‘Fox’ provides rescue for Jews

Iana Vladimirova

Tsar Boris III, the king of Bulgaria, was quite a peculiar person, whose behavior seemed to be that necessary link in the chain of actions that led to the entire rescue of the Jewish population in Bulgaria.

By the way, he had no Bulgarian blood. His father, Tsar Ferdinand Sax-Coburg-Gotski, was a descendant of a famous European dynasty. Ferdinand was born and grew up in Germany, where he indulged in luxury and pleasures. At the time Bulgaria was liberated from 500 years of the Turkish yoke, the newly born state was desperately looking for a tsar (king) in accordance with the new constitution, and the offer was made to Ferdinand. It might seem strange that they had to employ a foreigner to become the head of the government. There is a simple and clear explanation: the Bulgarian nobility had been exterminated with the invasion of the Turks, and the tsar’s lineage had been destroyed centuries ago.

Ferdinand, 27, accepted the proposal, although he had a vague idea where Bulgaria was situated. He was a keen researcher in botany and a charismatic dandy, who was inclined to demonstrate power and arrogance. However, his despotism and severe strictness was the prevailing attitude to his four children after their mother died. Boris, born in 1894, was only 5 years old when she died, and he grew up a sensitive and lonely young man, with a profound knowledge of several languages and of scientific subjects. As a future government head, he had to visit a number of countries, to wear special uniforms and become part of the European high society elite. What he preferred to do instead was to mingle with the crowd and wander in the streets with his tutor for hours on end.

During the 30-year rule of Ferdinand, Bulgaria developed as an independent country and accumulated enough courage to dream about its previous greatness.

Unfortunately, the Balkan wars and the First World War turned out to be a catastrophe for the state as it lost vast territories. This threw the country into political turmoil, which forced the tsar to leave his kingdom. Thus, 24-year-old Boris was to become the successor to the throne.

Tsar Boris is believed to have been easily influenced by politicians. What is more, he was quite timid and superstitious, obsessed with the fear that he might be assassinated. There were indeed several attempts on his life. Surrounded by famous intellectuals and writers, as well as by some representatives of religious non-orthodox movements, he would confess how he detested his political position. Yet, he developed some supreme qualities of a leader– Boris managed to manipulate the various political factions by procrastinating on unfavorable decisions, by disappearing in one of his numerous shelters when forced to sign documents which seemed undesirable to him.

Nevertheless, Boris gained widespread popularity for his democratic views and attitudes. He was seen in remote villages talking to peasants and workers, sharing plain food with them. His marriage to the Italian princess Ioanna made him even more loved by the people. Even Adolph Hitler liked him, and for his being extremely canny, he called Boris the Fox.

So the Fox could clearly judge that Bulgaria had two options: either to oppose the Nazi army and as a result to be severely invaded and destroyed, or to join the Axis. The Bulgarian government was willing to offer Hitler a base of operations in southeast Europe, provided that it would not be forced to fight Russians (Russians are considered by Bulgarians to have been the liberators who freed Bulgaria from the Turkish Yoke; the Russians are therefore deeply loved by the Bulgarian people). In return, Hitler promised that, after the war, he would give back to Bulgaria the territories that had belonged to the country earlier but were lost during previous wars: Dobrudja, Macedonia and Thrace. In the meantime, Macedonians and Thracians, who were assumed to be citizens of the Reich, were encouraged to acquire Bulgarian citizenship voluntarily unless they were Jews.

These Jews were sacrificed by the Bulgarian government on the basis that they had not been offered citizenship. Boris agreed to ship to the death camps the 11,363 Jews of Bulgarian-occupied Macedonia and Thrace. Did he have any choice? People, who believe he did call him a murderer and refuse to recognize him as a savior of the Bulgarian Jews. Others think the Jews from Macedonia and Thrace were sacrificed in order that the Bulgarian Jews would be saved. They believe that if there was a way, he wouldn’t send to the death camps the Jews from Thrace and Macedonia.

To promise, to extend, to ask for favors, that was Boris’s political game. He was using all possible means to slow down the process of deportation of the Bulgarian Jews. And if indecisiveness is a bad characteristic for a king, many believe this was better than any other political strategy during World War II.

There is a Bulgarian joke: “A criminal who received a death penalty asked the king to delay his execution for a year, so he can teach his camel to talk. To his friend, he explained, ‘Only God knows what will happen to me in an year; the king can die, the camel can die, or even I can die.'”