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Bulgaria’s WWII rescue of Jews: the other side of the coin October 6, 2012

Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria, Macedonia.
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Bulgaria, which has prided itself as being the only ally of Nazi Germany to save its 48,000 Jews from death camps, must now admit it allowed the killing of 11,000 Jews from territories under its control, researchers say.

“You are a hero rescuer but also a brutal murderer and a cool persecutor. You cannot say the one without saying the other too,” Michael Berenbaum, founder of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, told a conference Friday in Sofia aimed at shedding light on this sombre page of Bulgaria’s history.
“Evil has no nationality. The elucidation of this subject will contribute to reconciliation in the Balkans,” Bulgarian political analyst Antony Todorov added.
Historians say 11,000 Jews from Bulgarian-administered territories in what are now modern Macedonia and Greece did end up in Nazi death camps.
But Bulgaria has used its reputation as an honourable exception and a Jewish saviour as the basis for building up ties with Israel, and both countries are preparing to mark next March the 70th anniversary of Sofia’s refusal to send its Jews to be slaughtered by the Nazis.
“This subject has been strongly exploited for political ends,” Bulgarian historian Nikolay Poppetrov said.
Researchers agreed that authorities in Bulgaria have carefully avoided speaking about the other side of the World War II history coin.
The treatment of the Macedonian Jews has remained largely unknown by the general public in Bulgaria. But it has nevertheless marred ties between Sofia and Skopje.
“There is no amnesia in the nation’s memory,” Macedonian historian Todor Chepretanov said, explaining that the Bulgarian government, police and monarchy of the time bore responsibility for the deportation of the Macedonian Jews.
“Certainly, facing the truth can be painful, but trying to sweep it under the carpet or ignore it only increases the pain and trauma for you and for future generations,” he added.
Some historians argue that Bulgaria felt obliged to sacrifice Jews in the territories it administered for the German Reich to save more of its own Jewish population.
For Bulgarian Jewish journalist Emmy Baruh, however, whose family was one of those who escaped deportation, “the interpretation that the lives of 50,000 were paid for by those of 11,000 is immoral and sinister.”On Mar.9, 1943, freight trains waited at Kyustendil in western Bulgaria and Plovdiv to the south to deport the first wave of 9,000 Bulgarian Jews to extermination camps in Poland, a few weeks after the right-wing government signed an accord to this end with the Nazis.
Parliament deputy speaker Dimitar Peshev was alerted about the convoy preparations by his voters in Kyustendil and rushed to intervene.
He wrote a letter of protest signed by 42 lawmakers from different parties to Prime Minister Bogdan Filov and King Boris III. Christian Orthodox clergy, intellectuals and the still underground communist movement staged solidarity rallies and the king managed to postpone the deportation indefinitely.
Deportations however started in territories in western Macedonia, northern Greece and southern Serbia, which Bulgaria had lost during preceding wars but were returned to its administration by Germany.
A total of 11,343 Jews from these regions were deported by the Bulgarian army, lists show, including a baby, named as Isak, his age “zero,” sent to the Treblinka death camp in Poland.
The few survivors remembered the “astounding cruelty” of some soldiers, who committed violent and humiliating acts against them, Baruh said.
For Poppetrov, even if Bulgaria saved its Jews from the death camps, public opinion in the country was not at all tolerant to them.
“Our society allowed Jews to be deprived of their civil rights: they were displaced, made to wear a yellow star, and banned from practising certain professions,” he said.
Historian Rumen Avramov meanwhile saw “economic motives” behind what he described as the “anti-Semitism of the state,” demonstrated by the 1941 Law for the Protection of the Nation that notably nationalised Jewish property.
“The Bulgarian state has to recognise the facts and apologise,” he urged.
“But public opinion is not mature enough yet and the politicians are annoyed when this subject is raised,” he said resignedly.


