Bulgaria joined the Axis alliance in March 1941 and entered the Second World War following Germany’s campaign against Yugoslavia and Greece in April 1941. Territories in both occupied countries came under Bulgarian military and civilian administration. Bulgaria’s involvement in the wars of the Axis, however, did not go any further. Bulgaria did not join Hitler’s war against the Soviet Union; it did not sever diplomatic ties with the Soviets. In August 1944, Bulgaria began to distance itself from the Axis. The government declared war on Germany on 8 September 1944, only to be overthrown by a communist coup one day later as the Red Army entered Bulgarian territory.
At the beginning of the Second World War, Bulgaria had 6,341,000 inhabitants. Among them were some 48,000 Jews, most of whom lived in the capital Sofia. In January 1941, the pro-Nazi government, despite public opposition, introduced the antisemitic “Law for the Protection of the Nation” which put numerous restrictions on the country’s Jews. It was implemented by the specially created Commissariat for Jewish Affairs (Komisarstvo po Evreyskite Vuprosi, KEV). After 1941, all Jewish men between 20 and 45 years of age were drafted for forced labour and mainly put to work building roads and railways. In February 1943, the head of the KEV, Alexander Belev, and the German SS-Plenipotentiary Theodor Dannecker signed an agreement for the deportation of 20,000 Jews from Bulgaria’s “new territories”, in Macedonia and Thrace. Since there were not enough Jews in these areas (slightly above 11,000) to reach this figure, the rest were to be taken from a number of towns in Bulgaria. 11,343 Macedonian and Thracian Jews were deported by Bulgarian and German authorities to Treblinka and murdered there in March 1943, but no Jews from Bulgaria proper. The Bulgarian government resumed planning to meet the German demands for the deportation of Jews from Bulgaria in May 1943 (which met with public protest). The Bulgarian Jews, except those who lived abroad under German occupation and were denied Bulgarian help, survived despite the hardship of the war years. Anti-Jewish laws were formally repealed in late August 1944. At the end of the war, 49,172 Jews lived within the old boundaries of Bulgaria.
The policy on collecting, preserving, arranging and using historically valuable archival records in Bulgaria is implemented by the Archives State Agency (ASA, Държавна агенция „Архиви“), which has the status of a state agency under 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 27 regional state archives which are organised in six regional directorates. There is also a tradition of certain ministries maintaining their own archival departments (e.g. the Ministry of the Interior). After 1999, the Military Archives Department was transferred from the Ministry of Defense to the future Archives State Agency.
The most important institution supervising Holocaust-relevant archival collections in Bulgaria is the Archives State Agency (ASA) in Sofia. Their Guidebooks to the archives (14 volumes so far) offers guidance through the available material and is accessible online via:
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. Other Central and Regional Archives also hold Holocaust-related documents. These are Military Archive in Veliko Tarnovo and also the regional branches of the Central State Archive. Outside of Bulgaria, relevant material from 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 and in Freiburg, the Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes, and Yad Vashem in Israel. Furthermore, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has copied a considerable quantity of Holocaust-relevant archival material from Bulgaria based on the collection of the Archives State Agency. Finding aids are accessible through the USHMM’s website (links are provided in the EHRI portal).
A. EHRI approach to Bulgaria: Pre-existing research and available archival guides
Documentary databases (resources) regarding the fate of Jews in Bulgaria exist in Yad Vashem, USHMM, Centropa and, most of all, in the Bulgarian Archives State Agency and many other archival institutions in Bulgaria.
B. Characteristics of the Bulgarian archival system and specific challenges
Bulgaria has a centralised archival system. The state archival institution has changed its name and departmental subordination several times. Now known as the Archives State Agency, its current status is regulated by National Archival Fond Act, which was adopted in 2007. The organisation of and procedures governing access to the archival records are regulated by the Law on the National Archival Fonds, the Regulation on the procedures for use the records of the National Archival Fonds and the Rules for the procedures and organization of the archival records' use in Archives State Agency (ASA). All Bulgarian and foreign physical and juridical persons may use the records held by the ASA. The structure of the ASA includes a central archive and six directorates in the regional centres of Burgas, Varna, Tarnovo, Plovdiv, Montana and Sofia. Under them are all the other 27 regional archival branches of ASA. Several other archival institutions contain documents concerning the fate of Jews in Bulgaria during the Second World War. These are the State Military Historical Archives in the city of Veliko Turnovo, the Sofia City Archive, the Archive of the Bulgarian Academy of Science, as well archives in other countries. The most significant collections outside Bulgaria can be found in Yad Vashem, USHMM and different archives in Germany and Russia. The most important information for all future researchers is the expanding digital access to huge collection of archival documents concerning the fate of the Jews in Bulgaria.
C. EHRI identification and description results on Bulgaria
C.I. In Bulgaria
The Central State Archives and the regional archives hold different collections connected to the persecution and protection of the Bulgarian Jews during the Second World War as well as the deportation of the Macedonian and Thracian Jews. The biggest and most important among them are the record groups of the Commissariat for the Jewish Affairs. All archives are open to researchers and users. The entire collection is in the process of digitisation. Digital open access is provided, and referred to in the EHRI archival descriptions. Given the huge volume of documents, EHRI’s main aim for Bulgaria has been to present up-to-date and accurate information on the structure of the archives, contacts, logistical information, as well as a description of the volume of documents and a general content description of the main branches of the State Agency Archives and of the Central State Archives itself. EHRI has been able to provide up-to-date summaries of the structure of the fonds, the quantities of documents, as well as descriptions of a small number of representative archival units in these inventories. For example, the Fond of Commissariat of Jewish Affairs (Комисарство по еврейските въпроси – КЕВ), which is available at the State Archives Agency, contains 15,348 archival units organised in three inventories. The EHRI portal includes links to the Archives State Agency for a number of digitized documents concerning the persecution and protection of Jews in Bulgaria during the Second World War.
C.II. Outside of Bulgaria
EHRI was able to identify, among other institutions, the German Bundesarchiv in Berlin Lichterfelde and Freiburg, the Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes, and Yad Vashem in Israel. Furthermore, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has copied a considerable quantity of Holocaust-relevant archival material from Bulgaria based on the collection of the State Agency Archives. All finding aids links are provided in the EHRI portal.