Draft resolution

Resolution 1096


Communist Terror
National Agencies
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History > Communist Terror > Bulgaria
  Persecutions of Catholics

The Crimes during the Communist Regime and the Attempts at Their Investigation after 10 November 1989
by Hristo Hristov
Journalist, Dnevnik daily

What befell Bulgaria in September 1944
by Professor Plamen S. Tzvetkov, Ph.D

The Repressions against the Catholic Church and against Catholics in Bulgaria (1944-1989)
by Svetlozar Eldarov
Professor, Dr. of History

Bulgarian doctors and students of medicine - victims of the communist terror of 1944-1989

The Pogrom over the Writers after 9 September 1944 – Moral and Culturological Aspects
by Tzveta Trifonova
Literary historian and critic

Persecutions of ethnic minorities from 1944 until 1989

Murderous Red
by Hristo Troanski
Publishing Workshop AB
Sofia 2003

Defined as a thriller-chronicle by the author, the book "Murderous red" retells about the crimes of the Bulgarian communists in their illegal period and from the time of establishment of the (so-called) "people's power" accompanied by mass murders, destruction of the Bulgarian state system and the Bulgarian society as well. Publications in the Bulgarian and the Macedonian press are referred, as well as archival documents, testimonies of contemporaries, victims and their relations, memories of Bulgarian and Macedonian politicians, militaries, and revolutionaries and of communist functionaries.
In Bulgarian.

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The Communist St. Bartholomew’s Massacres

The Killings without Prosecution, Court or Sentence in the Autumn of 1944 in Bulgaria

by Hristo Troanski
Writer, journalist

The operetta-like coup d’état on 9 September 1944 found the clandestine party until then of the Bulgarian communists, which then bore the name of Bulgarian Workers’ Party (BWP), with 7,000 members and about as many organised members of the Workers’ Youth Union, “the militant reserve of the BWP.” That was the total number of the bearers of “the most progressive idea,” who just days later turned into a factor dictating the course of events in the country occupied by the Soviet Army.

Many of them came down from the mountains and woods where they were hiding. These were the guerrilla fighters who took part in the so-called antifascist resistance, which consisted predominantly in terror over the population for three years, predominantly in the more remote areas, and in punitive actions and raids of dairy farms, subversive activities and murders. Another substantial part of them were convicts serving prison sentences, who were amnestied two days earlier by the government of Konstantin Mouraviev,* among whom it is not clear who was convicted for political reasons and who was an ordinary thief or crook. The rest were “peaceful” citizens who were lying low until recently, but all of a sudden decided to cast themselves in the role of rebels, although there was no uprising, let alone a revolution.

Having once legitimised themselves, all these “ardent dreamers for the land of kolkhozes” took a position that was diametrally opposite to the claims of the official communist press that the aim of the BWP was to establish a lasting “people’s” democracy and to attain social justice. They rolled their sleeves for revenge and arbitrary retribution, formulated by the party leadership from Moscow – the overseas bureau – as “harsh judgement for the blood-suckers of the people” to which the leader Georgi Dimitrov added the definition of “revolutionary purge.”

Revenge, irrespective of whether it is justified, is inherent to a primitive and impersonal individual, who has claims far beyond his abilities. It is not at least accidental that the most fanatical among these “ardent lovers of justice” were actually social misfits, incompetent and semi-literate “people’s intellectuals” who were failures in life. The data from the preserved police archives confirm that the prevalent majority of the communist activists consisted of people without education and profession, high school and university students with anarchist ideas who had either been expelled or had dropped out. Among these passengers who has missed the train there were also adventurers with a dark past, scum with the dubious notoriety of district bullies, and persons with a criminal record and prior convictions.

The guerrilla commander Stoyu Nedelchev-Chochoolu, famous for his excessive cruelty, was stealing horses in the villages around Stara Zagora, before he found himself in that new vocation. Mircho Spassov, the future mastermind behind the sinister concentration camps near Lovech and Skravena, was a thief working on the roads between Sofia and Pazardjik in his youth. The biography of the odious Lev Glavinchev abounded in the so-called “wet jobs” – physical executions of people, garnished with major “expropriations,” which did not prevent him from heading the State Security services in Sofia after the coup. A pea from the same pod was the recidivist Nikola Petkov-Moryaka, one of the organisers of the St. Bartholomew’s massacres near Sofia and future bodyguard of the communist leader Georgi Dimitrov.

Who could believe that such scum could sincerely embrace the idea of fraternity and equality! True, there may have been naïve and romantic dreamers, but they do not count, because they are unfit for subversive activities against the tenets of the Bulgarian state. The job required people without scruples, capable of killing even their own brother if he stood on their way to power, which in their distorted notions meant nothing but triumph of the opportunity to steal with impunity and to control the destinies of thousands and even millions of people. It is the conduct of such active individuals that proves that the hatred with which communism is charged stems from its nature as the ideology of envy.

