President Rivlin hails ‘lone knights’ who saved Bulgarian Jews

President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday hailed the Bulgarian people who acted as “lone knights” during World War II to help save Bulgarian Jews.

Speaking alongside Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev at an inauguration ceremony of a memorial in the Bulgarian capital dedicated to those who showed “incredible courage” in a time of darkness.

“The Jewish people were alone, alone and disowned, in the dark days of the Holocaust. They were the darkest days in Jewish history, and the darkest point in human history,” Rivlin said at the ceremony.

“We will never forget those few who stood as ‘lone knights’ in the wilderness of hatred and darkness. Those who did not stand idly by, but stretched out a hand out of morality, humanity, and incredible courage,” he continued, adding “There is a special place of honor in Jewish history, reserved for the Bulgarian people who proved in their many that individuals have the power to change the course of history, and who helped to save the vast majority of Bulgaria’s Jews from the Nazi killing machine.”

More than 11,000 Jews from Bulgarian controlled territory were deported to Nazi concentration camps during WWII, however a parliament declaration blocked the deportation 48,000 more. Rivlin described the memorial as a symbol victory over evil.

This memorial highlights the stories of those who saved, and laments those victims who perished.” Rivlin said.

“This memorial symbolizes the victory of the human spirit over evil. It memorializes the love of one’s fellow man, which overcame the desecration of human dignity. It memorializes the extraordinary stories of Bulgaria, and how its government made alliances with the Third Reich, yet fought with all its might to prevent the destruction of the Jews.

“In my name, in the name of the State of Israel, and the Jewish people, I say to you the people of Bulgaria – thank you,” he added.

Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum recognizes 20 Bulgarians as “Righteous Among the Nations,” including Deputy Speaker of the Bulgarian Parliament Dimitar Peshev who was a vocal leader in the protest against deporting Jews.

Rivlin commended Peshev’s actions saying, “Nobody dared to act this way in any other parliament in Europe of those dark and terrible days. If they had, six million Jews – our brothers and sisters – would not have perished. Together with Peshev, other MPs rose up. Church leaders, public figures and ordinary people, Bulgarians, who all fought to save the Bulgarian Jews from hell.”

“Two hours before the trains to the death camps left, the decree to postpone the deportation was given. The train carts were left empty. In May 1943 the plan to deport the Jews from Bulgaria was abolished – 48,000 Bulgarian Jews were saved from destruction, most of whom immigrated later to Israel,” said Rivlin.

President Plevneliev followed his Israeli counterpart, stressing the importance of teaching history so that it won’t be repeated.

“Now, as we lose the generation which lived in the days of the Holocaust we must, more than ever, tell the stories of the Bulgarian people’s rescue of the Bulgarian Jews,” said Plevneliev.

“The Jewish community in Bulgaria was the only one in Europe which grew during the years of the Holocaust. To our sorrow, the fate of the Jews of northern Greece and what was Yugoslavia was not the same, they were not saved and we are sorrowful for this tragedy. We will remember them always,” he added.

The memorial in Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia was designed by architect Yitzhak Lipovetsky and has a twin, which will be unveiled in Tel Aviv in the near future.