Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Bulgarians in Greek Macedonia, part 2 (WW II)

[From the book “Nationalism and Communism in Macedonia) by Evangelos Kofos, Institute for Balkan Studies, pages 102-107]

Occupation in Western Macedonia

From the first days of the occupation, the Bulgarians indicated that they would not be satisfied with Eastern Macedonia only. Their objectives included the acquisition of the Central and Western parts of Greek Ma­cedonia with the port of Thessaloniki. Western and Central Macedonia constituted the lifeline not only of the German forces in Greece, but also of the German divisions fighting in Northern Africa. It was understand­able, therefore, that the Germans would entrust neither to their Italian nor to their Bulgarian allies the administration of the vital port of Thessalo­niki and the Vardar (Axios) Valley. Only some remote parts of Western Macedonia were included in the Italian zone of occupation.

The Bulgarians, on the other hand, were determined to extend their control to those regions by any means. The fact that in this area lived appro­ximately 80,000 Slav-speaking inhabitants of whom a large segment had at the time of the German invasion, openly shown pro-Bulgarian sentiments, provided a further inducement and an excuse. On the whole, these Slav-speaking inhabitants had settled peacefully in the country and were it not for the Axis invasion and Bulgarian propaganda reviving in many old Bul­garian sympathies, they would have gradually been assimilated by the more populous Greek-speaking element.[1]

It was easy for the Bulgarians to persecute, evict or take as hostages thousands of Greeks from that part of Macedonia which was under their jurisdiction, but in German-occupied Western Macedonia, they needed to enlist the support of at least the Slavophones who were by no means en­tirely sympathetic to them. They had also to convince the Germans that Western Macedonia was heavily inhabited by Bulgarians; a very ambitious task, indeed.

The first objective, i.e. the proselytization of the Slavophones, had started even during the course of the Greco-Italian war when the Bulga­rians succeeded in obtaining from Italy special treatment for Greek pri­soners of war from Macedonia who were willing to declare themselves Bulgarians. [2]

The collapse of the Greek front in Macedonia before the onrushing German divisions created a psychological uneasiness among the inhabitants of the region. Militant Bulgarian-sympathisers waged a war of nerves against the native Greek population through the arrogant display of Bulgarian flags, and rumors that momentarily the Bulgarian Army would oc­cupy Western Macedonia. [3]

From May through July 1941, the situation worsened. The Greek Gendarmerie and officials of the local administration had followed the retreating army to the south. A number of Bulgarian sympathizers took advantage of the situation to form armed bands and terrorize the Greek population. The situation remained unchanged until July when the Greek authorities were allowed by the Germans to return to the region. [4]

The Bulgarians countered with a better organized, long-range plan to acquire control of the area. With the consent of the Germans, they estab­lished in Thessaloniki a Bulgarian Association which was founded osten­sibly, "for the cultural advancement and mutual assistance of its mem­bers." In fact, it became the center of Bulgarian efforts to seize Greek Western Macedonia through propaganda and, later, through coercion.

According to its Statute [5] (Article 4), only Bulgarians who were born in Macedonia, or Bulgarians of Macedonian origin could be admitted to the Association. Identity cards were issued for the members entitling them to special privileges and rich food rations, [6] a determining factor in sway­ing the loyalties of needy peasants in famine-stricken Macedonia. The Statute was confirmed on October 26, 1941, by General Von Krensky, German Commander of Thessaloniki and the Aegean, under condition that only Bulgarian citizens or Greeks of Bulgarian nationality could be admit­ted to membership. Furthermore, it was stipulated that the Association would be subjected to the laws of the German-installed Greek Government. It is interesting to note that it explicitly prohibited any financial advant­ages to the members, [7] a clause which was never observed.

