Gili Shem Tov
Gili Shem Tov started investigating her grandfather’s life in Bulgaria after being asked to participate in the project. She discovered that the King of Bulgaria was pro-Nazi and that it was the Bulgarian Church and certain members of parliament who stopped the deportations of Jews. “This saved my great aunt’s life at the very last minute”.
Gili joined the journey despite being pregnant. “I had to come. At times I could not bear knowing what had happened to the families of other bikers. It was hard emotionally and physically. But I would not have missed it for the world.”
My grandfather, Victor Shem Tov
My grandad was born in Samokov, Bulgaria – A small village near Sofia, to Linda and Rahamim Cumaginsky, one of 5 children. At a young age his family moved to Sofia, where he was given a Zionist education in “YOUNG MACCABI” – learned Hebrew, received an education in physical fitness, and enjoyed a rich cultural life. Victor was privileged to witness the great Zionists speeches that took place in the great synagogue in Sofia, held there due to the Liberal Rabbis that supported the Zionist dream.
At 17, courageously deciding against going to the university, my grandad decided to join an agricultural farm as a preparation for the “Aliya” to Israel he had planned, building the Jewish dream.
In the year 1939, he was given an approval by the British Mandate to enter the country, as part of a one-time approval that was given to Bulgarian Jews. In order to receive an approval for one more friend – he had married in a “convenience marriage”. At 21 my Grandfather arrived in Haifa port by ship.
He was a civil servant and Ideologist throughout his life, later serving the new Israeli state as a member of parliament and rising to become a Minister in the Israeli Government.
My grandmother – Greti Shem Tov
My grandmother was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, to Matilda and Aharon Bechor Eliezer, one of 3 sisters. The entire family made “Aliya” in 1936 except for Alice, her older sister, who was married to a very successful Jewish physician and decided to stay there. Her father went bankrupt and died as a consequence. These unfortunate ordeals forced her mother, her sister and herself to return to Sofia – this time not as citizens, and therefore were not allowed to stay. As a result the family parted: her mother was “married” in a marriage of convenience in order to stay in Bulgaria with the oldest sister, and Greti and her sister Vicky returned to the British Mandate of Palestine.
The mother and the older sister listened to a powerful friend’s advice to move to a small and remote village named Kyustendil as he had heard rumours concerning the Nazis’ plans for the Bulgarian Jews. The Jews there were forced to wear a yellow star and were not allowed to leave their homes after 20:00.
On the fateful night when it was decided that Bulgarian Jews would be sent to the camps, they were instructed to gather at the train station with one suitcase per person. They waited there until the decision to release them was taken the next day, but during the wait they saw the trains passing from Macedonia via Kyustendil, carrying the Macedonian Jews to their deaths, crying for help.
Ultimately, the transports consisted of “only” the Jews of Macedonia and Turkey – a total of 11,000, and 50,000 Jews who were German citizens survived.