Interviewee: Linka Isaeva
Title: Jack Natan's Family
Place and Date: Sofia, Bulgaria - 1907
This is a photo of my father Jack Natan's family, taken around 1907. These are, from left to right, my grandmother Sol Natan, my cousin Malvina Natan, my father and my grandfather Shabbat Natan.
My ancestors belonged to that part of the Jewry, which came to Bulgaria from Spain - they were Sephardi Jews. The fact that my grandmothers, grandfathers and uncles spoke Ladino was proof of that. My grandparents were probably religious because there were hardly any non-religious people in their generation. I don't know about my grandfathers, but my grandmothers used to wear secular clothes.
My father had two older brothers. Bohor Natan, the eldest, was an extremely intelligent person. Although he didn't have a degree, he spoke German very well, and his French was also fluent. He was a very close friend of Georgi Kirkov. Bohor was among the first non-Bulgarians who had a mixed marriage with a Bulgarian woman. As there wasn't a civil marriage service in the country at that time, the couple went to Germany in order to contract their marriage. Bohor got married in the 1910s and died in 1936. His daughter Malvina died in 1967 without having any children, which actually ended that branch of the family. Our grandmother, Sol Natan, didn't even acknowledge her as a rightful granddaughter because her parents didn't have a religious wedlock.
My father was born in Nova Zagora in 1889. He graduated from the University of Law. After World War I his family moved to Sofia, as the male family members had started some trade there. My mother was born in Constanta, Romania. She met my future father at the wedding of her older sister Sharlota, who married a Bulgarian Jew from Ruse. He liked the bride's younger sister. They married in 1923 in Sofia. They had a religious wedding. I was born three years later.
Interviewee: Leon Madzhar
Title: Mordohay Sabitay Madzhar
Place and Date: Dupnitsa, Bulgaria - 1916
This is a photo of my father, Mordohay Sabitay Madzhar. He took part in the Balkan War (1912-13). The picture was taken in Dupnitsa on 22nd October, 1916.
My father was born in Dupnitsa in 1892. He was a very kind man. My father's ancestors are Sephardi Jews; his family comes from Salonika. My father's father, Sabitay Aron or Rahamin ? I don?t remember exactly which of the two names was his second name ? Madzhar, came to Bulgaria as a young man and settled in Dupnitsa. I don?t know when that happened, probably when he was young. I know nothing about his parents, or his brothers and sisters. But I know that he had siblings. They remained in Salonika. After World War II my father and I tried to find them, but we found no one. Most probably, they died in the death camps.
Dad inherited his father's gut processing trade, which had nothing to do with the kashrut; the guts were sold to Bulgarians who produced sausages. My father was a very kind man and was not strict; he never hit me. I remember that once he was very angry with me, and yet he didn't beat me. He was a kind-hearted man. He very much believed in people, he was kind of naive. He had many Bulgarian friends. That's why during the Law for the Protection of the Nation we didn't experience much hardship. We had friends in the villages and in town, who brought us flour and bread; there was a miller, who was a friend of my father. The baker also respected him.
My father was a well-known man and everyone was willing to help him. But sometimes his faith in people got him into trouble. Once he came to work in Sofia with a fellow man from Dupnitsa. They earned a lot of money, but his so-called partner cheated him and gave him nothing. My father was very kind, but maybe because of his job and his fellow workers, butchers, who are on the whole ruder, wild and unrestrained, he was very brave. I can?t say that he was rude, but he reacted very fast in dangerous situations.
Interviewee: Mimi-Matilda Petkova
Title: The wedding of Sarah and Buko Pizanti
Place and Date: Vidin, Bulgaria - 1920
This photo was taken on 8th August 1920, when my parents got married, a month after their engagement. This is the wedding photo I cherish a lot. My father and my mother are in the center. On the left side standing is my mother's brother and below him is his wife, also on the left side of my mother. Above her, standing, second from left to right is the daughter of my mother's brother, next to her is her husband. Next to him is my mother's brother and his wife, next to them is my father's brother with his wife. The woman sitting first on the right below is the unmarried sister of my father - Sarah. On her left side is the daughter of my mother's nephew, Rebecca.
