Your People Will Be My People

The trains pulled into the station after nightfall. Soldiers with machine guns stepped onto the platforms and from there streamed throughout the city, the region, and eventually all of Bulgaria.

For eight days the SS soldiers hunted house to house, rounding up Jews, herding them back to the train station where children were separated from parents and wives taken from husbands.

Many neighbors shuttered their windows, locked their doors, sat silently.

Not my people. Not my problem.

On the evening of March 11, 1941, the captured waited for rescue. In the darkness, shivering, frightened, angry, mourning in the barbed wire enclosure. Soon they would be crammed into box cars and carried off to Treblinka extermination camp in Poland.

Metropolitan Kirill, the bishop of Plovdiv, did not sit silently behind his locked cathedral door. He was seven feet tall with a long gray beard, wearing black robes to the floor and a golden cross the size of a small child that swung wildly from his neck as he walked. A leader of the Orthodox church in Bulgaria, Kirill was followed by three hundred from his congregation.

They say his steps were so long, his stride so quick, that the crowd behind him had to run to keep up.

His imposing figure and small army cut through the fog and bounded toward the train station at the eleventh hour. When they reached the barricades, SS soldiers brandished their rifles and forbid Kirill from going any further. He pushed them aside and entered the barbed wire enclosure, surrounded by the Jews detained there.

He spread his arms wide as if to embrace them all, raised his voice and made a pledge to them from the book of Ruth. “Wherever you go, I will go! Wherever you live, I will live! Your people will be my people! Your God will be my God!”

Then he walked to the front of the train, laid his body down across the tracks, and refused to move.

Not a single Jew boarded a train bound for the extermination camp that night. Or any other night. Not a single Jew from Bulgaria died in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

A fight with the Jews of Bulgaria was a fight with Metropolitan Kirill and the Body of Jesus Christ.

Metropolitan Kirill