Informal Jewish NGO Caucus
Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organization
February 6, 2013
Reported by Fran Butensky, ICJW representative to the UN in New York
The timing for this meeting couldn’t have been better. An article in the New York Times that morning reported on Bulgaria’s persistent investigation in tracking those responsible for the bus bombing last summer targeting and killing Israeli citizens. The result was the government’s courageous decision to single out Hezbollah and pressure the European Union to recognize them as a terrorist organization.
Thanks and recognition was given to the Bulgarian government for their steadfast support and for standing up for their principles during WWII at great risk for their safety.
There were two guest speakers:
H.E. Ambassador Stephan Tafrov, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the United Nations in New York was a journalist and literary critic who speaks 6 languages and has translated major literary works.
We were told that on March 9th his country plans to celebrate the rescue of 48,000 Jews during WWII. They are very proud of this and will pay homage to the Bulgarian Jews. They were the only country where there were more Jews remaining after that before the war.
All countries had the choice to join or not with Nazi Germany who put huge pressure on them to join the axis powers which Bulgaria did. Immediately after, Germany invaded Bulgaria but allowed them to keep their King (Boris) in power. Germany’s first priority was to organize the deportation of the Jews. However, in Bulgaria there was always an absence of Anti-Semitism that was never a part of their culture. They never had ghettoes, Jews were a part of the government, officers in he army and members of Parliament.
Ultimate authority lay with King Boris who became the main figure. He had no Anti-Semitic views and considered the Jews loyal subjects of the crown. When the Germans began facilitating anti-Jewish legislation, it is now widely believed that the King went along with it for fear that deportation would be a much worse fate. Leaders from every avenue of Bulgarian life urged the king not to yield to pressure and he did not. Dmitar Peshev (who, in 1973 was awarded “ Righteous Among Nation” by Yad Vashem) called on 42 members of Parliament to protest any deportation of the Jews. The Church urged citizens to open up their homes and provide shelter and safety to the Jews. The King’s wife who was Italian, arranged for many Jews to escape with Italian passports. With the exception of the Jews from the territories of Macedonia and Thrace, not a single Jew was deported. They were sent to labor camps but all of them survived the war. It should also be noted that Bulgaria did not send a single soldier to the front.
Right before his mysterious death, King Boris met with Hitler who accused him for being responsible for Hitler’s failure in the deportation of the Bulgarian Jews. The King died suddenly at a young age and it is widely believed but not proven that he was poisoned. We must be thankful to him for ultimately, he was the one who saved the Jews.
The atmosphere at the meeting was one of respect and gratitude to the Bulgarian government and its courageous citizens for their extraordinary efforts to save the lives of so many Bulgarian Jews during WWII. Ambassador Tafrov recognized this with humility and pride.
H.E. Karoly Dan, Ambassador and Consul General of Hungary
Ambassador Dan started his remarks by stating that today there are extremist hate groups in his country speaking out against Jews in an attempt to influence the government and include Anti-Roma and Anti-Jewish factions in Parliament. Thus far, there have been zero results and he told us that they will not let it happen.. The government is trying to fight back as much as possible and enacted a new penal code with jail terms of up to three years to cover this.
Hungary has been an outspoken ally of Israel at the UN, working together on many issues. They are concerned about the perception in regard to the Jewish situation. It will be hard to win back their reputation. Assimilation is a concern. Hungary was broken apart. It is a broken country. They were not as fortunate as Bulgaria – deportation happened.
Today, there is a vibrant renaissance of Jewish life in Hungary. They are trying to erase the stain on their country. They want to make amends and will be commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the deportation of the Jews.