19231940 - 1944MARCH 1944SEPT 9 19441968
A Guest of the State

Death Sentence for Angel Wagenstein, March 1944
“The death sentence was something completely normal back then, like saying, ‘A cup of coffee please.’ Death sentences were so easily handed out. And why am I alive? I can’t say. You can never say who the bullet is going to hit. It was all a game of Russian roulette.” 
Angel Wagenstein

On December 2, 1943, Wagenstein was arrested by the Bulgarian “gendarmerie” — a wartime auxiliary police force, notorious for its sadism and brutality: Gendarmerie troops were given a bounty of 125 Leva for each severed head of a Partisan. (Documents listing these payments and photographs can be seen in the Partisan memorial in Batak.)

Tortured by fascist police for 35 days, Wagenstein was then transferred to Sofia’s Central Prison: he calls it “the happiest day of my life.” He knew that prison was not quite as brutal … and also, “everyone there was a comrade!”  Seventy years later, he commented: “Prison was a teenage thing. A lot of Communists and Partisans at that point were third-generation fighters. My father did a spell in prison, I did a spell in prison. But, thank God, my children haven't been in prison -- because these things are no longer punished with a prison sentence.

"There was no running water, no hygiene facilities. It was a primitive, savage place. We were living literally on top of each other. A bright memory from that very dark period is that on death row we, the condemned, laughed a lot – we told a lot of jokes. Maybe to deal with the despair?  We never knew when the door would open, whose name would be read by the prosecutor followed by the words, 'Sentence to be carried out immediately' ”. 

Wagenstein and his 16-year-old wife to be, Zora, also a partisan, were freed when the Russians advanced into Bulgaria on September 9th, 1944, one day before his scheduled execution.

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