During World War II, Bulgaria joined forces with Nazi Germany. Prior to, and following this alignment with the Axis Powers, Bulgaria enacted several laws that imposed restrictions on the Jewish community, such as requirements to wear a yellow Star of David, confiscatory taxation of property and income, and compulsory labour in public construction works. There were also some active pro-Nazi organizations, which even attempted to replicate the “Night of Broken Glass”. The introduction of antisemitic legislation, in combination with continuous attempts to restrict the rights of the Bulgarian Jews and to organise their deportation to concentration camps, also drove resistance movements across the country. Several prominent members of the Bulgarian intelligentsia, social actors and political and religious leaders publicly expressed their solidarity with the Jews. Such efforts, eventually prevented the deportation of Bulgarian Jews to concentration camps.
Bulgarian anti-Jewish legislation was also extended to the Yugoslav and Greek provinces (i.e. the Yugoslav Macedonia, the Eastern Macedonia and Thrace) occupied by Bulgaria. These developments significantly affected the daily lives of non-Bulgarian Jews in these territories, who were also subject to arbitrary restrictions imposed on the non-Bulgarian populations living in occupied regions. Unlike Bulgarian Jews, the great majority of non-Bulgarian Jews in these regions were deported to extermination camps. While statistics vary from source to source, it is estimated that over 11,300 Yugoslav and Greek Jews were sent to Treblinka extermination camp in Poland in March 1943. Not one of them survived.1
During this period, several Bulgarian women supported and even saved Bulgarian and non-Bulgarian Jews, putting themselves at risk of arrest and detention. Among those was Nadežda Vasileva (Надежда Василева, 1891-n.a.). Nadežda Vasileva was born in 1891 at Nikopol, Northern Bulgaria. She lost her parents at a very young age and Jewish families raised her. She became a nurse. In March 1943, she was living at Lom, a port city where Jews from the occupied Greek provinces were transferred en route to Treblinka camp. Nadežda Vasileva provided assistance to these people. Her testimony is available thanks to the letters she sent to the Jewish Scientific Institute in 1947. Aim of these letters was to bear witness on the conditions under which Greek Jews were held. These letters are available at the State Archives of Bulgaria.2
I would like to present the dramatic events I experienced at the port and the railway station during the deportation operation of the Jews from the Aegean and Thrace to Germany via Lom during spring 1943. […]
During the beginning, or the end of March, one day between March 15 and March 20, 1943, it was Monday I remember, I visited my neighbour Ms. Penka Vouko Ivoseva […] When she brought me a glass of water she told me “Nadka the last three days I do not want to go to the kitchen. I cannot stand to watch all these that are currently happening. I can’t stand listening to the calls for help from the Jews who are located in the overcrowded train wagons, awaiting the steamboats that will transfer them to Germany”. I left the water glass on the table, without drinking any water, and I went into the next room from where I could see the Danube river. It was heart-breaking. I could see people’s hands who were crammed into cattle wagons and were crying for help in three languages: in Bulgarian, Turkish and Jewish: “Can’t anyone give us some water?” I could understand what they were saying, as when I was a child I had Jewish friends. […]
What I saw and what I heard brought to my memory my childhood. Everything around me went dark and when I regained consciousness, I took a big water jug and several cups with me and rushed out towards the cattle wagons. The guards and the police officers stopped me. They raised their weapons and they told me: “Go back, otherwise we are going to shoot. You will die like a dog”. I looked into their eyes and I told them: “Don’t you have a family? Don’t you have children? […] Kill me, I don’t care, but leave me first to give them some water.. Aren’t you humans? Don’t you have any feelings? How could you leave them three days and three nights without water? […]“.3
Nadežda Vasileva was eventually allowed to distribute water to the Jews. Some locals who were present, followed her lead and also distributed food and water, slightly easing the suffering.
Following the deportation of the Jews, very little is known about Nadežda Vasileva’s life. On October 20, 1944, Lom’s Jewish community sent a letter to Nadežda Vasileva to thank her for the support she provided to the Greek Jews.4 On 18 December, 2002, Nadežda Vasileva was recognised as “Righteous Among the Nations”.5 This status honours people who risked their lives or livelihoods to save Jews during the Holocaust. Honoured persons receive a medal and a certificate, and their names are added at the Wall of Honour in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.6 Nadežda Vasileva is one among the few Bulgarian women who have received this honour.
Anna Batzeli completed her Master and PhD studies in Modern History at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece. Prior obtaining her PhD in December 2019, she was involved in several EU- and national-funded research projects, among them the Marie Curie Action funded project ‘Politics of Memory and Memory Cultures of the Russian-Ottoman War 1877/1878: From Divergence to Dialogue’. Following the completion of her PhD studies, Anna participated as a researcher in several H2020 projects and conducted archival research with the support of various organisations, among them the History of Economics Society. Currently she is preparing both her master and doctoral theses as monographs for publication and she is working as a postdoctoral researcher on different case-studies of the interwar period covering topics related to health, environmental and refugee/migration crises and their social, economic and gendered impact. She is also a co-editor of the Society of Romanian Studies academic Newsletter, EC member of the International Committee for the History of Technology (ICOHTEC) and Archives Portal Europe Ambassador. Anna’s publications can be found at: https://auth.academia.edu/AnnaBatzeli.
Picture Credit: righteous.yadvashem.org. No known copyright restrictions
 The literature on this topic is extensive. An indicative list of papers in English follows: Rossen Vassilev, ‘The Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews in World War II’, New Politics, vol. XII: 4, no. 48 (winter 2010), p. 114-121; Ritsaleos Vasilis, ‘Bulgarian foreign policy and the deportation of Greek Jews during World War II’, in Nadège Ragaru (dir.), La Shoah en Europe du Sud-Est : les Juifs en Bulgarie et dans les terres sous administration bulgare (1941-1944). Actes du colloque des 9 et 10 juin 2013, éditions du Mémorial de la Shoah [En ligne], p. 111-119; Troebst Stefan, ‘Macedonian historiography on the holocaust in Macedonia under Bulgarian occupation’, sous administration bulgare (1941-1944). Actes du colloque des 9 et 10 juin 2013, éditions du Mémorial de la Shoah [En ligne], p. 131-136.
 Nadežda Vasileva’s letters to the Jewish Scientific Institute can be found at the Central State Archives of Bulgaria and they are accessible online at: https://jews.archives.bg/74-Nadezhda_Vassileva
 Central State Archives of Bulgaria, f. 1568K, in. 1, a. u. 190, p. 2-20, 23-33. The document is accessible online at: https://jews.archives.bg/74-Nadezhda_Vassileva (translated from Bulgarian by the author).
 Central State Archives of Bulgaria, f. 1568K, in. 1, a. u. 190, p. 1. The document is accessible online at: https://jews.archives.bg/74-Nadezhda_Vassileva
 The Righteous Among the Nations Database, Vasileva Nadejda, https://righteous.yadvashem.org/?search=Vasileva&searchType=righteous_only&language=en&itemId=7484022&ind=0
 To find out more about the “Righteous Among the Nations” program, visit https://www.yadvashem.org/righteous.html