Prior to World War II, Bulgaria's 48,000 Jews were fully integrated into the economic and political life of the country. But that all changed in 1940, when a pro-German government took office. Soon, Bulgarian policy led to the persecution of the country's Jewish population.

The "Law for the Protection of the Nation," passed by Bulgaria's Parliament in 1940, sought to "protect" the nation from Jews, who were now declared state enemies. The law established a definition of a Jew: one who had at least one Jewish parent. Jews could not own farmland or work in the civil service, in banking institutions, or as bookkeepers or clerks.

Legislation forced Jews to register and to use Jewish first names, and prohibited the use of Bulgarian surnames ending in -ov, -ev, or -ich. It barred Jews from military service, and made service in labor squads mandatory. Curfews were imposed, radios and phones were removed from Jewish homes and businesses, and the Star of David had to be worn.

Unlike all other Nazi Germany allies or German-occupied countries excluding Denmark, Bulgaria managed to save its entire 48,000-strong Jewish population during World War II from deportation to concentration camps. The last-minute rescue of the Bulgarian Jews was accomplished by Deputy Speaker of the Bulgarian National Assembly and Minister of Justice Dimitar Peshev, who personally took steps to block the deportation and extermination in 1943. Peshev was recognized by Yad Vashem in 1973 as a Righteous Gentile for saving Jews at considerable risk to himself.

However, Bulgarian authorities deported a very large majority of the Jews (non-Bulgarian citizens) in the areas of Macedonia and Thrace which were under Bulgarian administration during the war. Bulgarian authorities did not regard these Jews as Bulgarians, nor did they afford protection to Jews who had fled to Bulgaria from Nazi occupation elsewhere. Approximately 14,000, including nearly all the Jews of Bulgarian-occupied Macedonia and Thrace, were arrested by Bulgarian authorities and deported through Bulgaria, transferred to German control and then shipped to Treblinka for extermination.