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Victor Baruh

On 24th May [15] there was a spontaneous Jewish protest and the Laborers' Party came to help us [UYW] [16]. But in fact everything was spontaneous. Rabbi Daniel Zion wasn't liked by the other rabbis, went to Exarch Stefan [17] and explained everything to him. At the official public prayer on the occasion of 24th May where the tsar was present, the exarch told him, or is reported to have said, 'Boris, thou shall not chase, in order to be left unchased.' These words are from the Bible. Thousands of people gathered in the yard of the Iuchbunar synagogue [a Sephardi synagogue at the corner of Klementina boulevard and Osogovo street, demolished during the Communist rule; the Central Synagogue is located at the corner of Exarch Yosif and George Washington streets]. The Rabbi came, made a speech to calm down the crowd and the people went on a march along Osogovo Street and Klementina [now Alexandar Stamboliiski boulevard] and finally stopped at Vazrazhdane Square. The policemen encountered us there and began to run after the protesters and beat them.

I remember that a young man took a flag off a green wooden fence and walked with it at the head of the procession. When the writer Dragomir Assenov [pen name of Jacques Nisim Melamed - a famous Bulgarian writer (1926-1981)] read this in my novel 'Beyond the Law', he said, 'That was me'. A great number of protesters were arrested. We were hiding for a couple of hours next to St. Peter and Paul church and all the people who were arrested on that day were driven to a camp in Somovit on the bank of the Danube. This camp was established as a direct response to this incident. The plan was to disperse the compact Jewish population, to drive them to the Danube and then to send them to Poland and Germany. This demonstration compelled the Committee to put off the internment of the Jews from Sofia till the beginning of June. It was said that the tsar interfered.
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Regina Grinberg

As the war went on, I became increasingly restless. I just could not stand still. I had to do something. I was ready to go to the battlefront or become a partisan, even going so far as to prepare my luggage. Six of us - all girls - decided to go to the Balkan as partisans, but the leader of the Shumen garrison, who was a brother of one of the girls, laughed at us and said that the partisan war was not for women.
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ester josifova

There was a great demonstration in Sofia on 24th May 1943 [7] against the politics of repressions against Jews and, most of all, against the decision according to which Jews were interned from their homes. A large group of Bulgarians - workers, students, doctors and lawyers - went out to demonstrate their support for Bulgarian Jews. The Jewish youth also took part in that demonstration. I recall that mounted police came from Sofronii Vrachanski and Tzar Simeon Streets and chased the demonstrators away using force. It was very scary and many people were arrested.
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Matilda Israel

We were still there when 9th September 1944 [10] came around and we were allowed to take off our stars. On 8th September, we waited for the Russian army. On their arrival, they managed to convince the military police force to surrender without a fight. The whole village was at the square. They welcomed the soldiers with fruit and bread. My husband was even mayor of the town for 48 hours. He was a respectable person in Strazhitsa as a doctor who helped the underground antifascist movement between the years 1941-1944. After the antifascists took control he was asked to be the mayor of the town until the official elections could be organized.
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David Elazarov

what was important was that I became a partisan. I remember the date - 2nd June 1943 and the squad - 'Chavdar'. I was leader of one unit until 9th September 1944 [14].

At first we made big dugouts to store our food there. But when snow fell, we were blocked, because our every step could be seen. Snow made all our efforts pointless. So, we decided to disperse in smaller groups. We formed groups of three, four and five men. And we hid in the village houses, because the villagers turned out to be our best allies. They suffered a lot from the repression measures aiming to supply Germany with everything necessary. So, they helped us a lot.

I myself didn't experience the Holocaust directly, because I was outside the law: for the most part I was a partisan, so I never wore even a yellow star. But I was worried most for my mother, who was interned to Vratsa [north-west Bulgaria]. From time to time I went secretly to see her. She lived with a Jewish family who had sheltered her. We received aid from the English for the resistance and I could help her.

What was interesting was that while I was a partisan and when we made ambushes for the police, the people in the villages welcomed us as winners, as saviors.
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Renée Molho

We arrived in Athens and went to a house in Magoufana, a suburb of Athens - Lefki today - a house offered to us by a monk from Mount Athos. The area was full of small farms, and this monk was coming every week, and we would open all the doors as he would pray, so that the entire neighborhood would listen. Once an airplane passed close by and I said to Matilde, 'Adio, Mary look!' You see, we were very easy to be spotted by someone who was after us.

At this place at Magoufana we were not alone. There was also Toto and two of his sisters. One of them was later deported and never came back, the other one married a Christian called Mikes, a member of the yachting club, and his children still live here in Thessaloniki. Toto also had another sister who had a slight mental disability and was not with us in Athens. She was also deported and never came back.