My father's name was Buko, but he preferred to be called Saltiel. He was born in Vidin on 20th December 1897. After I got married and moved to Sofia, he came to live with us. He was a very strict, but fair man. He never broke his word. He was not a complete atheist, because he kept my grandfather's tallit as a relic, as well as his kippah. When he went to the synagogue, he would put on his tallit and kippah at home. He seldom went to the synagogue though.
My mother's name was Sarah, but everyone called her Freda. She was born on 8th August 1895 in Vidin. My mother was a diabetic. She was almost illiterate. During the Law for the Protection of the Nation, she worked as a housemaid for the rich Jews. I, as the youngest child, went with her, peeling onions, potatoes etc.
My parents knew each other from early on, because they were neighbors. They dressed like the others. My mother told me that her brother bought her cheap high-heeled shoes. The other sisters wore slippers with heels. My mother was raised by her brother, who also raised his other brothers and sisters. The shoes she was talking about were a bit above the ankle, with laces. Once she cut them from top to the bottom with a knife and he made her sew them together again. Then she continued to wear them for quite some time. Uncle Yako, her brother, bought my mother her first nice pair of shoes when she got engaged. That made her very happy.
Interviewee: Luna Davidova
Title: Buko Davidov Katalan
Place and Date: Kazanlak, Bulgaria - 1924
This is a photo of my father, Buko Davidov Katalan. It was taken in the town of Kazanlak, on Sukkot, in 1924.
My father was born on 7th September 1902 in the town of Kazanlak. He is the first-born son of the Katalans. He finished Boy's High School in Plovdiv, he was an atheist and a communist. Before 9th September 1944 he was imprisoned several times, for example in the Stara Zagora Prison in 1935-1936 for a couple of months and in 1941-1942 in Kazanlak as a political prisoner under the Law for the Protection of the Nation. He was fluent in Spanish, French, Russian and German. He also spoke excellent Turkish and loved the Latin proverbs. At home we read Dostoevsky and Chekhov in Russian, as well as Yesenin, Poe, Heine, Zweig, Meyerhold and Stanislavsky. There was even an Italian Bible. My father was a Bohemian - he was fond of drinking with friends, of laughing and joking. He maintained a friendship with Chudomir [Dimitar Hristov Chorbadjiisky alias Chudomir (1890-1967) - a well-known Bulgarian humorist] until the end of his life. Chudomir visited our home very often, they played backgammon and talked about books, poetry, painters and theater. He staged some plays at 'Iskra', a chitalishte [cultural center] in Kazanlak.
My father was a member of the Bulgarian Communist Party but he was expelled in 1963 in Kazanlak because he stood up for a friend of his, an ex-military officer named Slavov. Later my father was invited to join the Party but he refused, he was very grieved.
Interviewee: Regina Grinberg
Title: Regina Grinberg with classmates at the entrance of the Jewish school
Place and Date: Shumen, Bulgaria - 1930s
This photo depicts the entrance of the Jewish school in Shumen in the 1930s. I am standing with folded hands in one of the uppermost rows, near the girl with the sailor's suit. Sailor suits were very popular at that time. The timeframe is somewhere between 1932 and 1934. I am dressed in a light blouse and skirt-pants. My mother often made me wear a fringe, and also dressed me in loose sports clothes. I still like that sports style and feel best in pants.
The Jewish school was private, supported by the Jewish municipality. We did not study on Saturday because of the Jewish holiday or on Sunday because of the Bulgarian one. We were ten students in a class. We studied mostly three languages ? Ivrit, Bulgarian and French. Our teachers in Bulgarian class prepared us very well, and I did not have difficulties when I went to junior high school. My Bulgarian teacher was called Katya. Jewish women, whose names I cannot recall, taught us Ivrit. Later they left for Palestine. Our teacher in French was Adon [?Mr.? in Ivrit] Behar, who was paid not by the Jewish municipality, but by the Alliance Francaise.
I was always an excellent student, and I always did my homework and knew all the lessons. My mother taught me up to work hard and be independent. Every morning I got up and prepared my breakfast. My mother never prepared my breakfast for me, nor did she fuss around me while I was getting ready for school. She thought that I should take care of these things by myself. Indeed, she never shouted at us or told us what to do. That is the best thing I can remember about my childhood. My mother thought that I should develop by myself and show what I can do. She also felt that I should get what I want by myself and achieve my goals on my own.
