Two WIZO groups were formed simultaneously in the autumn of 1924 by a group of Zionist women in Sofia and Phillippopolis. By 1939, under the leadership of President Regina Silberstein, WIZO grew into a splendid organization of 2,100 members in 25 towns. WIZO’s important role in the life of the Jewish community was widely recognized. Lecture tours, intensive propaganda work, translations into Bulgarian of material sent from the London and Palestine Executive of WIZO, and from 1930 WIZO’s own magazine were the means of making information on Zionism and Eretz Israel available to even the smallest groups in the remotest towns. From 1933 on, when large transports of German children en route to Palestine passed through Bulgaria, WIZO helped to take care of them, and arranged sea transportation.
The German occupation of Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939 cast its shadow on the Jewish community of Bulgaria. On the initiative of Vice-Chairman Charlotte Gerskovitz, “Jewish Women’s Committees” were founded which united the existing Jewish women’s organizations. WIZO was in charge of these committees in all towns. In 1940, Bulgaria’s King Boris threw in his lot with the Nazis. The Nuremberg Laws were introduced, and WIZO’s existence officially ended. Jews were expelled from Sofia and the large towns to rural districts. However, WIZO clandestinely organized collections for the support of groups of refugees and established soup kitchens to supplement the starvation rations allowed by the authorities. On March 10, 1943, large numbers of Jews were deported to Poland and the community lived in constant fear of further deportations. In 1944, the entire Jewish population was transferred en masse ot ghetto quarters in the provinces. On September 5, 1944, Russia declared war on Bulgaria. A revolution took place and the next day Russian troops poured in. All anti-Jewish laws were invalidated.
After World War II
Many of the former WIZO leaders and almost all the members of the Central Committee, with the exception of the President, Mrs. Silberstein, and a few provincial leaders, had succeeded in reaching Eretz Israel. Those who remained started to rebuild WIZO, guided by Mrs. Silberstein. By the spring of 1946, the Bulgarian WIZO Federation once again had 3,000 members in 27 groups. However, the Communist regime subsequently declared Zionism bourgeois and chauvinist, and Zionist activists were harassed. Economic conditions became increasingly difficult. Even so, from 1946 to 1948, WIZO worked assiduously for Eretz Israel. When the State of Israel was established, mass aliya from Bulgaria to Israel began. By 1949, 5,000 post-war members of Bulgarian WIZO, along with almost the entire Jewish community, had arrived in Israel. Of the 48,000 Jews in Bulgaria after World War II, only 7,000 remained. Delegates to the Plenary Executive meeting in Israel in February, 1949, well remember the moving scene when a deputation of the Bulgarian haverot handed over their blue and white silk banner to Mrs. Rebecca Sieff, President of World WIZO. In 1994, WIZO Bulgaria was re-established with Luna Davidova, a well-known theater actress and public figure, as its President.
The most important sphere in the work of WIZ0 - Bulgaria is education and Jewish culture. We pay special attention to all anniversaries in Jewish history. So, the celebration of the 75th anniversary of WIZO-Bulgaria was very official. All our haverot took an active role in the preparations for opening the Jewish Museum in Sofia. An important role in the life of our organization is played by the traditional Seminar, which takes place once a year with the participation of representatives of all regional branches. The Seminar is supported financially by the American Joint Distribution Committee. The Seminar dedicated to our jubilee was attended by Mrs. Michal Modai, President of World WIZO. Her speech and concrete recommendations had an impact on the further activities of our organization. We also distributed the speech of Mr. Peres at the 22nd WIZO Congress about the role of culture and education in modern life to all our branches. We are doing a lot of work in the field of Jewish traditions in our families. The severe economic situation and the lack of funds do not allow us to do active fundraising work.
WIZO Bulgaria is working under very difficult conditions, on the one hand because the most important task of all of us is the survival of our members, especially in wintertime; and on the other hand because we do not have our own office. But we are proud that our members are dedicated to our aims. We do remember the words of Mrs. Modai: that such haverot would be a source of pride for every organization.