Official commemoration of the contribution of Dimitar Peshev and other deputies
to the saving of the Bulgarian Jews, held in the Bulgarian National Assembly
SPEECH GIVEN BY MR. DAN TICHON,
SPEAKER OF THE KNESSET OF ISRAEL
My dear President of the National Assembly, distinguished ladies and gentlemen Members of Parliament, dear members of the family of Dimitar Peshev, dear representatives of the Italian Parliament, Your Excellency the Ambassador of Israel, Mr. Mosek, Mr. Kaio, Mr. Kalev, Mr. Hananel, members of the Israeli Delegation, members of the Association for Friendship between Bulgaria and Israel, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I was delighted to accept your invitation to come here
to Sofia, your capital city, and to deliver an address here in your parliament
which is a concrete symbol of the strong democracy you are building here
This visit in Bulgaria is a very moving experience for me. Over the years, I have met many of the Jews of Bulgaria who live in the State of Israel and have come to know them as a rare splendid group. Ninety percent of the Jewish population of Bulgaria immigrated to Israel during the first two years of the State.
They settled down well and reached the highest ranks of society and the economy. They have left their marks in industry, trade, medicine and agriculture and sport.
I have come here from Jerusalem, the capital of Israel,
as the representative of the Knesset, to pay our respects and to fulfil
a moral debt to a former member of your parliament, Deputy Speaker Dimitar
We are gathered here so that the generation which was born after the war will know what happened and will understand one of the most difficult periods in history, not only for Bulgaria, but of all humanity. The forty-eight thousand Jews of Bulgaria survived due to the actions of the brave statesman, Dimitar Peshev. Dimitar Peshev belongs to that small group of very special people whom we call 'The Righteous among the Nations'. He was one of those who were able to suppress their own personal fear and to reach the highest levels of humanity following the dictates of his conscience.All his life, Dimitar Peshev believed in the Jewish People, convinced that everything must be done to save them. He was never ashamed of his warmth towards the Jews and never tried to deny it. It was for him both a political principal and a philosophy. There was a pro-Nazi regime in Bulgaria during the Second World War and so it was only a question of time before the Nazis began sending transports of Jews to the crematoria. It was not easy to oppose this regime's anti-Semitic policy. During those terrible times, when the Germans and their many collaborators in Europe were working to exterminate the Jewish People, Peshev did everything he could to help save the Jews from death.
Peshev's deep involvement in the rescue of the Jews of Bulgaria grew on fertile ground. There was never anti-Semitism in Bulgaria as there was in other countries of Eastern Europe. The Jews were part of the fabric of Bulgarian life.
In March 1943, representatives of the Jewish community reported to Peshev on the government's plans to hand over the Jews to the Germans for deportation to Poland. Peshev began an effort to prevent the execution of the plan, and the Interior Minister did indeed cancel the deportation order. The parliamentary majority condemned Dimitar Peshev and removed him from his position as deputy speaker of the House.
The danger was not yet over. As German pressure continued to increase, the government began to weaken and Peshev had to make repeated efforts to prevent the deportation. The fate of the Jews of Macedonia and Thrace, which were then under Bulgarian rule, was tragic. They were sent in transports in terribly overcrowded horse wagons to the death camp at Auschwitz. The long nightmare came to an end in September, 1994 when the Germans retreated.
I must mention that the rescue programs would never have succeeded without the support of large sections of the population. The Bulgarian people have always been a humane nation, untainted by anti-Semitism. In the sea of tears of the holocaust, the chapter of the Jews of Bulgaria is a ray of light. This ceremony today is the payment of a debt, the fulfilment of a promise, the expression of gratitude and appreciation for Dimitar Peshev and People of Bulgaria.
It is said in our Talmud: 'Anyone who saves a single soul . . . it is as though he saved a whole world'. Dimitar Peshev, who saved so many individual souls, also saved many worlds and for this we thank him. Only a person who has been hunted like an animal, facing danger every day and every hour, only a person for whom no door was opened, only he can truly appreciate what it means when one person is willing to risk life on behalf of another.
Hanna Senesh, was a young Jewish woman of Hungarian origin who left Palestine to parachute into wartime Hungary to help Jews there. Shortly before she was caught and executed by the Nazis, she wrote the following poem:
Dimitri Peshev was that someone.
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