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Bulgaria slams Russia over Jewish wartime rescue claim

Criticism after Sofia war memorial is defaced with antisemitic graffiti

    The main Soviet memorial monument in Sofia is often painted, as in this example from 2014
    The main Soviet memorial monument in Sofia is often painted, as in this example from 2014 Getty Images

    A war of words has broken out over Russian claims that it saved 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from the Holocaust during the Second World War.

    The disagreement happened after a monument to the Soviet Army in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia was defaced with antisemitic graffiti.

    A Russian foreign ministry spokesperson attacked Bulgaria, saying it was the Soviet Red Army that saved the country’s Jewish community in 1943.

    Maria Zakharova, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, for Russia, said: “Vandals (I have no other name for them) attacked the monument just a week ago, but they have outdone themselves by putting antisemitic slogans on the monument.

    “This is especially cynical considering that during World War II our soldiers prevented the deportation of Jews from Bulgaria and saved some 50,000 people from imminent death.

    “What is particularly appalling here is not even the act of vandalism itself, but that those who committed it are absolutely ignorant about their own history. This is particularly chilling.”

    However Bulgaria’s foreign ministry said “when representatives of the Bulgarian political, economic and intellectual elite wrote protest letters in defence of the Bulgarian Jews, and senior hierarchs of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church stood with the Jews gathered for deportation, the Red Army was thousands of kilometres away from the borders of Bulgaria.”

    Bulgarians are proud of its part in rescuing its Jews from Nazi death camps.

    Pressure put on Boris III, the king of Nazi-allied Bulgaria, from politicians and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, meant he refused to allow Bulgaria’s Jews to be deported to the camps in March 1943.

    Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said Ms Zakharova’s statement “either shows a deep ignorance of history, or is an attempt at provocation.”

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