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Boris III of Bulgaria

Boris III of Bulgaria

Tsar of bulgaria
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Tsar of bulgaria
A.K.A. Boris Klemens Robert Maria Pius Ludwig Stanislaus Xaver
Gender male
Birth January 30, 1894 (Sofia, Sofia Capital Municipality, Sofia City Province, Bulgaria)
Death August 28, 1943 (Sofia, Sofia Capital Municipality, Sofia City Province, Bulgaria)
Residence Sofia, Sofia Capital Municipality, Sofia City Province, Bulgaria
Mother: Princess Marie Louise of Bourbon-Parma
Father: Ferdinand I of Bulgaria
Siblings: Prince Kiril of BulgariaPrincess Nadezhda of BulgariaPrincess Eudoxia of Bulgaria
Spouse: Giovanna of Italy
Children: Princess Marie Louise of BulgariaSimeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha
Boris III of Bulgaria
The details

Boris III (Bulgarian: Борѝс III; 30 January [O.S. 18 January] 1894 – 28 August 1943), originally Boris Klemens Robert Maria Pius Ludwig Stanislaus Xaver (Boris Clement Robert Mary Pius Louis Stanislaus Xavier), was Tsar of Bulgaria from 1918 until his death.

The eldest son of Ferdinand I, Boris acceded to the throne upon the abdication of his father, following Bulgaria's defeat during World War I. This was the country's second major defeat in only five years, after the disastrous Second Balkan War of 1913. Under the Treaty of Neuilly, Bulgaria was forced to cede new territories and pay crippling reparations to its neighbours, 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 life

Crown prince Boris (2nd from right) and German Field marshall Von Mackensen reviewing a Bulgarian regiment accompanied by the Commander in Chief General Zhekov and the Chief of Staff Army General Zhostov during World War I

Boris was born on 30 January 1894 in Sofia to Ferdinand I, Prince of Bulgaria, and his wife Princess Marie Louise of Bourbon-Parma.

In February 1896, his father paved the way for the reconciliation of Bulgaria and Russia with the conversion of the infant Prince Boris from Roman Catholicism to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, a move that earned Ferdinand the frustration of his wife, the animosity of his Catholic Austrian relatives (particularly his uncle Franz Joseph I of Austria) and excommunication from the Catholic Church. In order to remedy this difficult situation, Ferdinand christened all his remaining children as Catholics. Nicholas II of Russia stood as godfather to Boris and met the young boy during Ferdinand's official visit to Saint Petersburg in July 1898.

He received his initial education in the so-called Palace Secondary School, which Ferdinand had created in 1908 solely for his sons. Later, Boris graduated from the Military School in Sofia, then took part in the Balkan Wars. During the First World War, he served as liaison officer of the General Staff of the Bulgarian Army on the Macedonian front. In 1916, he was promoted to colonel and attached again as liaison officer to Army Group Mackensen and the Bulgarian Third Army for the operations against Romania. Boris worked hard to smooth the sometimes difficult relations between Field Marshal Mackensen and Lieutenant General Stefan Toshev, the commander of the Third Army. Through his courage and personal example, he earned the respect of the troops and the senior Bulgarian and German commanders, even that of the Generalquartiermeister of the German Army, Erich Ludendorff, who preferred dealing personally with Boris and described him as excellently trained, a thoroughly soldierly person and mature beyond his years. In 1918, Boris was made a major general.

Early reign

The Royal Sceptre of Boris III

In September 1918, Bulgaria was defeated in the Vardar Offensive and forced to sue for peace. Ferdinand subsequently abdicated in favour of Boris, who became Tsar on 3 October 1918.

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, and his subsequent assassination. On 14 April 1925, an anarchist group attacked Boris's cavalcade as it passed through the Arabakonak Pass. Two days later, a bomb killed 150 members of the Bulgarian political and military elite in Sofia as they attended the funeral of a murdered general (see St Nedelya Church assault). Following a further attempt on Boris's life the same year, military reprisals killed several thousand communists and agrarians, including representatives of the intelligentsia. Finally, in October 1925, there was a short border war with Greece, known as the Incident at Petrich, which was resolved with the help of the League of Nations.