The communist party always had such people handy in the period between the two world wars. According to its terminology, these people were antifascists, which was a key concept in its semantic propaganda space, although there were no Bulgarians professing the fascist ideology on the other side of the barricade. Anyway, the real motives for the “revolutionary struggle” had to be disguised.

For the communist leaders the word “fascist” did not stand for party identification and affiliation. In their scanty vocabulary, the word was used as an appellation that had acquired universal applicability, mostly for pointing a finger at the enemy, because the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP/BWP), being a militant party, could not exist without an enemy. Even if there had been no enemy, it would have invented an enemy and would have branded it as “fascist.” And this would not have been so much an ideological opponent – for spiritual paupers this is not important, but rather as a target for hate, adroitly fuelled and fanned among the dwellers in the backyard of society.

Once set in motion, this concentrated expression of hatred for people who have different ideas began to self-proliferate and multiply, placing the BCP/BWP in the paradoxical position of a party fighting against all who do not share its ideology. Fascists are those who have power, affluence and prosperity. Fascists are police officers, clergymen, army officers who pledged allegiance to the King, outstanding figures in the arts, science and culture, the owners of factories and farm land, and the members of bourgeois parties. In other words, all those Bulgarians who did not wear the proletarian peaked hats on their heads. And the massive blow of the violence without court trial and sentence was directed against them immediately after 9 September 1944.

Incidentally, the scenario was conceived much earlier. A study of the books of memoirs of former communist activists and guerrilla leaders will reveal that the “neutralisation” of enemies from black lists drafted in advance was a directive imposed by Georgi Dimitrov and his Moscow entourage. Since the end of 1942, the announcers of the Hristo Botev Radio Station broadcasting from the Soviet capital incessantly threatened cabinet ministers, Members of Parliament, high-ranking army officers and magistrates, targeting personal attacks at them, appealing at the same time for “severe nemesis by the people right now.” And as “the people” did not respond, Vulko Chervenkov, acting on the orders of his brother-in-law Georgi Dimitrov, gave instructions on the air for the physical liquidation of the “blood-suckers of the people” to be entrusted to the combat groups formed for the purpose. The clandestine Politburo, according to the testimony of its member Tsola Dragoycheva, promptly endorsed the first list of “servants of Hitlerism and monarcho-fascism” who were marked to be killed and who were referred in another document as “malicious and active German agents, traitors and torturers of the people.” Several dozens of people were assassinated by the so-called “city guerrilla fighters” in the capital city and in the regional centres just in the winter and spring of 1943, among them the secret police agent Nikola Hristov-Koutouza, Retired General Hristo Loukov, the Members of Parliament Sotir Yanev and Zapryan Klyavkov, the military counterintelligence officer Alexander Zlatkov and former Police Director Atanas Pantev. During the autumn the initiative was transferred to the guerrilla fighters in the mountains. According to police information of that time, 133 civilians became their victims merely for the period between 1 September 1943 and 15 February 1944: mayors, tax-collectors, field-keepers and gamekeepers, teachers, priests, etc. It is noteworthy that these people were not the persecutors, not army or police officers, but civilians!

Having acquired “combat” experience in that way and already from power positions, these 9-September-offsprings started operating on a much broader front. And again against the same targets: the unarmed and defenceless “enemy”, under the approving scrutiny of the Soviet invaders.

The Red Army invaded the Bulgarian territory at 9:00 a.m. on 8 September 1944. Towards the evening on the next day its vanguard unit had already reached the line Rousse-Turgovishte-Karnobat-Bourgas. Encouraged by its presence, the local communists proclaimed themselves to be the new government of the Fatherland Front, demonstrating immediately how they intended to rule. Events in Varna are a perfect illustration of what happened in the other towns and villages of the “liberated” lands, which was to spread throughout the country. In that city on the Black Sea, the “insurgents” went out into the streets to hunt for “fascists.” One of their first victims was the parish priest Father Svetoslav Vassilev, who was beaten to death by the mob and his body was abused. Then the assassins rushed to the home of Hristo Nedev, a lawyer and a leading figure for the local legions. He was kicked out of his house and was taken to the Seaside Park, where he was hanged on the first bigger tree. After that flagrant public execution, the turn of Lieutenant-General Nikola Hristov, commander of the Third Bulgarian Army, came and he was shot point blank again in public view by the political prisoner Angel Georgiev and by the Secretary of the BWP District Committee, Lambo Teolov. There was no trial and no sentence. Incidentally, both Nedev and General Hristov were to “stand trial” later, posthumously, by the so-called “People’s Tribunal” only to exonerate their direct assassins.

