In today’s Bulgaria there are at least two national monuments to “victims of communism” as well as a memorial website. In addition, there is an official Day of Homage and Gratitude to the Victims of the Communist Regime. It turns out that many of these victims were Nazi collaborators, including officials who facilitated the mass deportation of Jews to their deaths.
Kristen Ghodsee, an American anthropologist who has done extensive research in post-communist Bulgaria, has exposed this fraudulent “blackwashing” of communist history. Glorification of these Nazi “victims of communism” is a perfect laboratory specimen example of the anticommunist Black Legend I am writing a book about.
The Day of Homage and Gratitude marks the date—February 1, 1945—when the Bulgarian People’s Court condemned to death over a hundred former political and military figures who had been active in the Nazi collaborationist Bulgarian monarchy during World War Two. Who were these people?
According to Ghodsee:
Many of these “victims” cut off the heads of the [anti-Nazi] partisans, . . . shoved pikes up their severed necks, and mounted them in the village squares. Some of these men ordered the burning of houses, the rapes, the torture, and the indiscriminate murders of peasants and anyone who questioned the absolute authority of the king.
But this is hardly the worst of it. Many of these “victims” supported and assisted the genocidal crimes of their Nazi allies:
- Bogdan Filov was prime minister from 1940 to 1943. He was “a passionate and committed ally of Hitler.” His government stripped Bulgarian Jews of their civil rights. Although Bulgarian Jews were not handed over to the Nazis, his government actively helped in deporting 11,000 Greek and Macedonian Jews to the Treblinka death camp. Today he is an innocent victim.
- Petr Grabovski was minister of the interior under Filov. He was a virulent anti-Semite and personally signed the warrants for the deportation of Jews. Today he is an innocent victim.
- Aleksandr Belev was chairman of the Commissariat of Jewish Affairs, charged with implementing racial purity in Bulgaria. He helped arrange the trains needed to deport Jews to Treblinka. Today he is an innocent victim.
- General Nikola Zhekov was a personal friend of Hitler. He fled Bulgaria ahead of the Red Army. Sentenced to death in absentia, he died peacefully in Germany at the age of 84. He is listed today as an innocent victim and his name appears on the memorial wall.
The people sentenced to death by the People’s Court after World War Two were members of the Bulgarian King’s Nazi-allied government who had been convicted of serious crimes. Today they are memorialized as innocent victims of communism.
As Ghodsee reminds us: “Bulgaria was not a nice little parliamentary democracy before 1944. It was a petty Balkan dictatorship that brooked no political dissent and ruthlessly persecuted dissidents.” It was an Axis power, aligned with Nazi Germany. The Bulgarian King made this alliance in hopes of picking up neighboring territories in Greece and Macedonian. It was from these territories that the Bulgarian state deported Jews to be exterminated.
The post-communist regimes in Eastern Europe are keen to legitimize themselves by defaming communism. After all, they have little recourse. The consequences of the demise of communism has been bad for most people: poverty, unemployment, insecurity. Indeed, economic crisis and decline now characterizes much of the capitalist world. To many people in Eastern Europe the old communist regimes look good by comparison. Thus the need to incessantly remind people of the evils of communism.
It seems to me there is a certain desperation in these memorials. Why the need to establish a Day of Homage and Gratitude—gratitude!—to Nazi collaborators and Jew-killers? Can’t they find anyone else?
- Ghodsee, Kristen. The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe. Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2015.
- Ghodsee, Kristen. “Blackwashing History.” Anthropology News, 2003. http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/kristenghodsee/files/blackwashing_history.pdf.