THE ROLE OF CIVIL SOCIETY - THE FATE OF BULGARIAN JEWS DURING THE HOLOCAUST

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A series of lectures in 8 schools across Bulgaria, focusing on the history and fate of the Bulgarian Jews during WWII, carried out by experts and representatives of the rescued Jewish community

Bulgaria’s history of the Holocaust, similar to the topic of communism, is highly controversial, often politicized and rooted in misconceptions and lack of historical knowledge. Our 2014 representative study demonstrated that 93% of Bulgarians between the age of 18 and 30 know almost nothing of the communist history.

One can assume that the number of young people who don’t know anything about the rescue of the 48 000 people strong Bulgarian Jewish community or of the tragic fate of the 11343 Jews from the so called New territories of Thrace and Macedonia is even higher. A conversation with 10th and 11th grade students in Karnobat, a small town near the south-eastern Black Sea coast demonstrated that sadly none of them had heard their town is home to the biggest Jewish cemetery on the Balkan Peninsula, which lies abandoned as many other places of memory. The context and details of the act of rescuing the Jewish community of Bulgaria in the 1940s are not as widely known as they should be.

Furthermore, not knowing its own past, makes every society vulnerable and susceptible to any form of internal or external manipulation and meddling.

The upcoming 75th anniversary since the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews in March 2018, offered an opportunity to organize a series of open lectures in a number of schools in Bulgaria following contemporary methods of history teaching.

With the support of history teachers, school directors, the Bulgarian Ministry of Education, the organization Shalom, Prof. Albena Taneva, the online educational platform ucha.se, a team of students from the 134th school in Sofia and the American Embassy, we organized 8 open lectures in schools across Bulgaria. Lifting up the positive example of rescuing the Bulgarian Jewish community, rooted in tolerance, peaceful coexistence and resistance, while tackling the difficult chapter of the deportation of the 11343 Jews from the New territories, proved to be a powerful way of drawing lessons of tolerance and non-discrimination for our present.

Our team developed the lecture methodology and content with the help of Assoc. Prof. Albena Taneva from the Sofia University's Public Administration Department.

We chose towns and cities that used to have a vibrant Jewish community in an attempt to rely on the rich local history. Sadly in the schools we visited in Dupnitsa, Kyustendil, Plovdiv, Kardzhali and Veliko Tarnovo, similar to Karnobat, we discovered that little is known of the local Jewish history.

In addition, on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the rescue of the Bulgarian Jewish community, we supported the Ministry of Education's national student competition by organizing a panel discussion with the finalists on lessons from the Holocaust.

We wrapped up the initiative by organizing a meeting of students in Sofia with Ms. Heni Lorer, one of the 48 000 people strong community of rescued Bulgarian Jews.

We are in the final stages of preparing a lecture plan and a short educational video as resources for high-school teachers on the topic.

 

Date: 14.03.2018
Town: Dupnitsa
School: SU "Sv. Paisiy Hilendarski"

Date: 16.03.2018
Town: Kyustendil
School: PMG "Prof. Emanuil Ivanov"

Date: 19.03.2018
Town: Plovdiv
School: MG "Acad. Kiril Popov"

Date: 21.03.2018
Town: Kurdzhali
School: SU "P. R. Slaveikov"

Date: 22.03.2018
Town: Karnobat
School: SU "Sv. sv. Kiril i Metodiy"

Date: 26.03.2018
Town: Veliko Tarnovo
School: SU "Bela Blagoeva"