WASHINGTON (JTA) — The street in front of the Bulgarian Embassy was renamed for Dimitar Peshev, who is credited with halting the deportation of some 50,000 Jews.
Some 75 people were on hand for the 45-minute ceremony on Tuesday naming the intersection of 22nd and R St. NW Dimitar Peshev Plaza. Speakers included Bulgarian Ambassador Elena Poptodorova, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Neil Glick, who championed Peshev’s cause.
“Needless to say, this is a big thing,” said Poptodorova, who called the street naming the first recognition of a Bulgarian as a hero in the Western Hemisphere.
The D.C. Council had voted unanimously for the honor.
On March 9, 1943, Peshev was the deputy speaker of the Bulgarian Parliament when he heard of a deportation order and rushed to the capital city of Sofia in a bid to stop it. He brought a petition signed by 43 members of the government and went to the Interior Ministry to beg officials to halt the order. He refused to leave the office until every deportation center in the country was contacted and all the prisoners released. By the end of the day, the order was canceled. Historians have credited him with saving 50,000 people.
Peshev also tried to stop deportations of Jews in northern Greece and Macedonia, but without success.
He was stripped of his position as deputy speaker and then kicked out of Parliament. A year-and-a-half later, when the Soviet-backed communists took over the government, Peshev was tried as a war criminal and sent to jail. One of his crimes was listed as anti-Semitism.
Peshev is credited with saving the second largest number of Jews during World War II and was awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.
“His is a story of making choices and tolerance,” Poptodorova said. “His story is particularly relevant today. He absolutely made the right choice. He risked everything, his career, his life.”
Glick, a former commissioner on the D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Board Commission, learned of Peshev’s actions 19 years ago. He brought it to the attention of the D.C. Council less than two years ago.