Bulgarian lawyer helps prevent deportation of Jews

A major role in the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews was played by Dimitar Peshev, a “shy, retiring lawyer, who was one of the two deputies for the town of Kiustendil in western Bulgaria.” This was the city where the Jews were to be assembled before they were deported. At the time of the order, Dimitar Peshev was vice chairman of the Bulgarian Parliament. One day he was visited by an old school friend, a Jew, who informed him a secret agreement had been made between the Bulgarian government and the Germans for the deportation of the Jews. The agreement was to be implemented within a couple of hours and already special trains were waiting in the station to take them to Poland.

Peshev was horrified. Until then he had supported every single act of his state, which was a faithful ally of Nazi Germany. But at that moment, in front of his childhood friend, a deep inner transformation had started. Peshev could have easily saved just his classmate.

However, his choice was to rescue all the Jews in Bulgaria. He rushed to the office of the minister of the Interior, Peter Gabrovski, demanding an explanation. At first, Gabrovski denied having information about the deportation order. However, Peshev promptly called the governor of his province, who confirmed it. Peshev then demanded Gabrovski cancel the order. Otherwise, Peshev insisted he would raise the issue in the Parliament that evening. Using his authority, Peshev made threats of public exposure and managed to postpone the order. He ordered his secretary to telegraph the news to every district governor.

However, some regions did not receive the telegram on time, and in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city, Jewish residents were herded into local schools and several other buildings.

But Peshev was not alone; his views were shared by many Bulgarians of every political persuasion, from communists to right-wingers. Letters to the Bulgarian government were sent by prominent groups of writers, lawyers, physicians and army officers.

Due to his attempt to stop the deportation, Peshev was expelled from the vice presidency of the Parliament and was censured. The Parliament had two options: deport the Jews to Poland or expel them to the countryside. King Boris was the last one to decide; he quickly chose the second option.