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This is Exactly Right. I'm Kate Winkler Dawson, a journalist, author, and podcast host. And I'm Paul Holes, a retired investigator with experience solving some of America's most notorious cold cases. Together, we host Buried Bones, a historical true crime podcast on the Exactly Right Network. Each week, we examine a different case from history and use our years of experience and 21st century forensics to bring new insights into these very old tragedies. Like the time the Sausage King of Chicago's Wife went missing in 1897. Don't miss new episodes every Wednesday. Follow Buried Bones wherever you get your podcasts. March 1943, and Bulgaria suddenly wakes up to what being an ally of Nazi Germany really means. Trains. A top secret mission has begun to round up thousands of Bulgarian Jews. They're being taken to Plowdiv, Bulgaria's second biggest city. Everyone is terrified. From there, the Jews will be forced onto trains headed for concentration camps in Poland. But someone has leaked the secret plan, and now there's uproar across the country. Politicians, intellectuals, and leaders from the Orthodox Church are openly protesting. And just as the guards are about to start loading...


In the middle of the way, They were stopped.


Michael Barzohah had Jewish friends who were already on their way to the rail station.


And police told him, Go back home.


You're free, the police announced. The train's to pull away. Empty. There was only one explanation. Someone must have signed the order to let those people go.


Somebody had to say, Stop.


Who was responsible for that then? Who made that happen?


The head of the country.


And who was the head of the country?


Sir Boris.


It's down to him, is it? Yeah.


Boris is hero.


And if you guessed who it was, you can bet Hitler did, too. And we know the Führer is unlikely to shrug off disobedience. Forgive and forget are not words in his vocabulary. In Hitler's eyes, King Boris has committed the ultimate crime. King Boris has saved the Jews. Is the culprit and is the motive for Boris's murder staring us right in the face. From Blanchard House and ExactlyRight Media, this is the Butterfly King. I'm Becky Milligan.


Chapter 2, Lies, Lies, Lies. It's 1994, and we're partying in LA. It's Friday night and it's a big, posh dinner. White tablecloths and candlesticks, and some very decent wine. Everyone's doled up. Well, they would be. There's royalty present.


Thank you.


It is our honor tonight to welcome no other than His Majesty, Simeon Saxe-All I remember is sitting and having dinner with the King of Bulgaria.


That's I remember. I don't remember what he said. I remember him being charming, absolutely charming, and so, I don't know, just very regal. Very regal.


That's Elaine Assa. All the easy as on, and she still can't believe her luck. The seating plan that evening put her right next to King Simeon of Bulgaria, Boris's son, the man I've been chatting to in the Royal Palace in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital. For Elaine, this night, back in 94, was a wonderful evening, one she'll never forget.


Who would not be impressed with a king since I'd never met a king in my life? So Oh, yeah, I was impressed.


This wasn't just any old party. It was a very special award ceremony, and Simeon was there to collect a prize, but not for himself. To remember someone who for so long has been forgotten. Boris III of Bulgaria. Simeon was there on behalf of his late father, King Boris, and this party is actually a Shabbat celebration. Shabbat, the Jewish Day of Rest. Pretty much all the guests here are Jewish, including Elaine Assa. Her husband is rabbi Haim Assa, and he's organized this whole ceremony.


I remember just being awestruck because it was just so beautiful.


The King, who was in partnership with the architect of the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler, is getting an award from the LA Jewish community. And I'm not the only one who finds this hard to square, because not everyone in the LA Jewish Community was invited to this fancy party. And if they had been asked, many would have declined. Because, well, not all of them agreed with Rabbi Haim and Elaine Assa about King Boris. But let's leave that for a little later. For now, this is Elaine's view.


As a historical figure in the story of the saving of the Jews. He played an important part.


Elaine should know. I have proof.


The King saved my husband.


Well, I think I can safely say we have a possible motive here. Any friend of the Jews was by default an enemy of Hitlers. A bit of a backstory. Elaine met her husband, Haim, at summer camp in the US, but he was Bulgarian, born and bred. Sadly, Haim passed away a few years ago, so we only get to meet him through her. But I get the feeling we all would have liked to have bumped into Haim back in the day.


I saw this cute Israeli guy picking corn from the waist up. Didn't have anything on, and I fell in love at that moment.


I love that. So it was pretty much seeing his body and saying, he's the guy for me.