At the same time, without even waiting for the “liberators”, communists bludgeoned to death in Gorna Djumaya the famous journalist and editor Danail Krapchev, owner of the Zora daily newspaper in Sofia. On 10 September, early in the morning, Krapchev was found hanged in a carriage at the railway station. The official version was suicide, but nobody believed it. On that same date but in Sofia there was another “suicide” of a prominent person: Major-General Peter Tsankov, head of the Reserve Officers’ School, jumped – or was thrown! – from the fifth floor of the Slavyanska Besseda Hotel. On the next day another high-ranking army officer, General Karov, commander of the cover-up front on the Bulgarian-Turkish border, was shot at point blank in front of his headquarters in Elhovo by members of the so-called “Soldiers’ Committee.” On 12 September another general, Atanas Stefanov, commander of the Fourth Bulgarian Army, was travelling to Pleven in his official car. Passing through the town of Loukovit, he was identified and his car was stopped by the guerrilla fighter Mitka Grubcheva and she killed him with a round of her machine-gun. Hours later, in Haskovo, fellow-party members of hers killed with machine-guns five officers from the Second Army Artillery Regiment, including the commander, Colonel Veliko Marinov.

However, there were no journalists, generals and colonels in the small towns and villages, so the “revolutionaries” had to be satisfied with administrators, merchants and wealthier peasants. In the village of Ferdinandovo near Plovdiv, guerrilla fighters from the Georgi Dimitrov Brigade and the local communist combat group slaughtered eleven fellow-villagers of theirs, branding them as “wealthy pigs and blood-suckers of the people.” Together with them they also killed the village policeman, first cutting his fingers with a butcher’s knife, then his palms, then his arms up to the elbows and finally his legs, until he died in excruciating pain.

Georgi Dimitrov summarised later the hundreds of such cases in the following way: “The hatred pent up against fascism for more than two decades and the firm resolve of the working masses to do away with it burst out irrepressibly and swept away the fascist regime.” There was sweeping – with the axe and the butcher’s knife, and there was hatred – blind and savage, but the carriers of that hatred were totally unfamiliar with the ennobling labour. These “masses” had a different genesis and they unleashed their primitive instincts that were yet to be channelled in a systematic and targeted process of physical extermination of the kind that Bulgaria and its people had never known in their history. Organisers of that genocide were the members of the Political Bureau of the BWP Central Committee Traycho Kostov, Anton Yugov, Dobri Terpeshev, Tsola Dragoycheva and a few other top-ranking communists. The master-puppeteer was Georgi Dimitrov from Moscow, the direct executors of his will were the local executive commands, subordinated to the respective militia and security bodies.

On 10 September, the façade Prime Minister Kimon Georgiev signed a government decree on the “formation of a people’s guard and of a people’s militia composed of members of the insurgent detachments.” The two institutions were attached under the supervision of the respective power-wielding ministries: of War and of the Interior. The People’s Guard was charged with the vigilance in the army and was authorised to “shoot to kill” any saboteurs. The People’s Militia “took over the internal security” and was given the right to use discretion and to shoot to kill efficiently, although this instruction does not appear in writing in any document. Needless to say that it was self-evident.

Three centres started functioning and cooperating on that date in Sofia, their innocent task being to watch for public order and discipline of the citizens, to guard their peace and to arrest former officials, who were to be brought to justice. These centres were the Military Command Office headed by the high-ranking communist activist Nikola Pavlov, whose nickname “Mosquito” hardly had anything to do with the annoying insect; the Directorate of the People’s Militia, where Lev Glavinchev was in charge, having been promoted overnight to the rank of colonel, and where the State Security Department had its own territory under the supervision of Dimo Dichev, the communist who set the horse thief Chochoolu on the right track; the so-called Headquarters of the People’s Militia, headed by the notorious Todor Zhivkov, the future No. 1 of the Party with capital “P”, whose right hand was Mircho Spassov, the top specialist of midnight interrogations. The functioning of these three centres can be judged by an excerpt from the memoirs of Vladimir Bonev, subsequently Speaker of the Bulgarian National Assembly, who was at that time Zhivkov’s devoted assistant: “Various criminals were constantly brought to us under convoy: former fascist ministers, former Members of Parliament, police and military henchmen, some of whom got immediately what they deserved, while others were sent to the People’s Tribunal and then received their deserved punishment.” A propos, such centres for sifting the detained people were created in all regional and district centres.

Apparently, their work lacked the required efficiency at first, because the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party sent a circular letter to the party committees on 12 September, designated as “Circular Letter No. 5”, urging the campaign of arrests and assassinations to be stepped up. With this circular letter the Political Secretary Traycho Kostov, whose signature appeared under it, gave orders for a “resolute and efficient purging of the entire state apparatus from all malicious enemies of the people and of the Fatherland Front, and for an energetic and firm liquidation of the still undestroyed nests of the fascist resistance.”

Of course, there was no resistance – neither fascist, nor non-fascist. There were thousands of people detained in the militia directorates and stations, in the basements of mayoralties and schools that had been turned into improvised detention centres. The meaning of the instruction was to reduce substantially the number of names on the black lists. In other words, as Dobri Terpeshev explained on that same day before communist activists in Stara Zagora, the enemies were to be liquidated without trial or sentence within a week, i.e., by 19 September.

