Larry and Rosa Anzhel -- Married twice in a lifetime

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After Larry Anzhel's father died in 1932, the family moved from Yambol to the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. There Larry met Rosa Varsano. In 1939 he asked her "do you want to be my commrade?" Thus began a lifelong relationship. Shortly thereafter Larry and Rosa were sent to Vratsa for forced labor. It was during their internment that they were married.

Together they lived through a changing Bulgaria, witnessing the end of the war, the Communist regime, and the Fall of the Soviet Union. Having gone through so much together, they decided for their 60th anniversary to get married again!

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Until 1878, Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire. Through its long history, the Empire controlled Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Egypt, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, as well as parts of Arabia and large amounts of the North African coast. Find a brief summary of Ottoman history here, or explore this site from the University of Michigan's Turkish Studies Department for more information.

As part of the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria fought with Germany and Italy in the First World War. Learn more about Bulgaria's involvement in the war here.

Between the wars, Bulgaria's political scene was turbulent, marked by coups, strikes, and takeovers. On the eve of the Second World War, Bulgaria was operating under a royal-military dictatorship led by Tsar Boris III.

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Larry and Rosa live in Sofia. There have been Jewish communities in Sofia since Roman times, augmented over the centuries by Jews from Hungary, Bavaria, Spain, Germany, Russia, Romania, and Galicia. Find here a history of Jewish life in Sofia, or read this account from the Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture.

The Jewish community of Bulgaria can trace its history back to the first century CE, and today the Jewish population of Bulgaria is approximately 2,000 people. The Jewish Virtual Library provides more information on the Jewish history in Bulgaria.

Larry and Rosa met at a youth group organised by Beit Am. Explore Centropa's collection of photographs depicting youth group activities in Bulgaria.

Much of Bulgaria's Jewish population are Sephardic, and before the 1940s Ladino was spoken widely.

Compared to other countries, there was less anti-Semitic sentiment felt in Bulgaria before the Second World War, as Jews were an integral part of Bulgarian society. This excerpt from Manus Midlarsky´s book: "The Killing Trap. Genocide in the 20th Century," touches upon the exceptional fate of Bulgarian Jewry.

Bulgaria is often said to have a unique lack of normalised anti-Semitism in its culture. However after the Second World War, Bulgaria's communist leaders often tried to deny the existence of minority groups by manipulating or suppressing census data or by forcibly assimilating groups they labelled "undesirable". After the fall of the communist regime in 1989, minoritiy communities could enjoy greater freedom of expression. Flip through the PDF of this book to learn abour the suppression of minorities under Bulgarian communism (available in chapter titled "Ethnographic Characteristics").

The Joint Distribution Committee operated in Bulgaria today, assisting Jews living in poverty. Read more about their work in Bulgaria here.

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Bulgaria was part of the Axis Alliance during the Second World War, during which time it occupied areas of Greek Thrace, Macedonia, and Serbia. Learn more about Bulgaria's involvement in the war here. This page contains a summary of the Axis Alliance powers, detailing their participation in the war and overviews of their surrenders.

After 1940, Jews in Bulgaria were made to wear yellow-star badges, part of the descriminatory measures imposed in countries with anti-Semitic legislation during the war. These restrictions also  excluded Jews from public service, limited the places that Jews could live, and restricted the occupations that Jews could have. The Law for the Protection of the Nation is one of the most notable examples.

Larry was in a Bulgarian forced labor brigade, and recalls witnessing a train passing through Bulgaria filled with Jews from Thracian Greece. Unlike other Axis countries, Bulgaria's Jewish population was persecuted, but not deported to killing centres. Dimitar Peshev, the Vice President of Sbranie (Bulgaria's parliment) ensured this. However, the Bulgarian government did deport Jews from the two countries they occupied during the Second World War: Macedonia (which had been one of the Yugoslav republics) and the Greek province of Thrace. Anti-Semitic activity in Bulgarian-occupied territories was brutal. Most of Macedonia's Jewish population was deported and killed. View footage of Macedonian Jews boarding trains that would take them to Treblinka concentration camp in Poland here.

Explore Centropa's collection of photographs of Bulgarian forced labour.

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After the war, the People's Republic of Bulgaria was established. Over forty years of communism, Bulgaria had three presidents. Georgi Dimitrov is known for eluding Nazi persecution for the 1933 Reichstag fire. He led between 1945 and 1950. He was followed by Vâlko Chervenkov, who eagerly consolidated Stalinist-style communism between 1950 and 1956. Todor Zhivkov, the longest-serving leder of any of the Soviet countries, was in control between 1956 and 1989. He was known for agricultural collectivisation and suprressing internal dissent.

In 1989, a series of revolutions took place throughout the Soviet Union, overthrowing communist states. Find a broad overview of the 1989 revolutions here, and learn about the end of communism in Bulgaria on this page.

Learn about the current Jewish community in Bulgaria here.

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  • Duration:
    00:10:40
    Countries:
    Bulgaria

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