That was the start. No, I have to tell you what really intrigued me. Our dating was really his sharing his stories, his life stories. And I was really so intrigued. I mean, first of all, Bulgaria, I didn't even know where it was on the map. I was 17. What did I know?


After a few more dates and a very long marriage, Elaine became well-versed on Bulgarian history. At Robinical School, Haim wrote his thesis on the saving of the Bulgarian Jews, and he spent his life campaigning to get King Boris the recognition he felt he deserved.


He spoke about this forever, and he found a space in telling his story, a space to thank Boris for what he did.


Boris' children, King Simeon and Princess Maria Louisa, have heard many similar testimonies. They're immensely proud their father defied Hitler.


Bulgarian Jews, many of them that I come across time and again, say, Bless your Father's soul, and this and that. He was behind the fact of not extraditing our Jewish population to camps in Germany. Orders must have come from him.


Wherever I've gone in my 90 years and come across Bulgarian Jewish people, I've always had the greatest and most wonderful welcome. Papa and all that. They all remember it.


But did saving the lives of the Jews cost Boris his own? This is an amazing building, isn't it? I never knew it. Have you been here before? Yes, I have. I love it. To try and find out, my producer Ejai and I are a little closer to home than you might imagine. I love it. What is it? It looks like brutalist architecture. It's all concrete. This is the National Archives in southwest London. You're probably thinking we're a little bit off-patch here, maybe about one and a half thousand miles off-patch, and that we ought to be looking in the Bulgarian National Archives. Yes, that would be great. Except that the Bulgarian Archives, well, they've been stolen. When the Russians ended their Communist occupation of Bulgaria in 1991, they took the National Archives with them. That means that all those vital records are still in Russia. Right now, I'm sure you're aware, Russia isn't really the place where journalists can just rock up and go digging around for information. But there's another paper trail we can follow. Until Bulgaria joined the pact with Germany in 1941, Britain had an embassy in Sofia and most of the paperwork from that embassy is now declassified, and here at the London Archives, somewhere among the millions of records and documents.


I don't know, is it all computerized as well? It is. It's a bit fiddly, but it's going to take us some time, I think. But I think it's worth it. It's worth it. We're reappearing in a couple of weeks, won't we? Have you got your sleeping bag? This certainly isn't going to be easy. I bet lots of people can't be bothered to come here, actually, and look. I had to drag you. Obviously, I've never bothered before. Not drag, exactly. But I do have a confession. Most of my journalistic scoops have come through talking to people. I put them at ease and ask the right questions. Then sometimes, without even knowing it, people, well, they just tell the truth. But when your murder investigation is nearly a century old, eyewitness are a bit thin on the ground. So all we have is the paper trail, and that's really time consuming. If we don't find anything, I'll blame you for wasting weeks in here, okay? I can't believe we'll find anything. Of course we will. What things do they have in an archive like this? We've got documents from the foreign office that have been declassified now, that were secret.


I'm sure we're going to find things marked secret. Top secret. I promise. Don't they also have really secret at the top? Ultra secret. Ultra secret. Although King Boris officially died of a heart attack, even at the time, the rumors were rife that he'd actually been poisoned. But what was he poisoned with? That's where I'm hoping the archives will deliver some clues, because my own experience of poison is rather limited, unless you count crime fiction, of course. I've devoured enough Agatha Christie books to know that arsenic is always on the suspect list. But that seems unlikely here, because by the Second World War, doctors could detect arsenic pretty quickly. Cyanide is another famous poison. Is Agatha Christie's favorite. Quite a few Nazis used it to kill themselves after the war, including Hitler's wife. But cyanide leaves a distinctive almond smell. And again, that would have been immediately identified. So I'm looking for something more sophisticated, a chemical weapon, basically. Something designed in a laboratory for a targeted killing. I think I need a briefing from someone whose knowledge extends beyond detective readers. Someone who could at least give me some context as I scan the archives.


My name is Hamish to Breck and Gordon. My area of expertise is chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear counterterrorism.


This man knows everything about of the Art Toxins, Colonel Hamish's ex-British Army. He's served in Iraq and Afghanistan, has worked all over Syria, and is currently advising the Ukrainian government. He's an expert on the history and use of chemical weapons.


After the first World War, chemical weapons developed into much more deadly weapons called nerve agents, which basically destroy your nerves. Now, Hitler had a vast stock of nerve agents, and he developed them.


