BULGARIA AND THE THIRD REICH
Author: Vitka Toshkova
Bulgarian-German Economic Relations
No effort was spared by Germany to win Bulgarian sympathies in every direction. German prestige had always been great in Bulgaria. By the Bulgarian producer, Germany had always been looked at as the generous buyer on whose decision it depended whether his crop would fetch a good price or not, and by the new class of Bulgarian merchants as the country with which it was both easy and profitable to do business. The supremacy of German trade in Bulgaria and the profit this brought to Bulgarian exporters and importers alike procured the Germans that kind of consideration which successful businessmen naturally enjoyed in the commercial world.
In science and arts, too, the German government showed every determination to emphasize its achievements, vying in that respect with the Russians only. The basically revisionist character of German foreign policy did not quite comport with the Bulgarian devotion to the status quo, but, so long as Germany kept its hands off southeastern Europe, Bulgaria had no particular cause for alarm. Certainly during the first decade of its establishment, Germany did not represent any kind of threat to the Kingdom of Bulgaria and the Bulgarians were only too willing to enter into friendly relations with Berlin.
The advent to power of Adolf Hitler on 30 January 1933 more or less corresponded with the launching of the first five-year plan for industry in Bulgaria. This was therefore an extremely propitious moment for Germany to begin to play a larger role in Bulgarian affairs than in the past. The Bulgarians had been having great difficulties to place their raw products during the slump years, moreover Germany’s position in Bulgarian imports had already been getting more and more important during the 1920s. The slump in the world market showed every sign of continuing and between the years of 1930 and 1933 Bulgarian exports even to Germany showed a considerable decline, dropping from 19 million RM in 1930 to 13 million RM in 1932 and 1933. Bulgaria’s chances of getting the necessary machinery and installations for its ambitious industrialization plan were slender in the light of a considerably diminished export trade. It was here that Germany stepped in and offered a clear-cut solution, the political implications of which were by no means evident at the outset.
In 1934, a German trade mission representing various Krupps interests visited Bulgaria and had discussions with the Bulgarian government. The outcome was a long-term credit for 20 million RM and also an agreement by the Bulgarians to purchase a large quantity of railway materials and parts from Germany. The lively interest that the German government professed in the Bulgarian five-year plan and their willingness to assist in its realization led to the sending in February 1935 of a German adviser to the Bulgarian Ministry of Economics. This officials job was specifically to assist with the getting under way of the five-year plan. In the same year the Bulgarians ordered 11 million RM of material from Krupp for the electrification of their railways.
Two years of active German assistance in their economy had begun to raise political doubts at Sofia. Germany’s "Drang Nach Sudosten" could be surveyed over a vast field of southeastern Europe and the Middle East. That it was a concrete plan with a political motive was blatantly obvious. But Bulgarian alarm at the beginning of 1936 was still largely one of possible Turkish aggression in southwestern Thrace. Intrigues of Turkey with Bulgaria’s neighbours as well as its avowed revisionism presented the most immediate threat. The German danger was already fully perceived later in 1936; but the economic results of trading with Germany had been rather fortunate for the Bulgarians. The value of their exports to Germany had rocketed up from 19 million RM in 1933 to 29 million RM in 1934 and to 35,5 RM in 1935. The peak was reached in 1936 with an export of 41,7 million RM worth of goods to that country.
It is true that the Bulgarians were obliged to take repayment for this in the way Hjalmar Schacht, the German Minister of Economics, thought best; but it so happened that munitions and the other productions of heavy industry that the Germans had available were just the materials that Bulgaria needed. The Schacht plan was in the first instance more successful in Bulgaria than in any other European country with the exception of Turkey. Within the short span of a few years Germany gained a dominant grip over Bulgarian economy and was well on the road to making continued economic assistance a lever to effect political ends.
Jewish Question in Vardar and Aegean Macedonia
A few days after the entry of the German troops into Macedonia, the Jews there were economically wined. The Germans created several occupied and satellite zones. The largest section was annexed by Bulgaria. Aegean Macedonia remained under German authority. A small portion was given to Italy via Albania, then under occupation itself. The Jews had two choices: to wait to be executed or to join the anti-fascist struggle. Upon the invitation by the “Macedonian Front for Victory”, many Jews fought for the freedom of Macedonia. The original text of the “Appeal” to the Jews of Macedonia may be found at the Institute of National History in Skopje.
