Monday, January 30, 2017

Bulgaria versus Hitler

1. Quite a coincidence. National Holocaust Day on Friday. Refugee ban the same day. Bulgaria and the Holocaust in the reading today.

This week we read chapter three of The Lemon Tree for the Monday reading group. It is the true story of a Jewish and Palestinian family whose lives intersected in a house in al-Ramla in Israel. The title of the book refers to a lemon tree in a yard there, planted by the Palestinian family and then later in the yard of the Jewish family. It's complicated.

2. Bulgarian Jews were spared the Treblinka death camp because of what Sandy Tolan calls, "the fragility of goodness" (43). Individuals who were part of the fascist regime had these fragile moments of goodness where they leaked out the deportation plans. The Orthodox bishop of Bulgaria did not just go along with the deportation like the Catholic Church of Germany. Non-Jews maneuvered their way to the capital of Sofia to see complicit officials who nevertheless could see the inhumanity of what was coming.

Under pressure and seeing the winds change in Russia, the king and parliament procrastinated the deportation. They just expelled Jews from the capital. They had already managed to get some leeway with Hitler by uncomfortably joining the Axis powers. They cooperated in the killing of the Jews in Macedonia and Thrace, few if any survived. But the thin line of humanity held in Bulgaria.

Otherwise the Jewish family who came to occupy that house in al-Ramla would never have lived to see Israel.

3. There were a couple historical matters in the chapter that I found striking:
  • The Bulgarian Jews largely descended from Jews expelled from Spain when the Christians expelled them in 1492. The Ottoman Turks at that time welcomed them: "They say that Ferdinand of Spain is a wise man, but he is a fool. He takes his treasure and sends them to me" (29). So often have those nations willing to take in refugees gained some of their most loyal citizens, who have then enriched those countries with their talents.
  • Bulgaria had passed a "Law for the Defense of the Nation," a completely cooked up law that put Jews in their place in the name of protecting the true citizens of Bulgaria. If you ever see a law like this coming down the pike in America, remember your history. It would take the form of, "We need to protect ourselves from these x, y, or z. Therefore, we are going to make them register and we're going to watch these dangerous people, restrict these people."
Perhaps I will back-blog the first two chapters of the book.

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