Matilda Albuhaire -- A Sephardic Family Story

Centropa's first film produced by the award-winning Bulgarian Photographer's Association.
Here is a story that begins in Istanbul in the 1850s and ends in contemporary Sofia.
After the death of his wife, Matilda Albuhaire's grandfather traveled with his young son to the Black Sea port of Bourgas, where he opened a small shop in a town filled with Greeks, Turks, Jews, Muslims and Bulgarian Christians. Matilda became a teacher in the Bourgas and Sofia Jewish schools, and when war came, waited with the other Bulgarian Jews for their deportation "to Poland," not knowing what awaited them there.
But Bulgaria's Jews were not deported - the accompanying study guide provides articles and essays describing this remarkable incident.
After the war, most Bulgarian Jews emigrated to Israel; Matilda remained, and after the fall of Communism, once again became active in her Jewish community.

Study Guides

PREWAR

Matilda's story begins in Istanbul, where her grandfather lived in the late Ottoman Empire. Through its long history, the Empire had controlled Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Egypt, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, as well as parts of Arabia and large amounts of the North African coast. Find a brief summary of Ottoman history here, or explore this site from the University of Michigan's Turkish Studies Department for more information.

As part of the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria fought with Germany and Italy in the First World War. Learn more about Bulgaria's involvement in the war here.

Between the wars, Bulgaria's political scene was turbulent, marked by coups, strikes, and takeovers. On the eve of the Second World War, Bulgaria was operating under a royal-military dictatorship led by Tsar Boris III.

JEWISH LIFE IN BULGARIA

Matilda lived and worked in Sofia. There have been Jewish communities in Sofia since Roman times, augmented over the centuries by Jews from Hungary, Bavaria, Spain, Germany, Russia, Romania, and Galicia. Learn more in this account from the Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture.

Matilda's mother was from Plovdiv, the second-largest city in Bulgaria. Read about the history of Plovdiv's Jewish community here.

Matilda talks about some of the Jewish youth-groups that operated in Bulgaria. Hashomer Hatzair is the oldest Zionist youth goups in Europe. You can visit their website to learn more about their history, aims, and activities. She also mentions Betar and Maccabi. Explore Centropa's archive for photos of youth group activities in Bulgaria.

Much of Bulgaria's Jewish population are Sepharic, and before the 1940s Ladino was spoken widely.

Matilda's grandfather came from Istanbul to Bulgaria. He prayed regularly in the synagogue, and had a seat in the front of the teva. Find out more on the meaning of teva in synagogues, or Sephardic Arks.

After the Second World War, Bulgaria's communist leaders often tried to deny the existence of minority groups by manipulating or suppressing census data or by forcibly assimilating groups they labelled "undesirable". After the fall of the communist regime in 1989, minoritiy communities could enjoy greater freedom of expression. Flip through the PDF of this book to learn abour the suppression of minorities under Bulgarian communism (available in chapter titled "Ethnographic Characteristics").

The Joint Distribution Committee operated in Bulgaria today, assisting Jews living in poverty. Read more about their work in Bulgaria here.