That was the first week of organised “purging” – no longer individually or in small groups, but in entire convoys, as was the case with an impressive group of citizens from Turgovishte, who were taken in a lorry and killed in the deserted area Chairite during the night of 14 September.

While the new blood-drenched wave was gaining momentum, Traycho Kostov enthusiastically reported in a telegram to Georgi Dimitrov: “In the first days of the revolution we settled our accounts with the most vicious enemies who fell in our hands.” The telegram was sent on 14 September, and on 16 September came the encouraging answer of the boss: “… Bulgarian chauvinism, nationalism and anticommunism are to be burnt with red-hot iron!” Apparently the recipient understood the metaphor “to be burned” far too literally, because there was indeed burning. During those nights, villagers from Aydarovo near Gorna Djumaya saw strange orange-red flames near the Tserovsko Dere locality. No one dared to go closer, because gunshot fire was also heard. It was forty-six years later that the truth about the fires and who lit them, and about the tragedy there, came to light. An old villager indicated the place of a mass grave in which charred human bones were found. Triple forensic expertise verified that the “massive skull fractures were caused by blows with blunt objects, probably wooden planks and pick-axes, and the charred limbs suggested that the bodies thrown one over another were set on fire.” Empty liquor bottles were found near the remains of these twelve massacred individuals, which is indirect confirmation of the rumour that after they completed their sinister job, the murderers drank and danced a satanic dance over the new grave. A preserved Swiss Anchor watch was found in the mass grave, its small arm stopped at 5, hence the doomed victims were murdered before dawn, so that it was indeed possible to see the flames in the dark. However, there were no traces of gunshot wounds. Then what is the explanation of the gunshots in the sketchy reports of the few surviving involuntary witnesses of the flames? Well, apparently the shooting was not at the victims. Having drunk the brandy, they shot in the air, pleased that their “mission” had been successfully accomplished.

Such groups of people were massacred at night from 16 to 19 September around Vurshets, Ferdinand, Koula, Vidin, Samokov, Stara Zagora, Turnovo and elsewhere. St, Bartholomew’s nights! In the Vulcheshki Dol locality near the village of Makresh, Vidin district, members of the People’s Guards and of the People’s Militia killed about thirty men and later the authorities insisted that they were merely missing, until one of the participants in the blood bath did not brag, highly drunk, about how they cut off the arms of Archimandrite Palladius, Coadjutor of the Vidin Metropolitan Bishopric, and made him cross himself, and how they skinned alive the former Governor of the Koula District, Gergo Mikov, before the eyes of the tied victims. Their colleagues from Samokov were much more ingenious and thrifty: they murdered eighteen people without firearms or cold steel by pushing them off the 135 m high Black Cliff, a remarkable scenic place near the present-day mountain resort Borovets.

On 19 September, the headquarters of the assassins issued a new instruction: the next Circular Letter No. 6, containing an appeal to make the transition to a higher quality stage in the struggle “against the internal fascists.” For the purpose, the BWP Central Committee compelled all communists and members of the youth communist organisation “to place themselves in the full service” of the People’s Militia and of the combat groups, i.e., of the groups of executioners.

That meant a total mobilisation of the members of Dimitrov’s party and its transformation into a collective henchman.

And here is the response of the cut-throat Levanevski, whose real name is Zapryan Fazlov, a deserter from the army of bourgeois Bulgaria, convicted for robberies and murders, but a glorious commander of the guerrilla fighters! After his still armed guerrilla detachment murdered two dozen people in the Chikeritsa area from the village of Stryama near Plovdiv by cutting their heads off, among whom were all the men of seven families, that pathological individual focused on the detained individuals from the village of Starosel. Nine of the most respected men in the village, one of whom was Dr. Stoycho Paribassyanov, known throughout the Plovdiv region, were dispatched to the world beyond in an exceptionally painful way. On the next night, in the early hours of 21 September, the execution squads in Sofia gave their contribution to attributing a more mass character to the massacres. Three delivery vans packed with tied people started from the square near the Lions’ Bridge and the Directorate of the People’s Militia in the direction of the northwestern exit of the city. Colonel Lev Glavinchev sat next to the driver of the first van, Mircho Spassov was in the second van and Kolyo Moryaka – in the third. The vans stopped 15-20 minutes later, beyond the solitary building of the sugar factory. At that time the place was a bare field on which a residential district was built some twenty years later. And precisely while digging for the houses, a large pile of human bones was discovered, which were broken to such an extent that it was even impossible to count the number of the people buried in that mass grave. But then there was no time to count the bones, because officers of the Ministry of the Interior and of the State Security arrived quickly on the spot, sealed off the area and on the next day nothing was left of the bones. One thing is known, though: the famous journalist and literary critic Yordan Badev, Editor of the Zora daily and head of its cultural section, was in one of those vans.

