The United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) commemorates with great sadness the 71st anniversary of Bulgaria’s mass deportation of virtually all of Macedonia’s Jewish community to its death during World War II.
UMD calls on the Bulgarian government to recognize publicly that, as a direct result of Bulgaria’s fascist government’s collaboration with Nazi Germany, 7,144 Macedonian Jews were deported to the Nazi extermination camps of Treblinka in occupied Poland. Furthermore, UMD strongly urges the Bulgarian government to issue a long overdue official apology to the Macedonian Jewish community.
Nazi Germany’s wartime ally, Bulgaria, occupied Macedonia in 1941. It then passed decrees requiring Macedonian Jews to cease trade and commerce as well as to transfer ownership of their assets to Bulgaria. Jews were barred from certain parts of towns and forced into ghettos.
On March 11, 1943, Bulgarian armed forces arrested Jews of Bitola and Shtip and transported them to Skopje’s Monopol tobacco factory, where they were incarcerated along with Skopje’s Jews, for deportation to the Nazi death camps of Treblinka in occupied Poland. Some 7,200 were crowded into Monopol without adequate food, water, and sanitation. Random violence by Bulgarian guards was rampant; women frequently were raped. A few Jews managed to escape. Some 165 physicians and foreign citizens were released.
In a series of deportations beginning on March 22, Bulgarian guards jammed 7,144 Macedonian Jews into Bulgarian cattle cars, accompanying them to Lapovo, Yugoslavia, for transfer to the Nazis. After an inhumane six-day journey, the Macedonian Jews arrived at Treblinka, and nearly all were immediately murdered in its gas chambers.
In December 1944, only about 50 survivors remained to reconstitute the Macedonian Jewish community. Most of them had escaped into Italian-governed territories or joined the organized antifascist partisan movement, fighting alongside non-Jews against the Nazis.
Following Macedonia’s independence in 1991, the Macedonian government recognized Judaism as one of the official religions in its constitution – the only country outside of Israel to do so. Though Macedonia’s Jewish community today has only about 200 members, this tight-knit group has been working together to revive Jewish traditions, Jewish identity and Jewish life. They built a synagogue, the Bet Yaakov Synagogue, which was the first to be built in the Balkans since the end of World War II.
The Macedonian government created the Macedonian Holocaust Fund, to which it allocated approximately $18.5M, to build an eternal memorial to the Jews murdered during the Holocaust. In March 2011, the Holocaust Memorial Center of the Jews from Macedonia was officially opened in Skopje. It represents one of four largest Holocaust memorial centers and museums, of its kind, in the world, after Washington, D.C., Berlin, and Jerusalem. A UMD delegation visited the Holocaust Memorial Center during the 4th UMD Global Conference in July 2013.
UMD reiterates its call on the Bulgarian government to recognize the country’s historical role in aiding and abetting the Holocaust. As a member of NATO and the European Union, modern-day Bulgaria must come to terms with its tragic past and officially apologize to the Macedonian Jewish community.