The 28 Envelopes
Skopje, Republic of Macedonia
New discoveries about the Holocaust continue to surface in every corner of Europe. Several years ago, a Macedonian historian came across a number of mysterious envelopes with Jewish names on them in government archives in the capital city of Skopje . Inside the envelopes, 28 in total, were documents, gold coins and other valuables. Jasminka Namiceva’s discoveries shed new light on the events of World War II and could lead to unclaimed Jewish property being restored to their owners’ families . In this article, her findings, including the names of envelope owners, are presented to the general public for the first time.
Namiceva, an architecture expert of Armenian descent, came across the envelopes while researching the history of the Skopje Jewish Quarter. In the section of the government archive relating to the Jewish community she noticed that the envelopes with the Jewish names on them that had been issued by the Bulgarian National Bank.
“Knowing what happened to Macedonia’s Jews during the war, I wasn’t surprised to see that the Bulgarian Nation Bank was involved,” she tells the Report. “What was mystifying was why these 28 envelopes weren’t forwarded to the Bank headquarters in Sofia, along with the property of the rest of the Jews.”
The involvement of the Bulgarian National Bank, explains Namiceva, stemmed from Bulgaria’s occupation of Macedonia during the Second World War. The Bulgarian government, closely allied with Nazi Germany, persecuted Macedonia’s Jews along the same lines that the Nazis did in German-occupied countries. Bulgaria, through a series of decrees, systematically tyrannized the Jews. Starting with the enactment of the Law for the Protection of the Nation in January 1941, the Bulgarian government required Jews to pay a special tax amounting to 25 percent of the value of their homes and financial assets. The funds were immediately transferred to the Skopje branch of the Bulgarian National Bank. Then in March 1942 the Bulgarian government passed legislation forcing the Jews to wear yellow badges that they had to purchase with their own money. Once again the proceeds were transferred to the Bulgarian National Bank.
Finally in March 1943 the entire Jewish population of 7,200, was rounded up and brought to a temporary concentration camp at the Monopol train station in Skopje. At the entrance to the camp, their money and valuables were confiscated and placed in the Bulgarian National Bank envelopes.
Over a two-week period the Jews were put on trains that took them to the Treblinka concentration camp in Poland. The annihilation of the Macedonian Jewish population in Treblinka was thought to have resulted in the total elimination of one of Europe’s oldest Jewish communities, with origins dating back 2,000 years to the days of the Roman Empire.
But not completely. According to Namiceva’s findings, a small number of Jews were spared from deportation. “The government decided to let those Jews who had foreign passports stay behind,” says Namiceva pointing to documents she unearthed during her research, adding, “ In total 33 Jewish families with Spanish, Italian or Albanian passports, along with several families headed by doctors and pharmacists were spared. “
The unclaimed envelopes, Namiceva suggests, belonged to the Jews who were interned in the Monopol camp but for some reason not returned to them when they were released. She points out that the names of the Jews on the envelopes do not appear on lists compiled of the Jews who were deported from the Monopol concentration camp.
The 28 envelopes , after being examined by officials in the Skopje Police Department, were all secured with twine and stamped. More than 70 years later, Namiceva was the first person to see their contents again. Among them: an envelope belonging to David Mushon Kastro containing a gold-plated child’s bracelet; another belonging to Josif Aron Beraha with a golden Turkish Lira coin inside; and a third envelope belonging to Hanania Aron Biti, comprising a children’s earring and six golden tooth caps.
Of the released Jews, about twenty families remained in Skopje while the rest left the country. For those who remained in Macedonia, conditions were difficult, especially if they tried to return to their homes.
“In some cases their neighbors had already moved into their homes,” notes Namiceva.
After the war, most of the surviving Jews emigrated to Israel, though Namiceva has learned that a number are believed to have made their way to Chile and other countries.
Namiceva published her findings in a small-circulation scholarly journal (Namicheva J.,Human Fate Clenched Between a Yellow Badge and a Paper Envelope-A Kaleidoscope of the Jewish Holocaust in Macedonia,The Jews from Macedonia and the Holocaust:History,Theory,Culture;Euro Balkan Press,Skopje,2011) and the contents of the envelopes were turned over to the Holocaust Museum in Skopje which has yet to display or publicize Namiceva’s findings.
Consequently the story of Namiceva’s discovery has not received the attention it deserves. Although it is unlikely that the actual owners of the envelopes (listed below) are still alive, their descendants, if they can be located, will obviously be eager to know what happened to their family property.
Namiceva’s research is important because it illuminates a great deal about the little-known history of Macedonia’s Jewish community. Her efforts also help dispel commonly-held notions about the Bulgarian government’s role in the Holocaust.
Bulgaria has often been thought of favorably for saving the lives of Bulgaria’s Jewish community. However, as Namiceva and other historians have noted, the Bulgarian Jews were also forced to wear yellow badges and dispossessed of their rights and property. The Bulgarian government also planned to deport Bulgaria’s Jews to Treblinka but those plans were thwarted at the last minute because of opposition by the leaders of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
Unfortunately the Bulgarian Church was unable to influence Bulgarian government policy in either Macedonia or in neighboring Thrace (pre-war northern Greece) which was also occupied by Bulgaria and where more than 5,000 Jews were rounded up by Bulgarian soldiers and deported to Treblinka. As a result, with more than 99 percent of the Jewish population killed in both Macedonia and Thrace, Bulgaria actually outdid Nazi Germany in the thoroughness of its genocide.
The following are the names listed on the envelopes discovered by Jasminka Namiceva. Family descendants are invited to contact either Jasminka Namiceva c/o Museum of the City of Skopje, Republic of Macedonia, or the author of this article, Bernard Dichek Dichek@netvision.net.il)
Moritz Isak Saltiel, Leon Isak Adiges, Asher David Biti, David Asher Biti, Hanania AAsher Biti, Haim Mois Noach, Mentesh Harom Haim,Albert Ishaj Kastro, Josif Elieser Navaro, Isak Chelebon Aladjem, Salvator Haim Aladjem, Josif Solomon Konforti, Josif Aron Beraha, Avram Beraha Rahamin, Egon Karlo Hubert, Leon Bohor Aladjem, Benvenista Mordohai Melanem, Klara Rachamin Bohor, Ishaj Mushon Kastro, David Mushon Kastro, Jakov Avram Saporta, Isak Saporta ,Elija Bohor Aladjem, Niko Solomon Nehama,Harom Chaim Nova, Mois Jako Benadon and Michel Solomon Menachem