(JTA) — Condemning an anti-Semitic attack on a Soviet Army monument in Bulgaria, a Russian government official erroneously said her country’s soldiers saved the Jews of Bulgaria from deportation to Nazi camps.
The graffiti spray-painted on the Soviet Army monument in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia on Oct. 31 read “100 years Zionist occupation.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said two days later in Moscow that the defacing of the monument provoked anger in Moscow.
“Vandals, and I cannot call them anything else, attacked the monument literally a week ago, but now have outdone themselves, placing slogans of blatant anti-Semitic character on the memorial,” she said. “This escapade is especially cynical in view of the fact that during the Second World War, it was thanks to our soldiers that the deportation of Jews from Bulgaria was prevented and thus about 50,000 people were saved from certain death.”
Zakharova called on the government of Bulgaria to protect the monument, which has been vandalized in the past, from further acts of vandalism.
The American Jewish Committee disputed the official’s statement, saying that despite being an Axis ally, Bulgaria defied the Nazis’ orders and protected its Jews.
Most historians attribute the prevention of the deportation of the Bulgarian Jews in March 1943 to a campaign by the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, as well as politicians, intellectuals and average citizens who protested the orders.
Bulgaria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the Russian statement.
“When Bulgarian citizens stood on railway lines, headed to the Nazi death camps, when representatives of the Bulgarian political, economic and intellectual elite wrote protest letters in defense of the Bulgarian Jews, and senior hierarchs of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church stood with the Jews gathered for deportation, stating that their compatriots could be taken to the camps only if they too were taken, the Red Army was thousands of kilometers away from the borders of Bulgaria,” it said.
The Shalom Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria also responded to Zakharova’s statement with a position it adopted in December 2011, according to the Sofia Globe. The group states that the salvation of the Bulgarian Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps was the result of the actions of the majority of the Bulgarian people, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Bulgarian non-fascist community.
“For this act of the Bulgarians, Jews will always be grateful,” the official position statement says.
The Shalom Organization, along with the embassy of the State of Israel and Bulgaria’s National Coordinator for Combating Anti-Semitism, Georg Georgiev, had condemned the vandalism of the Soviet Army monument.
David Harris, the AJC’s executive director, called the Russian official’s claims “factually untrue and a blatant example of historical revisionism at its worst.”
“Notwithstanding its allegiance to Berlin, Bulgaria rose up in 1943 to do a remarkable thing — defy the Nazi orders and protect nearly 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from deportation and almost certain annihilation,” he said. “Many were courageously involved in this heroic rescue effort, which has been gratefully acknowledged by Yad Vashem, historians of the Holocaust, and the survivors themselves.
“No, the Bulgarian record wasn’t perfect. Eleven thousand Jews from Thrace and Macedonia, under Bulgarian occupation, were deported to the death camps, and this cannot ever be forgotten. Still, no other European country under Nazi control managed to protect the vast majority of such a large Jewish population.”