Nerve agents. But before I get too carried away with this, Boris was in agony. His organs were failing, and crucially, his heart shut down. Do nerve agents affect the heart?


These nerve agents do impact your nerves, and your heart is probably the first thing to break down. So some nerve agent would seem vaguely to fit the bill of some of the symptoms that you're mentioning. If it was the Germans who seemed to be the most likely, I would have thought it's something out of their chemical weapon portfolio.


This is significant information. I now have a motive and a potential means. I just need the archives to give me some proof that the King somehow fell foul of a nerve agent. Keywords. Boris. King Boris. Boris. They don't have to be in order, do they? It's just the keywords king. You don't have to do plus or minus or whatever. King Bulgaria. Bulgaria. And World War II. Right. Enter. Oh, good grief. Quite a few. Oh, great. While we're waiting for those documents to arrive, let's just wind back a few years. I want to examine how Hitler King Boris became allies, because on the face of it, they certainly don't look like natural bedfellows. Boris hadn't banked on being in Hitler's camp at all. As war brewed, he spent months traveling around the European capitals, trying to negotiate a peaceful way out. He knocked on pretty much every country leader's door because Boris knew Bulgaria was ill-prepared for conflict. Under the ill-fated leadership of his father, Foxy King Ferdinand, it had suffered a brutal defeat in the First World War. It lost huge tracks of territory as a result, including Macedonia and the area known as Thrace.


And more than that, says historian Tessa Dunlop, it lost its army.


Remember, Boris didn't start rearming until about wasn't allowed to. Bulgaria had been totally de-armed. So this is a dude who's got basically a country without a protective shell. He has no real soldiers. Why on Earth would he want to go to war?


Boris was a seasoned soldier, but he was terribly marred by the brutal conflicts he'd fought in, both Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913, and then the First World War. When he became king, aged 24, he swore he would never allow the Bulgarian blood to be spilled again, which was why at the start of the Second World War, he declared Bulgaria was neutral. But the war spread like wildfire.


Little Bulgaria was in the middle of a giant world feud, and there's no way on Earth it couldn't get sucked up into the drama.


Now, this next bit of history is crucial to understanding who might have killed the king and whether it might have been Hitler. I'll explain as clearly as I can. Here's what forced Bulgaria to stop being neutral and put it slap bang into Hitler's camp. So Germany and Russia were allies at the start of the war. That suited Boris just fine. Germany was Bulgaria's biggest economic partner, and the Soviets had rescued Bulgaria from Turkish occupation only 50 years back. So the Bulgarians felt an affinity with the Russians. It was all just about manageable until the summer of 1941, when Hitler tore up his non-aggression pact with Russia.


The problem is when Hitler has this idea that actually, No, I'm going to head east. I'm going to build my empire in Russia. I'm going to kick down the rotten door. And that means Boris has to get off the neutrality tightrope. He's got to call it. Is it going to be Germany or is it going to be the USSR? War.


And the crunch point came when Hitler decided he fancied his chances in Greece. There was only one route, and that was straight through Bulgaria. Boris now had to pick aside.


Look at the map. The Germans need to get to Greece, to shore up the Italians. How are they going to get there? They got to put boots on the ground and they got to go through Bulgaria. Better they go through as friends than as enemies. We know what happens if you're Germany's enemy. We already know that by 1941.


Bulgarian historian, George Bosduganov, spells out the stark choice facing King Boris.


The Germans have only one question, friend or fo, that don't care what Bulgarian king is thinking about at all.




Friends or fo.


So Boris had two options: resist Hitler, knowing that he'd invade anyway, and accept the consequences of that would be brutal, or give in and save all that blood head. His daughter, Princess Maria Louisa, is certain he made the right choice.


Had we opposed Germany, there would have been nothing left, as they did to other countries in Europe. Run us over, kill everybody, I know so.


It was no choice?


Absolutely no choice. Absolutely no choice.


