Dimitar Peshev

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Wolfgang Thierse
Bundestag President
Berlin, March 21st 2000

Gabriele Nissim has written a fascinating book about the man who in 1943 saved 48,000 Bulgarian Jews from being deported to Auschwitz. This man, Dimitar Peshev, never regarded himself as a hero: anyone else in his position would have done what he did.
Once you've read Nissim's book however, you can't agree. Many other people could have helped but, because of fear or opportunism, failed to do so. Peshev's example shows that the crucial factor was the step from "could have" to actually taking action. This is still true today in relation to the threat to parliamentary democracy and, above all, human rights. The greatest danger is not saying, not seeing, propagating the myth that nothing was known about it and in any case nothing could have been done.

Peshev's story is also about the vital importance of not forgetting. It is a book that takes a stand against the communists' false representations of history after '45. As in an Orwellian world they invented their own myth of the saviour. But above all this book is a tirade endorsing the responsibility of each and every individual and, first and foremost, every democratically elected member of a deliberative assembly. In his clearly written and comprehensible account, Nissim knows how to differentiate historically. He does not raise Peshev to the status of saint but very convincingly demonstrates how, at the beginning, Peshev had illusions and made mistakes. Only with the expropriation of the Jews did he start to think. When his Jewish friends told him what was happening, he acted decisively. He thus managed to save the Jews already standing in front of trains ready to transport them to Auschwitz. A particular merit attributable to Peshev is that he realized his success at that point was only partial. And so he brought the case before parliament and did everything to publicize the deportation.

In the history of the Nazis' persecution of the Jews in Germany too there are episodes - for example, the case of the women of the Rosenstrasse - in which individuals attempted to offer resistance, and succeeded. Peshev's courageous stand encouraged other politicians, intellectuals and prelates to make their protests public. This led to first the suspension and then the revocation of the deportation order. Gabriele Nissim's book admits that nobody succeeded (and no determined effort was made) to save the 12,000 Jews of Thrace and Macedonia, who practically all died at Auschwitz.
What makes Nissim's book so striking is the differentiated and frank way it relates these historical facts. And it is also worth reading for its account of Peshev's life under communism, the life of a silent hero mourned, on his death, by only a handful of people.
Only with the end of communism and the changes in Europe did the truth emerge. In Israel and Bulgaria in recent years Peshev's merits have been acknowledged. And the Bulgarian parliament is commemorating its former vice-president by publishing the Bulgarian version of the book.
Now a German translation means that German readers too can learn about the very interesting period of Bulgarian history from World War One to the end of communism, and particularly about Peshev's special role in it. Which is why I was only too glad to accept my colleague Sokolov's request that I present this book and lend it the authority of my office.

For each one of us, and not only deputies and politicians, Peshev sets an important example: no-one should ever turn a blind eye if, in present-day society, racial discrimination, hatred and violence are supported and practised. Peshev explained the reasons that led to his initiative with these words: "Silence would have been against my conscience and my sense of responsibility as a deputy and a man".
This sums up all there is to say.
Let us hope Peshev's courage is extensively emulated, especially in the face of the attempts made every day to discriminate against minorities.
And I hope this book will have many German readers.
Few books tell us so effectively about the mechanisms of crimes against humanity, but also about each individual's possibilities of taking determined action to oppose them.

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