One day in 1995 while I was finishing my book Ebrei Invisibili ("Invisible Jews") in the library of Yad Vashem - the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem - I met a distinguished Bulgarian gentleman who told me that if he was still alive it was thanks to a man called Dimitar Peshev.
Bulgaria was the only country in East Europe where the Jews had been saved. Something similar had happened in Denmark only. However a great deal of lies went on about the dynamics of that particular rescue.
Both curious and puzzled, I began to make inquiries about this mysterious gentleman who had been, I soon learned, Minister of Justice in 1936 and later Vice-Chairman in the Bulgarian Parliament from 1939 to 1943. Nothing was known about him in the West.
MET HIS NIECES
in Sofia who finally began telling me his story: their uncle had lived
with them for twenty-five years after having miraculously escaped a death
sentence in 1945 when the newly-born Communist Regime had set up the dreadful
trials against the deputees of the old Bulgarian Parliament.
Their uncle had avoided talking about his political past for years, in order to keep his nieces out of troubles with the communists. Around 1968, however, a lady-officer of the Party, Vassilka Damianova, payed him a visit, and invited Peshev to write down his memories, that were to be kept in Sofia's State Archives.
Peshev knew too well indeed that nobody would have ever read his work, as he was living in the most stalinist country in East Europe. He made up his mind, however, and decided to "take advantage" of this unexpected opportunity to leave a remembrance of his life (which was to come to an end in 1972).
TRACKED DOWN the archivist and succeeded in making her give
over to me all Peshev's notes she had. Moreover she told me all she knew
about that old gentleman who had charmed her when she met him in his house
for the first time.
His nieces, in their turn, gave me the part of those memories which were prudently hidden from the archivist, since they described the period of the Communist Regime, and in particular the trial Peshev was submitted to in 1944, after the arrival of the Red Army.
I was greatly impressed by that memoir and thus began my endless wandering among the archives of the Ministry of the Interior in Sofia. Everything was made harder because Bulgaria was still governed by the ex-communists who had no willingness to make their misdemeanours known.
I also began to look for all the people who were still alive and had personally known Peshev, going from Israel (to which the majority of the Bulgarian Jews had emigrated) to Bulgaria, and from Bulgaria to the United States, in a real effort to fight against time, since those people were for the most part over eighty, and quite a few among Peshev's friends had already passed out.
BEGAN THE FIRST DRAFT of my book on Dimitar Peshev. I found
out that his life could be defined a "modern tale". A tale that
the philosopher Hannah
Arendt would have loved, since she was the one that during
the Eichmann trial had raised the question on the Banality of Evil:
could it have been possible for a Nazi sympathiser who was completely
plunged into that particular climate, to be able to think on his own and
thus take an autonomous and different decision that could even change
the course of history? Peshev had succedeed in that.
So I ran through the stages of his life. The value of this story is contained in its faithful reconstruction.
STORY has been hidden by the Bulgarian Communist Party for
all these years in the attempt to demonstrate that they were the real
protagonists of the rescue of the Jews. This mystification was largely
supported by the Communist Jews themselves, who did not leave Bulgaria
and who never remembered Peshev. On the contrary, they have backed up
the regime's interpretation.
Only now, after so many years of silence, Sofia remembers Peshev. My book on him, which is entitled L'uomo che fermò Hitler ("The Man who Stopped Hitler"), was published in September 1998.
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