So to protect his country, King Boris chose Germany. He signed a pact with Germany, Italy, and Japan in March 1941. From that moment on, Boris was a marked man. Overnight, he became an enemy of the Allies. Oh, right. Here we go. At the Kew Archives in London, the first batch of the documents we called up has arrived. There's a whole bunch of declassified telegrams and letters from George Rendall to the Foreign Office, marked secret. Rendal was the British ambassador to Sofia during the war. He seemed to get on well with Boris. But when the King signed that pact with Hitler, Rendal was furious. He freaked out. He felt the King did have a choice about throwing in his lot with Hitler. Now that the Nazis were walking the streets of Sofia, Rendal was panicking. He was stuck in enemy territory and he wanted to go home. He He demanded permission to break off all ties with Bulgaria immediately. In one particular document, he's pretty dramatic. Bulgaria had not only been able to prevent the burglar from entering, but had opened the window to him and beckoned him in. A few days later, the British Embassy in Sofia was closed, and Rendal left the country for good.


The Allies certainly gave Boris the cold shoulder, but whether he liked it or not, the newfound friendship with Germany meant the King would get plenty of FaceTime with Hitler. At first glance, the king seemed very happy to hang out with the Führer and his henchmen. Boris would sometimes go hunting and shooting with them. He spoke perfect German, of course. Remember, his father Ferdinand was German. And whenever the king met Hitler, it was all big smiles and handshakes and slaps on the back. A real bromance. Or was it?


Only on film footage. Their friends, only in film footage.


So if they didn't share a friendship, did they share an ideology?


He's very clever in diplomacy.


Now, George Bosduganoff isn't just a historian. He's Bulgaria's leading historian. He's unbelievably learned. Now, I've done my best. I've digested all the books out there on King Boris and the Second World War, but it's fair to say that I'm not quite as up to speed as Mr. Bosduganoff on the minutiae of Balkan history. I get the impression that sometimes frustrates him, like when he grits his teeth and asks for a time out.


May we a little break?


Of course. Luckily, my producer Ejai is on hand to back me up. I can always rely on her. So if I can just... I'm not recording yet, Lou. Sorry. It's fine. I thought we were on a break. No, we're not on a break now. Are you ready to go now? Where? Eventually, we all get on the same page. No. Yeah. No.


No? No.


What do you mean no? Right.




Finally, I get to ask my question. Was he a Nazi? No, never.


Not at all. He was never been a Nazi fan. Never.


Did he make that clear to Hitler?


Boris would be afraid to make this very clear to Hitler. Because of the Hitler's power, everybody in the world was afraid by Hitler. English, too. British, too.


Of course. So this alliance between Hitler and Boris was because... Have no choice.


Really? Absolutely. Have no choice.


But Hitler hoped the King was on side with the whole Nazi project. Boris walked the walk, and he walked it well.


He wasn't intimidated by the Führer. He wasn't intimidated by Hitler. He is more politically experienced in many levels than Hitler is, but he is an incredible political operator.


So, I mean, sly.


Hitler says, Hitler says of Boris, he had never met a politician as intelligent and shrewd.


Now that's interesting, because I've read that Hitler's nickname for Boris was the Fox, not Foxy, like his father Ferdinand, but the Fox, which suggests to me that he had Boris's number. And Hitler was right to be suspicious. King Simeon is sure his father joined the Axis, the alliance with Germany, only through political expediency, not because he shared Nazi values.


I think he distrusted Hitler deeply and with good reason. So to join the Axis was not any love of Hitler or because our family is of German origin. But this is what happens in these extreme situations in wartime.


And according to Simeon, Boris' nickname for Hitler was the Big Dirty Swine. Did Hitler know that? What we do know, of course, is that Hitler always took revenge on those who displeased him. Colonel Hamish de Breton-Gordon is our expert on chemical weapons like nerve agents. He tells me that by the time Boris died in the summer of 1943, Hitler had a whole pharmaceutical empire of poisons at his fingertips.


We do know the Nazis developed nerve agents, starting off with something called a SOMAN, then Taban, and then sarin, which the Syrian regime has used recently in Syria. Now, the sad thing to say is actually they are morbidly brilliant weapons, and if you had no morals or scrupules, so you'd use them all the time.


I think we'd be hard pushed to find anyone who could defend Hitler's morals and scrupules. So nerve agents do seem to fit the bill.


If it's the Germans who seem most likely, it'd probably be something out of their chemical warfare factory.


So if it's 1943 and you want to kill a head of state and you have access to a whole stock of sophisticated synthetic weapons, why wouldn't you use them? Especially if you thought you could get away with it?


