Bulgaria and its historical story

During World War II, 48,000 Bulgarian Jews escaped deportation. By comparing unpublished and varied sources, N. Ragaru shows the construction of a collective narrative which has been used politically until today.

The starting point of Nadge Ragaru's work is as follows: exceptionality assumes the Bulgarian trajectory in avoiding the deportation of almost the entire Jewish community of Bulgaria, i.e. approximately 48,000 Jews during the Second World War, while Bulgaria was ally of the Third Reich. If the Jews of old kingdom (Bulgaria before the redefinition of its borders in 1941) were able to avoid deportation, this was not the case for the Jews of the territories occupied by Bulgaria between 1941 and 1944 (northern Greece, Serbian region of Pirot and the current Republic of North Macedonia). However, of this complex fate of Jewish destinies, the story and its transmission centered around the rescue of Bulgarian Jewsmaking both the deportations from the occupied territories and the various anti-Jewish policies in the old kingdom.

The work aims to reconstruct the conditions of production and circulation of this dominant narrative of rescue of Bulgarian Jews, showing the plurality of possible interpretations and uses of the past, both through the diversity of actors and the scales concerned (local, national, transnational). The architecture of the work is a reflection of these heterogeneous knowledge productions, forged at the intersection and/or in the confrontation of judicial, artistic, activist and academic spaces. Each of the five chapters is proposed as a stopover during exploratory journeys in these different spaces (p. 229). If there is no unified vision of the writing of the past, these different forms of knowledge production (judicial, cultural, fictional, historical) have nevertheless delimits an order of the thinkable and the credible (p. 16) on persecutions and anti-Jewish crimes during the Second World War. In this case, these plural approaches converge towards the narrative framework promoting Bulgarian exceptionality, collective innocence and a heroic past.

Space-time horizons

The story of rescue of Bulgarian Jews is part of a long history. If we follow, thanks to its very meticulous reconstruction, the evolution over seventy-five years of the production of knowledge (1944-2019), it is nevertheless never presented in a linear and homogeneous manner. The story and its uses are reformulated according to social, (go)political and diplomatic contexts. The post-war context was that of the denunciation of fascism and revolutionary growth, giving pride of place to the heroism of the Bulgarian people. Subsequently, in a context of the Cold War, the story of rescue can serve as a vector of legitimization of the communist regime in power and its main leader T. Zhivkov. The end of communism led to the emergence of other ways of considering the past and of using the theme of rescue. Anti-communist speeches, produced in particular by exiles returning to Bulgaria, redistribute heroic roles (p. 249) and rehabilitate the elites of the old regime. The 2000s are those of the beginning of Bulgaria's accession process to the European Union and the story of rescue contributes to the credibility of the country as a partner with theEU.

The chosen scansions are not very classic. We sometimes park for a long time at specific times; like the founding moment in the production of the first judicial knowledge from 1944, almost contemporary with the events in the context of one of the first jurisdictions in Europe specialized in dealing with crimes against the Jews. Or even during the freeze frame in 1959 around the fiction film Zvezdi/Sterne (canvases). Pivotal moments therefore, but not only that. The author also traces the different social lives of this particular object which is the only image source of the deportations from the Greek territories in 1943. Initially a documentary recording of the facts, the images were in the 1960s reclassified as legal evidence in the context of the trial of the former Nazi minister in office Sofia Adolf-Heinz Beckerle . The images serve, finally, from the 1980s, to attest to the thesis of the rescuenotably in museums and cultural institutions around the world like the catalog of the exhibition at the Kunsthalle West Berlin in 1984 or the projection at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington in 1988. The pregrinations of this visual archive are thus considered as a support of a sleeper from the socialist era (p. 220). The last two chapters take us away from the communist era, but past, present, future can continue to telescope.

Just like temporality, the way of understanding spatiality is particularly fruitful. To constitute the object of research, Nadge Ragaru chose to follow the different spatial inscriptions of the actors as well as their stories. Bulgaria becomes here a space for knowledge production (p. 19). The issue is also methodological. The author has traveled extensively, collecting an impressive number of sources along the way: in addition to interviews with the producers of this knowledge, the exploration of archival funds in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Germany, Israel, the United States, and her translations allow for this. a meticulous reconstruction.

