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Bulgaria marks Jewish heritage with tourism route

By News from Elsewhere... found by BBC Monitoring

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image copyrightAnthony Georgieff
image captionThe synagogue building in Burgas is now home to an art gallery

Bulgaria is planning a tourist route of its main Jewish landmarks as part of a campaign to promote its Jewish heritage.

The idea is the brainchild of the tourism ministry and "Shalom", the Organisation of Jews in Bulgaria.

The initiative will include key Jewish cultural sites in 13 counties, although no detailed route has yet been published.

"It will be a gesture of respect to the Jewish community's cultural and historic contribution," the ministry said, as well as a way of attracting tourists from Israel and Jewish communities around the world.

Popular destination

Bulgaria has become a popular holiday destination for Israelis in recent years, attracted by its proximity, competitive prices, and Black Sea beaches.

image copyrightAnthony Georgieff
image captionSofia synagogue is the largest in the Balkans and one of the biggest in Europe

The spike in numbers can also be attributed to the decline of Israeli tourism to neighbouring Turkey, after relations between the two countries broke down over the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident.

A deadly bomb explosion on an Israeli tourist bus in Burgas in 2012 does not appear to have had a long-term impact, as the tourism ministry says visitor numbers rose more than 17% on the year in 2018.

Memories of Jewish life

image copyrightAnthony Georgieff
image captionAnthony Georgieff: "Jewish heritage in Bulgaria is a poignant reminder of an epoch long gone"

Anthony Georgieff, the photographer and co-author of an English guide to Jewish heritage in Bulgaria, says that Bulgaria's Jewish heritage is a "poignant reminder of an epoch long gone. It holds many fascinating stories to tell."

"As it is in one of the least-known lands in Europe, it has the aurora of the exotic, of the outlandish - perfect for anyone with an interest not only in Bulgaria, but in this part of the continent," he told the BBC.

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Although it fell in line with much of the anti-Semitic legislation of its German ally, Bulgaria's King Boris III and Orthodox Church prevented its 48,000 Jewish citizens from being deported to Nazi death camps during World War Two.

But this record is not without blemish, as Jews from North Macedonia and the Thrace Province of Greece, which were under Bulgarian rule at the time, were deported to German-held territory, where most of them perished.

By the early 1950s, as the Soviet-backed Communists took power, most Bulgarian Jews left for Israel, leaving behind a present-day community of a few thousand people and two functioning synagogues.

Reporting by Krassi Twigg

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