The idea behind using deadly toxins and chemicals is actually a very difficult to attribute. There's a lot of uncertainty. There's a lot of deniability. So if it was the Nazis who killed Boris but didn't want to be directly fingered by it because actually they were supposed to be allies, they were supposed to be working together, if you don't want to be found out, then certainly, well, some ices is that you would use a toxin that would do Yeah, they were certainly supposed to be allies who were supposed to be working together.


But the problem is, it turns out Boris just kept on refusing to play by the rules. After Boris canceled the deportation of the Jews in March 1943 and sent those trains away, Hitler ordered Boris to Germany to have a little chat, or rather, he gave him a stiff talking to. Hitler insisted all Bulgaria's Jews must now be rounded up and sent to Poland by the autumn. So Boris did something quite extraordinary, something that might well have cost him his life. He pretended to be on the same page as Hitler when it came to the Jews. Basically, he gaslit him.


The King said, I'm dying to send them. I want to send them away. I don't like these people.


But then the King told Hitler, Unfortunately, he couldn't send the Jews away as they were otherwise engaged in forced labor.


The King said, But I need them for building roads and railroads. And that was the biggest bluff of the Second World War.


Boris' bluff saved Michael Barzohal's family. Michael is a writer and former politician who now lives in Israel. Well, forgive the audio quality, but Zoom was the only way I could get to speak to him, and he's certainly worth speaking to. He was just a young boy in Bulgaria when the king invented his fictitious road building scheme. Every able-bodied Jewish man in Michael's town was to be sent to camps in the countryside, away from the prying eyes of the Nazis, out of harm's way.


King Boris told them, Now we are We are going to mobilize all the able Jews men to labor camps, and by doing that, we are going to prevent the sending of the Jews to Poland.


And the King's scheme worked.


And indeed, they mobilized the Jews to the labor camps. My father was one of them.


According to Michael, his father's life in the camp was not exactly arduous. Us. He often played cards and socialized with his Bulgarian guards. Now, this was hardly a holiday. These men had been forced to leave their homes and families behind and their livelihoods completely uproot themselves. Not easy, but it was still a far cry from a Nazi concentration camp.


I have pictures in the camp, drinking together, singing together. It was unbelievable because they did not work very hard in these camps. They didn't build any railroads. King Boris was playing here a very subtle game.


He laughed.


He was a very wily man.


Now, nobody likes to be made a fool of, and we know that Hitler clocked what Boris was up to because his henchmen visited the camps and reported back. In May 1943, the deportation trains destined for Poland were prepared again. All that was needed was Boris's signature. If only someone could find him. It was a public holiday in Bulgaria. As usual, crowds flocked to the city center to see the king waving on the palace balcony. But Boris didn't show. For three whole days, he went missing, and But all the while, the train drivers were waiting for their orders. In fact, the Butterfly King had hauled himself away in his beloved mountains. And a few years ago, Michael Bath Soho tracked down the man who helped him disappear.


I found the driver. He was a simple man.


The chauffeur told Michael that the King didn't leave his mountain hut for three days. And while he was hiding inside, died, Boris confessed his worries to him and his valet.


He told him, I'm very much afraid that I might get a phone call from Berlin to carry out a certain operation. And I know very Well, if I get this phone call, I can't refuse. So I decided to be, for a few days, incommunicado, to be unreachable.


And just in case that wasn't clear, together, Michael's saying that the king deliberately cut himself off so that he couldn't receive orders from Hitler about deporting Bulgaria's Jews on the trains. And without the king's signature and say so, no one had the authority to load those trains. When Boris came back, he quickly evacuated all the remaining Jews to the countryside. The elderly, the women and children, including Michael, were all sent away, out of reach of the Gestapo who were billeted in the capital. How many Jewish people from mainland Bulgaria were deported to camps, concentration camps, death camps in Poland?


Not even one.


Not one?


Not even one.


No, no, no one.


Of course not. There was not one Bulgarian Jew was deported.


To give the skeptical journalist in me, but I need to check that fact myself because it is pretty incredible. Bulgaria's pre-eminent historian, George Bosdoganov, always has the facts and figures at his fingertips.


Not a single Jews, Bulgarian, on foreigner, a living in the kingdom, was killed or deported from the country to the Nazi camps. Neither one.


Not one.


No, not one.


And for George, that makes Boris a legend.


King Boris III, Bulgarian National Hero of 20th Century.


