WASHINGTON — The D.C. Council heard testimony Tuesday about a request to name a Washington street intersection after a Bulgarian legislator credited with helping save the country’s Jewish population during the Holocaust.
The bid to honor Dimitar Peshev, a former vice chairman of the Bulgarian parliament, became embroiled in a broader conflict last month when the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum accused the country of failing to accurately account for its actions during the Holocaust. But the museum took a softer tone at the Council hearing Tuesday, saying it took no position on recognizing Peshev but simply wanted the history to be accurate.
The proposed honor is the brainchild of Neil Glick, a local history buff and former D.C. neighborhood commissioner who learned about Bulgaria’s rescue story while visiting the country in the 1990s.
“He deserves a mountain of gold, but maybe I can get him a little green street sign — maybe,” Glick told reporters after the hearing.
Peshev is credited with publicizing a secret deportation order that would have sent tens of thousands of Bulgarian Jews to German death camps in Poland. Clergymen, students and others rallied and protested in support of the Jewish population and the deportation order was suspended, with King Boris III sending the nation’s Jews to labor camps inside the country but refusing to turn them over to the Nazis. Peshev is already recognized at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocoaust memorial, as “Righteous Among the Nations” — an honorific title.
Peter Black, a senior historian at the Holocaust museum in Washington, testified that while Peshev’s intervention was critical in halting the first wave of deportations, it was the protests that united a broad cross-section of the citizenry that truly played a decisive role in canceling out the deportation order.
“This (rescue) is dependent on a lot of individuals examining their consciences and deciding what is right,” Black said.
Though the museum has not taken a position on whether to rename the intersection after Peshev, it was asked by the D.C. Council to vet the accuracy of the ceremonial request. A museum official responded with a harshly worded letter to the Bulgarian embassy in Washington, saying a letter the ambassador had signed in support of the street-naming honor contained misleading assertions and failed to reflect the nuances of the country’s actions. The museum in particular objected to the letter’s assertion that no Bulgarian Jews had been deported to death camps. In fact, more than 11,340 Jews from territories then under Bulgarian control were deported.
The Council expects to vote on the request next month.
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