Not only the Pirin region, but also most of Vardar Macedonia and eastern Aegean Macedonia were under Bulgarian occupation. Hitler was determined to rid all corners of Europe from the Jews. The Bulgarian authorities certainly knew that. Not only J. von Ribbentrop met the Bulgarian Foreign Minister Popov several times, but also the German Ambassador in Sofia, Adolf Beckerle, suggested ways and means of how to get rid of them. It was on the basis of these negotiations that the Bulgarian National Assembly passed a Law (28 July 28 1942) facilitating anti-Jewish measures. A month later, a Commissariat for Jewish Problems was formed. Its apparatus was to be financed by the Jews themselves. The anti-Jewish measures included the wearing of the yellow Star of David.
The Commissariat sent representatives to various towns to deal with the “Jewish question”. The Jews of Thrace and Macedonia were to be deported and turned over to Hitler. These were the Jews of the so-called “newly liberated territories”. They were to go, and the Jews of “old” Bulgaria were to remain. Germany and Bulgaria even signed a written agreement (22 February 1943) to this effect. Bulgaria, then, even put one obstacle after another to discourage the efforts of international organizations and some governments to save a few thousand Jewish children. They prevented their transfer via Turkey.
The Law for the Protection of the Nation (21 January 1941), which barred the Jews from many professions, eliminated them as an economic factor. In Skopje and Bitolja as well, they could not engage in commerce or industry. All Macedonian Jews were asked to present one-fifth of their property to the Bulgarian government. They could not live in state owned buildings. Their artisan shops were liquidated. They were not considered Bulgarian citizens and were expected to pay an additional tax to live on Bulgarian territory. They could not vote or get elected. They had to turn in their radios. They could not stay in hotels. They could not marry non-Jews. They could not live in certain cities or in certain parts of a city. Their homes, shops, letters and products had to bear the sign of being “Jewish”. They were even forbidden from taking refuge in public shelters during, air raids.
The worst was, of course, deportation and extermination. The Bulgarian authorities planned with the Germans the total destruction of the Macedonian Jews. On 22 February 1943, an agreement was signed by Dannecker and Alexander Belev for the removal of the first group of 20,000 Jews. Zakhari Velkov was in charge for the whole of Macedonia, P. Draganov and I. Zakhariev were made responsible for Skopje and Stoimenov for Bitolja.
The fatal day for the Macedonian Jews was 11 March 1943. Early in the morning, the Bulgarian army blockaded the entire cities. In Skopje, only eleven people had escaped a few days before, and a Catholic priest hid three children. The rest were first put in concentration camps. For instance, the one in Skopje was commanded by P. D. Peev. Life there was horrible. The total number of people who passed through the camp in Skopje was 7318 (including 4 who were born there). 165 were released because they were Italian, Spanish orr Albanian citizens; few of them were doctors and pharmacists, badly needed elsewhere. Three escaped. All the rest were transported to Treblinka (Poland), where they were killed.
The first train, consisting of about forty cattle wagons, carried 2338 persons. It started on 22 March at 12:45 a.m. Four died en route. The second train took 2402 persons, three passing away on the way. The third had 2404, five dying before they reached Treblinka. They were all cremated there. Not a single one returned. A few people were also sent to Auschwitz, Dachau, Lublin, Bergen-Belsen, Majdanek and Mauthausen. Their fate was the same.
Their immovable property became the property of the Bulgarian state. Their movable property was sold at public auction. Four liquidation commissions operated in Skopje and seven of the same in Bitolja. Some valuables were presented to certain individuals, and some property was stolen by the police.
Similar fate awaited the Jews of the Aegean and Pirin Macedonia. In the former, strict measures were applied to the Greeks as well as the Jews until deportations. In contrast to Vardar Macedonia, the Jews who had foreign citizenship were also deported. The operations in Drama, Kavala, Sari Shaban and Serres started on 4 March 1943, at four o’clock in the morning. They were concentrated in camps in Gorna Dzhumaya and Dupnitsa. The first train from the former took 1985 people; the second, 692. Two more departed with a total of 158, and the last one (from Dupnitsa) carried 1380 persons. They were all exterminated in the death camp at Treblinka. Jewish property was liquidated after them. The Bulgarian authorities certainly knew what was going to happen to the Jews. Some people in the administration became millionaires by stealing Jewish property.