Macedonia Soccer Movie Kicks Off Controversy September 26, 2012

Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria, Human rights, Human rights abuses, Israel, Macedonia.
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A screengrab from Macedonian director Darko Mitrevski’s World War II soccer drama “The Third Half”

Soccer has always been a sport that lends itself to drama and it has been the source of many great stories that resonate beyond the field of play.In addition to the frenetic thrills and spills of the game itself, the universal popularity and cross-border appeal of association football means that many stirring moments in the sport’s history also end up being celebrated as part of a nation’s folklore.For example, the infamous “death match” between prisoners of war, who were former professional soccer players with Kyiv teams, and soldiers from the Nazi Wehrmacht has become the stuff of legend in both Ukraine and beyond.

The gripping story of how some local footballers paid the ultimate price for having the temerity to thrash a Nazi soccer team has become a source of national pride in Ukraine.

It’s such an enthralling story that it has easily lent itself to movie adaptations — inspiring a number of films such as “Escape to Victory” starring Sylvester Stallone as well as the controversial “The Match,” which sparked a major controversy ahead of the Euro 2012 finals, which Ukraine co-hosted. .

Now, a Macedonian filmmaker has given the cinematic treatment to one of his country’s most venerated soccer stories, which has also sparked a row.

Darko Mitrevski’s “The Third Half,” which premiered at a festival in Bitolathis week, tells the tale of the short-lived Skopje football club FC Macedonia.

Playing in the Bulgarian league at a time when Macedonia didn’t officially exist, and coached by Jewish trainer Illes Spitz, this team defied all the odds to reach the Bulgarian national league final of 1942.

Bulgarian Outrage

Mitrevski’s movie is essentially a love story based on the life experience of Macedonian Holocaust survivor Neta Cohen.

“The Third Half” depicts how a young Jewish girl from an affluent family defies her parents by dating a poor Macedonian football player. But their love overcomes this parental hostility and even saves the girl’s life because she manages to escape being deported to Treblinka by eloping with her boyfriend.

With high production values and a classic Romeo-and-Juliet plotline set against the tumultuous backdrop of World War II, the film has every chance of being well received internationally.

It’s not surprising therefore, that “The Third Half” has already been nominated as the Macedonian entry for this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar.

WATCH: International trailer for “The Third Half”

In neighboring Bulgaria, however, the film has sparked outrage, with many saying that it paints a skewed picture of the deportation of Macedonian Jews to Nazi death camps.

Late last year, three Bulgarian members of the European Parliament called on the European commissioner for enlargement, Stefan Fuele, to censure Skopje for the movie, which they said was an “attempt to manipulate Balkan history” and “spread hate.”

Bulgaria has often been praised for refusing to deport its Jews to its ally Germany in World War II. Nonetheless, it did deport Macedonian Jews after it occupied the region following the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1941.

According to Balkaninsight.com, only 2 percent of Jews from Macedonia survived the Holocaust and some historians have intimated that Bulgaria handed them over to appease the Germans for protecting their own Jewish population from the Nazis.

Mitrevski has denounced the Bulgarian allegations, which he described as “foolish reactions.” He has also slammed the use of what he calls “Goebbels-like production machinery” to deny Bulgaria’s role in the Holocaust.

Old Sense Of Injustice

Ironically, despite the heated debate surrounding the movie, the real controversy for most hard-core football fans has nothing to do with historical accuracy.

For Macedonian soccer supporters, the film has reawakened an old sense of injustice because they believe FC Macedonia was robbed of the Bulgarian championship in 1942.

To this day, there are many people who still feel that the Skopje club was denied victory in the league final against Levski Sofia because of biased decision-making by referees who had conspired to ensure that a “non-Bulgarian” team would not win the national championship.

In 2010, FC Macedonia’s last surviving member, goalkeeper Vasil Dilev, indicated that there was no doubt his team were by far the better footballing side, thanks to the tutelage of the legendary Spitz.

“There are no more coaches like that,” he said. “He turned Macedonia into a club that made the whole of Bulgaria shiver.”

WATCH: Interview with FC Macedonia goalkeeper Vasil Dilev