The Nov. 23 news story about President Clinton's visit to Bulgaria said, "Bulgaria sided with Germany . . . but its government protected many Jews from Nazi death camps."
It was not the government that protected the 48,000 Jews living in Bulgaria, but ordinary people and a few courageous politicians, the leaders of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Bulgarian king, Boris, who incurred the displeasure of Hitler and died an agonizing and mysterious death, possibly from poison, in August 1943.
During that summer of 1943, Adolf Beckerle, the German minister to Sofia, reported to Berlin: "I am convinced that the prime minister and the entire Cabinet desire and aspire to a final and total solution of the Jewish question. But they are tied by the mentality of the Bulgarian people, that lacks the ideological enlightenment that we have."
Unlike other countries of Europe, Bulgaria had no history of persecuting Jews, and no restrictions on where they lived or how they earned a living--with the exception that Jews were excluded from government. After Bulgaria signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany in 1941, the Bulgarian parliament enacted Nazi-style anti-Jewish laws. In 1942 a commissariat of "Jewish questions," the KEV, was set up. When Hitler made his first demand for deportation of Jews from Bulgaria, the KEV not only agreed to hand them over but even agreed to pay Germany 250 deutsche marks for "travel expenses" for each Jew transported.
In March of 1943, a delegation of non-Jewish citizens beseeched the deputy speaker of parliament to intervene, and the deportation order was temporarily rescinded--but not before the KEV began rounding up Jews. For the remainder of the war, right up to the time that Bulgaria was occupied by Russian troops in September of 1944, Bulgarian Jews were in constant danger of being deported to concentration camps.