Pirin (Bulgarian) Macedonia was separated from the rest of Macedonia and attached to the Bulgarian state. It was not considered as a “newly liberated territory”. But even there a handful of them (ten) were deported as “undesirable Jews”. The Bulgarians claimed with pride, since the end of the Second World War, that they were the only country in Europe resisting Hitler to hand over their Jews. It is true that the “Jews of Bulgaria” (except ten) stayed where they were. But this is an immoral pun on words. The Jews in the so-called “newly liberated territories” were deponed and exterminated, with the conscious and active participation and encouragement of the Bulgarian authorities.
It is also true that there was a “protest” signed by 43 representatives of the (fascist) Bulgarian National Assembly, criticizing the disappearance of the ten Jews from Bulgarian proper. But it is a tremendous exaggeration to consider these 43 persons as representing the whole “public opinion”. Further, their protest did not include the thousands from the Vardar and the Aegean Macedonia. Moreover, when the protest was made on 25 March 1943, the Battle of Stalingrad had already indicated the eventual fate of Nazism in Europe. Finally, the 51,000 Bulgarian Jews remained in Bulgaria, because they were required for forced labour. In any case, this is what the German Ambassador Beckerle reported to his ministry on 17 May 1943. Had Nazi Germany won the war, they too would have most probably been deported. But Bulgaria, as a German ally, more and more found itself in a very unfavourable situation.
The Jews in the German occupied zone (40,450) were also deported. Italy did not lake any rigorous anti-Jewish measures in its own zone. That is why the Jews tried to escape either to Turkey or to the closer “Italian territories”. This does not mean that the occupation of Mussolini’s Italy was a good one, but there were no pogroms. But even from there 763 Jews were deported.
The total number of deported Jews from Macedonia is then 55,198; the bulk of them being from the German occupied zone. If one adds another 31 who died in camps or during the journeys, the total number of the dead reaches 56,216 or 98 percent of all the Macedonian Jews. The Bulgarians gave them the most shocking tragedy of their history.
SA-SS General Adolf Heinz Beckerle
Adolf Heinz Beckerle was born on 02/04/1902 in Frankfurt am Main. From 1908 to 1921 he attended elementary school and later the Wöhler-Gymnasium in Frankfurt. He then enrolled in a study of economics and philosophy at the University of Frankfurt for one, and graduated in 1927 with the completion of a bachelor degree. Besides studying, he was temporarily from 1921 to 1922 in the Army. Beckerle interrupted his studies several times — from May 1925 to June 1926 he was a cadet of the Prussian police protection at the police school in Hannoversch Münden; other interruptions were caused by traveling abroad to North and South America, and activities in banks, as a nurse and in commercial and industrial occupations.
In 1922 he joined the "Association of Patriotic Soldiers"
and the "Wikingbund",
and briefly afterwards became member of the NSDAP (member number 7197). By the
end of his studies, he joined the SA as well on 09/01/1928 (membership number 80
983). On 04/24/1932 he was voted for the Nazi Party in the Prussian Parliament,
and instead he lay down the mandate and adopted a seat at the Reichstag where he
was leader of the Nazi Reich Federation for Physical Education.
With the transfer of power to the Nazi Party Beckerle was an interim police chief of Frankfurt from 14/09/1933. In connection with the "Röhm Putsch" in July 1934, he was relieved of his duties as Chief of Police for a short time. On 27 February 1935 he married Miss Silke Nobleman.
After the German invasion of Poland, Adolf Heinz Beckerle took over in October-November 1939 the function of the Chief of Police in the Polish city Lódz. In 1939 and 1940 he worked as a volunteer at the western front, from where he was discharged from the army as a lieutenant in the reserve.
Beckerle belonged together with Hanns Ludin and Manfred von Killinger to a group of higher SA leaders, who after the criticism of Hitler from a group of German professional diplomats in the South-East European countries were appointed by Foreign Minister Ribbentrop as envoys in that region. This SA-diplomats were used also as counterweight to the ambitions of a local leader of the Reich, SS Heinrich Himmler. Of his functions in Frankfurt Beckerle was released in February and from 28 June 1941 he was German ambassador in Sofia.
In the course of carrying out his new role Beckerle had a decisive influence on the deportation of thousands of people in the extermination camps. He reported, for example, on 07/06/1942 that the Bulgarian government generally refused deportation of their Jewish population as was in agreement with the Foreign Office. He then obtained by the undersecretary an order to the Bulgarian Government that any member of the Jewish population should be paid bounty of up to 250 marks on demand. The amount of the bounty was negotiable to the Bulgarian government, but the latter does not deter. It reacted initially evasive, as this segment of the population was still needed for repairs to roads. These made Beckerle to give a Bulgarian note from the German government in early November 1942, where it again was taking position on this issue officially.
