In my limited time at Yad Vashem’s Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations, this plaque caught my eye for two reasons. One, there aren’t exactly a plethora of narratives about the Shoah or WWII in Macedonia. Two, as a name nerd, I think the name Pandora is just awesome! When I looked up this couple’s story, I found a third reason to fancy them: Dr. Hadži-Mitkov was a veterinarian, my favourite type of doctor!
In April 1941, following the German invasion of the former Yugoslavia, Macedonia was quasi-annexed to Bulgaria. Though it was technically part of Bulgarian territory, it wasn’t formally annexed, and thus was under Nazi administration. In spite of this, Macedonia still had to adopt the anti-Jewish legislation forced upon Bulgaria. This was felt even in the capital city of Skopje, where Dr. Hadži-Mitkov lived.
In March 1943, several days before the entire Jewish community of Macedonia was deported to Treblinka, Dr. Hadži-Mitkov visited his friend Mois Frances to talk about the rumours he’d been hearing. Dr. Hadži-Mitkov was deeply disturbed by the talk of deportation, and decided the entire Frances family (Mois; his wife Vinka; his mother Esther; his 8-year-old son Marcel; and his daughter Eni [Esther]) would immediately move in with him.
Dr. Hadži-Mitkov temporarily fired his domestic help and put up public notices saying his clinic was closed. Hence, the Franceses were able to live without so many threats of discovery. A day before the deportations of 11 March 1943, an announcement went out that anyone caught hiding Jews would be punished.
Mois decided he didn’t want to risk his friends’ lives, and began looking for ways to flee Skopje and get to Albania, a country which had virtually no anti-Semitism. However, it was already too late to flee, as the fascists were looking everywhere for people who’d gone into hiding. It wasn’t even safe to leave Dr. Hadži-Mitkov’s house.
Dr. Hadži-Mitkov’s brother-in-law, Trajko Ribarev, and his wife, Dragica, were in on the secret, and volunteered to move the Franceses into their home. One by one, dressed in Muslim peasant clothes, the Frances family moved by horse and cart to the Ribarev house on Skopje’s outskirts. They stayed there for several days.
Partisans of the Goce Delčev Brigade marching through the centre of liberated Skopje, November 1944; source http://znaci.net/fotogalerija/fotogalerija09.html
Dr. Hadži-Mitkov got false papers with Muslim names, and Trajko found a way to smuggle the Franceses to a safer area. As Mois had originally hoped, they eventually found their way to Albania, where a family by the name of Kapasi saved them.
In 1944, when the Franceses returned from Albania, the Hadži-Mitkovs warmly welcomed them back, and put them up in their home once more. In 1948, the Franceses made aliyah (moved to Israel).
On 19 February 1976, Dr. Hadži-Mitkov and his wife Pandora were honoured as Righteous Among the Nations. On 29 April of that same year, the Ribarevs received that same honour. They were the first Macedonians to receive this recognition, out of only ten to date.