An autonomous principality since 1878, Bulgaria became an independent state in 1908. During the Second World War, Bulgaria joined the Axis alliance in March 1941. Following Germany’s twelve-day campaign against Yugoslavia and Greece in April-May 1941, Bulgaria occupied parts of Greece and Yugoslavia (territories in Thrace, Macedonia and Eastern Serbia), and established military and civilian administrations. Its active involvement in the Axis’ war, however, did not go any further; Bulgaria did not join Hitler’s “Operation Barbarossa”, and did not sever diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union. When the arrival of the Red Army and a communist-led coup d’état led to the overthrow of the pro-German regime in early September 1944, Bulgaria dropped out of the Axis alliance. Pressured by the Soviet Union, the government declared war on Germany on 8 September 1944, only to be overthrown by a communist coup one day later. In 1946, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria was established.

At the beginning of the Second World War, Bulgaria had 6,341,000 inhabitants. Among them were some 48,000 Jews who lived mostly in the capital Sofia. In January 1941, Bulgaria introduced the first anti-Jewish legislation: The “Law for the Protection of the Nation”. This law, since June 1942 implemented by the specially created Commissariat for Jewish Affairs (Komisarstvo Evreyskite Vaprosi, KEV), put numerous restrictions on the country’s Jews. After 1941, all Jewish men between 20 and 40 years of age were drafted for forced labour in special camps and mainly put to work to build roads and railways. In February 1943, the head of the KEV, Alexander Belev, and the German SS-plenipotentiary Theodor Dannecker signed an agreement on the deportation of 20,000 Jews from Bulgaria’s “new territories”, Macedonia and Thrace. Since there were not enough Jews in these areas (slightly above 11,000) to reach that number, the rest were to be taken from a number of towns in Bulgaria. Meanwhile, the Macedonian and Thracian Jews were deported to Treblinka and murdered in March 1943. However, the Bulgarian government’s plans to comply with German demands for the deportation of the Jews from Bulgaria were postponed thanks to public protests and to the intervention of politicians and high-ranking clerics. In May 1943, the members of the Jewish community of Sofia were expelled from the capital and resettled in the provinces where they remained until the end of the war. Almost all of them survived despite the hardship of the war years. Anti-Jewish laws were formally repealed early in September 1944.

Archival Situation

The policy on collecting, preserving, arranging and using historically valuable archival records is implemented by the Archives State Agency (ASA), which has the status of a state agency with the Council of Ministers. The structure of ASA is established by the Rules of Procedure of the Archives State Agency of 2010 and covers the network of the State Archives in Bulgaria. The Central State Archives (CSA) has been the central repository of documents of state as well as non-state institutions and natural persons since 1878. Besides CSA there are 21 regional state archives which are organised in six regional directorates. Special ministerial archival bodies also have a tradition in Bulgaria (e.g. the Ministry of the Interior). After 1999, the Military Archives Department was transferred from the Ministry of Defence to the future Archives State Agency.

The Central State Archives and the regional archives hold different collections connected to the persecution of the Bulgarian Jews during the Second World War as well as to the Holocaust of the Macedonian and Thracian Jews. The biggest and most important among them are the record groups of the Commissariat for the Jewish Affairs and of the Bulgarian National Bank. The Jewish museum in Sofia is very small and does not have its own archive.

EHRI Research (Summary)

The most important institution to hold Holocaust-relevant archival collections in Bulgaria is the Central State Archive (Tsentralen Derzhaven Arhiv) in Sofia. Their Series Archival Finding Aids (14 volumes so far) offers guidance through the available material and is accessible online. Beyond the Central State Archive, the Organisation of Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom” (Organizatsia na evreite v Bulgaria “Shalom”), also located in Sofia, may be relevant for Holocaust-related research.

Outside of Bulgaria, relevant material about the Holocaust-period can be found in a number of institutions. EHRI was able to identify, among other institutions, the German Bundesarchiv in Berlin Lichterfelde, with the Deutsche Heeresmission in Bulgarien, and Yad Vashem in Israel, with the Benjamin Arditti Archive: Documentation regarding the history of Bulgarian Jewry. Furthermore, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has copied a considerable quantity of Holocaust-relevant archival material from Bulgaria, for instance from the Ministry of the Interior.