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Boris III the Unifier, Tsar of Bulgaria (30 January 1894 – 28 August 1943), originally Boris Klemens Robert Maria Pius Ludwig Stanislaus Xaver (Boris Clement Robert Mary Pius Louis Stanislaus Xavier), son of Ferdinand I, came to the throne in 1918 upon the abdication of his father, following the defeat of the Kingdom of Bulgaria during World War I. This was the country's second major defeat in only five years, after the disastrous Second Balkan War (1913). Under the Treaty of Neuilly, Bulgaria was forced to cede new territories and pay crippling reparations to its neighbors, thereby threatening political and economic stability. Two political forces, the Agrarian Union and the Communist Party, were calling for the overthrowing of the monarchy and the change of the government. It was in these circumstances that Boris succeeded to the throne.

Early reign

One year after Boris's accession, Aleksandar Stamboliyski (or Stambolijski) of the Bulgarian People's Agrarian Union was elected prime minister. Though popular with the large peasant class, Stambolijski earned the animosity of the middle class and military, which led to his toppling in a military coup on 9 June 1923. In 1925, there was a short border war, known as the Incident at Petrich, with Greece which was resolved with the help of the League of Nations. Also in 1925, there were two attempts on Boris's life perpetrated by leftist extremists. After the second attempt, the military in power exterminated in reprisals several thousand communists and agrarians including representatives of the intelligentsia.

In the coup on 19 May 1934, the Zveno military organisation established a dictatorship and abolished the political parties in Bulgaria. King Boris was reduced to the status of a puppet king as a result of the coup. In the following year, he staged a counter-coup and assumed control of the country by establishing a regime loyal to him. The political process was controlled by the Tsar, but a form of parliamentary rule was re-introduced, without the restoration of the political parties.

Boris married Giovanna of Italy, daughter of Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, first in Assisimarker in October 1930 (attended by Benito Mussolini), and then at an Orthodox ceremony in Sofia. The marriage produced a daughter, Maria Louisa, in January 1933, and a son and heir to the throne, Simeon, in 1937. Tsar Boris was on the front cover of the Time Magazine of 20 January 1941 wearing full military uniform.

World War II

In the early days of World War II, Bulgaria was neutral, but powerful groups in the country swayed its politics toward Germanymarker (whom they had also allied with in World War I), which had gained initial sympathies by forcing Romania to cede southern Dobrudja back to Bulgaria. In 1941, Boris reluctantly allied himself with the Axis Powers in an attempt to recover Macedonia from Greecemarker and Yugoslaviamarker, which had been gained by Bulgaria in the First Balkan War and lost again in the Second.

However, in spite of this loose alliance, Boris was not willing to render full and unconditional cooperation with Germany, and the only German presence in Bulgaria was along the railway line which passed through it to Greece.

In early 1943, Nazi officials requested that Bulgaria send its Jewish population to German occupied Polandmarker. The request caused a public outcry, and a campaign whose most prominent leaders were Parliament Vice-Chairman Dimitar Peshev and the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Stefan, was organized. Following this campaign Boris refused to permit the extradition of Bulgaria's 50,000 Jews. Initially, the Bulgarian government, which he controlled, utilized Swiss diplomatic channels to inquire whether possible deportations of the Jews can happen to British-controlled Palestine by ships rather than to concentration camps in Poland by trains, for which the Germans requested significant amount of money. However, this attempt was blocked by the British Foreign Minister, Anthony Eden (see A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time by Howard M. Sachar, Alfred A. Knopf, N.Y., 2007). Eventually, Boris did succumb to the German demand for the extradition of 11,343 Jews from those territories re-occupied by Bulgaria, but the extradition of the Jews from prewar Bulgaria was stopped. These two decisions have led to a position today where large numbers of people regard Boris as a hero for saving Bulgaria's Jews, and large numbers revile him for condemning those of the occupied territories. The extent to which the Tsar was able to influence events in either case remains a matter of debate.