Beginning of February 1943, he will discuss with the Bulgarian Prime Minister Bogdan Filov a British proposal to allow 5,000 Jewish children emigrate to Palestine. The Prime Minister replied: "[...] So that we have made bad experiences with Jews that were given the opportunity to emigrate, as countries against us will use that propaganda in the enemy lines." Later, Beckerle complained that the Bulgarian government was not completely opposed. After discussions, the government would initially agree to officially, but technical difficulties arose and then pretend to teach the children instead to expel in Palestine.
In June 1943, Beckerle reported on the issue of Jews in Bulgaria: "They are in the process of expulsion, but to the mentality of the Bulgarian people is so tied to the ideological education that at present it lacks association with us. Greeks, Gypsies and Armenians has inter-grown with Bulgarian Jews at our disadvantage, and special measures should be taken to justify their deportation. As the Bulgarian Jews belong mostly to artisan professions and often are in contrast to other workers, the Bulgarian government in my view is right when the issue should be approached from other points. The participation of Jews in terrorist attacks and their achsenfeindliche and communist activity are another viewpoints. Thus, it was predictable and was done consistently that the Jewish question should again be tightened. The technical difficulties, the relocation of Jews from Sofia, and perhaps the possibility of further deportations from the eastern regions are the most pendant questions of the moment."
By the end of August 1943 a solution to the Jewish question in Bulgaria was not dealt with. Beckerle reminded that at the same time no connections were made between the Final Solution and the military successes of the German Wehrmacht in total. Bulgaria should be a bad starting position in relation to the present map charting and the creation of enemies.
On 09/09/1944 Beckerle was captured at Svilengrad by Turkish officials while trying to retreat via shipping through the Bosporus. A large part of the Wehrmacht archive from South-East Balkans was captured with him. Beckerle was conveyed by the Allies to Red Army militaries and later sentenced by Soviet military court to 25 years hard labor. During his captivity, Beckerle was classified on 22/03/1950 by the Zentralspruchkammer denazification process in Hessen as "major offender". On 13/10/1955 he returned as one of the last German prisoners of war back to Germany and as received from the city of Frankfurt-am-Main a compensation of 6,000 DM.
From 1956 Beckerle worked as a clerk in Neu-Isenburg. In November 1966, Beckerle was arrested for his involvement in the deportation of Jews in Bulgaria. In the trial before the Frankfurt court, Beckerle was accused in the abduction and murder of 11,343 newly-Bulgarian Jews. The defender repeatedly called for a subpoena of the former Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger. The case against Beckerle was set off on 27 June 1968 because the defendant was afflicted by continuous seizures in the court room. The case against the co-accused former counselor at the Foreign Office Fritz Gebhardt von Hahn, however, was continued and ended on 18 August 1968 with a guilty verdict and the sentencing to eight years in prison.
Adolf Beckerle died from deteriorated health in 1976.
Addendum: Emphatically, the World War II years were definitive in shaping the outlook of the modern civilization. Within a whole generation the ill effects of the war couldn't be rubbed out. The post-war generations, to whom the author of these lines belong, were embezzled in network of lies and falsifications. They were made to believe that their fore-fathers had been dying for a cause embracing nothing more than patriotism and will to survive. However, the roots of war are much more complex and every effort to explain, in a cohesive manner, what happened 60 years ago would have been futile if modern politicians weren't aware of one simple fact — viz., "Beware dear people and do be sure that ancestors of the past global war are here among us. They are seldom satisfied and are looking for retributions. What is even more bothering should become the fact that the enemy today is more prepared, more knowledgeable and probably not so easy to succumb as Hitler did!"
After this abbreviation on war, we should continue our exposition on years 1941-1944 and try to give some soliciting explanations on what exactly happened in Bulgarian politics and how did it work out its path in the World War as satellite of big world powers. Expressly, we wish to declare that sources we have been using have little convertibility in international literature. Some important monographs, particularly in English language, have been difficult to access either because they were difficult to reach on the market or were excepted from circulation. So in this air of scarcity we were made to use local resources, happily some of them have been translated in English, and thus a landscape was drawn populated with heroes from the Great War (cf., for instance, the monographs from Sofia Press "Haim Oliver. We were saved. Sofia, 1988" and "Stoyan Rachev. Anglo-Bulgarian relations 1939-1944. Sofia, 1981").
