October 24, 2002

Museum dedicated to Bulgarian saviour is inaugurated

On October 25th, 2002 the Peshev Museum in Bulgaria will be inaugurated. Dimitar Peshev, official of the Bulgarian government during the Nazi occupation, helped save the lives of thousands of Bulgarian Jews condemned to extermination by the National-Socialist regime led by Adolf Hitler.

The museum will function in the same house where Peshev was born in 1894 in the town of Kiustendil.

The Peshev Museum is sponsored by the Embassy of Israel in Bulgaria and its opening will count with the presence of the following people: the Mayor of Tel Aviv; the Mayor of Kiustendil; the writer Gabriel Nissim, author of the biography ”The man who stopped Hitler”-translated into English by the intellectual Israel Borouchoff-; as well as a delegation of two hundred people from the Bulgarian community in Israel.

In accordance with the information released by Baruch Tenembaum, founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, to the Bulgarian Chancellor, Solomon Passy, the IRWF will donate to the Museum a Commemorative Medal specially designed and coined as a tribute to the Bulgarian heroe of the Holocaust.

The piece of art is part of a collection of medals dedicated to numerous saviours of humanity. Moreover, the IRWF will present on the coming days a section in its website specially dedicated to Peshev, the first step of a vast encyclopedic endeavour dedicated to portrait the saviours of the Holocaust.

Who was Dimitar Peshev

Dimitar Peshev was one of the many Bulgarian politicians in favour of signing an alliance with Adolf Hitler’s regime – not because he was attracted to the Third Reich’s policies – but because he was convinced that this was the way by which Bulgaria would be able to recover the areas lost during the Balkan wars of 1912-13. That is why he initially supported the Nazi racial laws against the Jews.

Nevertheless, one day Peshev received the visit of an old Jewish childhood friend who told him that behind the racial laws the Nazis hid the secret aim of deporting all Jews from Bulgaria to extermination camps. The trains were ready at the stations waiting for the order to set off towards Poland.

Peshev, a man used to the comforts of the aristocratic life, reacted instantaneously. He joined other members of the Parliament and, together with them, he broke into the offices of the Department of the Interior and demanded the revocation of the deportation order. Peshev felt that the lives of 50,000 people – the total number of Bulgarian Jews – depended exclusively on him.

Peshev continued being an activist for the cause of the Bulgarian Jews and later, for democracy, values that he discovered in his fight against Nazism and its atrocities. For his efforts he was later ousted from office in Parliament and lived in permanent danger.

After the war he was in favour of Bulgaria’s alignment with the West and against the imminent entry of his country into the Soviet alliance. He was put on trial and accused of having saved Jews in exchange for money, despite the fact that many of his Jewish friends testified in the trial that the charges were false. He was condemned to death and was saved by a miracle: hours before his execution his attorney was able to prove that in 1936, when he was Secretary of Justice, Peshev had saved Damian Velchev, who had been condemned by the Nazis, from a certain death. Under the Soviet regime Velchev ran the War Department.

Finally, he was condemned to fifteen years imprisonment of which he served only one and lived the rest of his days in poverty forgotten by everyone, except by the Bulgarian Jews, who from Israel – after the mass emigration of the late forties – sent him money and took care of him. Dimitar Peshev died in Sofia on February 20th, 1973.