The street in front of the Bulgarian Embassy was renamed Dimitar Peshev Plaza, in honor of the man credited with halting the deportation of about 50,000 Jews. A 45-minute ceremony witnessed by close to 75 people was held Nov. 12, after the D.C. Council unanimously voted to give the intersection of 22nd and R St. NW the new honorific name. Speakers included Bulgarian Ambassador Elena Poptodorova, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Neil Glick, who championed Peshev’s cause.
“Needless to say, this is a big thing,” said the ambassador, who called the street naming the first recognition of a Bulgarian as a hero in the western hemisphere.
In March 1943, Peshev, who was the deputy speaker of the Bulgarian Parliament at the time, heard of a deportation order and decided he had to stop it at all costs.
He rushed to the capital city of Sophia on March 9, 1943, equipped with a petition signed by 43 members of the government, and went to the Ministry of the Interior to beg officials to stop the deportation orders. He refused to leave that office until every deportation center in the country was contacted and everyone released. By the end of that day, the order was cancelled. Historians have since credited him with saving 50,000 people.
Peshev also tried to stop deportations of Jews in northern Greece and Macedonia, but without success.
Because of Peshev’s actions, he was stripped of his position as deputy speaker and then kicked out of Parliament. A year-and-a-half later, when the Soviet-back Communists took over the government, Peshev was tried as a war criminal and sent to jail. One of his crimes was listed as anti-Semitism.
He is credited with saving the second largest number of Jews during World War II and was awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.
“His is a story of making choices and tolerance,” Poptodorova said. “His story is particularly relevant today. He absolutely made the right choice. He risked everything, his career, his life.”
Glick, a former commissioner on the D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Board Commission, learned of Peshev’s actions 19 years ago. He brought it to the attention of the D.C. Council less than two years ago.