On 22 September, Peroushtitsa was added to the list of towns that paid its tax in blood: twenty-one men, among whom the priest Stefan Vassilev as well. They were taken in lorries to the valley of the Vucha River, above Krichim, and were shot at Simeon’s Bridge. However, as one of the victims managed to escape, the assassins loaded the bodies in the vehicles again and took them seven kilometres into the mountain, where they burned them to cover up their tracks.

On 24 September Traycho Kostov reported to Georgi Dimitrov that the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Workers’ Party had endorsed the draft of the Ordinance-Law on the People’s Tribunal. However, in view of the fact that “some time would pass” before that piece of legislation came into effect, the Politburo decided to make use of the interim days for “tacit liquidation of the most vicious enemies.” The encrypted message ended with a slogan of determination: “The counter-revolution ought to be beheaded swiftly and resolutely!” But what kind of “counter-revolutionaries” were the eight peasants, for example, who were slaughtered with knives and thrown into the animal pit near the village of Dolna Kremena near Vratsa?!

On 25 September, the communist daily Rabotnichesko Delo carried an article with the breath-taking title: Revenge. Blood dripped from the pen of the anonymous author with unadulterated passion, who sent the following fervent appeal: “Shoot straight into the target, drive the knife to the hilt! Hold the guns firmly in you hands! Advance bravely against the enemy! Destroy him mercilessly! He deserves no mercy – not even the mercy that one would give to a beaten up dog!”

Wolfgang Bretholz, correspondent of the Nationalzeitung published in Switzerland and of the Stockholm newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, who travelled hundreds of kilometres in Bulgaria during those days, reported: “What I saw and learned in the small town and villages showed me that the atrocities and tyranny of the Bulgarian communists jointly with the Soviet occupation powers had spread all over the country. The violence was targeted predominantly against those people from whom something could be taken, against the owners of factories and enterprises, property and lands, houses, workshops and small businesses. Every slightly more affluent Bulgarian was branded as “collaborationist” or “fascist”, and if he put up any resistance, he was taken away or shot on the spot.”

Bretholz was a German who fled from the Nazis and continued to fight against them with his pen. He was unable to distort the truth, irrespective on which side of the barricade that truth happened to be. And so he went with that truth to Vulko Chervenkov, then Organisational Secretary of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Workers’ Party. Chervenkov’s commentary struck him: according to him, that was an “anti-fascist revolution” and not an attempt “to impose our will upon the Bulgarian people through violence …”

Having reloaded the guns of the assassins and having sharpened their knives with the article entitled Revenge, the communist daily Rabotnichesko Delo did not stop there. On 28 September, the newspaper came with a leading article entitled The People’s Tribunal, which was again a foreboding of death. It raised for the first time openly and bluntly the issue of the journalists and writers from the “trumpets of the fascist propaganda”, i.e., the newspapers Slovo [Word], Zora [Dawn], Utro [Morning], Vecher [Evening] and Dnes [Today], which were stopped already on 9 September … The people, the article claimed, demanded “severe retribution” for them, because these “journalists, artists and literary critics, who sold themselves dearly to the enemies of the people, instigated the killers, praised their evil deeds and slung mud and libel against the honest fighters. The people have not forgotten their writings, they know them well, as well as who they are and where they are. So these gentlemen are hiding in vain …”

The article was a signal that a crushing blow would be dealt against the “fascist intelligentsia” – a term Georgi Dimitrov used for the cultural elite of Bulgaria before 9 September 1944. According to the American political representative in Sofia, Maynard Barnes, who learned about that macabre intention through his own information channels, the instructions were given to the Politburo orally by a courier who arrived from Moscow. Minister Yugov immediately gave orders to Colonel Glavinchev to form a special punitive squad for the purpose. Within days, dozens of people were arrested, ticked off from a black list compiled with the help of the proletarian writer Kroum Kyulyavkov, too, although they had no idea what and where they had done wrong. They were held in custody in the building of the Home for the Blind, which was expropriated “for State Security needs.” Soon the citizens of Sofia started calling secretly the building “the House of Death”, because some people had noticed that one entered the building with hands tied and came out feet first. Such was the tragic fate of Peter Nikolchev, the Editor-in-Chief of the Zora daily, of the extremely popular cartoonist and writer Rayko Alexiev, Editor of the weekly newspaper for humour and satire Shtourets [Cricket] and Chairman of the Union of Bulgarian Artists, of the Editor-in-Chief of the Nova Vecher [New Evening] newspaper Nikola Panchev, of the Editor of the Douma and Dnevnik Peter Atanassov, of the journalist from Zarya Kroum Naumov, and many, many more. Some narrowly escaped death, but came out of there crippled and very sick, as was the case with the artist Nikola Tanev – a painter famous all over Europe.