It's extraordinary. Such an incredible act of resistance, especially when you remember Bulgaria was an official ally of Nazi Germany and that the Gestapo walked the Bulgarian streets. Of course, not everyone tells these stories in quite the same way, because the definition of a hero is never universal. It's very, very personal. And As we'll hear in the next episode, every hero is someone else's villain. But you can bet Hitler wasn't rushing to congratulate Boris, quite the opposite. Although since Boris had gone so far off message, why bother with subterfuge? I mean, why didn't the Nazis just cut their losses and shoot him?


There would be no plausible defense. I mean, there's not much plausible defense anyway, but I think that's the point.


Our weapons expert, Colonel Hamish de Breton-Gordon, thinks assassination with a nerve agent is about much more than deniability. It's also about scaring the living daylights out of everybody around the King.


These weapons are incredibly effective because of their psychological impact. Half the message, or probably more than half the message in these assassinations, is to other people. Trying to tell Anybody else who wanted to oppose the regime would get the same thing, and it's incredibly effective at doing that.


Anyone who witnessed Boris's awful and prolonged death would have felt distinctly uncomfortable, especially if the word poison was whisper in the sick room. But how could Hitler have administered the poison without Boris noticing? Remember that plane that Boris took to meet Hitler for the last time? The one that took him right into the Wolf's lair, Hitler's top secret base in Poland. It's also the one Little Simeon was so excited to see when it landed back in Sofia. Here's some key evidence. It wasn't a Royal jet. It wasn't even Bulgarian. It was a German plane, and it belonged to Hitler. I've read a few history books which mention the following story. On On the way home from the Wolf's lair, the King was subdued, but after a moment, he left his seat and went into the cockpit. You'll remember how keen he was on all things mechanical. And he asked the pilot if the plane could climb a little higher to see if the altitude would affect his ears the way it did when he went climbing in the mountains. The pilot agreed. And that's when the oxygen masks handed out. So what if that's how Hitler did it, substituting oxygen for some poisonous gas in Boris' mask?


Actually, if it was a nerve agent, he breathed it in, it would probably kill him pretty quickly.


Well, Boris died 14 days after he returned from that meeting with Hitler. Could it have been a delayed reaction to cyanide gas, for instance?


If you breathe stuff in, it's going straight to your lungs, your lungs straight to your bloodstream, your bloodstream straight to your heart. If they wanted a delayed reaction, they would probably want a dermal ingestion, in other words, through the skin. If it was a nerve agent on an oxygen mask type of thing, then that scenario, I would think, would be less likely with the outcome that we know happened.


But here's something I learned from Simeon and Maria Louisa, our two living links to these events. Boris' sister Edoxia told them that she was sure the Nazis burned his lungs. So Boris's children carefully examined this theory.


My aunt herself, she thought that it was the oxygen mask that my father used on his way back. But apparently in those days, there was no poison which would work with X days delay. So there we exclude another story.


It's a myth because in those days, they put the oxygen mask to everybody on the plane. So the other people should have had the same.


In fact, Maria Louisa tracked down the German pilot many years after the war. He promised her that poisoning via an oxygen mask would have been impossible because his allegiance was clearly to the Bulgarian king rather than to Hitler. He claimed he'd never have let those pigs, as he called the Gestapo, anywhere near the plane, let alone the cockpit. But a strange detail about that plane journey raises further questions. According to the pilot's account, Boris himself became wary when the oxygen masks came out, and he insisted on swapping his own mask with the pilot's. That seems odd, to say the least. Did he suspect Hitler was trying to kill him? Because According to accounts from advisors, when the King arrived home, he didn't rush to see his family, as he usually did. He went to see a close friend who was a former chief of cabinet, and he told that friend that he'd had a terrible meeting with Hitler, which he knew would cost him dearly. I saved Bulgaria, he said, even if I will pay for it, which, of course, he did with his life. Colonel Hamish has his own theory.


Maybe Maybe they thought Boris was an annoyance and wasn't helping things. If they killed him, actually, others in the Bulgarian higher command and royal family might be more sympathetic towards the cause.


You see, Boris hadn't just duped Hitler over the Jews. He'd also conned him over the war. Hitler was desperate for support on the Eastern front, where the Germans were fighting a losing battle with Russia. Soldier, and Hitler wanted that backup from the Bulgarian army. But Boris had made a promise when he first ascended the throne. He promised he'd never send another Bulgarian soldier to war.


