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The International School for Holocaust Studies

A Yellow Star of David Button, Which the Bulgarian Jews were Forced to Wear in 1941 with the Onset of the German Occupation

Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection
Gift of Sonia Koperwaser Shem-Tov

By Yael Weinstock Mashbaum

A Yellow Star of David Button, Which the Bulgarian Jews were Forced to Wear in 1941 with the Onset of the German OccupationA Yellow Star of David Button, Which the Bulgarian Jews were Forced to Wear in 1941 with the Onset of the German Occupation

Sonia Koperwaser was the oldest child born to Aaron and Simcha in 1930. Her younger sister Milka was born a year later. The family lived in Sofia, Bulgaria. In 1941, when Sonia was ten and a half, the Germans invaded Bulgaria. A curfew was imposed on the Jews, permitting them to leave their homes for only two hours each day. In addition, every Jew was ordered to sew a yellow star button on his/her lapel.

Yellow stars were distributed to the Jews in Bulgaria by the KEV, the "Commissariat for Jewish Questions,” and the KEV also saw to it that it was worn by all Jews. However, it encountered some unexpected difficulties in carrying out its tasks. First, privileged and converted Jews were exempt from wearing these stars, which were the smallest Jewish stars produced for this purpose in Europe. Second, factories were not manufacturing the stars as quickly as the Germans wanted (by November 1942, only 20% of stars had been produced). Third, some Jews created their own stars, inset with pictures of the king and queen of Bulgaria. These initiatives portrayed the solidarity of the Bulgarian people with their Jewish neighbors. They also reflect the fact that Bulgaria’s king demanded a softening of restrictions against its Jews, for which the Jews were obviously grateful.[1]

Instead of sewing the button onto her clothes, Sonia's uncle pinned the button. One day Sonia was caught by a policeman who beat her for wearing a pin with the yellow star rather than sewing the entire Star of David on her clothing with yellow thread.

In 1943, the Jews of Sofia were deported to the periferal areas of Bulgaria, leaving behind their possessions and their homes. Sonia's family moved to the city of Pazardzhik and from there continued onto Kyustendil. At first the family slept in a school building in Kyustendil and later managed to rent a room in the house of a local family. Sonia's family remained there until September 1944, then the Russians entered Bulgaria and those who had been deported could return to their homes.

At the end of the war when the Koperwaser family returned to Sofia, Sonia met a man named Chaim Shem-Tov. They wanted to immigrate to Israel and decided to get married on the morning of their trip in order to ease their permits for immigration (aliyah). They boarded the ship “Pan-York” and sailed to the land of Israel. When they reached the shores, Sonia and Chaim were arrested by British soldiers, along with the other immigrants on the ship, and were sent to Cyprus. They were in Camp Number 70 in Cyprus for about a year and a half when their first child, Lily, was born. When Lily was year and a half years old, the family finally immigrated to Israel.

Sonia never forgot her story from World War II and kept the Jewish star with her throughout her life. This item, which signified humiliation during a difficult period in her life, was nevertheless something that she found worthy of saving and later donating to Yad Vashem, for others to learn about a piece of her story and the Jews of Bulgaria.

[1] Michael Bar-Zohar, The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews, Adams Media Corporation, Holbrook, MA, 1998.
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