Boris III of Bulgaria and Prime-minister Kimon Georgiev during the opening session of the IV International Congress of Byzantine Studies (Sofia, 9 September 1934)

In the coup on 19 May 1934, the Zveno military organisation established a dictatorship and abolished political parties in Bulgaria. Tsar Boris was reduced to the status of a puppet tsar as a result of the coup. The following year, he staged a counter-coup and assumed control of the country. The political process was controlled by the Tsar, but a form of parliamentary rule was re-introduced, without the restoration of the political parties. With the rise of the "King's government" in 1935, Bulgaria entered an era of prosperity and astounding growth, which deservedly qualifies it as the Golden Age of the Third Bulgarian Kingdom. It lasted nearly five years.

Marriage and issue

Boris married Giovanna of Italy, daughter of Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, just in a Catholic ceremony at the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi in Assisi, Italy, on 25 October 1930 (attended by Benito Mussolini). The marriage produced a daughter, Maria Louisa, on 13 January 1932, and a son and heir to the throne, Simeon, on 16 June 1937.

Second World War

Boris III and Adolf Hitler

In the early days of the Second World War, Bulgaria was neutral, but powerful groups in the country swayed its politics towards Germany (with which Bulgaria had been allied in the First World War). As a result of peace treaties that ended the First World War (the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Neuilly), Bulgaria, which had fought on the losing side, lost two important territories to neighboring countries: the Southern plain of Dobrudja to Romania, and Western Thrace to Greece. The Bulgarians considered these treaties an insult and wanted the lands restored. When Adolf Hitler rose to power, he tried to win Bulgarian Tsar Boris III's allegiance. In the summer of 1940, after a year of war, Hitler hosted diplomatic talks between Bulgaria and Romania in Vienna. On 7 September, an agreement was signed for the return of South Dobrudja to Bulgaria. The Bulgarian nation rejoiced. In March 1941, Boris allied himself with the Axis powers, thus recovering most of Macedonia and Aegean Thrace, as well as protecting his country from being crushed by the German Wehrmacht like neighboring Yugoslavia and Greece. For recovering these territories, Tsar Boris was called the Unifier (Bulgarian: Цар Обединител). Tsar Boris appeared on the cover of Time on 20 January 1941 wearing a full military uniform.

Despite this alliance, and the German presence in Sofia and along the railway line which passed through the Bulgarian capital to Greece, Boris was not willing to provide full and unconditional cooperation with Germany. He refused to send regular Bulgarian troops to fight the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front alongside Germany and the other Axis belligerents, and also refused to allow unofficial volunteers (such as Spain's Blue Division) to participate, although the German legation in Sofia received 1,500 requests from young Bulgarian men who wanted to fight against Bolshevism.

But there was a price to be paid for the return of Dobrudja. This was the adoption of the anti-Jewish "Law for Protection of the Nation" (Закон за защита на нацията — ЗЗН) on 24 December 1940. This law was in accordance with the Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany and the rest of Hitler's occupied Europe. Bulgarian Prime Minister Bogdan Filov and Interior Minister Petur Gabrovski, both Nazi sympathisers, were the architects of this law, which restricted Jewish rights, imposed new taxes, and established a quota for Jews in some professions. Many Bulgarians protested in letters to their government. In March 1941, Bulgaria signed the Tripartite Pact and joined the Axis in hopes of regaining the territories of Macedonia and Greek Thrace. Tsar Boris signed it into law on 21 January 1941.[1].

The Holocaust

Decree of Boris III for approval of the antisemitic Law for protection of the nation

In early 1943, Hitler's emissary, Theodor Dannecker, arrived in Bulgaria. Dannecker was an SS Hauptsturmführer and one of Adolf Eichmann's associates who guided the campaign for the deportation of the French Jews to death camps. In February 1943, Dannecker met with the Commissar for Jewish Affairs in Bulgaria, Alexander Belev, notorious for his antisemitic and strong nationalist views. They held closed-door meetings and ended with a secret agreement signed on 22 February 1943 for the deportations of 20,000 Jews - 11,343 from Aegean Thrace and Vardar Macedonia, and 8,000 from Bulgaria proper. These were the territories conquered by Germany, but being under Bulgarian occupation and jurisdiction at the time, although this occupation was never recognized internationally. The Jewish people in these territories were the only ones who did not get Bulgarian citizenship in 1941-1942, unlike the rest of the population. The remaining to 20,000 Bulgarian Jews were to be deported later.

