Dimitar Peshev

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Dan Tikhon
Speaker of the Knesset of lsrael
at the solemn celebration of Dimitar Peshev
Sofia, November 6th 1998

My dear President of the National Assembly, distinguished ladies and gentlemen Members of Parliament, dear members of the family of Dimitar Peshev, dear representatives of the Italian Parliament, Your Excellency the Ambassador of lsrael, Mr. Mosek, Mr. Kaio, Mr. Kalev, Mr. Hananel, members of the lsraeli Delegation, members of the Association for Friendship between Bulgaria and lsrael, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I was delighted to accept your invitation to come here to Sofia, your capital city, and to deliver an address bere in your parliament whlch is a concrete symbol of the strong democracy you are building here in Bulgaria.

I would like to avail of this opportunity and to extend my congratulations to Mr. Gabriele Nissim and Gabriele Eshkenazi for their book 'The Man who Stopped Hitler' or 'The Hidden Jews'. This book reveals the great contribution for the salvation of the Bulgarian Jews during the Holocaust.

This visit in Bulgaria is a very moving experience for me. Over the years, I have met many of the Jews of Bulgaria who live in the State of lsrael and have come to know them as a rare splendid group. Ninety percent of the Jewish population of Bulgaria immigrated to lsrael during the first two years of the State.

They settled down well and reached the highest ranks of society and the economy. They have left their marks in industry, trade, medicine and agriculture and sport.

I have come here from Jerusalem, the capital of lsrael, as the representative of the Knesset, to pay our respeets and to fulfil a moral debt to a former member of your parliament, Deputy Speaker Dimitar Peshev.

For some of the representatives in your parliament, this special session may seem like a journey into the dark days of the past, the period of the Second World War. However, this event is not intended merely for the members of the generation which went through the horrors of the war and who still carry the scars to this very day.

We are gathered here so that the generation which was born after the war will know what happened and will understand one of the most difficult periods in history, not only for Bulgaria, but of all humanity.

The forty-eight thousand Jews of Bulgaria survived due to the actions of the brave statesman, Dimitar Peshev. Dimitar Peshev belongs to that small group of very special people whom we call 'The Righteous among the Nations'. He was one of those who were able to suppress their own personal fear and to reach the highest levels of humanity - following the dictates of his conscience.

All his life, Dimitar Peshev belleved in the Jewish People, convinced that everything must be done to save them. He was never ashamed of his warmth towards the Jews and never tried to deny it. It was for him both a political principal and a philosophy.

There was a pro-Nazi regime in Bulgaria during the Second World War and so it was only a question of time before the Nazis began sending transports of Jews to the crematoria. It was not easy to oppose this regime's anti-Semitic policy. During those terrible times, when the Germans and their many collaborators in Europe were working to exterminate the Jewish People, Peshev did everything he could to help save the Jews from death. Peshev's deep involvement in the rescue of the Jews of Bulgaria grew on fertile ground. There was never anti-Semitism in Bulgaria as there was in other countries of Eastern Europe. The Jews were part of the fabric of Bulgarian life.

In March 1943, representatives of the Jewish community reported to Peshev on the government's plans to band over the Jews to the Germans for deportation to Poland. Peshev began an effort to prevent the execution of the plan, and the Interior Minister did indeed cancel the deportation order. The parliamentary majority condemned Dimitar Peshev and removed him from his position as deputy speaker of the House.

The danger was not yet over. As German pressure continued to increase, the government began to weaken and Peshev had to make repeated efforts to prevent the deportation. The fate of the Jews of Macedonia and Thrace, which were then under Bulgarian rule, was tragic. They were sent in transports in terribly overcrowded horse wagons to the death camp at Auschwitz.

The long nightmare came to an end in September, 1944 when the Germans retreated.

I must mention that the rescue programs would never have succeeded without the support of large sections of the population. The Bulgarian people have always been a humane nation, untainted by anti-Semitism.

In the sea of tears of the holocaust, the chapter of the Jews of Bulgaria is a ray of light. This ceremony today is the payment of a debt, the fulfilment of a promise, the expression of gratitude and appreciation for Dimitar Peshev and Peopie of Bulgaria.

It is said in our Talmud: 'Anyone who saves a single soul ... it is as though he saved a whole world'. Dimitar Peshev, who saved so many individual souls, also saved many worlds and for this we thank him. Only a person who has been hunted like an animal, facing danger every day and every hour, only a person for whom no door was opened, only he can truly appreciate what it means when one person is willing to risk life on behalf of another.

Hanna Senesh, was a young Jewish woman of Hungarian origin who left Palestine to parachute into wartime Hungary to help Jews there. Shortly before she was caught and executed by the Nazis, she wrote the following poem:

   'In the fires of war, in the blaze, in the flames,
   During stormy days of bloodshed,
   I light my small torch and I search,
   Search for someone who is human.'

Dimitri Peshev was that someone.

Other speeches at the celebration:
• Yordan Sokolov (introduction)
• Ivan Kurtev
• Alexander Bozhkov (reading a message from Ivan Kostov)
• Ivan Kurtev (reading letters from Colombo and Yasharov)
• Gabriele Nissim
• Yossif Kioso
• Dario Rivolta
• Nando Dalla Chiesa
• Pierluigi Petrini
• Yordan Sokolov (conclusion)

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