When one thinks of Bulgaria, very few things likely come to mind. Maybe if you’re a bad-ass trivia hound you’ll remember how the Bulgarian Secret Service was implicated in the failed assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II. Others amongst you might have a better grasp of current events and note the involvement of Bulgarians in the illegal traffic in women, computer hacking, online fraud and a host of other illegal activities. A Wired magazine article on Bulgarian hackers even noted that “In Bulgaria, the mafia advertises.” It would be safe to say that the popular perception of Bulgaria is somewhere between nothing and nefarious.
And yet, as is often the case with popular perception, the reality is somewhat more nuanced. For instance, everyone knows how the Danes acquitted themselves admirably during the Holocaust, actively resisting the Nazi deportation of Denmark’s 7,500 member Jewish community. However, very few people know that in Bulgaria, the people out and out refused to allow the deportation of even a single Jew to Nazi death camps. As a result, Bulgaria’s 50,000 member Jewish community emerged from World War II relatively unscathed. The story behind this unprecedented effort (Hello! France? Pay attention!) is one that is not well known but is nonetheless very compelling and inspiring.
Hopefully this woeful ignorance will no longer persist after the theatrical release of The Optimists, a documentary about the rescue of Bulgarian Jews from the Holocaust. At the premier in New York 2 days ago, members of the Bulgarian Church received an award from the American Jewish Committee in recognition for its role in stopping the deportations of the Bulgarian Jews to the death camps.
The Optimists starts screening Oct. 21st at the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, New York, NY.