The initial roundups were to begin on 9 March 1943. Boxcars were lined up in Kyustendil, a town near the western border. But as the news about the imminent deportations leaked out, protests arose throughout Bulgaria. On the morning of 9 March, a delegation from Kyustendil, composed of eminent public figures and headed by Dimitar Peshev, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, met with Interior Minister Petur Gabrovski. Facing strong opposition from within the country, Gabrovski relented. The same day, he sent telegrams to the roundup centers in the pre-war territory of Bulgaria, postponing the deportations to a future, unidentified date.

In a report of 5 April 1943, Adolph Hoffman, a German government adviser and police attache at the German legation in Sofia (1943–44) wrote: "The Minister of Interior has received instruction from the highest place to stop the planned deportation of Jews from the old borders of Bulgaria". In fact, Gabrovski's decision was not taken on his own "personal initiative", but had come from the highest authority — Tsar Boris III, who decided to temporarily stop the deportation of the rest of the Jews. While Jews living in Bulgaria proper were saved, the 11,343 Jews from Vardar Macedonia and Aegean Thrace were deported to the death camps of Treblinka and Majdanek. Even though the occupied by Bulgaria territories were not internationally recognized as part of the country, it had complete control and full administration rights upon these lands - newborn babies were being issued birth certificates by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Bulgarian became the official language in all public spaces - schools, municipalities, etc., the Bulgarian army and police took control over maintaining Bulgarian laws, etc. The king, as explained in the section Second World War above notes that he was named "Unifier", as he has "unified" all lands with Bulgarians.

Still reluctant to comply with the German deportation request, the royal palace utilised Swiss diplomatic channels to inquire whether it was possible to deport the Jews to British-controlled Palestine by ship rather than to concentration camps in German-occupied Poland by boat and train. This was blocked by the British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden.

Aware of Bulgaria's unreliability on the Jewish matter, the Nazis grew more suspicious about the quiet activities in aid of European Jewry of an old friend of Tsar Boris, Monsignor Angelo Roncalli (the future Pope John XXIII), the Papal Nuncio in Istanbul. Reporting on the humanitarian efforts of Roncalli, his secretary in Venice and in the Vatican, Monsignor Loris F. Capovilla writes: "Through his intervention, and with the help of Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria, thousands of Jews from Slovakia, who had first been sent to Hungary and then to Bulgaria, and who were in danger of being sent to Nazi concentration camps, obtained transit visas for Palestine signed by him."

Meetings with Hitler

Boris III Tsar of Bulgaria (1894 - 1943), sculptor Kunio Novachev, architect Milomir Boganov. It is the first statue of the Tsar. Since 2016 it has been displayed in the central open area of the National History Museum of Bulgaria in Sofia
Dobrich downtown - square "Tsar Boris III Unifier". Memorial metalwork "Tsar Boris III Unifier" on the City hall from 1992 in memory of thanks for the liberation of Southern Dobrudzha in 1940 and its return to Bulgaria.

Nazi pressure on Tsar Boris III continued for the deportation of the Bulgarian Jewry. At the end of March, Hitler "invited" the Tsar to visit him. Upon returning home, Boris ordered able-bodied Jewish men to join hard labor units to build roads within the interior of his kingdom. It is widely believed that this was the Tsar's attempt to avoid deporting them.

During May 1943, Dannecker and Belev, the Commissar for Jewish Affairs, planned the deportation of more than 48,000 Bulgarian Jews, who were to be loaded on steamers on the River Danube. Boris continued the cat-and-mouse game that he had long been playing; he insisted to the Nazis that Bulgarian Jews were needed for the construction of roads and railway lines inside his kingdom. Nazi officials requested that Bulgaria deport its Jewish population to German-occupied Poland. The request caused a public outcry, and a campaign whose most prominent leaders were Parliament's deputy speaker Dimitar Peshev and the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Stefan, was organised. Following this campaign, Boris refused to permit the extradition of Bulgaria's nearly 50,000 Jews.

On 30 June 1943, Apostolic Delegate Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, wrote to Boris, asking for mercy for "the sons of the Jewish people." He wrote that Tsar Boris should on no account agree to the dishonorable action that Hitler was demanding. On the copy of the letter, the future pope noted, by hand, that the Tsar replied verbally to his message. The note states "Il Re ha fatto qualche cosa" ("The Tsar did something"); and while noting the difficult situation of the monarch, Roncalli stressed once again "Però, ripeto, ha fatto" ("But I repeat, he has acted").