We stayed at Magoufana for quite some time. We were washing the sheets by hand and our hands would bleed, and when this priest saw the condition of our hands, he told us how to wash 'cloth against cloth' and how to tumble it. We would start at one end and fight our way to the other. In a minute he showed us how to do it, and it was simple.

This priest was called Father Kissarios. He would come to visit us every week at this little house, in Magoufana, with the farm and the vines. We were left with no money, and later it was Paul Noah who paid my share to the partisans. I suppose that this house in Magoufana must also have been paid for, but I don't know by whom.

Normally we would walk from Magoufana to Kifissia, a distance of approximately 13 kilometers. In order to purchase medicine for our father. We would walk in the dark, in the loneliness, with dogs barking and no papers, but at the pharmacy they would give us what we asked for.

The only outside contact we had was Elios, my cousin, who was hidden in a room on 3rd September Street with his mother, our aunt Rachelle. Later, when they left for Israel, we lost contact for a while.

It was quite lonely in Magoufana, so when Elios and Aunt Rachelle left for Israel we decided to go to Athens, to their place on 3rd September Street, which now was empty. First, our sick father was taken and the rest of us walked for a whole night from Magoufana to Athens. Thank God we had no unfortunate adventure, but we were walking all night, and it's a long walk!

So we stayed in Athens with our father. In the room we had a big container where our father could sit and make, whatever it was he had to make, and then, he was moved to an armchair, from the armchair to his container and back. It wasn't easy. We, the three sisters, were using the house toilet, which belonged to another family but I cannot recall their name.

One night a group of traitors came with the Germans, a quisling Jew and three Germans, to arrest Elios, who was living there before us. They didn't find him but they found us, who were Spanish citizens. At this time they had already deported all the Spanish citizens, and when they realized the situation that we were facing with the sickness of our father, they decided to take the two girls and leave one behind so she could take care of him.

Since I was the one with more patience in dealing with our father, I was left alone in taking care of him, and my sisters were taken away. They said they were taking them to check our papers etc but they didn't say where. During those moments you cannot think or feel. You are faced with fate, you live an accomplished act, and there is nothing you can do. I was left with the impression that my sisters would return but instead of that, after a short visit to the Gestapo, they were held in the military barracks at Haidari [18], a prison for all kind of people. This I learned, of course, only after the end of the war.
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Linka Isaeva

We stayed in Sliven until December 1944. We went through the hardest moments there in 1943, when my father received a notice that he should show up with some 50 kilos of luggage at the school. The letter was from 8th March 1943, and the date appointed for showing up was 3pm on 10th March. We all knew that it meant internment or even deportation. We also knew that the lists of women and children were in the municipality, and they were about to be announced. I was a member of the underground UYW. I discussed the possibility of not showing up with my fellow members but finding a connection with the partisans instead and joining them in the Balkan Mountains. But as we were very young and lacked experience - I was only 17 - they weren't very interested to accept us because we might have become a burden to them.

Anyway, nothing happened. In the last moment, at 11am on 10th March, the abrogation of the internment came [on 24th May 1943] [15] and we were informed that no one had to show up.
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Mazal Asael

The situation changed and the guerrillas started to chase their
persecutors, mostly the so-called "desperados" who were famous for their
cruelty to guerrillas. The desperados had been authorized to persecute and
kill the guerrillas in Bulgaria. Many guerrillas had been executed in 1943
and 1944. We established the people's rule everywhere we went. Local people
knew their persecutors and the people who had maltreated them. All the Jews
in the squad, however, were from Sofia.
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I joined the Hristo Mihailov guerrilla squad in August 1944 together with
35 people from the town. All our actions were strictly organised and
disciplined because the authorities were after us and we lived underground.
We had leaders who decided who was suitable to join the squad. We went 40
kilometers during the first night after we joined the squad and crossed the
Serbian border. The police were chasing us the whole way. We met the local
guerrillas there - our squad was in touch with them all the time. On
September 5 we learned that the Soviet army was near the Danube and was
about to enter Bulgarian territory. Then we came back to Bulgaria. We
passed through the town of Ferdinand and on September 8-9 we were in
Berkovitza and we established the government of the Fatherland Front there.
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Bina Dekalo

