In December 1940, Bulgaria approved a wide anti-Semitism legislation, isolating 50,000 Bulgarian Jewish from the rest of the population and restraining all their commercial activities in pursuit of taking them away from the public streets. From the first moment Julio Palencia, Minister at the Spanish Ledation, carried out a decided defense of the Sephardic Jews (about 150) and their goods.
By Eichmann’s decision, the Bulgarian Jews were included in the extermination program. In 1943, Julio Palencia was notified about the imminent deportations by the Prime Minister Bogdan Filov. Palencia immediately telegraphed the Spanish government, requesting their intervention. He also made negotiations before Filov, while asking permission to Madrid to name paid consular agents in those cities where Sephardic Jews reside in order to avoid deportations.
Palencia continued insisting to Madrid the need of evacuating the Jews to Spain.
At the same time he did not give up interceding before the Bulgarian authorities in such a way that his own situation became untenable. The Bulgarian police, that watched over the embassy and interrogated everyone who went in and out of the building, caught Palencia’s secretary (who was Jewish) accusing him of espionage. Palencia appealed to the German
ambassador in Sophie to protect his secretary, without success,
Palencia’s clear and decided position gave him the epithet, ”The friend of the Jews” in the German correspondence. Indeed, he had the audacity to openly challenge the nazi authorities by opposing to the execution of aBulgarian Jew, León Arié. He addressed the German ambassador in Sophie, reporting the abuses. He made the Bulgarian court authorize him to adopt León Arié ‘s son and daughter and he gave lodge to their mother in the
official residence and protected them with a Spanish passport.
The tautness got so far that Palencia was finally declared ”persona non grata” (no agreeable person) and was obliged to return to Madrid. Before leaving, he had to oppose the Nazis in a great dramatic situation because of his intension of taking his adopted children with him.
When his mission ended he had saved the lives of more than 600 Bulgarian Jews.
Translation: Lara Schujovitzky