A key communist figure in Bulgaria was Georgi Dimitrov, who was leader of the Communist International, and had been arrested for allegedly trying to burn down the German Reichstag in 1933. He was a die-hard anti-fascist, so it was perhaps unsurprising that he soon decided to ignore the Soviet advice and called for people to resist Nazi Germany.
After Germany attacked Russia in June 1941 – effectively drawing the Soviet Union into the war – the BCP unleashed a series of arson attacks against both the Nazi and Filav regimes. Very quickly, the resistance turned its attention to collaborators and a series of Bulgarian politicians and proGerman sympathisers were executed.
While the resistance was militarily weak, what they could do well was broadcast, and across Bulgaria a number of illegal radio stations and newspapers broadcast anti-fascist and anti-Nazi propaganda, enthusing people to rise up against both their government and occupiers.
Still based in Moscow, Dimitrov launched the Fatherland Front, a ‘popular front’ coalition of communist and noncommunist forces. The group aimed to fight the Nazis and also called for the “eradication of racial hatred.” The Fatherland Front remained popular even after most of the Central Committee of the Communist Party were arrested and executed, after a collaborator had betrayed them.
The various partisan groups came together in April 1943 to form the People’s Liberation Rebel Army (Narodoosvoboditelna vastanicheska armija, NOVA), and it quickly had enough manpower to divide the country into twelve operative zones.
The partisans enjoyed considerable popular support. They destroyed the records the government held on its citizens as they went from town to town, and often eradicated feudal debt before retreating into the mountains. The guerrilla army recruited thousands of partisans from villages by liberating Bulgarian and German foodstores and distributing foods and clothing to families. Detachments of stranded Bulgarian soldiers fighting in Greece and Yugoslavia also switched to the partisans.
In response, the Bulgarian government, in the guise of the police, was brutal, hanging anyone suspected of supporting or even having been in contact with the partisans. However, despite committing 100,000 soldiers and policemen to the anti-partisan campaign their actions were, if anything, counterproductive and even more people joined the resistance.
The strength of the partisan movement has been estimated by researchers at 9,000 people, though the post-war Communist government put the figure at 30,000. However, it is now believed that this was more for propaganda purposes than an accurate assessment.
What is undeniable is that many Bulgarians fought for resistance and partisan movements in other countries. A total of 223 fought for the Soviet army, with at least 151 being killed in action. Other Bulgarians were involved in anti-Nazi resistance in Czechoslovakia, with some seeing action in the Slovak Uprising, Belgium and even Germany.
In September 1944, as the Red Army advanced, the pro-German government resigned. Partisans descending from the mountains made significant gains, taking command of hundreds of villages.
Born 1901 in the village of Dobrinishte, Kozarev was a rebellious youth. Forty years later he was to launch one of the first partisan groups in Bulgaria, killing two police officers in 1941 before going into hiding. It is believed he fled to the Balkans with Yugoslav partisans, before emerging some months later as the leader of the first band of Bulgarian partisans. As leader of his band of partisans, Kozarev took the name ‘Balkan’ basing his group in the Pirin mountains near Razlog.
In 1944 Kozarev was killed by friendly fire near Ribarnika. A statue to him currently stands at the place of his death but is almost completely unnoticed and ignored.
Todor Angelov Dzekov was a true international antifascist fighter. Born in Bulgaria in January 1900 he and his family moved to Belgium in 1927, but after only three years was thrown out of the country for “disturbing the public peace.”
In 1936 he joined the International Brigades’ Dimitrov Battalion of Bulgarian volunteers and fought in the Spanish Civil War. After the defeat of the Republicans, he returned to Belgium only to find the Nazis invade a short time later.
In 1942 he established the “Corp Mobile de Bruxelles” resistance group, the armed branch of the “Front de l’indépendance”, the major Belgian underground movement.
His group consisted of around 25 people, mostly made up of Central European Jewish immigrants. The Nazi authorities referred to him as Terrorist X and his unit was believed to have been involved in over 200 violent acts of resistance, from destroying military equipment to the burning of records of Jews to be deported.
Angelov was arrested in early 1943 and interned in the Fort Breendonk concentration camp, where he was executed later that year.