As Hitler marched across Europe during World War II, he insisted that countries surrender their people. While other governments caved to the tyrant’s demands, Bulgaria refused to cooperate and 50,000 Bulgarian Jews were rescued from certain death at the hands of the Nazis.
Fearing that Germany would pressure Bulgaria to reverse their decision, most of the Bulgarian Jews fled their country. In the town of Gotse Delchev, a small, calm and beautiful town close to the border between Bulgaria and Greece, almost all of the Jewish community followed suit and thousands left Bulgaria. Only one Jewish family did not leave the town in the midst of the war and remained to maintain the town’s temple.
The temple sits on one of the town market squares, in between what could best be described as the equivalent of the American “Dollar Store” ventures. Known among the population as “the Havre,” the building was converted into the family’s home after the war. On its exterior, it looks like it always has, featuring a rounded dome topped with the Star of David. However, the interior is a mix of storage and apartments, starkly highlighting the absent Jewish community.
The population of the town is now a mixture of Bulgarians, Turks, Roma and other groups, mostly of the Muslim and Eastern Orthodox faith. The Jewish population of Bulgaria is under 1,400 people, making the Gotse Delchev temple a unique remnant of a lost community.