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USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive: Bulgaria

Established in 1994 to preserve the audio-visual histories of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust, the USC Shoah Foundation maintains one of the largest video digital libraries in the world: the Visual History Archive (VHA).


The USC Shoah Foundation's Visual History Archive contains a wealth of material on the little known Holocaust history of Bulgaria. Between 1996 and 1998, the USC Shoah Foundation conducted 628 interviews in Bulgaria—in the capital city Sofia, as well as in Plovdiv, Varna, and 18 other locations. The interviewees comprise 623 Jewish survivors and five Roma survivors. 624 of the interviews were conducted in the Bulgarian language and 4 in Russian. Within the entire archive, 671 interviewees were born in Bulgaria and at least 814 interviewees talk about their experiences in Bulgaria before, during, and after the war.

As an Axis power allied with Nazi Germany, Bulgaria conducted a number of measures against its Jewish population during World War II. Alexander Belev, leader of the anti-Semitic group Ratnitsi Napreduka na Bulgarshtinata, implemented these measures as head of the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs (discussed in 21 testimonies). From 1941, Jewish men were conscripted into forced labor groups (described in 251 testimonies). Labor camps were established at Somovit, Pleven-Kailuka, and other locations. In 1943, a “resettlement” program was introduced whereby Jews were forced to leave the major cities and move to smaller towns (referred to in 292 testimonies).

Opposition to deportations and the policy toward Jews was led by Dimitur Peshev, the vice president of parliament (mentioned in 11 testimonies). As a result of these efforts, the Bulgarian Jewish community was not transported out of the country and largely survived the war. The monarch, King Boris III, whose wartime role is the subject of debate, is also discussed in 78 testimonies.

During World War II Bulgaria annexed parts of Yugoslavia, Greece, and Romania, and it was from these regions—Macedonia and Thrace, in particular—that Bulgarian authorities transported Jews ultimately to extermination camps in Poland. The collection includes a handful of survivors from these areas who successfully evaded deportation and fled across the border to Albania or Greece.


Selected Indexing Terms

Belev, Alexander

Boris III


Bulgarian forced labor groups

Bulgarian invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece (Apr 6, 1941)

Bulgarian occupation conditions

Bulgarian Orthodox Churches

Bulgarska Komunisticheska Partiya

Commissariat for Jewish Affairs

Peshev, Dimitur

Ratnitsi Napreduka na Bulgarshtinata

resettlement of Bulgarian Jews (May-June 1943)


Selected Bibliography

Chary, Frederick. The Bulgarian Jews and the Final Solution, 1940-1944, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1972.

Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fragility of Goodness: Why Bulgaria's Jews Survived the Holocaust: a Collection of Texts with Commentary, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.


Visual History Archive Curator

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Crispin Brooks