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Righteous Among the Nations Ceremony Honoring Vladimir Kurtev of Bulgaria
On Monday, June 28, 2010, Yad Vashem held a ceremony posthumously honoring Vladimir Kurtev from Bulgaria as Righteous Among the Nations. The Righteous’ grandchildren Jasmin Kurteva and Vladimir Kurtev received the medal and certificate of honor on his behalf.
The ceremony took place in the presence of Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov, Bulgarian Ambassador to Israel Dimitar Tsanchev, Israeli Ambassador to Bulgaria Noah Gal Gandler, and Chairman of Friendship Association Israel - Bulgaria Dr. Moshe Mossek. The medal and certificate were presented by Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev.
During the ceremony, Avner Shalev highlighted the uniqueness of the rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews. Although 11,000 Jews of Thrace and Macedonia were deported from Bulgarian controlled territories, Bulgaria’s civic society rejected the plans to deport the Jews of the Kingdom of Bulgaria. Vladimir Kurtev was one of the rare cases where a simple citizen changed the course of history.
Jasmin Kurteva thanked Yad Vashem for the honor bestowed on her grandfather. She told the audience of her family’s suffering during the Soviet regime after her grandfather had been killed.
Foreign Minister of Bulgaria Nikolai Mladenov paid tribute to Vladimir Kurtev and the other Bulgarians who protested against the deportation. This was the emergence of civic society in Bulgaria, and therefore is most significant for the future. “It is difficult to be proud of not having killed your neighbors when everybody else did”, said the Minister. “I hope this will give us the strength to stand together, to be vigilant and to combat intolerance and discrimination in the world today." Minister Mladenov pledged Bulgaria’s commitment to cooperate with Yad Vashem.
Vladimir Kurtev was born in 1888, in Pleven, Bulgaria. He was a teacher in the city of Kyustendil, and maintained strong ties with the leaders of the city’s Jewish community. Kurtev was a member of a revolutionary Macedonian movement, which espoused the independence of Macedonia from Turkey, and later adopted a pro-Bulgarian stance. Several of Kyustendil’s Jews were members of this movement.
On 22 February 1943, an agreement was signed between the Bulgarian Commissioner for Jewish Questions, Alexander Belev, and Eichmann’s representative, Theodor Dannecker, regarding the deportation of 20,000 Jews from Bulgaria. The agreement was authorized by the Bulgarian government on 2 March, and two days later, preparations were made for the deportation of some 12,000 Jews from Macedonia and Thrace, which were under Bulgarian rule. Rumors about the impending deportation reached the Jews of Kyustendil, and the community received an order from the representative of the Commissioner for Jewish Questions to prepare supplies for the Jewish deportees.
The city’s Jews and non-Jewish public figures felt impelled to act, and on 8 March, a 4-man delegation, all non-Jews, set out for Sofia in order to revoke the decree. Vladimir Kurtev was one of the 4 delegates, along with Asen Suichmezov, Petar Mikhalev and Ivan-Christov Momchilov. They had intended to send a larger delegation, but some of the members recoiled from taking such drastic action. As the delegates left for Sofia on the train, an empty train designated for the deportees already stood waiting at the Kyustendil train station.
Immediately upon their arrival in Sofia on the morning of 9 March, the delegates met with Dimitar Peshev, deputy Speaker of Parliament, who did all he could to cancel the deportations, and was removed from his post as a result. Kurtev, Peshev and Mikhalev met with Minister of the Interior Gabrovski and demanded that he call off the deportation. When Gabrovski attempted to deny the existence of the deportation plans, Kurtev retorted that he’d heard about them with his own ears, and threatened the minister with Macedonian “sanctions” if the edict wasn’t revoked. The efforts of the delegation, as well as other action taken by the head of the Holy Synod, Metropolit Stefan and others, paid off, and a directive was issued to release the arrested Jews from the provincial towns of old Bulgaria, and not to make any more arrests. However, the deportation of the Jews of Macedonia and Thrace continued, and by the end of the same month, more than 11,000 Jews had been sent to the death camps.
Metropolitan Bishops Stefan and Kiril were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations in 2001. Dimitar Peshev and three of the four delegates were recognized in 1973 and in 1991, and received the medal and certificate of honor in their lifetime. The fourth delegate, Vladimir Kurtev was no longer alive by then. He disappeared after the war, and his fate is unknown - it’s possible that he was murdered by the Bulgarian communist authorities.
Thanks to the assistance of the Israeli embassy in Sofia, relevant documents were obtained from the archives in Bulgaria, and the recognition process could thus finally be completed. On 3 May 2010, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations decided to award Vladimir Kurtev the title of Righteous Among the Nations.
More information about the Righteous Among the Nations Program