By Jonathan Danilowitz
On the 9th March, His Excellency Mr. Yuri Sterk, the Bulgarian Ambassador to Israel, opened an exhibition at Tel Aviv's Enav Cultural Center. Amongst those at the event were key Ministry of Foreign Affairs persons, members of the diplomatic and consular corps and of course, many present and former Bulgarian citizens.
The exhibition – “The Power of Civil Society during the Holocaust: the Bulgarian Story, 1940 – 1944” – reflects some of the historic parallels between Bulgaria’s and Israel’s struggles for independence, and some of the similarities between the two countries, explaining the close ties that exist between them at all levels, to this day. (The exhibition is open to the public until 19th March.)
Although many individual Jews and several Jewish communities in Europe were saved from the Nazi death machine in WWII in various countries, Bulgaria was perhaps unique in that, thanks to the united civilian efforts (led by the Bulgarian Royal Family and other intellectual, spiritual and political leaders), almost the entire Jewish community there was saved. Neighbors would not stand by and allow the Jews to be deported to death camps.
In his address to the assembled guests, Ambassador Yuri Sterk spoke of the coincidence that the 9th March, the 133rd anniversary of Bulgaria’s liberation, was also the date of the start of the civil actions protesting against and resisting the “final solution” of the Third Reich, thus saving Bulgaria’s Jewish community.
Analyzing whether there is a link (separated in time by almost 65 years) between the two events, and the source of the close ties, the Ambassador continued: “I believe both represent crucial junctures in the development of the Bulgarian nation; both attest significantly to important features of Bulgarian national spirit and character which substantiated the historically critical choices Bulgarians had to make on those two occasions: once in the 1870s in favor of their freedom, to exercise their right to an independent national being. And a second time – in the dark years of WWII – in favor of human dignity, in support of universal human virtues and values as opposed to the probably easier way to dishonor and complicity in the most abominable crime against humanity in the history of Mankind.
“These are actually also the choices made, and the values and principles shared, by the people of Israel. These are the values and principles that are shared by both our peoples and which are the foundation of our peoples’ affinity for each other, of the friendship between our two nations”.
Ambassador Mr. Sterk concluded by graciously acknowledging the assistance of those who had helped make the exhibition possible, including Tel Aviv Municipality and the Bulgarian Institute of Culture. This is the very first time this exhibition has been shown in Israel.