According to some archives, it was producers of iron and textiles lost their Samokov, in 1943 there were 374. They allerected by Edirne workers commissioned contracts with the Ottoman army. The made the aliyah to Israel in the late 1940s.by the wealthy Arie family. Another theory young Bulgarian state, pressed for cash, Under Communism most of the Jewishis that the synagogue was built by local would rather import cheap materials for neighbourhood, including the old synagoguecraftsmen. It appears that the same builders its own army uniforms than buy the high- and many Jewish merchant houses, wasalso worked on the impressive Bayrakli quality but expensive woollen cloth from demolished to make way for new housingMosque, in the middle of the town. Samokov. The villagers around Samokov projects. Soon after the completion of the ceased going to its market, and preferred Yet the New Synagogue (at thesynagogue, one of the first secular Jewish to travel the 60 kilometres to Sofia. One intersection of Prince Alexandr Dondukovschools in the Bulgarian lands was founded in of the last blows to the local economy was and Neofit Bozveli streets) survived. In 1965Samokov, in 1874. the decision to have the Sofia-Stamboul it was a listed as a cultural monument and JewishBulgaria 147
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL Antisemitism in Bulgaria Unfortunately, Bulgaria has never started by Jews poisoning Christian wells. eschewed the sort of antisemitism prevalent Another is that the Bulgarian aristocracy in the rest of Europe in general and Eastern wanted an easy way out of its burgeoning Europe in particular. That said, over the debts, owed mostly to Jewish merchants and centuries antisemitic sentiments have rarely tradesmen. turned violent. Bulgaria has never witnessed Bulgaria was conquered by the Ottomans Russian or German-style anti-Jewish in 1393-1396. An urban myth was put pogroms, and even in the darkest years of into circulation that the gates of Tarnovo, the Defence of the Nation Act, the state’s the Mediaeval Bulgarian capital, had been enforcement of anti-Jewish regulations was surreptitiously opened for the invaders by at worst tepid. a Jew, an act of high treason that would While the earliest acts of antisemitism condemn Bulgaria to 500 years of Ottoman predate the official Christianisation effected "yoke." The myth lives on to this day. by King Boris I in 865, the first real anti- The great man of letters of the Bulgarian Jewish polemic appeared in the writings National Revival, Ivan Vazov (1850-1921), of early Mediaeval Bulgarian writers.Yoan produced an unusually acrimonious rhyme Ekzarh, Presbyter Kozma and others now about that "dirty Jew"; and as late as 1930 taught in Bulgarian schools often indulged in Angel Karaliychev, a popular writer of acrid antisemitic speech. children’s fiction, published a story about this An instance of violent antisemitism "Jewish treachery." occurred in the mid-14th Century when In the late 15th Century the number King Ivan Aleksandar divorced his Bulgarian of Jews in the Bulgarian lands increased wife and married a Jewess, Sarah. Sarah significantly when the High Porte in converted to Christianity, but the king still Constantinople welcomed thousands ordered mass lashings and banishment of a of Sephardic Jews fleeing persecution in sect thought to be associated with Judaism. Spain and Portugal. The Sephardis were One possible explanation for this was the exempted from some Ottoman taxes and plague which was ravaging Europe at the in some places even allowed to mint their time: popular belief had it that it had been own coins. Antipathy between the Jews and JewishBulgaria 161
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL A must book for the Jewish traveller in Bulgaria.I have visited my birth country a dozen times in thepast 40 years. Invariably Jewish tourists ask me "Isthere a handbook in English that will help give me thebackground I need to further understand and enjoy myvisit there more fully?" It is my belief that Ms Trankova and Mr Georgieffhave presented us with a very practical "Guide toJewish Bulgaria." Congratulations to the writers. Enjoyyour visit! Rabbi Haim Asa, Orange County, California, USA Dimana Trankova is an archaeologist byeducation and a journalist by vocation. For five yearsshe has been the executive editor of HIGHFLIGHTS,Bulgarias Airport magazine, and of Go Greece!,Bulgarias magazine about Greece. Widely traveledin Europe and elsewhere, Dimana Trankova isthe co-author and editor of Hidden Treasures ofBulgaria and East of Constantinople/Travels inUnknown Turkey. Anthony Georgieff worked for the BBC/WorldService in London and Radio Free Europe/RadioLiberty in Munich and in Prague before startinga successful career as a freelance writer andphotographer in Copenhagen. In 2004 he startedVagabond Media, Bulgarias premier English-language publisher of magazines and books. Hiswork has circulated in Denmark, Sweden, Germany,the UK and the United States. He is the author ofVienna, a novel.
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL This book is for anyone with aninterest in Jewish history in EasternEurope and the Balkans. It is designedto be a journey through both territoryand time, illuminating the backgroundswhile guiding the reader through thetopography. Many of the monumentsdescribed are hard to find and invarious stages of disrepair: poignantreminders of a long-disappearedculture. Unless the traveller knows exactlywhere he is going and what he isseeking, these landmarks of historycan easily be overlooked. But oncediscovered, they will open upgateways to a fascinating if largelyforgotten part of Europes Jewishheritage. R. R. P. ISBN 978-954-92306-3-5 BGN 20.85 $15.99 €10.99 £9.49 9 789549 230635