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David Elazarov

Because of our financial state, my parents' political inclinations were directed to the center and a little bit to the left. But more to the center, I think. I don't think they had clear political views. They weren't members of any party or organization. We didn't talk about politics at home, except when the military fascist coup took place in 1923 [7], but I was too young at that time and I don't remember much about it. I only remember them talking about it later. Yet, there were three or four political events that I will never forget.
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I also remember 1934 and Kimon Georgiev [After a coup d'etat on 19th May 1934 a government was formed by representatives of the Military Union and the 'Zveno' (literally 'a team': a former Bulgarian middle-class party) circle, led by Kimon Georgiev [9]. The ruling circles rejected both liberalism and bourgeois democracy, as well as the Marxist doctrine. As a result all political parties in Bulgaria were banned, which led to the monocracy of King Boris III. The economic policy was dominated by the state.]. There was panic. Everybody commented Hitler's coming to power. As if we understood what would happen to us. We suspected that the Jewish people would be killed, that 'the Jewish question will be solved once and for all', as Hitler said. We sensed that a new world war was coming and we knew that Bulgaria as a small country would be involved in it, taking into account that fascism already had roots here.
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Mazal Asael

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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Lea Beraha

Unfortunately I don't know how my father and my mother actually met. After the events of 1923 [2], in which my father took part, he returned to Lom - I don't know where from - with my mother, whom he was already married to. They settled in the village of Vodniantsi. With his little savings my father bought a small shop - a grocery-haberdashery. My mother told me that they were quite well off at that time. Because of his active participation in the events of 1923, my father was arrested. Then some villagers robbed both the household and the grocery. All that my mother could save was an apron, which I inherited after she and my sister, Eliza Eshkenazi, nee Delareya, moved to Israel. This apron became a real treasure for our family.

When my father was arrested, my mother was eight months pregnant and my brother, Betzalel Delareya, born in 1921, was two years old. My father was sent from Vodniantsi to Lom, Belogradchik and Mihailovgrad. There the prisoners were forced to dig their own graves. The witnesses said that after the execution the grave 'boiled' like a dunghill piled up with half- dead bodies. Luckily my father was late for the execution. Some of the Vodniantsi villagers helped my mother with some food and alcohol. My mother took my brother and accompanied her husband, shackled in chains, and the two horsemen convoying him. They stopped quite often on the road using my mother's pregnancy as an excuse, though, actually, while having a rest, the two guards ate the food and drank the alcohol. Thus my mother helped them to be delayed and instead of arriving in Mihailovgrad in the evening - the grave was dug the whole night and the prisoners were shot and buried in the morning - they only arrived around 11am the next morning.

The policemen swore at my father and sent him to Vidin to put him on trial there. I have no idea how many years he was given but because of different amnesties he was released after two years from Baba Vida Fortress [3]. When my mother went to visit him there, she passed my brother over the fence. The other prisoners held him and took from his clothes letters especially hidden there for them. At that time, while my father was in prison, my mother had a stillborn child. Then she began working as a servant cleaning other people's houses. She survived thanks to food charity and the little money she was given for the housework. Thus she was able to provide for my brother and bring food to my father in prison.

When my father was freed, the family first tried to stay at my grandfather's, as he had some kind of property and could shelter them, but my father's stepmother chased them away. Then they came to Sofia and settled on the grounds of the Arat tobacco factory. My father started working there as a courier, while my mother worked as a cleaner. By destiny's whim I later worked as a doctor in the very same tobacco factory for 14-15 years. While my mother was pregnant with me, she once fell down when carrying buckets full of coals. Therefore I was born with a trauma, moreover we both had a scar on the hip.
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Rafael Beraha

I must say that during the totalitarian regime in Bulgaria I was repressed. I took part in the illegal ‘Gorunya Plot’ in 1965. Ivan Todorov, nicknamed Gorunya [‘gorunya’ is an old Bulgarian word meaning a strong and resilient tree, used metaphorically in this case] initiated the legendary attempt for a coup d’etat against Todor Zhivkov [22]. Ivan Todorov-Gorunya was a member of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party and head of the department ‘Marine Farming’ in the Ministry of Agriculture. Before that he had been a partisan leader. His disagreement with the policy of the head of state Todor Zhivkov led to his decision to organize this [unsuccessful] coup d’etat, commonly known as the ‘Gorunya Plot’. I was also involved in a political scandal by my colleagues, but I want to emphasize that my Jewish origin has nothing to do with these events. I had two sentences. But I wasn’t in prison. I will try to explain in short the reasons for that.

