Filmmakers explain scenerio during war

Iana Vladimirova

I was privileged to be able to interview the filmmakers of A Heart Divided in Two, an important documentary film about the Bulgarian Jews, which uses more than just the documentaries kept in the archives. Because as Malina and Iskra say: “The facts, the documents can always be hid, or presented in a way in which they can twist the truth. But the human stories can not be hid, they stay…These stories disappear with the end of people’s life.”

Q: You said that the film was made in 1993. Since then, many documentary movies about the same topic have been made, but your film appears to be the first. How did you decide to make a film about the salvation of the Bulgarian Jews?

Malina: After the end of communism, this topic was taboo. Almost nothing was known about the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews, or if some information was released, it was that the Communist party saved the Jews. Furthermore, the 50-year anniversary of the rescue was in the same year, 1993. The ex-president, Dr. Jelev, also helped us a lot.

Q: A Heart Divided in Two is a very interesting title. How did you come up with the idea for the title? What exactly does it refer to?

Malina: Everything in this film is ambiguous. The title came from the story of the painter…and not only him. All Bulgarian Jews we talked with and who now live in Israel, feel two countries as their home: Bulgaria and Israel. Their heart, their love is for both of them; they are split in two. Furthermore, as you can see from the facts in the whole story, there is ambiguity: Some people were for the deportation, some were against; on one hand the Bulgarian Jews were saved, on the other those from Thrace and Macedonia were not.

Q: How did you meet the people you interviewed? Were they willing to help you? How did they remember those years?

Iskra: The meeting with these people was very emotional. They were talking with such warm feelings about Bulgaria…they were so happy that they were meeting Bulgarians. And they were ready to sit for hours and tell you their memories about Bulgaria, about the people, about the nature, the flowers and the mountains…They were feeling themselves more Bulgarian than the people in Bulgaria. I will give you an example. When we went to Israel, we went to a restaurant where everybody inside was doing their work. But when they heard that we were from Bulgaria, they put the tables together, and a whole feast began. Everybody wanted to start telling their story.

Q: How did Jews remember Bulgaria?

Iskra: It is not accidental that we started the film with the story of an old lady about her memories of the flowers and the trees in her house where she was born. People remember their fatherland with particular things. When they hear Bulgaria, they do not imagine the geographic map…the fatherland for them is their home, the tree in front of the house, the friends and the family.

Q: In your film you paid a lot of attention to the Jews from Thrace and Macedonia, who were not saved. Do you think there was a way their deportation could have been canceled too?

Iskra: Who can answer that question? Maybe if the war continued two, three years more, the Bulgarian Jews wouldn’t have been saved either. There is historical truth and it is this: The Bulgarian government did not make an effort to save them. Practically, the Bulgarian government sacrificed the Jews from Thrace and Macedonia, in order to postpone the deportation of the Bulgarian Jews.

It is important to note that these 12,000 Jews from Thrace and Macedonia were not saved and the Jews nowadays insist this fact ought to be well known. Bulgarian people do not like to mention this part of the history, as if they are ashamed. Although there is nothing shameful in this fact….because in some way the deportation of the Jews from Thrace and Macedonia saved the Bulgarian Jews.

Q: Was there anti-Semitism in Bulgaria?

Malina: Of course there were some people…but in Bulgaria there was no hatred against the Jews. They were poor like the Bulgarians. A very small number of Jews were rich in Bulgaria. The idea that some groups of people are superior to others is foreign to the Bulgarians.

Q: Who saved the Jews?

Malina: We cannot say that the whole Bulgarian people saved the Jews. It wasn’t like the Danes, where everybody was saving the Jews with boats…There wasn’t any heroism involved. I doubt that the Bulgarians can do anything heroic.

The credit should go for every single Bulgarian who didn’t want to betray a neighbor, who wanted in some way to help. And not to help a Jew, but to help a neighbor who was a Jew. Because this person was not only a neighbor, this person was a friend; they shared bread and salt, exchanged cheese, and their children played together.

Bulgarians didn’t go to help the Jews; they went to save the Jew who lived next door. In the demonstrations, there were no Bulgarians, there were only Jews. Why Bulgarians did not go to the demonstrations? Because they are not this type of people that do something heroic. This type of heroism is very foreign to the Bulgarians.

But the unique part of the whole story is that they did it without the feeling that this is heroism; they did it believing that they were doing something normal, as though they couldn’t imagine that they could react differently. Every Bulgarian Jew in Israel can tell you exactly who saved him or her. But everybody is talking about the person in question, nobody is talking about the Bulgarian people.

And this is the difference with the Danes. Bulgarians did not feel sorry about the Jews as a whole. They felt sorry for their neighbors.