The work observes the circulations between national, regional and international spaces through which the nationalization of the past passes (p. 151). The pioneering trial of 1945 Sofia before the 7e chamber of the People's Court, established to judge the alleged perpetrators of persecutions against the Jews (p. 27), is part of political issues going beyond the Bulgarian national framework, with international requirements which take into account the international circulation of post-war designs (pp. 36-37). Analysis of the film Zvezdi/Sterneco-produced in 1959 by Bulgaria and East Germany, in turn reveals the international circulations of symbolizations of Jewish suffering (p. 141), just as the singular journey of the visual archive of the 1943 deportations reveals a topography of connections and acts like junction point between Bulgaria, FRGIsrael and the United States (p. 151). The work informs us about circulations, but also about the processes of transnationalization. In this regard, the European enlargements of 2004 and 2007 influence the production and mobilization of knowledge on the Shoah. European institutions are particularly invested as a transnational arena of mobilization where the diplomacy of the rescue. The European Union is also becoming the arena in which to bring up historical disputes, as demonstrated by the study of the diplomatic disputes between Bulgaria and the Macedonian activists for the recognition of the responsibility of the Bulgarian state in the deportation and extermination of the Jews.

A wide range of actors and co-produced knowledge

Throughout the demonstration, Nadge Ragaru introduces us to the very wide range of protagonists who promote different variants and interpretations of the story of the rescueaccording to their distinct interests: cultural world (museum curators, filmmakers, writers, etc.), legal world (magistrates, lawyers, etc.), academic world (notably historians), agents of the Bulgarian state (intelligence agents, diplomats, parliamentarians), journalists, archivists, members of European and international institutions.

The book highlights the importance of Jewish worlds, plural and divided, in the production and formulation of knowledge about the Shoah. The surviving Jews were central actors, such as this network of Bulgarian communist Jews who worked to bring the alleged perpetrators of the persecutions to justice. We discover the internal debates in the Jewish community of Bulgaria, polarized between contesting the narrative and denouncing Bulgaria's complicity, and celebrating the rescue of Bulgarian Jews. Definitions of justice differ particularly between communists and Zionists. The divisions are also generational, especially as the descendants of Bulgarian and Macedonian Jews established in the United States and Israel take their turn in writing and remembering the Second World War. These divisions are compounded by competition for memorial initiatives in different geographical spaces, between the Jewish communities of the Balkans, Israel and the United States.

Bulgarian academic circles, in particular historians, are also at the heart of this knowledge production. The post-1989 political context contributed to a recomposition of historiographical production around anti-Jewish persecutions in Bulgaria, with the appearance of private research centers and a European knowledge economy (p. 288), and the digitization of archive funds. If the author notes in the mid-2000s a strong internal differentiation of the academic field itself (p. 282), at the same time she notes a growing overlap between scientific research and memorial initiatives. This tangle of boundaries between expert knowledge, academics and activists joins broader questions posed by the book about the co-production of knowledge. Nadge Ragaru seemingly posits a desire to go beyond the unproductive dichotomies between profane knowledge And professional knowledge; it does not oppose a memory of the actors which would be erroneous to the work of the researcher overhanging which would be to rediscover truth. Since facts and stories are considered as co-producers of factuality (p. 17), we therefore wonder about the consequences of the production of the investigation, and the reception of this deconstruction of the story of the rescue.

Source: History

Produce and make silences speak

through the study of the production of knowledge about the past, the work offers a particularly stimulating reflection on silences, euphemizations and obliterations, in the different arenas. The court's judgment during the trial in 1945 failed to recognize the exceptionality of the violence committed against the Jews, giving rise to the topic of collective innocence still constitutive today of public stories about the Shoah in Bulgaria (p. 33). Post-war Bulgarian cinema wondered about silences, but also remained silent. Thus the responsibility of the Bulgarian authorities in the deportation of Jews from Northern Greece is killed in the fictional film Zvezdi/Sterne and the persecution of Jews there is minor.

Silences also raise methodological questions. How to make silent archives speak; how to render visual materials and sounds? Nadge Ragaru responds with original proposals, and this is also one of the great strengths of the work. Thanks to reconstructions of trial hearings based on photographic stills, we have the impression of enter the courtroom (p. 51). Just like the stenographic report of the parliamentary session surrounding the dismissal of the vice-president of the Bulgarian National Assembly in July 2000, with its noises and its rejoinders, offers us a brief sensation of being witnesses to the exchanges in the hemicycle. through the judicious comparison of the same scene from the film Zvezdi/Sternebetween initial script, storyboard precede the filming and final version of the scene of the film finely transcribed by the author, we understand the different cuts and edits made. through straying exercises (p. 152) in archival inventory catalogs before returning to film plans, she explores techniques of verbalization of images (p. 151) from the 1943 visual archive.

With this rich mapping of actors and places of knowledge production, the book makes you want to learn more about one of the rare levels of analysis left out of this investigation: the most personal, intimate, familial level. like the investigation into the family silence around the Algerian War recently analyzed by Raphalle Branche, what happened to the transmission of this story of rescue? By complicating the dominant narrative of rescue of Bulgarian JewsNadge Ragaru's work opens up new and extremely fruitful perspectives both on the historiography of the Shoah (in South-Eastern Europe) and the Cold War and on the methodological, epistemological but also political issues of representations of the past.