Upon graduating from the Jewish school, I was thrust into a Bulgarian junior high school, and I suddenly found myself in a class with 40 students. The shock was enormous. When I started going to the Bulgarian school I also began going to the Orthodox church because of Mrs. Kutsarova, our class teacher. She did not like me much and made me go to the Orthodox church. Can you imagine that? On Friday evenings I went to the synagogue ? I even hummed the prayer because I knew all the melodies by heart. Then on Sundays I was made to go to the Orthodox church with the whole class. When I told Mrs. Kutsarova that I had also gone to the synagogue, she said, ?I cannot excuse you, you must come with the whole class.? ?But I am a Jew" I said, ?I go to the synagogue.? ?It doesn?t matter" she said, ?you must come with the whole class.? I did not dare to oppose her because her daughter was a friend of mine. She was a very nice girl who studied medicine.
Later, around my 13th birthday, when I went to high school, I fell under the influence of a particular group of girls ? socialists. Together we became partisans, and I was totally cut off from the church.
Interviewee: Matilda Israel
Title: Matilda Israel with her family in Bourgas
Place and Date: Bourgas, Bulgaria - 1933
This photo was taken in Bourgas around 1933. From left to right: My brother Sabetay's wife Liza, their son Misho, me, my sister Sophie (nee Yulzari), my half-brother Haim Benaroya, Matilda - the daughter of my sister Buka (nee Yulzari), the maid, Leon - son of my brother Sabetay and his wife Liza.
I remember that I was very unhappy, because I had a wonderful swimming suit, but we had guests - Buka with her daughter Matilda, who lived in Yambol and since I was older than Matilda and she was a guest, I had to give my suit to her, as she didn't have one. I was very sad because of that. I was in my underwear in this photo.
During the holidays we often went to Bankya with Liza, the wife of my brother Sabetay. She went there to have her sick heart treated. I mostly loved the weekends when we went to Bourgas. We caught the train which passed through Karnobat at 6am and in an hour we were in Bourgas. It is a very nice town, where we used to go sunbathing. We spent the whole day there and we returned with the last train.
Interviewee: Matilda Albuhaire
Title: A Purim celebration of Matilda Albuhaire's class
Place and Date: Bourgas, Bulgaria - 1938
This photo was taken at the Purim celebration. The children are dressed as characters from a short play I wrote in Hebrew and put on stage as a producer. Standing in the middle you can see the girl, who was starring as Ester ha-malkah [Queen Esther] and who came back to Bulgaria many years later to see me. Her name was Bella Sidi. And you can also see some of the courtiers, Mordecai and then there is Roska Baruch. She is Rebecca Baruch, the kindergarten teacher's daughter. There is another girl called Corina. And there is Marco Hasson, who came to my birthday many years later and said: 'I was her pupil in 1st grade.' The other teacher is Mois Cohen. He came from Yambol and worked as a teacher of Bulgarian literature. During the Holocaust he was in a forced labor camp. In 1948 he left for Israel with the mass aliyah from Bulgaria. He died recently in Israel.
Between 1938 and 1943, I was employed as a teacher in Bourgas - actually it was until 1941, but on record it says until 1943, because the time I was unemployed was recognized as working experience. I was a Hebrew teacher at the Jewish elementary school and I was paid by the Jewish community. The children loved me very much. I loved them, too, because I was very young, 21 years old. We celebrated all the holidays. We had a very intensive Jewish life before the war. During the war the Jewish school was closed in 1941. After we were driven out of our school, we went to an old building and continued to work there as a Jewish school for some time. It was later transformed into gendarme's barracks.
Interviewee: Yako Yakov
Title: A Hashomer Hatzair performance of "The Black Spot"
Place and Date: Ruse, Bulgaria - 1939
This is a photo of a 'Hashomer Hatzair' theater performance. The photo was taken in 1939 in Ruse.
The name of the play was 'The Black Spot,' I cannot remember the name of the author, who was of German origin. It was a very interesting comedy play, written against racial discrimination, with a very modern plot. In summary, the wife of a very rich German landowner gets married to a Negro [African-American] in Germany. That was condemnable - the father of the girl could not imagine what the children looked like - white, black, or striped...
