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Stefan, Metropolitan°

STEFAN, METROPOLITAN°

STEFAN, METROPOLITAN ° (Stoyan Popgueorguiev ; 1878–1957), head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in World War ii and Righteous Among the Nations. Starting from January 1940, the government of Bulgaria was headed by a Fascist regime which favored a pro-German alignment, with the consent of King Boris iii and most members of the Parliament (Subranie). There were somewhat over 50,000 Jews in the country. To please the Germans, Bulgaria promulgated the Law for the Protection of the Nation at the end of 1940 (ratified in early 1941), with the intent to seriously limit the rights of Jews in the life of the country. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, headed by Metropolitan Stefan, took a strong stand against the Law. In a statement on November 15, 1940, the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church denounced the Law, the intent of which was to repress the rights of the Jewish population without regard whether Jews had committed any offense against the State. On the eve of the Law's promulgation, in January 1941, Stefan convened the Holy Synod and reiterated its denunciation, since "the principle of racism which encourages persecution, in this case of the Jewish race, has no justification.… One cannot turn the Law for the Protection of the Nation into a means of oppression and persecution of the Jewish minority in the land." The Law was nevertheless ratified by Parliament, on January 23, 1941. In the following years, the Law served as the basis for further restricting the rights of Jews. In September 1942, in a sermon, Metropolitan Stefan emphasized that no one has the right to treat the Jews cruelly and persecute them. He asked that the rights of Jews as well as converts to Christianity be respected. According to Abraham Alfasi, a leader of the Jewish community in Sofia, when, in March 1943, it became known that the Bulgarian government was about to acquiesce to German demands to deport Bulgarian Jews, Metropolitan Stefan told the king that in that event he would give instructions to open the gates of the churches and monasteries to shelter the Jews. Stefan then called a plenary session of the Holy Synod, which protested the increased persecution of Jews, underlining that "God's law, which transcends all human laws, unequivocally obliges us not to be indifferent in the face of the sufferings of innocent people, of whatever race…. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is of the opinion that she cannot deny help and protection to the persecuted and oppressed. If she were to refuse such help, she would be unfaithful to herself." When the government decided to expel the Jewish population in Sofia to small outlying locales, a step which many interpreted as a prelude to their delivery to the Germans, Metropolitan Stefan again decided to intervene. In a telephone conversation between Stefan and King Boris, on May 25, 1943, Stefan spoke out boldly: "Boris, my son, I am not at all satisfied about you. One hears lately of many things done to our Israelite brethren. Think very hard; it is unworthy of you and of the Bulgarian people…. Things have come to my knowledge which I would rather not believe. They are a disgrace and shame to you and to the Bulgarian people. I cannot explain them to you by telephone. If you wish, come to me, or I shall come to you at once." The king declined. The following day, Stefan was again on the phone with the king and pontificated to him on the anti-Jewish measures: "Boris, you forgot yourself. You elude me and hide…. You know that one time I saved your father's head and your throne. But it is doubtful whether I, after these acts of yours, shall be able to save your head. Give the matter serious thought and uproot this demonic influence from your heart." He then sent the king a telegram reading: "Do not persecute, so that you may not be persecuted. With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. I know, Boris, that from heaven God will keep watch over your actions." Stefan was then subjected to police searches which impounded documents of hasty conversions of Jews, carried out in order to exempt them from the government's anti-Jewish measures. Metropolitan Stefan's constant intervention on behalf of Bulgarian Jews, with the backing of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, as well as the outcry by other public figures, caused the government to postpone the delivery of the Jews to the Germans, and eventually led to the cancellation of this plan, and the more than 50,000 Jews of Bulgaria proper (with the exception of Jews in the annexed territories of Macedonia and Thrace) were saved.

bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives m31–9375; F.B. Chary, The Bulgarian Jews and the Final Solution 19401944 (1972).

[Mordecai Paldiel (2nd ed.)]

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