In Ruse I taught in the Technical University. Suddenly they decided to change the profile of the institute – they wanted to make it an agricultural institute, which sparked the protests of the teachers. I, personally, wrote a letter to Politburo [Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party] saying that it wasn’t expedient now that we had a technical profile to turn it into an agricultural one. But the party thought otherwise. That’s why they sent me to Sofia with some members from the academic circles to defend our ideas and try to keep the institute as it was. The rector Atanas Ganev, who is an agronomist – at the moment he chairs the agricultural cooperatives in Ruse – insisted on that transformation. His driver also came with us to Sofia. It happened so that his driver and I were in one room. He stole my letter. I hadn’t sent it in advance, because I was told that the Academic Council had already prepared such a letter. So, it was meaningless to repeat one and the same thing. But then the big act of treachery took place – the District Committee of the Party sent my stolen letter to the party organization to review it. I was also a member of the Communist Party then. The party bureau gathered and the party secretary, who was one of the obedient ones, said that the letter he had received wasn’t coordinated with the Party. Although I still also had the right to reply, after all! In addition, the academic council had also written a protest letter similar to mine. And I did not even send mine…and I told them, ‘Let’s see if I’ve written anything wrong in it.’

They started bullying me: that didn’t matter, what was important was to say that I had made my colleagues think like me… I told them, ‘I’ve discussed this issue with no one else.’ But they didn’t believe me. They wanted me to make a written confession. Then I realized that my letter had been stolen and I got very angry. I grabbed a chair and hit the party secretary Krastyo Petrov, who was just about to write, on the hand. It seemed that I cracked the bone between the elbow and the wrist of his right hand. They decided to form a conspiracy. I and some colleagues of mine were separated, like an anti-party group. It was easier for them to say that I was supported by colleagues of mine – political prisoners before 9th September 1944 [24]: Tsviatko Lilov and Sabetay Levi, Donka Grancharova and some others.

I was put on trial, accused of hitting the party secretary on the head with the intention of killing him. So, they made up a sentence. But the judge, Lilyana Atanasova was a smart woman and saw what it was all about. She decided to sentence me to three years on probation, because I had to be sentenced in some way – the Central Committee of the Communist Party had ordered so. But the district chief Petar Danailov said at a meeting, ‘How is this possible? How is this possible?’ Meaning, how was it possible for me to receive such a light sentence. But my defenders were a district advisor to the Party, Maximov and a very good lawyer, Markaryan, an Armenian. He was a bit timid, but he defended me well. Maximov also defended me well. After the defense Danailov got very angry and said that he would file an objection in the Supreme Court. So, they filed it. The Supreme Court reviewed the case and sentenced me to three years in prison; the sentence was suspended.

In 1963 I was released from the institute and I was sent to work in the SPATSP [State Plant for Auto, Tractor and Spare Parts]. I worked there for one year and I was the chief technologist in the plant. Then I went to work in the ship construction company in Ruse, where a university colleague of mine, Dicho Petrov Dichev, worked. He is also an engineer; he graduated in ship construction in Varna. Dichev was a very close friend of my lawyer Markaryan. And he told him, ‘Listen, this man has two children. How could you put him on trial! Do you know what will happen to his wife and two children?’ Markaryan thought about it and it seems that he realized that they had gone too far. Then he went to the presidium and said, ‘Let’s put right what happened.’ He told our director, ‘And you write a clemency appeal.’ But I didn’t want to be pardoned and insisted on that. But I also didn’t want to go to a socialist prison. Dichev and Markaryan wrote an appeal, which they gave to me to sign. I told them, ‘I don’t want to and I will not sign!’ But in the end they convinced me and I signed it. So, they saved me. They arranged a pardon for me. That happened in 1963.

As I mentioned earlier, I joined the so-called ‘Gorunya Plot’ aiming to depose Todor Zhivkov from power by an army coup d’etat. I, personally, wasn’t among these 140 people most directly involved in the coup, because I’m senior lieutenant by rank – one of the non-commissioned officer ranks. [Most of the 140 people were generals, senior and superior officers. The senior officers had ranks higher than a mayor and the superior officers higher than a colonel.] But I was the only Jew taking part in the plot. Yet, most of us were military servicemen. However, the authorities uncovered the plot. Thus, I received my second sentence. Yet, they didn’t dare to sentence me. They didn’t even call me as a prosecutor’s witness. Because something happened before that.