In Ruse it was staged by Izidor Hershkovic, one of the innovators of theater directing in Bulgaria; he was one of the first to include a live orchestra in his performances as early as 1930-1940. He wrote the lyrics for the play and I played one of the main roles.
I am in the second row down, looking sideways and wearing a tie. The photo was taken in the Drama Theater in Ruse after the performance, in front of the props. In the play the musical score was played by the young men from the David music association. They were not actors, they just played the instruments; the performance resembled a musical.
Interviewee: Mayer Alhalel
Title: Mayer Rafael Alhalel with his friends
Place and Date: Vidin, Bulgaria - 1940
This photo was taken in the Jewish quarter in Vidin, Kaleto. Some of my friends are Bulgarians such as the third man from above to below, his name was Tsanko Urmanov. From above to below are Haim Paparo, Jacques Koen, Tsanko Urmanov, me, Marko Primo and Isak Benaroy.
I remember an anti-Semitic case from my school. I had a friend, a Bulgarian, his name was Tsanko Urmanov and his family was rich. He had a Jewish girlfriend. One evening, I went out with him and my best friend Haim Paparo for a walk. Haim's grandfather was a rabbi in our synagogue. Haim and I were neighbors and we often went for a walk together. That evening a Legionnaire approached Haim and I, and ordered us to make the sign of the cross. Tsanko defended us and they started a fight. In the end the Legionnaire ran away, because Tsanko was a big boy. The next evening the three of us went for a walk again and Tsanko opened his coat and said, 'Look at what I bought today!' And he showed us a dagger. He said, 'If someone tries to threaten you again, I'll kill him, I won't think twice!'
Around 29th August, all of us, around 300 laborers, already felt that our freedom was approaching. In other words we anticipated the coming of 9th September 1944. And that feeling strengthened when we saw the German troops withdrawing from Bulgaria along the road near our camp. They were going to Yugoslavia to take part in the fighting there. When we saw them, we stopped working right away. What's more, a group of 30-40 people, mostly from Vidin, decided to escape from the labor camp. We were Jews, members of UYW, from various cities: Sofia, Plovdiv, Vidin, Ruse, Pleven, etc. From them I remember my friend Marko Primov, Simcho Kohenov, also from Vidin, but I don't remember any other names. At that time I wasn't a UYW member yet, but I was a follower of their ideas, unlike Marko Primov, who was a member.
Those of us who escaped went first to the village of Sokolovo, which was near the camp. We weren't afraid of getting caught, so we weren't hiding, and we didn't move only at night. We hired five to six men with carts to drive us through the mountain roads to Lovech. We paid them with the money we had collected, which had been sent to us by our relatives. The food in the camp was never enough and we had to buy more food from the people in the nearby villages. We usually bought hominy, potatoes and cheese. Thanks to some of those villagers, who sold us food, we received news on the political changes in the country. We moved fast across the forest and reached Lovech. From there we couldn't get on a train so we hired a truck to get us to places close to our hometowns. I personally, wanted to go back to Vidin.
Interviewee: Victoria Behar
Title: Jacquelen Behar with a friend
Place and Date: Sofia, Bulgaria - 1942
This is my husband Jacquelen Behar with a Jewish friend. I don?t know who he is. They have yellow stars on their lapels. The photo was taken in Sofia in 1942.
Jacquelen was born on 3rd February 1926 in Sofia. His family wasn't rich - they were workers. They weren't religious. His father entered the socialist movement right after World War I. When Jacquelen was young, he was a member of the communist youth movement. During the Holocaust his family was interned to Vratsa.
While I was a student in the upper classes, I often met on my way to the college a tall, slightly swarthy soldier, who was always smiling at me. This also happened when I was with my sisters or friends and they noticed it. My parents somehow learned about it and they told me that I could have for an intimate friend, and later for a husband, only a Jew and I should have no illusions about this soldier. Particularly after his Holocaust experience, my father had told me that he wanted no Bulgarian for a son-in-law. And my sister was telling me all the time how this tall and swarthy soldier was staring at me. I started thinking that he was Armenian or Turkish; he didn't look like a Bulgarian to me. Then, one day, some relatives and friends from Dupnitza came to Sofia and we met some other friends of theirs outside the cinema. My wooer from a distance was among them. We were introduced to each other and it turned out that he was also a Jew.
