Controversy Erupts Over Effort To Honor Bulgarian Who Saved Jews From Nazis

Should Plaque Discuss Balkan Nation's Less-Than-Heroic Role?

Righteous Fight: Dimitar Peshev, then a senior Bulgarian official, pleads with local officials to block deportation of Jews in 1942.
courtesy of yad vashem
Righteous Fight: Dimitar Peshev, then a senior Bulgarian official, pleads with local officials to block deportation of Jews in 1942.

By Nathan Guttman

Published June 11, 2013, issue of June 14, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

A seemingly innocuous move to honor a Bulgarian politician who helped save Jews during the Holocaust has triggered an unexpectedly fierce debate about the less than heroic role played by the Balkan nation during World War II.

At issue is a nondescript small green sign bearing three words: “Dimitar Peshev Plaza.” A former Washington city official is pushing to have it erected on a corner of the nation’s capital, in front of the Bulgarian Embassy.

The sign memorializes the vice president of Bulgaria’s parliament during the war, who managed to postpone deportation of some of the country’s Jews to Nazi death camps.

“This is a story of what one man did to fight evil,” said Neil Glick, a former city commissioner who is pushing the measure. “Peshev’s actions show us that one person can make a difference.”

Peshev’s actions are not in question, and Yad Vashem has already declared him a Righteous Gentile.

Neil Glick
Neil Glick

But Holocaust scholars fear that highlighting the virtues of one person could miss the broader issues about Bulgaria’s treatment of Jews during the Holocaust: its willful alliance with Nazi Germany, the draconian laws it passed stripping Jews of their rights and its handing over to the Nazis of thousands of Jews.

In the broader picture, Bulgaria’s stand was much closer to national collaboration than the resistance undertaken, for example, by Denmark, where the government and its people took mass efforts to save Danish Jews from deportation to death camps.

“There are some in Bulgaria who seek to say, ‘We were just like Denmark.’ But they weren’t,” said Paul Shapiro, director of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies.

Bulgaria’s mixed record has been the stuff of academic historical debate for years. It’s somewhat surprising that, 70 years after the fact, the debate has reached the Council of the District of Columbia.

Safe to say, it’s not an issue that has gripped the city. On May 28, in an almost empty hearing room, Glick, who works as a real estate agent, presented his case for honoring Peshev in Washington.

Most council members skipped the hearing, and seats reserved for the residents remained empty. Apparently, setting the record straight on a faraway history lesson is less attractive than other items on the council’s agenda, like a lengthy discussion on arcane zoning issues and closure of city alleys.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.