An excerpt from the diary of Rabbi Daniel Zion, the spiritual leader of the Jewish community in Bulgaria during the war years, reads:

Do not be afraid, dear brothers and sisters! Trust in the Holy Rock of our salvation ... Yesterday I was informed by Bishop Stephen about his conversation with the Bulgarian tsar. When I went to see Bishop Stephen, he said: "Tell your people, the Tsar has promised, that the Bulgarian Jews shall not leave the borders of Bulgaria ...". When I returned to the synagogue, silence reigned in anticipation of the outcome of my meeting with Bishop Stephen. When I entered, my words were: "Yes, my brethren, God heard our prayers ..."

Most irritating for Hitler was the Tsar's refusal to declare war on the Soviet Union or send Bulgarian troops to the Eastern Front. On 9 August 1943, Hitler summoned Boris to a stormy meeting at Rastenburg, East Prussia. Boris arrived by plane from Vrazhdebna on 14 August. The Tsar asserted his stance once again not to send Bulgarian Jews to death camps in Poland and Germany. While Bulgaria had declared a "symbolic" war on the distant United Kingdom and United States, the Tsar was not willing to do more than that. At the meeting, Boris once again refused to get involved in the war against the Soviet Union, giving two major reasons for his unwillingness to send troops to Russia. First, many ordinary Bulgarians had strong pro-Russian sentiments; and second, the political and military position of Turkey remained unclear. The "symbolic" war against the Western Allies turned into a disaster for the citizens of Sofia, as the city was heavily bombarded by the US Army Air Force and the British Royal Air Force in 1943 and 1944. Nevertheless, the bombardments started only after Boris's death.

Bulgaria's opposition came to a head at this last official meeting between Hitler and Boris. Reports of the meeting indicate that Hitler was furious with the Tsar for refusing either to join the war against the USSR or to deport the Jews within his kingdom. At the end of the meeting, it was agreed that "the Bulgarian Jews were not to be deported, for Tsar Boris had insisted that the Jews were needed for various laboring tasks including road maintenance." This act of bravery displayed by Tsar Boris ultimately put a stop to talks of deportation and may have cost Boris his life.


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 from a meeting with Hitler, Boris died of apparent heart failure on 28 August 1943. According to the diary of the German attache in Sofia at the time, Colonel von Schoenebeck, the two German doctors who attended the King – Sajitz and Hans Eppinger – both believed that he had died from the same poison that Dr. Eppinger had allegedly found two years earlier in the postmortem examination of the Greek Prime Minister, Ioannis Metaxas, a slow poison which takes weeks to do its work and which causes the appearance of blotches on the skin of its victim before death.

Boris was succeeded by his six-year-old son Simeon II, under a Regency Council headed by Boris's brother Prince Kiril of Bulgaria.

The grave of Tsar Boris III in the Rila Monastery

Following a large, impressive state funeral at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia, 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 Monastery. After taking power in September 1944, the Communist-dominated government had his body exhumed and secretly buried in the courtyard of Vrana Palace, near Sofia. At a later time, the Communist authorities moved the zinc coffin from Vrana to a secret location, which remains unknown to this day. After the fall of communism, an excavation was made at Vrana Palace. 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 1994 to Rila Monastery, where it was reinterred.

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

To its Tsar Liberator Boris III, from grateful Macedonia.

Titles, styles, honours, patronages, awards and arms


  • 30 January/O.S. 18 January 1894 – 5 October 1908: His Highness The Prince of Tarnovo, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Duke of Saxony
  • 5 October 1908 - 3 October 1918: His Royal Highness The Prince of Tarnovo, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Duke of Saxony
  • 3 October 1918 – 28 August 1943: His Majesty The Tsar of the Bulgarians


National honours

  • Kingdom of Bulgaria Bulgaria: Sovereign Knight Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Saints Cyril and Methodius
  • Kingdom of Bulgaria Bulgaria: Sovereign Knight Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Saint Alexander
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Bravery
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Military Merit
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Civil Merit
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign recipient of the Medal For The Independence Of Bulgaria
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign recipient of the Medal for Participation in the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign recipient of the Medal for Participation in the European War 1915–1918
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign recipient of the Commemorative Medal of the death of Princess Marie Louise
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign recipient of the 1000th Anniversary Medal of the birth of Tsar Boris I
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign recipient of the Medal for the Coronation of Tsar Ferdinand I and Queen Eleonore
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign recipient of the 50th Anniversary Medal of Liberation from the Ottoman Empire
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign recipient of the 1000th Anniversary Medal of the death of Tsar Simeon I
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign recipient of the Medal for the Wedding of Tsar Boris III And Princess Giovanna of Italy