His name was Jacquelen Iacob Behar. We started going to his Workers' Youth Union club together. He was an active member of the UYW. After two years we got married. I never looked at him until I found out that he was a Jew and then I fell in love with him.
Interviewee: Leontina Arditi
Title: Workers in a forced labor camp
Place and Date: Shiroka Poliana village, Bulgaria - 1942
This is a photo of one of the forced labor camps, where my father Samuil Arditi was sent to. The photo was taken in Shiroka Poliana in 1942, but my papa isn't on the photo.
During the war, dad was sent to a forced labor camp and my mother was cleaning the casks of some Jews, who intended to sell them. As a matter of fact, my father was sent to four Jewish forced labor camps. The first was in the village of Izvorche, Lovech region, the second in Shiroka Poliana, Batak region, the third in Dupnitsa, and I don't know were the fourth was. The last time my father came back from a forced labor camp his back was all in violet straps from beating. He never told us why he was beaten. I know he arrived by train at 3am, but he didn't call us until 6am. He stayed at the front door stairs in order not to wake us up. He was afraid he was infested with lice. Then mum undressed him in the yard, kindled a big fire and boiled all his clothes in a cauldron. After that she wrapped him in a bed sheet; it was snowing outside! Then she cleaned him from lice in the house.
My mother's encounter with the commissioner Belev of the so-called Committee on Jewish Affairs in 1943 was interesting. The Committee was formed after the arrival of the Germans in Bulgaria, that is after the Law for the Protection of the Nation was passed. Mum herself insisted to meet him at the time when they intended to expel us from our house. Her meeting was organized by a friend of a friend of Julia de la Gnese, who was in turn my father's friend. She was a very decent woman; she taught me French for free. She fell in love with some German and we used her contact. Although pointless, this encounter was remembered. I accompanied my mother - Belev appeared to me tall and sinister, with a yellowy-white face, pale as a dead man. My mother entered and came out again immediately. And said: 'Impossible'. That meant, we had to leave our house; we weren't allowed to stay there. But I remember well the cleaning woman at the Committee, who was sweeping and in front of her some young Germans in uniforms were sitting and smoking. She cursed them in the face: 'Got smite them', she shouted, 'and me, to sweep their shits here! Who brought them here?' And so on. A man heard her and said, 'What the hell are you talking! They will hear you!' 'You don't say! They don't speak Bulgarian let alone Shopski dialect.'
Interviewee: Eshua Almalech
Title: Eshua Almalech's graduation ball in the French College
Place and Date: Plovdiv, Bulgaria - 1943
This is a photo from my graduation ball in the French College in Plovdiv in March 1943. I am the third from right to left on the second row (in a grey coat); the man with glasses and small beard in the middle is our class instructor Pere Gotie, the second from left to right on the first row is Kamen Vichev, a teacher and in charge of the sports activities in the college. He was killed during the communist regime and beautified by the Roman Catholic Church in Plovdiv in 2002 by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Bulgaria. On the upmost row from left to right are the three Jewish friends of mine - the first is Paco, the second Jacques Anavi and the third - Berto Aronov. The three moved to Israel and to this day I keep in touch with Jacques and Berto.
I returned to the college intending to go back to Stara Zagora the next day. Then my class teacher Pere Gotie Damper, who was a French Catholic priest, called me to his room. He told me that the college director Pere Ozon and he would not allow the Jewish students in the college to be sent to death. He offered me to stay in the college and said that I should not worry about food, accommodation and clothes. But there was one condition: I had to adopt the Catholic faith. He said that they had spoken with our parents and that they would issue us a document that this had happened when I enrolled in the school in 1937 so that the authorities would not be suspicious. I do not know what would have happened if I had accepted their proposal or if I would have accepted it at all. But the same day shortly before leaving for Stara Zagora the message came that the deportation of the Jews was postponed and they could go back to their homes. The Jews in Bulgaria were defended by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, large groups of Bulgarian intellectuals, Macedonian organizations, including deputies from the ruling party in Parliament.
