Author: Tsvetomir Tsvetanov, Lilia Dimitrova, Plamen Kotsev
Source: BNR, Radio Vidin, 07.03.2013
A few days from now – on March 10 – we will celebrate the Holocaust Victims Day and the 70th anniversary of the salvation of Bulgarian Jews. The date was determined with a decision of Bulgaria’s government in 2003. On this day we also honor the memory of 11 000 Jews from Macedonia, Aegean Thrace, and Pirot, who perished in the Nazi death camps during the Second World War.
“On the one hand we should pay homage to the memory of the victims, but on the other – we should rejoice that the Bulgarian Jews were saved ”, said Elin Todorov, Chair of the Regional Lom chapter of the Organization of Jews Shalom, on a talkshow of RADIO VIDIN.
“The Holocaust lessons must be remembered and promoted so that the mistakes from history are not repeated”, added Todorov.
In Lom the day will be marked by a commemoration ceremony and laying of flowers before the monument erected in the Danube city in memory of the perished Jews. The monument is constructed at the location from which 4 000 Jews from Macedonia and Aegean Thrace boarded the ships that led them to the death camps.
“The Jews from Macedonia and Aegean Thrace were brought on freight cars to Lom on March 20 and 21, 1943. The Lom locals showed sympathy to the arrestees’ fate, bringing them food and water, burying those, who died during the journey”, tells Elin Todorov.
Vidin was the city in which the Jews coming from Europe into the Ottoman Empire would settle first. This becomes clear from the story of Shalom’s Chief Secretary Joesph Melamed.
“Vidin is a city very close to the heart of Bulgarian Jews. My father started from there. I recently spoke to an old Vidin citizen – Avram Paparov – who told me he was very grateful to Vidin: “When they wouldn’t hire us anywhere because of the Protection of the State Act, the local beer factory informally recruited my father, thus, we could survive”, Joseph Melamed retells the old man’s story.
The symbol of Jews in Vidin, however, has been crumbling for years, triggering discussions for its rescue. A rehabilitation project has been elaborated for the building and approved by the National Institute for Immovable Cultural Heritage.
“We are ready to support the project. I already talked to Israel’s ambassador in our country on this matter. He is a great friend of Shalom and Bulgaria and has stated that he is ready to assist in any manner whatsoever, added Joseph Melamed.
That the Vidin Synagogue’s building would be restored was a pledge also made by the district governor Tsvetan Assenov: “The detailed design has been approved by the National Institute for Immovable Cultural Heritage and is currently under review at the Ministry of Culture. I hope that it will come out of there approved any moment now, so that we could conclude the entire matter.” Vidin’s district governor added that a proposal will be made to incorporate the Synagogue’s building into UNESCO’s list of Global Cultural Heritage. This would facilitate funding for the Synagogue restoration project.
The Vidin Synagogue is the second largest along the Danube valley after the Budapest one, and also the second largest in Bulgaria, after the Sofia one. The Jewish temple in the Danube city, however, exceeds the other religious houses with its beauty. Why isn’t the Vidin Synagogue restoration project already under way, is what we asked the Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov as well: “It is the owner’s foremost duty to make projects and look after the property. The Synagogue, being a unique building and potentially a fantastic attraction as a culture monument for Vidin, is worth renovating. I very often have discussions with the Jewish community about rescuing the temple. More intensive work is required.”
“Despite assertions that the Synagogue’s status is still uncertain, this is not the case. In 2009 the Vidin chapter of the Shalom organization made a free and indefinite conveyance of the building through title deed to the Ministry of Culture under two conditions: to restore it and to allocate a 50 sq. m. space for the needs of the Jewish community”, said the author of the Synagogue restoration project technical design Architect Lyubomir Stanislavov before RADIO VIDIN:
“The design is fully completed, reworked according to all additional requirements of the Ministry of Culture. Everything has been completed, submitted, and approved. In actual fact it is now a project in its working stage, ready for immediate execution. The only barrier is that a letter from the Minister of Culture to the Vidin district governor is awaited to vest in the governor, according to the legal requirements, powers to represent the state and carry out supervision during project implementation. Said letter will enable the funding application process. Regrettably, things are moving really slow and apathetically. There is a forthcoming visit to Vidin of Israel’s ambassador, who has requested to meet the city’s mayor and find out why are documents being processed so slow and why is project implementation unable to commence.”
When asked where funding for the project may be obtained, Architect Stanislavov answered thus: “The Про Vidin Synagogue’s problem has never been about lack of funding, the problem is the lazy processing of documents. There is also some tacit resistance against restoration of the temple.”
The Synagogue was constructed some time around 1894 with donations of Jews residing in the Vidin quarter of Kaleto. The interior was impressive with its colorful impact and use of ancient European and classical architectural forms. The main façade was imposing – strictly symmetrical with one main gate and two side gates. The four towers positioned atop the roof gave its striking grandeur. Since 1950 the Synagogue has lost its main purpose and started crumbling under impact of the elements.
In July last year the National Institute for Immovable Cultural Heritage at the Ministry of Culture came up with an official statement on the project for conservation, restoration, reconstruction, and adaptation of the Synagogue into a Jules Pascin Culture Center. The designer team comes from the architecture company Architectural Team, led by Architect Lyubomir Stanislavov. The project stipulates formation of a museum hall with a year-round exhibition and Jules Pascin library, a Holocaust musem exposition, a meeting hall, and a small house of prayer. If the seemingly small obstacles are removed, construction work is expected to commence this year and conclude in 2014 when the 120th anniversary of the Synagogue will be celebrated.
It does appear, however, that the political crisis gripping the country at this point, and the lack of will to save this unique building, will yet again postpone the repair work indefinitely.
Photos: Radio Vidin