Bulgarians weren’t such Holocaust heroes

Every time Shaul Gattenyo passes the corner of Hanoch Albek Street and Hebron Road in Jerusalem, he gets angry.

The 76-year old Holocaust survivor is deeply upset by a memorial, erected by the city, with an inscription that reads: “Pride and Glory to the Bulgarian people for saving the jews of Bulgaria during the Shoah.”

Gattenyo gets especially riled up at this time of the year, because it was on March 11 in 1943 that Bulgaria, allied with Nazi Germany and occupying Macedonia, herded the Jews of Macedonia into a tobacco factory warehouse in Skopje and sent all 7,200 of them to Treblinka in three trainloads.

“My parents and grandparents who were rounded up by Bulgarian police were among those murdered in Treblinka,” explains Gattenyo. “I was two and half years old at the time and was saved by my Slovenian nanny, Zora Piculin, who has been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. She hid me in a monastery.”

Gattenyo insists that, while it is true the Bulgarians did not deport the Jews from Bulgaria proper, they do not deserve a blanket stamp of approval for their conduct. What he and other Macedonian Jewish families would like to see, says Gattenyo, is an adjacent plaque acknowledging the fate of the Macedonian Jews. He has sent letters of protest to Mayor Nir Barkat, President Rivlin, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Minister Gila Gamliel and Avner Shalev chairman of Yad Vashem.

Gattenyo said Shalev had been the only one to reply sympathetically, but that “so far, President Rivlin, Prime Minister Netanyahu and minister Gila Gamliel haven’t even bothered to answer my letters, sent long time ago.” Mayor Barkat responded, but rebuffed Gettenyo’s request. “The Bulgarians deserve the honor,” Barkat said, “and we will not remove the memorial.”

“But Barkat didn’t mention anything about what happened to the Jews of Macedonia,” adds Gattenyo.

Gattenyo is a retired math teacher and one of the last survivors. “I don’t think we are asking for too much,” he sighs. “I think our community deserves the acknowledgement.”

About the Author
Bernard Dichek is the director of The Kalusz I Thought I Knew