In World War II Bulgaria fought within the framework of the Axis Powers and alongside Nazi Germany, and indeed its Army participate in the German Offensive on Yugoslavia and Greece (beginning in 1941). In return, this Country was even rewarded with territories of Thrace, Macedonia and Serbia (the vision of a “Great Bulgaria”). It declared war on Britain and the United States but did not do so against the Soviet Union; nor did it send its Army against the Soviet Union after the German invasion of that Country, that as a gesture to the Soviets for their assistance in liberating Bulgaria in 1878.
Underground activity in Bulgaria was quite limited until 1944. A number of Communist activists were snuck into the Country and attempted to organize resistance there, though they were soon caught. By the spring of 1944, Bulgaria had an active Underground that numbered approximately 18,000 Partisans. It was organized in 11 Brigades that included, apart from Communist Party comrades, members of other Parties and Bodies as well, and all were united together within the framework of the “Homeland Front”. In September, 1944, the Underground, led by the Communists, executed a Coup and took control of the Government, as Soviet Forces were entering the Country’s territory. At this stage Bulgaria joined the war against Germany. Its Armed Forces, 3 Armies strong, moved west, and, under the command of the Soviet Army, participated in the liberation of the Balkans, Hungary (where they had fierce battles with the Germans) and Austria.
The (Communist) Bulgarian Underground contributed greatly to the rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews. More than 60,000 Jews were living in Bulgaria on the eve of the war, about 1% of the general population. The rapprochement between Bulgaria and Germany immediately affected the fate of Jews who lived in Bulgaria. In accordance with German demands, the pro-German Bulgarian Government enacted discriminatory laws, which were aimed at limiting the rights and activities of Jews in this Country. There was opposition to that in public opinion, which included the Orthodox Church. They protested the move, but on the other hand there were also Bodies who supported it.
On 21 January 1941, the Bulgarian Parliament passed these laws, which were based on the German Nuremberg Laws. Beginning in 1941, all Jewish men aged 20 to 40 were called to serve in special “Labor Battalions” that turned into forced labor in Concentration Camps. The enforcement of these laws started in 1942, and in 1943, conforming to an agreement signed between Bulgaria and the Germans (Eichmann’s representative), began the process of deporting Jews. Overall, about 11,400 Jews were banished to the Treblinka Camp, primarily from those territories in Thrace, Macedonia and Serbia that had been annexed to Bulgaria; additionally, some 20,000 Jews from Bulgaria’s Capital, Sofia, were expelled to provincial towns. It should be noted that in consequence of Italy’s surrender and the Germans weakening, most of Bulgaria’s Jews survived. Also, not a few rescue missions were conducted by means of agents and clandestine immigrant (“Ma’apilim”) ships through Turkey and Romania.
The more the Nazi terror in Bulgaria intensified, the more prevalent the conditions for resistance and self-defense became. A general Partisan movement emerged.
A large segment of the Jewish youth that had been educated in Zionist Youth Movements and a smaller segment of it that had received Communist education joined the Partisans. From 1940 until the liberation of Bulgaria by the Soviet Army, on 9 September 1944, 260 Jews volunteered to join Partisan Groups and fought in their ranks against the Fascist Gendarmerie. In those Battles, 125 of them were killed.