Memorial Park commemoration of Bulgarian rescue

In conjunction with the 70th anniversary of the rescue of Bulgarian Jewish population during World War II and in advance of a musical celebration of the rescue a memorial event will be held in Columbia Thursday, Oct. 17.

The memorial will take place at the Holocaust Monument in the Columbia Memorial Park at Gadsden and Washington streets at 1 p.m.

Taking part are Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin; Dr. Lilly Filler, who led the effort to create the monument; and a  representative of the S.C. Council on the Holocaust. Kalin and Sharon Tchonev, who are mounting the musical event Songs of Life: A Melancholy Beauty in Columbia and Charleston Nov. 2 and 3 will speak about the rescue and the upcoming concert.  Attending will be Morris Glass, a concentration camp survivor and author of Chosen for Destruction: The Story of a Holocaust Survivor.

Songs of Life Festival: A Melancholy Beauty recounts the little-known story of how Bulgaria’s 49,000 Jews were saved from the Nazis by ordinary citizens, government and church officials. It will be performed by the University of South Carolina Symphony Orchestra augmented by Bulgarian folk instruments, the Philip Kutev National Folklore Ensemble of Bulgaria, several choirs and soloists.  The centerpiece is a new oratorio which had its world premiere at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and has been performed in New York and Boston.

A Melancholy Beauty is a creation of Varna International, the Tchonev’s Columbia-based organization that presents music festivals throughout Europe and Israel. Kalin Tchonev is from Bulgaria and Sharon Tchonev’s grandparents were saved during the rescue.

Jewish presence in Bulgaria dates back 2,000 years and although anti-Jewish sentiment arose from time to time, the community was largely well-accepted. An indication of the nation’s thriving Jewish life was the opening in 1909 of the Sofia Synagogue, one of the largest synagogues in Europe. South Carolina also has rich but largely unknown Jewish history. The state’s charter provided for religious tolerance which attracted people of many faiths and by 1800 South Carolina had the nation’s largest Jewish population. Charleson’s Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, founded in 1749, is the country’s forth oldest congregation and in 1841 became the first American Reform congregation.

The title of the oratorio comes from writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “When we allow ourselves to become captivated by the melancholy beauty of the rescuers’ gestures, let us also never forget the savage scenery surrounding them.”

The memorial event is free and open to the public and the media. The Tchonevs will available for interviews before and after the event.