The Greek Government in Athens strongly protested the establish­ment of this Bulgarian center in Thessaloniki. In a long memorandum to the Reich authorities in Greece, dated October 16, 1941, the Prime Minister complained that agents of the Bulgarian Association did not confine them­selves to conducting propaganda but were engaged in acts of terrorism against the Greek population. In addition, the Prime Minister contended that leading Bulgarian agents were communists as were most of the re­cruited and secretly armed peasants. Indicative of the aims of the Bulga-rians, said the Prime Minister, was the discovery by the German authori­ties in a village of Fiorina of concealed weapons which were enough to arm a whole battalion. [8]

The Germans failed to take any definite action on the basis of of­ficial Greek complaints, to curtail the discrepancies of the Bulgarians. This prompted the Bulgarians to adopt even more aggressive measures. Liaison officers were appointed to the German military headquarters in Thessalo­niki and other cities. They soon became agents of an ambitious plan aimed at convincing the Germans that Western Macedonia was inhabited mostly by Bulgarians. [9] The Bulgarians tried also to expand their influence to the monastery community of Mount Athos. In February 1942, reports reached the Athens Government that the few Bulgarian monks of Mount Athos, apparently on instructions by the Bulgarian Government, were engaged in an effort to secure an order from the Germans for the eviction of the Greek authorities. Their plan aimed at internationalizing the monastery community—long the cradle of Orthodoxy in the Balkans—as a first step toward its subjection to Bulgarian control [ 10]

The Germans, although they condoned the Bulgarian activities in German-occupied Macedonia, did not seem to consent to the Bulgarian demand to extend their authority into other regions as well. This German attitude convinced the Bulgarians that to succeed in their plans they had to rely on their own efforts. Thus, they were able to be entrusted with the distribution of foodstuffs donated by the International Red Cross. They declared that only those signing up as Bulgarians would receive food ra­tions. However, even this method failed to produce impressive results as only 14,709 persons were given Bulgarian identity cards [11]

The failure of the food distribution plan caused the Bulgarians to adopt more stringent methods. Through their liaison officers they succeed­ed in organizing and secretly arming their followers in the Western Macedonian districts. The German authorities were aware of the Bulga­rian activities, but they were not inclined to take drastic measures against their allies.

As the situation deteriorated further, the Athens Government was compelled to protest, once again, to the Reich supreme authorities in Greece, in the strongest language permitted. The protest went as far as to accuse the local German authorities of tolerating and sheltering the activities of Bulgarian agents. It is worth quoting extensively from this document:

The present Greek Government, having accepted to govern the country under extremely difficult conditions and circumstances, set out, as one of its primary objectives, the bridging of the chasm —which bad fortune had created between the Greek and the German peoples—, the re-establishment of the long-existing feelings of friend­ship and mutual esteem, and the rapprochement of the Greek peo­ple with the objectives and tendencies of New Germany. [The Go­vernment] finds itself in the difficult position of having to acknow­ledge that its efforts in these directions have not brought the desired results, principally on account of the utterly unpsychological attitude of certain military authorities toward the Bulgarian claims in districts inhabited by crushing majorities of pure Greek populations for which the Greek people have for decades, paid with heavy sacrifices.

The Greek Government... would feel deep gratitude if it were assi­sted in its efforts by the German Government and by its local po­litical and military representatives. [The Government's efforts] would be successfully carried out by the removal from German-occupied Greek Macedonia of every center of Bulgarian propaganda. Such are mainly today the Bulgarian Association of Thessaloniki and the Bulgarian liaison officers attached to the various German city headquarters...[12]

Greek protests, however, had little if any effect. The Bulgarian liai­son officersamong whom a Lieutenant Kaltchev played a major role-continued to organize militarily their followers hoping that eventually they would be invited by the Germans to take over the administration of the region. Bulgarian hopes appeared to have a better chance when Greek partisans began to make their appearance on the mountains of Macedonia. In the Italian administered zone, the authorities permitted the pro-Bulga­rian Slavophones to form armed security units, [13] which were entrusted with the maintenance of “order and peace” [14] It is interesting to note that, from the beginning, these newly-formed security units—popularly known as "Ohrana battalions" [15] —did not receive their orders from the Italian authorities but from the Bulgarian liaison officers. In a short time they became notorious for their persecution of the Greek inhabitants. In the Kastoria region alone, they burned more than forty villages [16]