On 29 September, a formal but symptomatic change took place on the political scene. The Bulgarian Workers’ Party added to its name the extension and clarification “communists.” The decision for this had been taken the day before and now a lowercase “c” for “communist” was added in parenthesis after the acronym of the party: BWP(c). They no longer needed to hide.

On 1 October, the regular encrypted message to Moscow informed Georgi Dimitrov that the Politburo had decided that “the purge is to continue for another week” and that “the work is to be done carefully.” On that same date the regional directorates and the district stations of the militia received a telegram from Minister Yugov’s institution with the extremely laconical text: “Send the detainees to Sofia!”

Indeed, they were to be sent, but not to the capital city, in spite of the imperative tone of the telegram. The actual meaning of the telegram was quite different and it meant “in translation”: “Liquidate immediately the persons earmarked for extermination!” The telegram was the password for the speedier and total completion of the slaughterhouse before the Ordinance-Law on the People’s Tribunal was promulgated in the State Gazette.

The Nights of St. Bartholomew in October started with the assassination of a second group on the list of detainees in Turgovishte, again in the Cheirite locality. The list of the victims was headed by the former District Governor Marko Soulanov, reserve officer, and ended with a priest – Father Dimiter Boyadjiev from the village of Loznitsa. That was on 1/2 October, and one of the bloodiest mass tragedies during the period in question took place in the Ivanov Dol area near the town of Ihtiman the next night: “three truck-loads of people” were liquidated there, i.e., ninety persons, mostly from Ihtiman, though some came from Sofia as well. They were men of varying ages: from the 60-year-old reserve general Georgi Tanovski and the long retired police inspector from the Criminal Police in Sofia, Pane Bichev, to 20-year-old university student Stancho Petkov and the high school student Milcho Pashev.

If we follow the chronology of the events described, on 3 October there was a simultaneous response to the telegram with enviable efficiency on the part of the executioner’s squads in the towns of Turnovo, Trun, Sveti Vrach and even in the village of Belchin near Samokov, on 4 October – in Chirpan, on 5 October – in Rousse, Pleven and Pavlikeni. With pick-axes, spades, axes and bullets – depending on the concrete conditions and the availability. In most cases they used whatever came handy, so long as the “instrument” matched their revolutionary wrath and did the job. For example, fourteen men were killed in Chirpan with iron bars in the basement of the old school that had been transformed into a detention centre and a place for executions. The security agents from Turnovo, on the other hand, when they had to liquidate one of their “lots”, finished off their victims by hitting them with stones on the head so as not to waste bullets on them. The regional inspector of forestry and hunting Vassil Pissarov, who was arrested on 2 October, also belonged to that group. Much later, the authorities formulated the motive for his execution in writing as a “refusal to give permission to the authorities to cut a forest massif for the needs of the Soviet Army.”

Probably most numerous were the victims who came to their death that night in and around the town of Radomir, where the guerrilla commander and future General Slavcho Radomirski was giving the orders. That was so because his combat groups exterminated not only the local “fascists”, many tied people were brought to that improvised “polygon for extermination” from Kyustendil, Doupnitsa and Pernik, and even from the capital. Their mass graves in the Trayanovo Usoe and Ursul, in the lands belonging to the villages of Boboratsi, Drougan, Debeli Lag and Izvor are still awaiting their cold-blooded researchers, of the type that have investigated the mass grave above Dobrinishte in the Pirin Mountain. Bones of forty people, including one woman, were found “cut with sharp and hard objects” there in the Loshin locality on 15 April 1990. The dead woman proved to be the “missing” railway track woman from the village of Yakorouda, Maria Daskalova, a widow, mother of five children and grandmother of two. She was claimed to have betrayed “people’s fighters” to the gendarmerie. The truth about her was absolutely prosaic: shortly before 9 September 1944, she quarrelled with the wife of one of them, which was sufficient reason for revenge after the “victory.”

The Nights of St. Bartholomew in that area of the Pirin Mountain continued until 6 October. The total number of people killed from the region of Svetivrach, Petrich, Gorna Djumaya, Razlog and Nevrokop was approximately 200. Most of them had been members in the past of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation. By killing them the authorities eliminated the possible armed resistance and opposition to the intentions of the BWP(c) to hand Pirin Macedonia on a platter to Tito’s Yugoslavia. One week later, in Gorna Djumaya, during a closed meeting of party activists in the region, Anton Yugov personally congratulated the henchmen on a mission accomplished to perfection, pointing out that owing to the revolutionary vigilance demonstrated by them, “the Macedonian issue was liquidated.” Macedonia, the minister declared, was given the right to self-identification, while it also made arrangements to fit in a new federal Yugoslavia.