I had to go to Sofia to collect materials for a report to be used in the education of welders throughout the country. I went to the welding institute, but they came and took me straight to the central prison. General Spassov from the Ministry of Internal Affairs awaited me there. He was assigned the investigation on the ‘Gorunya’ plot. He asked me, ‘Why did you take part?’ And I said, ‘The world was created to be changed.’ I wasn’t scared. I had already become inured to everything. ‘What? Don’t you quote Marx on me!’ And I said, ‘Why shouldn’t I quote him? He is your guiding light!’ They kept me there a day and a half... But I told them nothing. In the end, Todor Zhivkov said that he wouldn’t sentence all participants in the plot. In order to avoid news of the incident spreading around, they sentenced only the leader of the group in Ruse – Avram Chernev and lieutenant-colonel Blagoy Mavrodiev. Both have already passed away. We, the other participants, were not harmed, because that would have meant a big trial in court. But I was under surveillance for 27 years.
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Leon Yako Anzhel

I was friends mainly with Jews from the Jewish school but had some Bulgarian contacts as well, mainly from our neighborhood. At that time, after World War I [7], and after the establishment of fascism in Italy at the time of Mussolini [8], there existed an organization called ‘Homeland Protection’ [9] and in that organization there were some fascist ideas. It was the predecessor of the organizations Brannik [10] and Otets Paisii [11]. It existed until 1934 after the coup on 19th May [12] and after that it wasn’t on the agenda. I can’t say what happened to it. I remember we had a neighbor who was its member. They used to wear black shirts and were under the strong influence of Mussolini. Their slogan was ‘Bulgaria, Liberate Yourself!
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Dan Mizrahy

I distinctly remember the evening of 30th December 1947. I was on the streets of Predeal and I heard the loudspeakers connected to Radio Bucharest broadcasting the abdication declaration of King Michael [10], followed by the proclamation of the People’s Republic. It was with total silence that the passers-by received those two announcements. Their faces were visibly grave and worried, while some of them made futile attempts to disguise their sheer sadness. It wasn’t a surprise for anyone. But the date they had chosen might have been unexpected. We later realized that ‘The Party’ didn’t want to give the King another chance to address his traditional New Year’s Eve wishes to the people. I had been familiar with King Michael since he was a child. I can even remember the coins of 5 lei with his face as a child imprinted on them, then the countless pictures and newspaper stories about his schooling and upbringing. I remember him after I returned to the country, from the newsreels; no matter under what circumstance he was shown on the screen, the whole audience would burst out applauding. It was their only way to protest against the new realities imposed by the regime.
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Nesim Alkabes

On May 27th, 1960, there was a military coup. The prime minister of the time, Adnan Menderes [18], foreign minister Fatih Zorlu and others were hung after a long period of interrogation and judgements. As the political situation was so precarious, the economy also started suffering. Our customers started missing their payments. We were paying the vouchers that we had signed. We received a voucher every hour. We had a credit of 30 thousand liras in Ziraat Bankası. Even though I had been married for 15 years, I had never asked for money from my father-in-law, but unfortunately I was in such a bind that I had to ask him: “My dear father, do you have money? Can you lend me some?”. “ I have 20 thousand liras, it is yours” he replied.

Even though we took 15 thousand liras from my older brother Albert, we could not get a handle on our debts, the vouchers kept coming. We sold our merchandise at half price, finally we paid all our debts 100%. We did not want to settle with the creditors and unfortunately went bankrupt. We closed the store on December 31st, 1965.
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Josif Kamhi

Life was calm when we lived on Pozitano Street. I remember only one occasion when there were many policemen on horses on our street. That must have been in the 1930s. Maybe it was 1934, the year when there was a military coup in Bulgaria [10].
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Venezia Kamhi

My first home was in the Jewish neighborhood in Sofia, on Dr. Zlatarev and Odrin Streets. The house was destroyed and now there is a block of flats on its place. My daughter lives there now. My father was born in that house. Half of the house belonged to my father and the other half to my aunt. The house itself was not big: a one-story brick house with one large room, one narrow corridor and a small room where my grandfather lived. We had an entry hall where my mother used to cook, and we also received guests there.

We had a big courtyard with a garden and hens. There were flowers in the garden, mostly. The hens lived in the corner of the yard and laid many eggs. We also had a goat whose name was Roska. I was very slim as a child and my parents were told I had to drink goat milk. That’s why they bought the goat. My father was a carter, so we had a horse and a special building for it. All the courtyards in the Jewish neighborhood were connected via small doors and we could go from one house to another without going out on the street. Even during the blockade in 1923 [a year of coups d'etat and curfew] people could go and visit their neighbors. The blockade was so strict in June 1923 that when my mother was giving birth to my brother, Mordohai Avram Konorti, on June 9 [coup d'etat when prime minister Alexander Stamboliiski was overthrown], soldiers came to verify that my mother really needed a midwife before they would let her come to our house.