Foreign honours

  • Austria-Hungary Austrian Imperial and Royal family: Knight Grand Cordon of the Imperial and Royal Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary
  •  Belgium: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Leopold I
  •  France: Grand Cross of the Order of the Legion of Honour
  • Germany
    •  Nazi Germany: Grand Cross of the Nazi Iron Cross
    • German Empire German Imperial and Royal Family:
      • Knight of the Imperial and Royal Order of the Black Eagle
      • Knight Grand Cordon of the Imperial and Royal Order of the Red Eagle
      • Kingdom of Bavaria Bavarian Royal Family: Knight Grand Cross with Collar of the Royal Order of Saint Hubert
  • Kingdom of Italy Italy: Knight Grand Collar of the Supreme Order of the Most Holy Annunciation
    • Duchy of Parma Ducal Family of Parma: Knight Grand Cross of the Parmese Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George
  •  Poland: Grand Cross of the Order of the White Eagle
  • Romania Romania: Knight Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Carol I
  •  Russian Imperial Family:
    • Knight Grand Cordon with Collar of the Imperial Order of Saint Andrew
    • Knight Grand Cordon of the Order of St. Anna
  •  United Kingdom: Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order
  • Kingdom of Yugoslavia Yugoslavia: Knight Grand Cordon of the Order of the Star of Karađorđe
    • Kingdom of Montenegro Montenegro: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Danilo I, 1910.


Coat of Arms of Boris III of Bulgaria 1894-1918.svg Arms of Boris as Prince of Tarnovo (1894-1918)
Larger Sovereign Arms of Bulgaria 1929-1946.svg Arms of Boris III as Sovereign of Bulgaria (1929-1943)


National Patronages

  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the 1st Infantry regiment of Prince Alexander I
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the 4th Infantry regiment of Prince Boris
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the 6th Infantry regiment of Tsar Ferdinand I
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the 8th Infantry regiment of Princess Marie Louise
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the 9th Infantry regiment of Princess Clementine
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the 18th Infantry regiment of Tsar Ferdinand I
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the 20th Infantry regiment of Prince Krill and of Princesses Eudoxia and Nadezhda
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the 24th Infantry regiment of Queen Eleonore
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the 19th Infantry regiment of Prince Simeon
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the 1st Cavalry regiment of Tsar Alexander I
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the 2nd Cavalry regiment of Princess Marie Louise
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the 10th Cavalry regiment of Queen Ionna
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the 3rd Cavalry regiment of Prince Simeon
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the 4th Artillery regiment of KTsar Ferdinand I
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the Life Guard regiment of The Tsar
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the Navy regiment of The Tsar
  •  Bulgaria: Sovereign Patron of the 1st Army Artillery regiment of Prince Simeon

Foreign Patronages

  •  German Empire: Patron of the Balkan Infantry regiment of Emperor Wilhelm II
    •  Saxe-Coburg and Gotha: Patron of the 22nd Infantry regiment of Charles Edward I
  •  Russian Empire: Patron of the 17th Infantry regiment of Grand Duke Vladmir Alexandrovich
  •  Russian Empire: Patron of the Azov Infantry regiment

The United States Congress proclaimed Tsar Boris III savior of 50,000 Bulgarian Jews on 12 May 1994.

Tsar Boris III was posthumously awarded the Jewish National Fund's Medal of the Legion of Honor Award, the first non-Jew to receive one of the Jewish community's highest honors.

The Anti-Defamation League and Chabad have also honored Tsar Boris III for refusing to sacrifice his Jewish subjects to the Nazis.

Tsar Boris III Boulevard is one of the main boulevards in Sofia, Varna and Plovdiv.

Borisova gradina is the largest park in Sofia.

In 1998, to thank Tsar Boris, Bulgarian Jews in the United States and the Jewish National Fund erected a monument in "The Bulgarian Forest" in Israel, honoring Tsar Boris as a savior of Bulgarian Jews. In July 2003, a public committee headed by Israeli Chief Justice Dr. Moshe Beiski decided to remove the memorial from "The Bulgarian Forest," because Bulgaria had consented to the delivery of the Jews from occupied territory of Macedonia and Thrace to the Germans.[1]


The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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Early life Early reign Marriage and issue Second World War Meetings with Hitler Death Titles, styles, honours, patronages, awards and arms Patronages Ancestors
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