Sofia, March 14, 2018
In a March 8 ceremony at the headquarters of the Holy Synod in Sofia, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was honored for its instrumental role in rescuing Bulgarian Jews from the horrors of the Holocaust in the 1940s, reports The Sofia Globe.
The ceremony was part of the 75th anniversary celebrations of the rescue of Bulgarian Jews from being deported to Nazi death camps. The anniversary events are also in memory of the 11,343 Jews from neighboring territories who unfortunately were not able to escape such a fate.
His Holiness Patriarch Neofit accepted awards on behalf of the Bulgarian Church from the Shalom Organization of Jews in Bulgaria and the Shalom and Ehud Oley Organization of Bulgarian Jews in Israel, given in gratitude for the Church’s efforts from 1943 to 1945.
In that time, around 48,000 Jews living in Bulgaria were rescued from the grips of the Nazi terror, thanks in part to Bulgarian Parliament's Deputy Speaker Dimitar Peshev, Metropolitan Stefan, Exarch of the Bulgarian Church, Metropolitan Paisy of Vratsa, and Metropolitan Kirill of Plovdiv (later to become patriarch), who convinced then-tsar Boris III to defend his Jewish population. The Holocaust trains arrived on March 10, 1943, but the planned deportation never took place. Since 2003, March 10 is known in Bulgaria as the “Day of the Salvation of the Bulgarian Jews.”
Speaking at the ceremony, Patriarch Neofit said, “We have always felt love and appreciation for you. The friendship between us must remain, because we will never forget what our predecessors did for the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews.”
For his part, Shalom President Dr. Alexander Oscar said, “We teach our children to remember, not to forget, that worthy Bulgarians saved not only their brothers and sisters of Jewish origin, but also saved Bulgarian society as a whole.”
During the reception, several Bulgarian Jews who had been rescued from the cruel Nazi camps shared their memories of the days when the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was their only hope. As a sign of gratitude, the Bulgarian school in Israel bears the name of Bulgarian Patriarch Kirill, who helped save the Jews when still Metropolitan of Plovdiv, according to the site of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
After the conclusion of the ceremony, His Holiness led the delegation to the meeting room where the Holy Synod resolved to take a stand against deportations and against anti-Semitic legislation and measures.
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church was nominated in 2013 to win the Nobel Peace Prize for its heroic actions, and again in 2016.