Explicitly the Bulgarian historiography related the period under consideration in too ambiguous terms. There is not a well established authority or database that could give a reliable account on what happened in that monarchic-fascist state and how did it turned emblematically into a communist-dictatorial state. The memoirs of the former partisan functionaries are scattered and full of one-sided interpretations. The diplomatic archives of important political functionaries were plundered and sometimes falsified beyond recognition. Thus, besides the re-iterated truths on the Partisan Movement, on the Jewish Question and even on Bulgarian Diplomatic Relations, subsequently little informative narratives exist in toto. We present below some considerations based on personal dispatches:
— On the Jewish Question. A New York gazetteer from "Herald Tribune" called sometime the political maneuverings of reigning King Boris III of Bulgaria "moronic". These were not false accusations and the press from the time was filled with jargons of terms, such as "Huns", "marauders", "yellow", etc. Whether the Bulgarians felt themselves as part of the Axis coalition is a matter of speculation. The fact that there were about 25 000 German military troops located at different strategic objects in the country comes to negotiate for a pro-German solution. Yet specifically the Jewish Question in Bulgaria found itself at odds for a Final Solution. What happened after the deportation of approximately 50 000 Jews from neighbouring Vardar and Aegean Macedonia? (see above)
The exact chronology is difficult to corroborate, but these are some dates. On 22, 23 and 24 May 1943 there was a riot at the Jewish Ghetto in Sofia. This place was called "Yuchbunar Machala" and located in the south-west outskirts of the capital (today, "Zona B-5" district in Sofia). The population of Sofia Jewry then was around 25 000 people. Information leaked that those contingents should be subjected to "registration" and ultimately deported as was the fate of their kindred from the Macedonian lands. The able males and females, most of them affiliates to Bolshevik or Marxists communes, decided to resist instead of to present themselves with luggage on the appointed place. This was a signal for activating an enhanced gendarmerie mission in capital Sofia. Engaged were troops from the countryside to encircle the "Yuchbunar Machala", but the rebellion didn't subside. Arms were smuggled by sympathizers from the Bulgarian folks, skirmishes proceeded from roofs and cellars of the buildings. Gendarmeries became killed. King Boris fled to Chamkoria resort (albeit, he had already received ultimatum that if Jews were further maltreated, capital Sofia should be effectively bombarded by Anglo-American aircraft).
— On the Partisan Movement. These were a complex guerrilla phenomenon that appeared in Europe as response to the raising Fascism. From its beginning the Partisans were under three-tier command (hierarchically, instructions from the Comintern + advances of the Red Army + lend lease programme of the Allies by air). In Bulgaria, firstly the underground movement followed the models in Yugoslavia and Greece where two rival organizations struggled for guerilla mastery. On the Left were Partisans proper organized by the Communist Party (in BG, their full force became apparent by groupings as early as April 1943). On the Right were Chetniks organized by Army Radicals and IMRO Macedonians (in BG, these detachments were a priori illegal but some of them co-operated with Germans against the Partisans). As a rule, both Partisans and Chetniks participated in 9 September 1944 coup d'etat. Afterwards, General Damian Velchev and the Army Radicals were persecuted by the Red Army invasion. The Partisans remained sole dictators in the country.
— On the Bulgarian Diplomatic Relations. Involvement of Bulgaria in the Second World War was a diplomatic fiasco, but leading politicians couldn't comprehend this and were groping to the last for neutrality. King Boris died of "heart failure" on 28 August 1943. He was constantly afraid those last years by attacks from all sides and had become paranoiac. Though a hearty trencherman, the King could become downright gluttonous when necessary and shouldn't be accused blatantly. What was destined to calamity happened anyway. The destruction of capital Sofia by air-raids was imminent and what was done by Anglo-Americans from late 1943 to early 1944 could have been accomplished by the Luftwaffe in 1941. The Bulgarians didn't have an air escadrille and could give only a dog-fight in the Japanese manner. The Battle of Sofia was the only one that Bulgaria suffered in the years of World War II. Here is en-route of the dreadful 11th Air Borne Corps and British RAF (located in Brindizi, Bari and Foggia, Southern Italy), ~ Tirana - Ohrid - Veles - Kochani - Doupnitsa - Samokov - Kostenets, ditto.
Picture 1: Sample illustration on the text above.
(i). SA-SS General Adolf Heinz Beckerle — plenipotentiary ambassador of the Third Reich in Bulgaria (1941-1944).
Copyright © 2010 by the author.