The Jews of Bulgaria
Saul Gorenstein - July 12, 2009
Jews have lived in the Bulgarian region since the time of the Roman Emperor Caligula and a 2nd century inscription with a menorah on it was found near Gigan in Pleven Province in north central Bulgaria. There may have also been other Jewish settlements in the area in ensuing years but the first real proof of a Jewish presence in Bulgaria was found in Nikopol along the Danube River in 967. These early Jews were known as Romagnotes or Romaniots because of their connection to the rites of Judaism developed during the Roman era.
Bulgarian Jew Remembers.
(Photo: Nadya Kotseva)
After the Jews were expelled from Hungary in 1376 many migrated to Romania and Bulgaria and by the time the Ottomans conquered Bulgaria in 1396 there were Jews living in Vidin, Nikopol, Silistra, Pleven, Sofia, Yambol, Philippopolis (now Plovdiv), and Stara Zagora. Some Jews also came to Bulgaria from Bavaria which had banished them in 1470 and they were joined by a massive influx of Spanish Jews after their expulsion from that part of the world.
The Jews who settled in Bulgaria were renowned for their trading prowess and some very granted special privileges to carry out their business. Others owned leather tanneries and quarries and a variety of small and medium sized businesses and despite some restrictions on their movements and activities were able to successful co-exist in Bulgaria for hundreds of years.
The overthrow of the Turks by the Russians in 1878 led to some attacks on Jews and their property in Vidin, Kazanlik, and Svishtov but the Treaty of Berlin that ended that war also extended full citizenship rights to Jews and other minority groups. There was still some public hostility towards the Jews and the various levels of Bulgarian government continued to discriminate against Jews.
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