Most irritating for Hitler, however, was the Tsar's refusal to declare war on the Soviet Unionmarker or send Bulgarian troops to the Eastern front.On August 9, 1943, Hitler summoned Boris to a stormy meeting at Rastenburgmarker, East Prussia, where Tsar Boris arrived by plane from Vrajdebna on Saturday, August 14. While Bulgaria had declared a 'symbolic' war on the distant United Kingdommarker and the United Statesmarker, at that meeting Boris once again refused to get involved in the war against the Soviet Unionmarker, giving two major reasons for his unwillingness to send troops to Russia — first, that many ordinary Bulgarians had strong Russophile sentiments; and second, that the political and military position of Turkey remained unclear. The 'symbolic' war against the Western Allies, however, turned into a disaster for the citizens of Sofiamarker as the city was heavily bombarded by the US, and the British Royal Air Force, in 1943 and 1944. Nevertheless, the bombardments started only after Boris' death.
Tsar Boris and Adolf Hitler


Death

The grave of Tsar Boris III in the Rila monastery.


Wood-carving made by inhabitants of the village of Osoi, Debar district, with the inscription: To its Tsar Liberator Boris III, from grateful Macedonia.


Shortly after returning to Sofia, Boris died of apparent heart failure on 28 August 1943. Conspiracy theories instantly sprang up, many choosing to believe that he was poisoned by Hitler in an attempt to put a more obedient government in place. The evening before the illness occurred, Boris had an official dinner in the Italian embassy. Others suggest that his death was a Communist plot to destabilize the monarchy, and that Boris was poisoned while visiting the Rila Monastery before getting ill. The question has never been settled and many people remain of the belief that Boris was murdered, in spite of no evidence being available. An autopsy of Boris's heart conducted in the early 1990s revealed the cause of his death to be an infarction of the left ventricle, which for many laid to rest any speculation of foul play. Boris was succeeded by his six-year-old son Simeon II under a Regency Council headed by his brother, Prince Kyril of Bulgaria.

Following a large and impressive State Funeral at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofiamarker, where the streets were lined with weeping crowds, the coffin of Tsar Boris III was taken by train to the mountains and buried in Bulgaria's largest and most important monastery, the Rila Monasterymarker. After taking power in September 1944, the Communist-dominated government had his body exhumed and secretly buried in the courtyard of the Vrana Palacemarker near Sofia. At a later time the Communist authorities removed the zinc coffin from Vrana and moved it to a secret location, which remains unknown to this day. After the fall of communism, an excavation attempt was made at the Vrana Palace, in which only Boris's heart was found, as it had been put in a glass cylinder outside the coffin. The heart was taken by his widow in 1993 to Rila Monastery where it was reinterred.

A wood-carving is placed on the left side of his grave in the Rila monastery, made on 10 October 1943 by inhabitants of the village of Osoi, Debarmarker district. The wood-carving has the following inscription:

Ancestors




See also



Signature of Tsar Boris III


References

  1. Balkans and World War 1
  2. Balkans into Southeastern Europe, pg. 154
  3. "Bulgarian Rule Goes to Son, 6. Reports on 5-day Illness Conflict", United Press dispatch in a cutting from an unknown newspaper in the collection of historian James L. Cabot, Ludington, Michigan.
  • Bulgaria in the Second World War by Marshall Lee Miller, Stanford University Press, 1975.
  • Boris III of Bulgaria 1894-1943, by Pashanko Dimitroff, London, 1986, ISBN 0-86332-140-2
  • Crown of Thorns by Stephane Groueff, Lanham MD., and London, 1987, ISBN 0-8191-5778-3
  • The Betrayal of Bulgaria by Gregory Lauder-Frost, Monarchist League Policy Paper, London, 1989.
  • The Daily Telegraph, Obituary for "HM Queen Ioanna of the Bulgarians", London, 28 February 2000.
  • Balkans into Southeastern Europe by John R. Lampe, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2006.
  • A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time by Howard M. Sachar, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2007, ISBN 978-0394485645


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