Less documentary than expansive memoir, Jacky Comforty’s The Optimists filters stock footage and official history through personal recollection—it’s a way of expressing what we might call survivor’s disbelief. In World War II, as Europe’s conquered nations sent their Jewish citizens to concentration camps, Bulgaria’s population of 50,000 Jews miraculously escaped execution. Comforty, a survivor’s grandson, asks, “What was it about Bulgaria that allowed our parents’ and grandparents’ generations to survive, and our generation to be born?” He interviews survivors who awaited deportation only to be sent back, helpless witnesses of those government roundups, and most poignantly, a surviving member of the Bulgarian Orthodox church whose civil disobedience saved thousands of lives. Amid the voluminous recollections, a novel thesis emerges: Bulgarian compassion and religious tolerance, tempered by a half-century-long Turkish occupation, staved off tragedy. Questionable as a theory of history, but as a human sentiment, it’s touching to behold.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 11, 2005