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International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Aula magna of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” hosted the ceremony of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The event was attended by Professor DHabil. Anastas Gerdzhikov, Rector of Sofia University, Mrs Tsetska Tsacheva, Chairperson of the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria, Mr Roumen Alexandrov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, HE Mrs Irit Lilian, Ambassadress of the Republic of Israel to this country, members of the diplomatic corps, faculty and students.

Associate Professor Dr Todor Popnedelev, Dean of the Faculty of History at Sofia University, opened the ceremony and stated that it was an honor for Sofia University to host a meeting of such a memorable day for mankind. He added that in his capacity as a historian and as a citizen working with facts from the past he had been studying deeply and at length the tragedies befalling mankind and he had realized that once man goes into the tragic act and gets to feel the suffering he can certainly learn the morale and, subsequently, know how to model his own future and the future of civilization in general. “I am glad that you show your sympathy with your presence here today, yet a big event need not be merely attended by a number of people: it must be felt by them, so that they will carry in their hearts feelings of benevolence and humaneness, the latter two being prerequisites for a change in our future”, the Dean added.


Professor DHabil. Anastas Gerdzhikov, Rector of Sofia University, pointed out that the International Holocaust Remembrance Day was only one of the dates when Bulgaria paid tribute to those tragic events: it remembered the victims and what our fellow-Bulgarians managed to do to save the life of a group of people who were subjected to genocide. Professor Gerdzhikov said how happy he was that it was Sofia University that hosted the event and talked of it as the best place where we could commemorate the day and join the world community.


In Professor Gerdzhikov’s opinion the Bulgarians do have the right to be proud and perhaps because they had contributed their own share to the salvation of these people they are particularly sensitive to the tragic nature of the issue. “It is our duty to join in what the people of the whole world are doing: to pay tribute to the victims and keep their memory alive and thus never allow for such a tragedy to happen ever again to anybody in this world”, Professor Gerdzhikov concluded.


Mrs Tsetska Tsacheva, Chairperson of the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria, said that the large scale extinction of human life and the broken lives of millions of people transcended human understanding. According to her the natural impulse to such a tragedy was to do our best to forget it and continue with life. Yet it was such an impulse that made the perpetuation of such crimes possible. In her words, the memory of the politics of genocide, of the annihilation of cultural identity and of the very idea of our diversity must be a constant warning to all people who are facing the danger of hatred, fanaticism, racism and prejudice. Tsetska Tsacheva stressed on the fact that we live in times of aggressive rejection of norms and rules, at times reaching stages of violence against those who are different from us.


For the Bulgarians 27th of January is not merely a day dedicated to the memory of the victims; it is also a day of paying homage to the civic integrity of the saviors, to those who had risked their lives and well-being in order to help their fellow-countrymen, Mrs Tsacheva added. She said that the deep suspicion we had of our own abilities, i.e. the traditional Bulgarian skepticism deflated the feeling of pride of what the Bulgarian citizens, the Bulgarian state institutions and the Bulgarian church had achieved guided by their ideas of honor, morals and duty in order to save their Jewish compatriots. The process of saving the Bulgarian Jewry was one of the most brilliant examples of the strength and viability of the dialogue between the people’s representatives, civil society and the church even at a time of war, Tsetska Tsacheva pointed out.

In her opinion, the salvation of the Bulgarian Jews is part of our modern national identity. We can rationalize the honor of the act of salvation only if we think of those who were left alone facing death, Tsetska Tsacheva said and added that today the traditions of tolerance and mutual understanding were subjected to the increasing pressure of the policy of fear and hatred. That was why we needed active tolerance, much more civic solidarity to face the aggressive tendencies trying to impose one and only one cultural yardstick. A ban is worse than death, indifference to the tragedy of the others is the road to our own destruction.

Tsetska Tsacheva appealed to face the present with the wisdom of our shared experience and memory because it was only then that Bulgaria would continue turning into reality the miracle of the good deed it had done.


Roumen Alexandrov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, noted that the historical presence of that tremendous tragedy had always formed part of the collective Bulgarian memory. As far as Bulgaria was concerned it was related to two emblematic events: the decisive counter-reaction of Bulgarian society, eminent politicians and the orthodox church against the deportation of 48 000 Jews from the country and also against the tragic fate of 11 343 Jews transported to the death camps from Macedonia and Northern Greece, territories occupied by the Nazi Germans but ruled by the Bulgarian authorities. The event had its place on the calendar of European and world history putting to the test the very foundations of human civilization, Roumen Alexandrov said.

He also remarked that the commemoration of the day of the Holocaust should be an example to the young people of today and to contemporary society of tolerance, good will and humaneness between people of different ethnos, religion and culture. Roumen Alexandrov pointed out that it was never late to appeal to humanity with the message “Never again”.


HE Irit Lilian, Ambassadress of Israel to this country, posed the issue of the necessity to tell the story of the victims of that crime, so those horrendous acts of violence against innocent people would never fall into oblivion. In her words the sons and daughters of the survivors must pass on the stories to their children and thus warrant that the memory will become part of mankind’s narrative. She drew attention to the fact that after the war many of the survivors were reluctant to tell their stories because they felt as if it was their fault that they had remained alive while their close ones had not, and if the story was told, then it was usually adapted to the national and personal expectations.

In Irit Lilian’s words it seems that the lesson has not been learnt and we keep on being witnesses to crimes and persecutions based on religious, cultural or ethnic differences. She stressed that we must guarantee that the stories of the survivors should be told together with the stories of the saviors; the latter were ready to put their lives at risk in order to help the others. We must keep alive the memory of those who tried to change the status-quo.

At the end of her address the Ambassadress of Israel to this country remarked that the young generation must be incorporated into the process of learning and research work and be familiarized with the objective facts. It is only through active participation that the future generations will serve as a link in the chain preserving the memory of the Holocaust and eradicating all forms of fascism, racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

During the event papers were read by Dr Angel Chorapchiev, lecturer at the University of Haifa and historian at the Yad Vashem Archives (The International Institute for Holocaust Studies in Israel), Professor Dr Iskra Baeva and Associate Professor Dr Roumyana Todorova-Hristidi from the Faculty of History of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.