Bulgaria during the Second World War

Marshall Lee Miller





THE POLITICAL history of modern Bulgaria has been greatly neglected by Western scholars, and the important period of the Second World War has hardly been studied at all. The main reason for this has no doubt been the difficulty of obtaining documentary material on the wartime period. Although the Communist regime of Bulgaria has published a large number of books and monographs dealing with the country’s role in the war, these works have been concerned mostly with magnifying the importance of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BKP) and the partisan struggle. Despite this bias, useful information can be found in these works when other sources are available to provide perspective and verification.


Within recent years, German, American, British, and other diplomatic and intelligence reports from the wartime years have become available, and the easing of travel restrictions in Bulgaria has facilitated research there. As recently as 1958, when the doctoral thesis of Marin V. Pundeff was presented (“Bulgaria’s Place in Axis Policy, 1936-1944”), there was very little material on the period after June 1941. It is now possible to fill in many of the important gaps in our knowledge of Bulgaria during the entire war.


The Bibliography lists the books and other published materials on which I have based this work, but I have also relied on confidential personal interviews in Bulgaria and elsewhere, and on archival materials located on three continents. The most helpful institutions include





the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, the National Library, the Sofia Synagogue Archives, the Institute for Balkanistics, the Museum of the Revolutionary Movement, and the Central State Historical Archives, all in Sofia; the German Federal Archives in Koblenz; the Military Research Office in Freiburg; the Institute for Contemporary History, the South-East Institute, the East Europe Institute, and the Faculty of Economics and the Eastern Europe Seminar of the University of Munich, all in Munich; the American Memorial Library in Berlin; the British Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Public Record Office, and the Wiener Institute, all in London; St. Antony’s College, Oxford University; Yad Washem and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; the U.S. Department of State Archives in the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Department of Defense Library, in Washington, D.C.; and Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut.


Part One, which covers the period from the outbreak of war in 1939 to May 1941, deals mostly with the diplomatic moves that brought Bulgaria onto the Axis side and relies on published and unpublished British, American, German, and Italian documents. Parts Two and Three, which are concerned with the interaction between foreign policy and domestic political struggles, make use of previously unavailable Bulgarian and German documents: Part Two, covering the period from June 1941 through the death of Tsar Boris in August 1943, deals with the efforts of the Tsar to maintain at least a partially independent policy despite pressure from Germany and from internal pro-Nazi factions; Part Three, from September 1943 to the Communist coup of September 9, 1944, examines the political crisis that arose after the Tsar’s death, the effects of the Allied air raids, and the failure of Bulgaria’s attempts to negotiate a withdrawal from the war.


This is primarily a political and diplomatic study. Because Bulgaria’s participation in the war prior to the Communist takeover was limited mainly to occupation duty in Greece and Yugoslavia, military affairs do not figure prominently in this work. Some consideration,





however, is given to the German Balkan campaign of 1941, the Allied bombings, the partisans, and the Soviet advance into the Balkans in the fall of 1944. The space devoted to the Bulgarian partisan campaign and the activities of the Communist Party—though insufficient to satisfy my Bulgarian colleagues—is somewhat greater than is warranted by their actual significance, but the subsequent importance of the Communists in Bulgaria justifies this slight expansion.


Economic affairs are also not discussed in any great detail. Bulgarian official historians have generally contended that there was a drastic economic decline during the war and that this led to widespread dissatisfaction with the regime. To determine whether there was enough validity in this theory to warrant a fuller discussion, I sifted through Bulgarian and German statistics on the marketing of various products, cost-of-living indexes, fluctuations in the average weight of marketed livestock, and even medical records (to compute the average weight loss of Bulgarian schoolgirls during the war—14 lbs.). The results indicated—not surprisingly—that Bulgaria experienced economic difficulties due to the war, particularly after the Allied bombings in late 1943 and early 1944, but that the country was far better off than its neighbors. Because the Bulgarians were well aware of this fact, inflation and wartime shortages were not major political issues.


In transliterating foreign languages, I have followed pronunciation as much as possible but have avoided encumbering the text with diacritical marks. Thus certain Bulgarian names are given in a somewhat simplified form: for example, Alexander, Peter, Dimiter, Stambolisky, and Kioseivanov. Place names generally follow the usage of the Columbia Lippincott Gazetteer of the World, but I have called the capital of Macedonia by its Bulgarian name, Skopie, rather than by the Macedonian Skopje or the Serbian Skoplje.


For convenience, the word “Allies,” unless qualified, refers only to the Western Allies, not to the Soviet Union.


I particularly would like to thank for their assistance Harry Willetts, Nissan Oren, William Deakin, Fred Chary, Clifford Siskin,





George Cummins, Ann Abley, Basil Condos, June Roth, Catherine Schirmer, Peggy Diapoulis, William Maier, Landon Miller, Charles Moser, the late Georgi M. Dimitrov, J. G. Bell and Peter J. Kahn of Stanford University Press, those persons in Bulgaria who preferred anonymity, and my wife, Marlene.





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