The Prosecution of Anti-Jewish Crimes in Bulgaria: Fashioning a Master Narrative of the Second World War (1944–1945)
Eastern European politics and societies
US : SAGE Publications
941 - 975 p.
Bulgaria, Second World War, war crimes, anti-Jewish crimes
Bulgaria was amongst the first states in Europe to hold trials with an exclusive focus on anti-Jewish persecutions during the Second World War. On 24 November 1944, a chamber solely dedicated to the prosecution of anti-Jewish crimes was established within the People’s Courts (1944–1945). This judicial action thus constitutes a unique experiment in the qualification of crimes, the use of material/testimonial evidence, the establishment of proof, and the devising of sentencing policy. Seen as a stage on which several contenders fought over the reading of the recent past and the present in the making, the Court also offers a lens on the complex interplay between the prosecution of war crimes and the crafting of revolutionary changes as well as on the relations between Jews and non-Jews at the end of the war. Drawing on a diversity of archival records (accusation files and protocols of the hearings among others), the article will underline two paradoxes. First, the chamber established to prosecute anti-Jewish crimes ended up building a master narrative of “collective innocence” centered on the “rescue of the Bulgarian Jews,” which has remained dominant in Bulgarian public discourse to this day. Second, the communist Jews who had fought for the recognition of Jewish suffering ultimately took part in the euphemization of Jewish experiences of the war. In resorting to justice, they hoped to convince the local Jewry to stay in Bulgaria and build socialism there. For that purpose, they had to prove that the wartime policies were the deeds of a handful of “fascists.” Henceforth, they embraced the official discourse of interethnic solidarity in combat and sorrow, thus downplaying the specificity of the Jewish predicament.