After that the government adopted another strategy. All Jews from Sofia, who were around 30 000, were to be interned from the capital to other parts of the country. Around 100 families came to Stara Zagora; most of them were put up in local Jewish families, the others - in a school. The Mevorah family came to live with us together with another young family, whose name I have forgotten. We lived together for a month, when a new governmental order came that all Jews from Stara Zagora had to be interned to other towns. It was also valid for all bigger cities in the country, but there was one more reason to apply it in Stara Zagora - here were the headquarters of the Nazi General List, Commander-in-Chief of the German army for the Balkans.
Interviewee: Rebeca Assa
Title: Isak Benvinisti's Family
Place and Date: Plovdiv, Bulgaria - 1944
This is a picture of the family of Isak Benvinisti, the brother of my father Mair. The photo was taken during the Holocaust in 1944 when all Jews used to wear badges. His wife Perla is on his left. She married him, despite the fact that she was his first cousin. That's why their children were not quite of sound mind. I think that's the reason why Aunt Perla became mentally ill, and I think she took her own life. In any case there was a great tragedy in that family before their leaving for Israel. I recall that at the time when this picture was taken, their family lived with us on 16 Bratia Miladinovi Street in Plovdiv. Uncle Isak went to Israel only with his children. I don?t remember their names.
Interviewee: Haim Molhov
Title: Haim Molhov at his workplace
Place and Date: Sofia, Bulgaria - 1950s
This is me as a designer in the Chimmetalurgproyekt Institute. The photo was taken in the 1950s in Sofia. I started working in the institute in 1953.
I worked in the Chimmetalurgproyekt Institute for 26 years until I retired. While I worked there, I decided to apply for university. The three years in the commercial school weren't recognized as secondary education, so I first had to complete high school. I signed up with the technical school in industry chemistry. I enrolled in a correspondence course and went in for exams. While I was studying in high school I headed the personnel department of the institute.
After I graduated from high school, I went to work in the technical department. Along with two friends of mine - one of whom had been a political prisoner before 1944, and the other, Todor Milenkov, had a death sentence in the same period for antifascist activities - I decided to apply for a university degree in the Chemistry and Technology Institute. However, at that time I was 40 years and two months old and Todor Milenkov 40 years and eight months. It turned out that we couldn't be admitted to university because the upper age limit was 40 years.
We decided to go to the Education Minister, but we were received by Deputy Minister Ganchev instead. We explained to him our intentions and that our documents weren't accepted because we were a few months above the allowed age. At first, he refused to help us, but Todor Milenkov said that we would go to the Prime Minister, Anton Yugov, whom we knew personally. Only then he agreed and took our applications. After one week I received a letter saying that the ministry allowed me to study in the institute. I graduated in 1963. In the same year and the same month my son Benedict graduated from the Music Conservatory. The newspaper Jewish News wrote about that saying that there were two university graduates in our home now.
My specialty was black metallurgy and when the institute divided into Chimproyekt and Metalurgproyekt, I chose to work in Metalurgproyekt although the director of Chimproyekt was a Jew. I retired at the age of 63 in 1978, but I still felt strong and motivated and I returned to work for two more years. At that time I headed the external relations of the institute with other similar institutions. After 1989 I was also a member of the Union of Engineers.
Interviewee: Raina Blumenfeld
Title: Yosif Sabitai's tombstone
Place and Date: Sofia, Bulgaria - 1960s
This is a photo of my family at my father's grave: my mother Sarina Sabitai, her step-mother Esther and my husband Haim Blumenfeld. On the left are my sister Ziumbiula, myself, behind me is my sister Rebecca and in front of me is my elder daughter Herzelina. The photo was taken in the 1960s.
My father, Josif Sabitai, was born in Sofia in 1900. He was a tinsmith and plumber. In 1928, a year before I was born, the winter was severely cold. Many water pipes and taps had cracked. That created plenty of work for my father and, putting a lot of efforts into it, he managed to make his fortune. And in the place of the one-roomed house, he built a house with two rooms, kitchen and a toilet inside, which was a great rarity at that time. We had hot water from a coal-heated boiler, too, which my father, being a very skilled craftsman, had connected to the stove. Four children were born in that house - one boy and three girls (including me). All the children used to sleep in the same room. My parents occupied the smaller room.
Our family was comparatively well off because my father had succeeded in changing his fortune through his work as a tinsmith and plumber, and had even managed to open a scrap warehouse. The house he had built was at the corner of Pernik and Positano and for that time, it was one of the best in the quarter.
