Bulgarian Vladimir Kurtev has been honored posthumously as "a Righteous Among the Nations" for his role in the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps in 1943.
A medal and certificate of honor were presented to Kurtev's granddaughter on Monday at a special ceremony held at the Yad Vashem memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Jerusalem in the presence of Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov, Bulgarian Ambassador to Israel Dimitar Tsanchev, and the Chairman of the Israel-Bulgaria Friendship Association, Dr. Moshe Mossek.
"Thank you for helping us not to forget those who had the courage to stand up against the deportation of the Bulgarian Jews. Among the many dark pages in Bulgaria’s history, the events from February 1943 are a beam of light which showed the action of civil society in Bulgaria leading to changing history, something which was supposed to happen everywhere across Europe," Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov said at the ceremony according to press sources.
Vladimir Kurtev (1880 - 1946) was a Bulgarian teacher and a revolutionary and activist of the VMORO (International Macedonia-Adrianople Organization) fighting for the liberation of the regions of Macedonia and their accession to Bulgaria.
As a resident of the town of Kyustendil, Kurtev joined 3 other non-Jews and traveled to Sofia to protest an order signed between the German SS and the Bulgarian Commissioner for Jewish Questions on February 22, 1943, calling for the deportation of 20,000 Bulgarian Jews.
At their meeting with Minister of the Interior Petur Gabrovski, the minister denied that such deportation orders existed. Kurtev retorted that he had heard about them with his own ears, and threatened the minister with Macedonian "sanctions" if the edict wasn’t revoked.
As a result of these efforts, Bulgarian Jews were released from custody and the order was revoked. Macedonian Jews, however, were deported to the death camps.
According to press reports, Kurtev disappeared after the war, and his fate is unknown, although it is believed that he may have been murdered by the Bulgarian communist authorities.