In the meantime, after the Law for the Protection of the Nation was passed in 1939, we were given badges and a signboard with a yellow star was put on the door of our house. The situation of the Jews grew worse. At first we were registered in the municipality. There the clerks treated us very badly. They created a commissariat for the Jewish issue and a plan for our deportation to Poland. When we heard that, my Jewish friends and I went to the Turkish mosque, because we planned to accept the Islam religion and save ourselves. This was a stupid decision and of course the imam dissuaded us. The authorities had issued an order that Jews shouldn't go out after 9pm, but the Bulgarians helped us and we could walk more freely. The commissariat decided to send the men to labor camps [see forced labor camps in Bulgaria] [10]. There was also one group who were sent to a prisoner's camp in Kaylaka near Pleven. The building of this camp was set on fire and some people burned to death, while others managed to save themselves.
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There was an illegal communist organization in Haskovo. I was in touch with this organization. I started meeting members of this organization, because I sympathized with the communist ideas. There were many Jews in the illegal communist organizations at that time. I remember that the police caught one member of our organization and after they beat him up, he told them the names of most members. He omitted only my name. There was a trial and sentences. There was one Jew from Plovdiv, who was killed without a trial and sentence. Others were sentenced to life imprisonment. But they were released the same year, because 9th September 1944 [12] came. Others saved themselves by escaping to the partisan squads. On 9th September 1944 they came down from the mountain and were welcomed with flowers.
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My second husband was born in Bourgas. He joined the Union of Young Workers [UYW] [14] at an early age. His whole family was very poor and they were all communists. My husband was in prison because of his anti-fascist activities in the 1940s. After 9th September 1944 he was released. Afterwards he returned for a short time to Bourgas and then came to Sofia. We met in Sofia and we married. We rented a small apartment on Ekzarh Yosif Street in the center of the town.
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Gracia Albuhaire

I remember once a blockade. The authorities were chasing a Jew, who hid in a hencoop in a Jewish house in the highest part of the town. Later he joined the partisans. And I recall another blockade as well. A friend of mine came to me and told me to destroy anything suspicious that I had. At that time I was corresponding in Esperanto with a teacher from the countryside. I wanted to practice and learn the language. I also had a book at home with a story about a sailing boat with some 300 Jews, leaving for Israel, which sank. In that book I had made a note, which said that the Gestapo or the police had a hand in that affair of killing so many Jews. [Editor's note: The interviewee is referring to to the tragedy of a sailing boat with Bulgarian Jews aboard, which left for Israel from the Bulgarian coast in 1941 and sank in the Black Sea.] I threw both the letters and the book into the stove.
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Lea Beraha

I took part in the protest on 24th May 1943 [12] against the internment of Jews. Now they don't admit that the protest was under the leadership of the Communist Party, but we took part in it and we did and do know who led us. Heading the group were the communist leaders of Hashomer Hatzair - Vulka Goranova, Beti Danon - and our rabbi who wasn't a communist but he was a 'progressive' and conscientious man. The smallest children were also walking in front. We, the older ones, were carrying posters and chanting slogans. We had almost reached the Geshev pharmacy between Strandja and Father Paissiy Streets, where horsemen and legionaries [see Bulgarian Legions] [13] were waiting for us, when a big fight started.

They beat us up badly. We hid in the yards like ants. I lost my father and my little sister. I hid in the yard of an aunt of mine, though I held my peace because I didn't want her to be harmed in case of an eventual arrest. My father and my sister went home. When my father saw that I hadn't come home, he went out to search for me. I was two crossings away from home and I saw how they arrested him. I didn't dare to shout out because if they had arrested me too, there wouldn't have been anyone left to take care of my mother and the family. From the police station they took him straight to Somovit labor camp. They interned him without clothes, without food...

When he came back, he told us horrible things. Their daily food ration was 50 grams of bread only. A compatriot of ours, a Zionist and very hostile to 'progressive' people, slandered my father on being a communist. As a result the portions of my father and some other people were shortened to the minimum. My father used to dig in the garbage for scraps of food. He ate potato peels. He was set free at the time of the Bagrianov government. [This government was in office between 1 June - 2 September 1944.] He looked like death warmed up. He didn't even have enough energy to climb the stairs and was shouting from below. My mother and I carried him to the first floor. That was already in Sofia, after the internment.
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My future husband, Leon Beraha, was redirected to our group as a more experienced UYW member. At the age of 15 I carried out my first action with him, and at 16 we decided to be a couple. For three or four years we were only holding hands. In Iuchbunar [10] there was a conspiracy, a traitor within our organization and a lot of members were imprisoned. My future husband was also arrested. He simulated that he was an imbecile, he was released as an underdeveloped person and was acquitted for lack of evidence.

His second arrest was a more serious one. In fascist times [in the late 1930s - early 1940s] he worked as an electrician. At that time the newspapers wrote about the Totleben conspiracy. The gang of Totleben bandits was raging, etc. My husband and his brother electrified a hospital. In an outhouse behind that hospital they hid two outlaws. Actually the conspiracy was called this way because the hospital was on Totleben Street in Sofia. During a police action a shooting started. Anyway, the authorities never proved that it was my husband who had shot. Yet, all this resulted in his internment to the forced labor camp [11] in Dupnitsa. They dug trenches there. By a 'happy' coincidence my family was also interned to Dupnitsa.
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