In 1943 we were interned to the town of Ferdinand [today Montana]. We were isolated there in a Jewish quarter and were permitted to go out for only two hours a day. Something funny happened there. My father had an employee from Ferdinand in his tinsmith workshop in Sofia - he was called Peno. This man Peno had a tinsmith workshop in Ferdinand. My father got in touch with him and he became Peno's worker. We were not allowed to work then, but my father used to sneak into his workshop to help him.
During the internment, Jewish men endured an incredible stress and it was their shoulders, which were overburdened with worries to provide for their families. Many young men died due to the huge torment they were subjected to. These include my father, too, who died at the age of 47. The fathers of a number of my relatives and friends passed away young as a result of what they had lived through.
Interviewee: Rebecca Assa
Title: Rebecca Assa's Family
Place and Date: Sofia, Bulgaria - 1960
This is my family in Sofia in 1960, before our children got married.
My husband, Moritz Assa, was sent to Italy on a business trip and he brought us nice clothes from there. He brought some lovely woollen material for me, and I made the suit that I?m wearing on the photo.
We lived on 52 Clement Gotwald Street then. Our daughter Margarita Alecsieva [nee Assa] is between my husband and me. Our older son Isak Assa is on the right behind me, and my second son, Maer Assa, is next to him. Our sons were born in Plovdiv - Isak in 1942, Maer in 1946 - and our daughter, Margarita, in 1951 in Sofia.
My husband went to Sofia to work for the party in 1949. I followed him in 1950. There were commissions in Sofia that dealt with the distribution of lodgings. Such a commission gave us two rooms with the right to use a living room also on Clement Gotwald Blvd [Evlogi Georgiev today]. Two of my children got married in that house. We moved to our present apartment in the Hipoduma quarter in 1962. I wasn't working anymore and was dealing with social activities.
My parents followed me [to Sofia] two years after that because I wanted to work, and my mother had to look after my children. My parents got Sofia citizenship easily. I started to sew shirts and got very little money for that, but it helped anyway.
I went back to work in a sewing co-operation, Boyka, when Margarita was two, and I became a quality controller there. I worked there for thirteen years and retired after that. My husband was sent to London as a Bulgarian commercial attache in 1968 and I went there one year later.
Interviewee: Matilda Israel
Title: Matilda Israel with her friends
Place and Date: Vitosha Mountain near Sofia, Bulgaria - 1970s
This is a photo of me (second from right) with friends at Vitosha Mountain near Sofia in the 1970s. I have a disease for which the doctors recommended fresh air and walks in nature. The disease was discovered when I was 40 years old and for thirty years on every Sunday I was taking hikes on Vitosha.
I had friends whom I would meet at 10am in a hut named Kumata. By then I would have already climbed Cherni Vrah, the highest peak in Vitosha. We did that every week, every season. Now my health doesn?t allow me to do it any more, unfortunately.
Usually I went to Vitosha without my husband Salvator. I met those friends there. They are not Jewish.
Interviewee: Matilda Israel
Title: Salvator Israel in the synagogue in Sofia
Place and Date: Sofia, Bulgaria - 1982
This is my husband Salvator Israel in the Neolog synagogue in Sofia in 1982.
After Salvator retired in 1974, he became chairman of the Spiritual Council in the synagogue. He started the process of its restoration. The Ministry of Culture told him that they would provide money for the restoration, only if the synagogue was turned into a concert hall. My husband objected and fought very hard to prevent this. In the end, he managed to preserve the original functions of the synagogue. While he held that position, he managed to attract many Jews to the synagogue. All the elderly Jewish men went to the services. He was the first to build a sukkah in its yard on Sukkot. He also used to prepare a short essay explaining the origins of each holiday. He knew the Bible in great detail. This tradition to write a brochure explaining the history of the holiday is still preserved today.
In 1978 my husband received the honorary title 'Honored Doctor' and in 1983 he received the title 'A People's Doctor'. Salvator died on 8th March 1986. He was an exceptional man - well read, wise, with a great sense of humor. He knew seven languages. His mother tongues were Ladino and German; he also spoke Hebrew, French and Russian very well.