There was electricity and water in the house. We used coal-burning stoves for heating. The mornings when I got up early for school were very pleasant. My mother used to get up earlier and fire the stove, and it was "roaring" and its light was blazing; it was lovely on the ceiling.
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Klara Kohen

My father took an active part in the September uprising [see Events of 1923] [4] and held the power for seven days in the village of Koniovitsa in Nova Zagora district. When the uprising was suppressed, he was taken on foot from Koniovitsa to Nova Zagora. He was beaten not only for being a communist but also because he was a Jew. My mother was engaged to him at that time. She went to the place were he was kept under arrest in order to take him with her to Stara Zagora. It was then that he broke contacts with the Communist Party because he had been severely beaten. After he returned to Stara Zagora he became an accountant in the bed factory and cut his ties with the communists. He did this because of his family. After 9th September 1944 [5], when the communists took power, he enrolled in the Bulgarian Communist Party again.
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Moiz Isman

Then, Izak Altabev [was elected to the National Assembly in 1957.  He was tried at Yassiada after the military coup on 27 May 1960] wasn’t a member of the Turkish Parliament yet. We only had two parliamentary members, as Jews. One of these was Altabev, and the other was Abrevaya. During the Menderes period [18]  Altabev was one of the people who was sent to Yassiada [an island on the Marmara Sea, 16 km south of the Bosphorus.  It is the smallest of the series of islands known as the Princes’ Islands.  After the foundation of the Republic, some naval facilities were built on this vacant island.  During the military coup of 1960, all politicians who were arrested, were taken to these facilities and tried there]. Izak Altabev was saved from hanging, but unfortunately got sick and had a stroke. He was examined by a neurologist who came from Israel when he returned to Istanbul. He struggled for his life for a month but died. He had a family, but I don’t know what happened to them.
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Izak Sarhon

I went to Spain when I was 20.  How did I decide to go to Spain?  Well, when I finished school I started working at an office writing letters in French.  This was quite a big firm that was doing ‘commission importation’.  It was called Rotterman.  That was my first job.  I was doing the correspondence in French with firms abroad. There was another friend there, Jak Behar, from Kuzguncuk [a district on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus where Jews used to live] who was doing the correspondence in German.  One day, we were talking and thinking out loud:  “shall we go somewhere? Where can we go?  Where shall we go?  Shall we go to France? Where?...”  We were dreaming of travelling.  Then one day my friend came and said: “Shall we go to Spain?” and I said: “Yes, let’s go”.  So we decided to go to Spain, find a job there and settle down.  Of course, our families started protesting: “Why do you want to go there? You don’t know anyone there etc. etc.”  But we were decided and did not budge.  Then one day my friend came and said: “Hey, look, they are putting a lot of pressure on me at home, let’s not go”.  However, this was the 1930s and everybody was talking about an imminent war and that Turkey would also go to war; so everyone was afraid really, and that’s how I managed to convince my own parents.  My friend’s father did not give up though; one day he came and told us: “My boys, where are you going? What are you going to do there?  Come, let me find you a good job.  Come with me, there is a tin can factory; I’ll buy it for you, and then you won’t have to go”.  We said “No”, then my friend’s father said: “Come, there is a fabric knitting atelier on sale, I’ll buy it for you, don’t go”.  But I said: “No, my mind is set, I’ll go”.  So he had to accept our decision.  There was another Jewish family from Kuzguncuk, who had already gone to Spain.  We said we would go to them and that is how we were finally able to convince both families.  I went to get a passport, but I was a bit scared that maybe they wouldn’t give me a passport, but they did. 

We left for Spain in 1934.  We went to Barcelona.  We went by boat.  We had the address of a restaurant with us.  It was in fact, a kind of café and they served lunch and dinner.  The owner of the restaurant was a Jew from Greece, I think from Salonica.  So we went to this restaurant and told the owner that we had just arrived and needed somewhere to sleep.  He called someone called Joseppe and told him to go and ask a certain lady if she had rooms available.  Joseppe went and came back saying that she did, so we took our bags and took the rooms in that hostel.  That’s how we started to stay there.  As for money, I remember that I went to Spain with 50 liras.  One peseta was then 50 kurush [100 kurush is one lira], so 50 liras was not a lot of money but it was OK for a while.

