Poet Nikola Vaptsarov was shot on this date in 1942 for organizing anti-fascist resistance in Axis Bulgaria.
Nevertheless, he was well-known in his time and remains so to this day in Bulgaria, particularly given his political bona fides and martyrdom thereto, which bear ready comparison to Spanish Civil War martyr Frederico Garcia Lorca.
What were you to me?
A land forgotten and remote,
a land of knights and high plateaux.
What were you to me?
where blazed a strange and cruel love,
a wild intoxicant
of glinting blades
Now you are my destiny,
now I live and share your fate.
In your struggle to be free
wholly I participate.
Now I’m stirred, now I rejoice
at all your victories in the fight.
In your youth and strength I trust
and my own strength with yours unite.
Crouching in machine-gun nests,
I fight on to victory,
down among Toledo’s streets,
on the outskirts of Madrid.
A worker in a cotton shirt
torn by bullets near me lies,
Ceaselessly the warm blood streams
from the cap pulled o’er his eyes.
It is my blood that I feel humming
through my veins, as suddenly
in him I recognize the friend
I once knew in a factory
where we shoveled coal together,
stoking the same furnace fire,
and found there was no barrier
to check our young and bold desire.
Sleep, my comrade, sleep in peace!
Though now the blood the blood-red flag be furled,
your blood into mine will pass
and stir the peoples of the world.
The blood you gave, already flows
through village, factory, town and state,
arouses, urges and inspires
all working men to demonstrate.
That workers never will lose heart,
but will advance relentlessly,
determined both to work and fight
and shed their blood that men be free.
Today your blood builds barricades,
infuses courage in our hearts,
and with a reckless joy proclaims:
‘Madrid is ours!
Madrid is ours!’
The world is ours! Friend, have no fear!
The whole expanding universe
Beneath the southern sky
and have faith,
have faith in us!
Vaptsarov published his lone book, Motor Songs, in 1940, which was the same year he was interned demonstrating against Bulgaria’s tenuous neutrality and in favor of alliance with the USSR. A few months after his release, the Third Reich forced Bulgaria into the Axis. A member of the Central Military Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party, Vaptsarov was arrested for doing just the sort of things that such a committee would be doing in 1942.
A Selected Poems volume of his was published posthumously; it can be enjoyed free here.** Perhaps the most moving entry is the very last one, a short composition dedicated to his wife just hours before his execution.
To my wife
Sometimes I’ll come when you’re asleep,
An unexpected visitor.
Don’t leave me outside in the street,
Don’t bar the door!
I’ll enter quietly, softly sit
And gaze upon you in the dark.
Then, when my eyes have gazed their fill,
I’ll kiss you and depart.
The fight is hard and pitiless.
The fight is epic, as they say.
I fell. Another takes my place —
Why single out a name?
After the firing squad — the worms.
Thus does the simple logic go.
But in the storm we’ll be with you,
My people, for we loved you so.
2 p.m. — 23.VII.1942
* You’ll also find the man’s tribute on the frigid slopes of Vaptsarov Peak on the Antarctic Livingston Island. More accessibly, there are museums to him in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia as well as Vaptsarov’s hometown of Bansko.