Now the restoration process of the synagogue is almost completely finished and if he could see it, he would be very happy and proud. We organized a religious funeral for him. There were many people present. First we gathered in the ritual hall, then we buried him in the Jewish cemetery in Sofia. We observed the main traditions - we covered the coffin with a special blanket, my older son Marcel said the prayer. In line with the ritual we served only salty food at the funeral and mastika. At least this is what I remember, because I was not myself that day.
Interviewee: Leon Madzhar
Title: Leon Madzhar's Family in Bankya
Place and Date: Bankya, Bulgaria - 1984
This photo was taken in our villa in Bankya [near Sofia] in 1984. It shows my wife Suzana and our two grandsons Moni (my daughter's son) and Leon (my son Morits's son).
My wife and I have a son and a daughter. Morits was born in 1954 and Nina in 1959. Both were born in Sofia. Morits graduated as an architect. He has two children: Leon, born in 1979 and Daniela, born in 1980. My daughter Nina finished high school and wanted to study in the Institute of Economics, but then she gave it up. She worked as an economist for a long time, and now she helps her husband, with whom she has a stall in the market. They have two children: Moni, born in 1979 and Suzana, born in 1983.
My son Morits moved with his family to Israel in 1994. At first they lived in Beer Sheva, then they moved to Tel Aviv. Morits had many years of work experience as an architect, he had won awards, but he was not paid well there. In Tel Aviv he started work in an Italian company, and gradually and with much hard work he started earning more money. Meanwhile, we realized that their children weren?t doing very well at school, because they were enrolled in the same grade as they were here in Bulgaria and they did not know the language. So they needed time to catch up, but this meant that they wouldn't have a good diploma. So we decided that they and their mother should come back and finish their education here while our son remained to work in Israel. And so they did. But soon, our son returned, too. Now he has his own studio and he earns good money. He builds very nice family houses.
When his children finished school, they decided to have their university education in Israel. But they only lost two years, because they weren?t able to enroll in any university and they came back. They knew Hebrew, but not well enough to study in university. Now my grandson Leon studies architecture in the Higher Architecture and Building Institute and my granddaughter studies psychology in the Southwest University in Blagoevgrad. My other grandson, Moni, Nina's son, graduated from the Institute of Economics with excellent marks and now he is studying for the master's degree. He is very ambitious. He lives with us. At the beginning my daughter's family didn't have an apartment and came to live with us. When they bought an apartment and moved out, Moni remained with us, because his school was here. My granddaughter Suzana studies acting in the New Bulgarian University. We were all very surprised by her decision, because I don?t think it's a very profitable job, but she chose it and she is very happy, and her teachers are very pleased with her, too.
Interviewee: Sophie Pinkas
Title: Celebration of Rosh Hashanah
Place and Date: Sofia, Bulgaria - 1987
The photo was taken in Sofia in 1987. My aunt had guests from Israel - the brother and sister-in-law. The Israeli guests performed the ritual of Rosh Hashanah with the honey and the apple. From right to left at the table are: I and my husband Simcho [Nissim] Kohenov, David Arie, who is the brother of my aunt Roza Pinkas, the wife of my uncle Jacques. David Arie lives in Israel; he emigrated in 1948. He came to visit his nephews - the son and daughter of his sister Roza. Next to him is Susanna Pinkas, who is wife of my first cousin Avram Pinkas, the son of my uncle Jacques Pinkas. Next to him is Poli Pinkas, who is the daughter of my cousin Beka Pinkas, again daughter of Jacques and Roza. She is also in Israel. She emigrated in the 1990s. Next to her is the husband of the daughter of my cousins Avram and Susanna, who isn?t on the photo. His name was Simcho. He also lives in Israel. Next to him are his two daughters Rozi and Suzi. Next is my first cousin Avram Pinkas, the son of Jacques and Rosa, who was in Israel, but died here in Bulgaria after a heart surgery. He is buried here, but his family is in Israel. Next to him is Reni Arie, the wife of David Arie. They came to visit us and invited me and my husband to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with them.
My father's brothers and their families returned often to Bulgaria. We also kept in touch by mail. We have always been interested in life in Israel. We read books, newspapers and magazines, but only those which were published in Bulgaria. There was no other way to keep ourselves informed. We exchanged letters regularly with our relatives, but it was more of a correspondence on the family issues and financial situation.