Edward Polidi was born on a cold winter day in Sofia, Bulgaria on December 23rd, 1935. It was an extremely cold day, with lots of snow which hindered transportation to the hospital. Because of this, Edward was born in his home. He remembers being told, "You will be a very lucky, fortunate and happy person". At the time, he didn't know how true this statement would be. His father, Israel Polidi worked as a teacher at the University. His mother was an opera singer - obviously from whom Edward inherited his love for music. His uncle, Raphael Cohen, was the only Bulgarian to ever win the Nobel Prize. As a baby, he was always attracted towards music. He had great access to a wide variety of classics by great composers, including Mozart, Verdi and Schubert. On his third birthday, he was given a toy violin and xylophone, and began his life long love of playing music. He eventually began to sing and reproduce melodies from songs that he had heard. He lived in an area with an active Jewish cultural life, being educated in Sofia Synagogue at an early age, and actively participated in house-parties that his mother held for his relatives. Polidi noticed changing attitudes towards the Jewish children in his town at a young age, when a older boy threw sand in his eyes until he cried, and screamed "You dirty Jew! Why don't you go back to your own country!". As a whole, he describes the Bulgarians as (at least inwardly) sympathetic to their Jewish citizens, but he argues that they looked past systemic discrimination in order to appease the Germans.
In 1940, his family was thrown out of their home and placed into "Gypsy quarters" near the synagogue. While in these quarters, he was forced to dress in coarse clothing and wear a yellow Jewish star on his shirt. In 1941, Bulgaria passed the Law for the Protection of the Nation, which introduced anti-Semitic policies. These included moving the Jews to specific quarters and ghettos and wearing the Star of David. The Polidi family was forced to pack up again and relocate to a ghetto in Vidin, a small city that bordered on both Romania and Yugoslavia. When he arrived, soldiers escorted them to a public building, where they were forced to sleep on the floor with other Jews. They were eventually relocated to a two-room house formerly occupied by poor Gypsies, through a deal with relatives in the area. Edward counts himself as lucky as his family always had food on the table. He remembers seeing large groups of Jews pass through Vidin from Greece. These Jews were hungry and Edward said that he didn't know when the last time they had been given food. Many of the Jews in the group died in transit. Edward stayed in Vidin for four years, until he was liberated by the Red Army in 1944. While living in these quarters, Edward further improved on his musical skills, and was often asked to perform for groups of Jews. He remembers, “I’ll never forget this amazing impression that I saw in the faces of these people when I was performing, especially after the time when I was finishing my songs. Obviously, my performance was touching very deep portions of their hearts…because I was seeing tears in their eyes”. As he was told when he was born, he did become a lucky and fortunate person. None of the Bulgarian Jews, Edward included, were deported to concentration camps because the Bulgarian king never signed the documents that would have authorized their transport out of the ghetto.
On December 10th, 1945, Edward's sister, Josef Margareta was born. At this time, his father was working outside the city to provide the family with money. Edward recalls this time in his life as two separate situations: on one hand, he had his successes with music, and on the other he had his family tragedies. Edward had been accepted as the youngest member of the Children's Orchestra and went on to become the concert master and soloist. However, at the same time, his mother became very depressed and sick and ended up committing suicide the night after Edward's birthday. Not long afterwards, his father died also.
Edward was given a stipend from the government to continue his studies in music. He was living with his close cousins until he entered the University, where he rented his own apartment. He went on to receive his first Baccalaureate. Not long after, he won an internal audition to study in Moscow as a post-graduate student. He lived and studied in Russia for three years. Though the war was over at this point, Edward was still the recipient of some anti-semitic actions. He was denied access to leave to country to perform at a concert his uncle had set up for him in Paris. He also wasn't allowed to join the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, even though the conductor repeatedly asked for Edward to be allowed to join. Edward said that this type of discrimination happened to him because he was Jewish, from the bourgeois class and because it allowed other people to take his opportunities. He applied to leave Bulgaria in 1962, and as a result, was thrown out of the University. He was put back in the army, which he said felt like prison.
Finally, he was allowed to emigrate to Israel. He stayed in Israel for a few years and joined the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Edward went on to become a very successful violinist, having played in numerous orchestras across the world, and winning countless awards. He married Barbara Polidi, who is also a violinist and is pictured playing with Edward.
For more information on the events in Bulgaria during World War II, please visit these resources:
“Composers in Exile.” Jewish Music and the Holocaust. http://holocaustmusic.ort.org/resistance-and-exile/composers-in-exile/
Friedländer, Saul. Nazi Germany and the Jews 1933-1945. New York: Harper Perennial, 2009.
Gilbert, Shirli. Music in the Holocaust : Confronting Life in the Nazi Ghettos and Camps. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005.
“Lodz Ghetto”. Heartstrings: Music of the Holocaust. http://www.yadvashem.org/YV/en/exhibitions/music/lodz.asp
“Music of the Ghettoes and Camps.” Jewish Music and the Holocaust. https://fcit.usf.edu/holocaust/arts/MUSVICTI.htm
Polidi, Edward. USC Shoah Foundation. By Leslie Bennett-Troper. July 24, 1996.
“The Concentration and Death Camps.” Jewish Music and the Holocaust. http://holocaustmusic.ort.org/places/camps/
“Theresienstadt.” Jewish Music and the Holocaust. http://holocaustmusic.ort.org/places/theresienstadt/
"Bulgaria's History of Tolerance." Embassy of Bulgaria. http://www.bulgaria-embassy.org/webpage/about bulgaria/Jewish heritage.htm.
Chary, Frederick B. The Bulgarian Jews and the final solution, 1940-1944. University of Pittsburgh Pre, 1972.
Friedlander, Saul. Nazi Germany and the Jews. New York: HarperCollins, 2009.
Hollander, Ethan J. "The Final Solution in Bulgaria and Romania: A Comparative Perspective." East European Politics & Societies22, no. 2 (Spring2008 2008): 203-248. Historical Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed April 6, 2015).
Mariaschin, Daniel. "Remembering heroic good amid the bad." Insight on the News 29 Mar. 1993: 23. Academic OneFile. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.
Reicher, Stephen, Clare Cassidy, Ingrid Wolpert, Nick Hopkins, and Mark Levine. "Saving Bulgaria's Jews: An Analysis of Social Identity and the Mobilisation of Social Solidarity." European Journal of Social Psychology, 2006, 49-72.
Vassilev, Rossen. "The Rescue of Bulgaria's Jews in World War II." NewPolitics. December 1, 2010. Accessed April 24, 2015. http://newpol.org/content/rescue-bulgarias-jews-world-war-ii.
Zohar, Michael. Beyond Hitler's Grasp: The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria's Jews. Holbrook, Mass.: Adams Media, 1998.