• Jewish Historical Museum
The synagogue in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia has housed the Jewish Museum of History since 1992. The museum presents the history of Bulgarian Jews, including their fate during World War II.
Image: Sofia, undated, Historical photo of the synagogue, Stiftung Denkmal
Sofia, undated, Historical photo of the synagogue, Stiftung Denkmal

Image: Sofia, 2008, Façade of the synagogue, today also home to the museum and community centre, Vassia Atanassova
Sofia, 2008, Façade of the synagogue, today also home to the museum and community centre, Vassia Atanassova
Jews had continuously inhabited the region of present-day Bulgaria since ancient times. They migrated to the area in several waves and thus adhered to various traditions; among them were Romaniotes as well as Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. In September 1939, the Bulgarian government expelled all Jews holding foreign citizenship from the country. With the coming into effect of the »Law for the Protection of the Nation« in January 1941, the persecution of Bulgarian Jews began. Having enjoyed equal rights since Bulgaria gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, they were now forced to wear a yellow star, they were expropriated and banned from the cities. Thousands of Jewish men were deployed in forced labour camps under terrible conditions. Moreover, Bulgaria agreed to the deportation of its Jewish citizens who were abroad to Auschwitz. After the Wehrmacht invaded Yugoslavia and Greece in the spring of 1941, Bulgaria occupied the Greek region of Thrace and parts of Macedonia and Serbia. Bulgarian authorities arrested close to 11,500 Jews in these areas and handed them over to the SS, who deported the Jews to the Treblinka extermination camp and murdered them there. Mass arrests were also carried out in the Bulgarian heartland, which was home to about 50,000 Jews. »Jewish Affairs Commissar« Belev planned to ship 25,000 Jews from Sofia and 23,000 Jews from the provinces along the Danube to German occupied Poland by September 1943. The first step of this plan entailed forcibly resettling nearly 20,000 Jews from Sofia to the provinces within 12 days. There, they were only allowed to live in designated houses and they were not allowed to enter certain shops, cinemas and cafés. All of their valuables and articles of daily use were confiscated by state authorities. At the end of May, about 10,000 people demonstrated against the resettlement, but the police dissipated the protesters. Politicians and representatives of the church were finally able to prevent the planned deportation of the Jews from the Bulgarian heartland.
Image: Sofia, undated, Historical photo of the synagogue, Stiftung Denkmal
Sofia, undated, Historical photo of the synagogue, Stiftung Denkmal

Image: Sofia, 2008, Façade of the synagogue, today also home to the museum and community centre, Vassia Atanassova
Sofia, 2008, Façade of the synagogue, today also home to the museum and community centre, Vassia Atanassova
About 12,000 Jews were deported from the territories occupied by Bulgaria and murdered at the Treblinka extermination camp: approx. 7,100 Jews from Macedonia, 4,200 Jews from Thrace, and about 700 Jews from southern Serbia. The Bulgarian Jews were expelled from the cities and deployed in forced labour.
Image: Sofia, 2005, Exhibition at the Jewish museum, Synagogue Sofia
Sofia, 2005, Exhibition at the Jewish museum, Synagogue Sofia
After the war, a majority of the Bulgarian Jews felt compelled to leave the country, now under communist rule, and emigrated to Palestine.
The central synagogue in Sofia - the largest Sephardic synagogue in Europe - was opened in 1909. Sephardim were the descendants of Jews who had been expelled from the Iberian Peninsula around 1500. In 1944, the synagogue was damaged in American and British air raids, the library and its collections burned down entirely. Until 1989, only small repairs were carried out. Since the mid-1990s, the synagogue has been gradually restored thanks to the donations and support of the »Doron Foundation of Israel«. Two rooms house the Jewish Museum of History and a library, which are run by the »Shalom« Organisation of Jews in Bulgaria. The exhibition deals with topics such as: history and daily life in the Jewish communities of Bulgaria, persecution and rescue of Bulgarian Jews during World War II, including the expulsion of Jews from Sofia in 1943/44 as well as the forced emigration to Israel in 1948/49.
Image: Sofia, 2005, Exhibition at the Jewish museum, Synagogue Sofia
Sofia, 2005, Exhibition at the Jewish museum, Synagogue Sofia

Image: Sofia, 2008, Synagogue interior, DMY
Sofia, 2008, Synagogue interior, DMY
Name
Zentralna sofijska sinagoga
Address
Ekzarh Josif 16
1000 Sofija
Phone
+359 2 983 14 40
Fax
+359 2 981 11 39
Web
http://www.sofiasynagogue.com/
E-Mail
jewishmuseum@shalom.bg
Open
Daily (except Friday afternoon and Saturday): 8.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4.30 p.m.
Possibilities
Guided tours in Bulgarian, English and Hebrew (by appointment), museum shop, permanent exhibition, special and travelling exhibitions, seminars