At first, we started to sell textile products at open markets and observed what others were doing.  Most people were doing this kind of business, so we learned it too, and started doing it.  Then I started doing painting work.  I was painting ties.  My friend couldn’t do this work, so he returned to Turkey after one year.  I was alone then.  I stayed in Spain for 2.5 years.  Then there was a revolution during Franco’s time [Spanish Civil War, 1936-39].  Franco was in the government and the communists started a revolution.  This revolution lasted long years.  At first they weren’t doing anything to the people.  I remember that at that time the Olympic Games were going to be in Barcelona [1936], and my business had been thriving because I was painting ties for the Olympic Games.  I was painting the 5 circles, the symbol of the Olympics on the ties.  Then in Barcelona, the revolutionists won, the Olympic Games were cancelled, all business stopped and I had to leave.  I went to France on a British ship.  The British had sent warships to Barcelona to get all the foreigners out.  They only took the foreigners who wanted to leave, but they did not take the Spanish.  That is how I was able to leave.  The ship was going from Barcelona to Marseilles.  So I packed my bags and went to the port.  I presented my passport and went on board.

Let me tell you about a small incident that happened while I was on that ship.   When I first boarded the ship, I went to the dining room of the soldiers, or rather sailors.  I sat at a table and a sailor came and asked me something in English.  I didn’t know English at that time.  I thought he was asking me if I wanted something to eat, so I said “Yes”, one of the few words in English that I knew at the time.  Then I waited and waited and there was no food.  So then I realized that he had asked if I had already eaten!  Thankfully, they then said “Tea”, and brought some tea.  I went to sleep after that.  In the morning I woke up to complete silence on the ship.  I got up quickly and looked for my bags, but they had disappeared, and so had everyone else.  I saw that while I was sleeping another ship had come by and everyone had gone on that ship.  Thank God it was still there so I was able to board it, too.  Can you imagine, if I had slept a bit more, I would have been left behind.  However, I lost one of my bags in that melée.  It just disappeared.  I don’t know what happened to it.  The ship set off and arrived in Marseilles.  My elder brother was in Marseilles then.  When we arrived at the port, I heard someone calling “Izak Sharhon, Izak Sharhon”.  I was very surprised.  I had just arrived, who could know me there?  Then I learned that the British government had let the Turkish Embassy know that one of their citizens was on board that ship and had told them to come and pick me up.  So two officials from the consulate came looking for me, “Izak Sharhon”.  I went to them and they asked me: “Are you Izak Sharhon?  Come, let’s go”.  I was given my suitcase (the one that was not lost) and my passport.  Then the men from the consulate took me to the consulate in a taxi.  Inside the taxi, they asked me how things were in Spain.  As we were in France I spoke to them in French.  They took me to a hotel near the consulate and I stayed there that night.  I sent a telegram to my brother and told him I was in France.  A few hours later I received a reply that said: “Don’t move, we are coming to get you”.  When he said “we” he meant him and his partner.  The men from the consulate asked if I had any money and I said that I only had Spanish money.  They changed that money into francs.  By the way, unfortunately, because of the revolution the Spanish peseta had lost all its value and all the money I had made during the years that I had worked there came to be worth near nothing.  I lost everything because of the revolution.  They also gave me some cards so that I would be able to board any trade ship that went to Turkey, but when my brother came in the morning, he took me to Avignon, where I stayed for a year.  I didn’t do anything there.  There was no work.  So I waited for news from Istanbul.  When my time for military service came, they let me know and I returned in around 1937 and did my military service.
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I remember, when I was quite young, there was war.  After World War I [2], there was the Turkish War of Independence [3].  I was about 6 at the time.  They had recalled my father to the army.  He was at the military base in Selimiye.  My mother used to give him vinegar to drink every day so he would be too ill to go to war.  She succeeded in making him ill enough to get a medical report saying he was too weak to go to war, and he didn’t.
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Nesim Levi

I was always interested in politics.  I supported all the political parties that were for the people.  Whether it is opposition or not.  I have voted since 1950.

I cast my first vote for the Democratic Party.  Adnan Menderes [6].  We were enthusiastic about them as a novelty.  And they accomplished a lot.  But there were some mistakes and there were some bad consequences.  They stayed in power till 1960.

The hanging of Menderes created a big reaction.  I remember the day of the hanging.  We always followed the trial on the radio.  The decision, right or wrong [it is a political event].  When two parties went head to head, the military did a coup, but now when these consequences happened, even the people who did not support that party were saddened.
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