site.btaDuring WWII, Dr Pavel Gerdjikov Made a Choice to Help Those Who Were Persecuted
During World War II, Dr Pavel Gerdjikov made his personal choice: to help those who were unjustly persecuted, hig daughter, Polina Gerdjikova, wrote in a letter to BTA. He was named Righteous Among the Nations in the Yad Vashev Memorial and was awarded two medals for rescuing Jews during the Holocaust.
On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the rescue of Bulgarian Jews, BTA reached out to the descendants of Dr Pavel Gerdjikov, who during WWII was an army officer and head of a ward in the biggest Bulgarian military hospital, in Bankya. His daughter remembers how in 1943 news spread that trains with Jews from Aegean Thrace and Macedonia were about to cross Bulgaria en route to the concentration camps in Poland. Dr. Gerdjikov found out where the trains would make a stop and went there, without permission, with a hospital truck. Taking advantage of his capacity as military doctor and his perfect German after his specializations in Berlin and Vienna, he ordered that the trains be opened so he could hand out medicines and check for people with typhus. He cited the rules of the International Red Cross allowing him to take down people for checkup. He managed to take with him two girls aged 3 and 6, and three boys aged 6 to 8 years. One of the children ran away and got back on the train before it left. Dr Gerdjikov gave up the young girl for adoption by a Jewish family he knew and the other kids were sent to a Greek monastery near Veliko Tarnovo, Polina Gerdikova wrote.
“When I saw these kids, crammed in the train with hundreds of other poor souls, I felt as if I was one of the Jews,” Dr Gerdjikov told his friend Matei Ulzari.
The doctor was an Eastern Orthodox Christian.
Through his position as the personal doctor of the mother of the Commissioner for Jewish Affairs, Alexander Belev, Dr Gerdjikov learnt of the decision to send 20,000 Jews in exile before being deported to Poland. He then offered shelter and food to two Jewish families. He partitioned his apartment in Sofia with a piece of furniture, providing a hideout first for five people and then four for a period of nine months. He procured for them false IDs, undertaking very risky steps before the authorities. After Sofia was bombed on January 14, 1944, and his home was destroyed, he moved the Jews to a friends' house in the nearby village of German.
He also provided temporary shelter to the children of other Jewish families. He helped several Jews flee Bulgaria via Yugoslavia. He issued false certificates of infectious diseases to Jews to prevent their deportation, his daughter told BTA.
In her letter to BTA, Polina Gerdjikova wrote that today people live in wars, environmental catastrophe, high tech and divisions, people have to make choices. "Time puts a dilemma for us: to be united and tolerant or to disappear from this world. We must not allow xenophobia and racism to divide us," writes Polina Gerdjikova.
The grandson of Dr Pavel Gerdjikov, Alexander Gerdjikov, said of his grandfather: "He saved Jews, German soldiers and members of the [communist] party. He was sentenced by the People’s Court and was sent to prison in Sliven after the so called 'liberation' in 1944. He was sentenced because he was an army officers – which was the reason why he was able to save to many people – and also because he helped German soldiers in the Bankya hospital where he worked. But then he was released from prison by the people whom he had helped, from the communist party. He was a real hero."
Asked how he keeps the memory of Dr Gerdjikov, the grandson said, "I want us to remember Bulgarians like him – not because he was my grandfather; I did not even know him, I take him as a role model to be followed. I wish we remembered people like him, people with values and will power and strength."