With the exception of Denmark, Bulgaria was the only country allied with Nazi Germany that did not annihilate or turn over its Jewish population. Here a prominent French intellectual with Bulgarian roots accounts for this singularity.
Tzvetan Todorov assembles and interprets for the first time key evidence from this episode of Bulgarian history, including letters, diaries, government reports, and memoirs--most never before translated into any language. Through these documents, he reconstructs what happened in Bulgaria during World War II and interrogates collective memories of that time. He recounts the actions of individuals and groups that, ultimately and collectively, spared Bulgaria's Jews the fate of most European Jews.
The Bulgaria that emerges is not a heroic country dramatically different from those countries where Jews did perish. Todorov does find heroes, especially parliament deputy Dimitar Peshev, certain writers and clergy, and--most inspiring--public opinion. Yet he is forced to conclude that the "good" triumphed to the extent that it did because of a tenuous chain of events. Any break in that chain--one intellectual who didn't speak up as forcefully, a different composition in Orthodox Church leadership, a misstep by a particular politician, a less wily king--would have undone all of the other efforts with disastrous results for almost 50,000 people.
The meaning Todorov settles on is this: Once evil is introduced into public view, it spreads easily, whereas goodness is temporary, difficult, rare, and fragile. And yet possible.
"In reconstructing what happened to such decent men in his native Bulgaria, Todorov, a respected French philosopher and social critic, is also pursuing his longstanding aim of showing that goodness can thrive under atrocious conditions. In fact, he believes it is under such conditions that goodness is most genuinely present. . . . "--István Deák, New York Review of Books
"Tzvetan Todorov is one of the most original thinkers working today in Europe, whose writings range from the conquest of America to the civil war in occupied France. He has now turned his attention to his Bulgarian roots, Bulgaria, along with Italy and Denmark, being one of the countries with an honorable record in saving Jews during the Holocaust. The result is a book of extraordinary depth which everyone interested in these fields should undoubtedly read."--Michael Burleigh, author of The Third Reich
"The Fragility of Goodness fits well into the Todorov project-one of the most important projects in European literature-which is to describe the marvelous possibilities of the moral life, even in extreme adversity. This latest installment, on the 'rescue' or, more accurately, the sparing of Bulgarian Jews during the Second World War, is a remarkable tale, and also a necessary one, as Todorov himself says, 'for if we better understand its circumstances and the motivations of those responsible, perhaps we will be better able ourselves to act tomorrow.'"--Alex Danchev
"The success of Todorov's works is their originality, intellectual honesty, and innovative spirit. This book is not only a most thoughtful work but it contains many hitherto unpublished and unknown documents on the complex maneuvering of those involved in this extraordinary series of events. It is high time that the American public learn not only about the Danish rescue of the Jews but also about the encouraging Bulgarian story."--István Deák, Columbia University
Table of Contents
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Tzvetan Todorov:
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