The Italian Armistice in November 1943, removed a serious obstacle from Bulgaria's efforts to extend her control over most of Greek Macedo­nia. The Germans, engaged in critical combat in both the Eastern and Ita­lian fronts, had neither the units to spare for occupation duty, nor the time to investigate the conduct of their Bulgarian allies in their zone of occupation. In the summer of 1943 they offered them an additional strip of land west of the Strymon river which included most of the Kilkis Prefecture and the northern part of the Thessaloniki Prefecture, including Chalkidiki [17] After the war, at the Sofia trial of the leaders of the wartime Bulgarian government, the Crown Counselor, Jordan Sevov, revealed that the Bulgarian Government had debated at that time whether to extend the zone of occupation to include Thessaloniki. It had failed to reach an agreement primarily on account of the General Staff which rai­sed objections for purely military considerations. [18] Finally, in the closing days of the occupation—late in 1944—the Bulgarians attempted clandes­tinely to extend their military authority into three more districts of Central and Western Macedonia, namely Edessa, Kastoria and Fiorina. This move, which was bound to be short-lived, had no other meaning than to register Bulgarian presence in a Greek region long claimed by the Bulgarians, ap­parently in the remote hope that the course of international developments might allow them to remain in possession of the regions they occupied.

On September 9, the Bulgarian Government was overthrown by the Fatherland Front. However, despite the Government change, the Bulgarians still hoped to remain in the occupied regions on the pretext of fighting the Germans. Stern Allied demarches forced them to leave all Greek lands by late November 1944.


[1]- Barker, op. cit., p. 31.
[2]- Following the occupation of Greece, these prisoners of war were transported to Bulgaria and there is evidence to suggest that they were later sent back to Greece to form Bulgarian organizations. Kostas Bramos, Σλαυοκομμουνιστικαι 'Ορ­γανώσεις έν Μακεδονία: Προπαγάνδα και Επαναστατική Δράσις [Communist-Slav Organizations in Macedonia; Propaganda and Revolutionary Activities], First Edi­tion (Thessaloniki: 1954), pp. 102-103.
[3]- Naltsas, op. cit.. p. 217
[4]-Demetrios G. Zapheiropoulos, To KKE και ή Μακεδονία [The KKE andMacedonia], (Athens, 1948), p. 10.
[5]- Statute in GFM, E/1028/VI/1/1941 (File I/3a/1941-1942).
[6]- Ibid.
[7]- Order V5, Volk 4; in GFM, E/1029/VI/1/1941
[8]- No 51, dated October 16, 1941, in GFM, Nr. E/860/VI,3. The evidence was corroborated by a secret report of the Thessaloniki Police which informed the Go­vernment that anarchists and communists were admitted to the Bulgarian Association. GFM, File I/3a'1941-42.
[9]- Confidential report of the Edessa Gendramerie dated August 31, 1941. Text in GFM Archives. Also Naltsas, op. cit., p. 263.
[10]- GFM, "'Prime Minister's File,"' Ε/68, 1/36/1942.
[11]- Bramos, op. cit., [First Edition], p. 105.
[12]- GFM, File No I/3b/1942, Nr. E/595/l/3a/v dated October 23, 1942. In the knowledge of the author, this is the first time that this document is published.
[13]- Naltsas, op. cit., p. 217.
[14]- Zapheiropoulos, op. cit., p. 19.
[15]- "Comments and Oral Statement Made by the Liaison Representative ofGreece on Parts II and III of the Report, 'Memorandum on the Slavophones of Greece', United Nations, Security Council, Official Records, 2nd year, Special Supplement, No. 2, Report by the Commission of Investigation concerning Greek Frontier Incidents to the Security Council, Vol. Ill (S/360 Rev. 1; July 28, 1950), (New York, 1950), pp. 323 - 327, [hereafter referred to as "Memorandum on the Slavophones of Greece"].
[16]- Ibid., p. 326
[17]- Petros Monastiriotis, Oi Πρώσσοι των Βαλκανίων [The Prussians of the Balkans], (Cairo : 1944), p. 60.
[18]- Report by the Greek Ambassador to Ankara, dated January 10, 1945, GFM, A/7931/1945.


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