The Ordinance-Law on the People’s Tribunal, endorsed on 3 October with a Decree issued by the Council of Regents, came into force on 6 October after it was promulgated in the State Gazette. Encouraged, the frightened population heaved a sigh of relief, because the impartial Themis was to decide who was guilty and what punishment was to be imposed, and not the irresponsible “People’s Militia”. An end to lawlessness at long last! On 7 October, the Director of the Militia Radenko Vidinski issued an order for the arbitrary detentions of citizens to stop. However, it was not possible to stop the repressive machine that had gathered momentum. Or, to be more precise, the upper crust of the Bulgarian Workers’ Party (communists) was reluctant to stop it. Its heavy wheels were to crush the blood-drenched Bulgarian land for more time to come.

The undissolved execution squads continued their harvest season. By 17 October, they liquidated groups of detainees from the villages of Goulyantsi and Milkovitsa near Nikopol, Belovo near Pazardjik and Leva Reka near Trun. The assassins from Sofia took the lives of a truckload of people amidst the hills of Beledie Han, their colleagues from Pernik threw their victims into the St. Anna mine shaft, the ones from Rousse shot thirty more people in the vicinity of the village of Shtruklevo, including four journalists from the Roussenska Poshta [Rousse Post] daily paper, together with its Editor-in-Chief Kiril Krustev, and the killers from Turgovishte liquidated a third batch of “fascists.”

On 18 October, Vulko Chervenkov wrote to Georgi Dimitrov: “Our comrades were unable to neutralise the enemies during the first days, therefore the purge was conducted on a mass scale in the past two weeks.” It was precisely during that time interval that the number of the missing persons increased drastically, although there were notices later in the State Gazette and in the false announcements of the Ministry of the Interior about missing persons and the ongoing search for them. However, the past tense that Chervenkov used in his letter did not mean in the least that the extermination was over. The existing evidence suggests that although it was somewhat abated, it nevertheless flared up here and there in the country throughout November as well. There were eyewitnesses of mass executions near Vakarel and Novoseltsi in the region of Sofia, as well as in the mountain above Berkovitsa. On 30 November, General Walter Oxley, the British Representative in the Allied Control Commission in Sofia, went hunting near the Petrohan mountain pass. Accompanied by a professional hunter, the Englishman entered a low and thin forest. Suddenly the dog stopped still and stood up, apparently having sniffed something, but refused to move on. The two puzzled hunters cautiously moved through the shrubs, and when they came to a clearing in the woods, they in turn froze stupefied: the clearing was strewn with human bodies. The two men counted thirty-one. That was one of the groups of the “missing persons” after the arrests in Berkovitsa on the night of 28 November. The assassins did not even take the trouble of burying them to cover up the traces of their crime.

Later on the communist retributions and revenge continued in a “legal” form. On 20 December, the two main trials of the People’s Tribunal started simultaneously. By the end of April 1945, eleven main and special panels and 124 ordinary panels of that tribunal in a total of 64 regional and district centres delivered about 2,700 death sentences. The protocols of the executions, however, indicate that 1,576 were effected. Then what about the others on “death row”? Could it be that they were pardoned or they ran away? No, they had been murdered already during the days of the “spontaneous revolutionary revenge” and during St. Bartholomew’s nights. They were tried and sentenced posthumously, marking either “not present”, “absent” or sometimes even the fairly innocuous “deceased” opposite their names. In Stara Zagora, for example, only 29 out of the 40 people sentenced to death actually faced the firing quad, the remaining eleven deaths went to the September account of the notorious Chochoolu. The real record in that respect, however, was in Doupnitsa, where the firing squad executed only 20 out of the 49 “fascists” sentenced to death. The rest were massacred in the first days of the “victory” by Zhelyu Demirevski’s guerrilla fighters.

The question about the real total number of the persons liquidated in the autumn of 1944 is still open. Different researchers of the events during that period provide different answers. The documents that have survived to our times are scarce. The authentic black lists are missing, with a few exceptions. Acting on orders from Minister Anton Yugov, the communist party activists responsible for the blood-drenched purge or the militia chiefs destroyed them after their mission was accomplished. However, judging from their indirectly written reports to the Ministry of the Interior, the planned results had been achieved.

The first figure – 5,000 – appeared in the documents immediately after the Ordinance-Law was promulgated. According to the Chief People’s Prosecutor Georgi Petrov, these were “missing people until 5 October” – as he stated before the Central Committee of the BWP(c). Anton Yugov himself gives a more accurate idea about the scale of the slaughterhouse. In his report to the BWP’s Central Committee of 16 November 1944, the Minister indicated that the total number of arrested persons throughout the country was 28,630. If we subtract from them the 10,000 people approximately who were slated to be brought to court, this leaves us with 18,000 of whom no one returned home. These were the people who were killed without sentence or trial, according to Professor Mito Isussov in an article published on 6 March 1991 in the 21 Vek [21st Century] weekly newspaper.

Again Yugov, but already at the end of 1945, mentioned at a meeting of the Central Committee that the villages had already been “well purged of communists” – in most of these villages the number of victims was of the order of “3-5-6 persons.” On that basis, Professor Dinyu Sharlanov made the following calculation in his book The Tyranny: “According to the Statistical Annual Book, there are 4,419 villages and 237 towns and cities in the country. If we take an average figure of three “missing persons” per village, their number reaches 13,257, with four – the figure is 17,678, and this is not counting the towns.” According to Sharlanov, the total number of the victims was around 30,000.

In the towns, and especially in each of the regional centres and the capital, hundreds were killed. According to the incomplete data of a study, their number was 965 only in Sofia. This indeed can lead to the total figure of 30,000, as reported by the American journalist Marc Ethridge, who was sent by President Truman as observer of the elections in October 1945. He conducted his own “private” inquiries by questioning eminent politicians from the opposition. However, Marc Ethridge also met with Minister Yugov and with Tsola Dragoycheva, who was then Chairperson of the National Committee of the Fatherland Front. The two admitted that there had been retributions out of the courts involving an impressive number of people. Dragoycheva mentioned cautiously ten thousand. We know from experience what staunch supporters of truth communists are. Therefore, I believe that both Professor Georgi Markov, who repeats in his book Bulgarian History in Brief the 18,000 cited by Isussov, and Stoyan Rachev in whose book Churchill, Bulgaria and the Balkans the figure 20,000 is cited, must have been a bit too trusting towards sources that had apparently “spared” some of the data. In 1991, the then Minister of the Interior, the late Hristo Danov, announced during a session of the National Assembly that 25 thousand persons were missing. Peter Konstantinov counted a thousand more in his book History of Bulgaria with Some Still Undisclosed Facts. Professor Plamen Tsvetkov also assumes that although the available data are insufficient, they nevertheless place the number of the barbarously murdered people in the 25-30 thousand range.

I shall refrain from any summarising and generalisations. My concrete aim in this case was to report the horrifying facts as they transpire from the respective schemes and decisions of the Politburo and the Central Committee of the party of the Bulgarian communists, which were coordinated with the Moscow-based leader Georgi Dimitrov and were even very often endorsed by him. I also have at my disposal abundant material: narratives of survivors, of eyewitnesses, of relatives of the victims, as well as several confessions of participants in the massacres, whom I have met. Maybe they will be published one day in a book of the investigative journalism type.

We need the truth – the whole bare, repulsive and sinister truth – about the atrocities of the communist regime. Not merely to know what happened, but also to explain to ourselves why we keep running in circles to this day. And also so that the souls of those who were murdered could rest in peace. It is necessary to point a finger at the henchmen. Their names ought to be shouted loud and clear. The only question to which it is pointless to expect an answer from them is to ask them why they did it, because the invariable answer would be: “Such were the orders of the Party.”

* Konstantin Mouraviev - Prime Minister of Bulgaria, 2-9 September 1944.

Sources and literature used:

    1. Archive of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party (Central Party Archive) (in Bulgarian).
    2. Archive of the Ministry of the Interior (in Bulgarian).
    3. Archive of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (in Bulgarian).
    4. Collection: This is the Voice of the Hristo Botev Radio Station, Vol. III. Sofia, 1951 (in Bulgarian).
    5. Rabotnichesko Delo daily, 1944-1945 (in Bulgarian).
    6. Naroden Sud [People’s Tribunal] newspaper, 1944-1945 (in Bulgarian).
    7. Dinyu Sharlanov. The Tyranny. Strelets Publishing House. Sofia, 1997 (in Bulgarian).
    8. Dr. Ivan Dochev. Six Decades of Fight against Communism. Sofia, 1998 (in Bulgarian).
    9. Vesselin Angelov. Chronicle of a National Treason. Blagoevgrad, 1999 (in Bulgarian).
    10. Zhelyazko Stoychev. I Was Sentenced to Death (Testimony of a Survivor). Stara Zagora, 1994 (in Bulgarian).
    11. The Bulgarian Gulag. Collection of memoirs of victims of the repressions of the communist regime. Democracia Publishers. Sofia, 1991 (in Bulgarian).
    12. Calendar 1944-2004 (with the names of the victims of the communist terror and the dates of their death). Vassil Stanilov Literature Workshop. Sofia, 2004 (in Bulgarian).
    13. Plamen S. Tsvetkov. September 1944. Vassil Stanilov Literature Workshop. Sofia, 2004 (in Bulgarian).

Translation into English: Nedyalka Chakalova

The International Condemnation of Totalitarian Communism: the Initiative of the European People's Party. The Bulgarian Perspective.
Excerpts from the reports presented at the Colloquium in Koprivshtitsa (Bulgaria) 24-26 September 2004
Compiled by Vassil Stanilov, Edited by Nadejda Iskrova
Vassil Stanilov Literature Workshop, Sofia 2004

ISBN 954-8248-30-1

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