He refused, absolutely. He refused to send troops on the Russian front or any other front.


Not only that. In fact, historians George Bosdoganow and Tessa Dunlop say Boris was doing far more dangerous things than refusing to hand over his army. King Boris was actively trying to swap sides.


He already is having conversations. Back channels exist. Conversations about possibly getting clear blue water from the Nazis.


Did he try? Did he try to reach out to them?


Yes, he tried. In the spring of 1943, Sir Boris began talks with Americans in Switzerland for complete withdrawal of Bulgaria from the war, which he wasn't able to complete due to his sudden death.


Boris was having secret meetings with the US.


If Hitler got winged, he heard about it. He had to stop it. And the way to stop it was one, kill the King, because nobody else, but the King was shaping the foreign policy.


As writer Michael Barzohar knows, Hitler almost certainly did get wind of those talks. The Nazis had spies everywhere, which is probably why that final meeting between Boris and Hitler was so brutal. It's August 1943, and we're back in the Wolf's lair. For eight whole hours, the Führer rages at the Bulgarian king. And according to eavesdroppers listening outside the door at the Wolf's lair, Hitler goes absolutely crazy. You don't need to speak German to understand this friendship is floundering. But Boris speaks perfect German, which means he's on his own in that room, with not even an interpreter to take the sting out of Hitler's words. It's rumored things got so heated that Hitler even swung a punch. But Boris won't give an inch. He he won't send Bulgarian soldiers to fight Russia on the Eastern front. He won't send Bulgarian Jews to the death camps. As far as Hitler was concerned, that wasn't the deal. That wasn't the deal at all. And Hitler feels betrayed, and no one likes feeling they've been taken for a ride. But Adolf Hitler has been taken for a ride. So when his royal guest leaves, Hitler doesn't bother to wave him off.


Yet this is the final goodbye. Boris doesn't know it yet, but he has barely two weeks left to live. Right, here, a little corner over here. Let's sit down. Back at the National Archives in London, we've had some more luck. Actually, it could be a big breakthrough. The librarians have pointed us towards the Churchill Archive Center in Cambridge. Bridge. They've just emailed us a very interesting document. Remember how the King lay dying, surrounded by scores of doctors and specialists? This is a pamphlet written by some library society or historical society 10 years after Boris had died. You know those doctors who were there? It says here, The latter appeared to have been of opinion that it was no natural death, no natural death. That's what we're looking at. Then it says here, a little bit further down, According to private pronouncements of the official decision of the court, the cause of death was subsequently ascertained as a strange poison of Asiatic origin. Well, we've not heard that before, have we? Asiatic origin? Yeah. I mean, that's crazy. And there's even more salient information in the pamphlet Something which makes my blood go cold. They write here that that particular poison paralyzes the muscular system of the heart and shows symptoms resembling heart attack, cardiac arrest, or whatever.


And because it looks like that, it could obviously be mistaken for that. I've never heard of that. What does it mean? I don't know what's Asiatic poison. Asiatic, I mean, Bulgaria is next to Yeah. Turkey is half in Asia. But how do they know it was Asiatic? Hang on, that's really important because that means they must have found a trace of it and examined it. Yeah. I mean, everything else we've just read said he was poison. But if they're saying it's a specific poison to Asia, I think you're really onto something there. Seriously, I do think this is something- It's a lead. It is a It is indeed. Yeah. Let's just wind back a minute, back to the summer of 1943. A few days after his highly stressful meeting, Boris took his family for a breather in the mountains. It was the school holidays, so the days seemed long and carefree. On the Monday, though, Boris told his family he had to leave them and return to Sofia for work. What he he didn't tell his wife or his children was that he was feeling ill. But Boris had already told his brother that his heart was thumping and that he felt nauseous.


It was a few more days before his children found out, and at first, they weren't told the full story.


My sister and I drew some painting. I think I drew a little plane or something of my sister, some flowers, and we sent some mountain flowers to him, but not suspecting or knowing that he was so gravely ill. And then on Saturday, he passed away.


We were told he was quite ill. Then my mother, of course, went down to be there. And then on the Saturday afternoon, we were out in the country, in the mountains. And when we came back, the radio was not working. The nanny said, of course, they had pulled the black. And And then we told that Papa was very, very ill. So very ill, we should maybe go to Sofia. And then my father's sister, my aunt, Eudoxia, came, and she was dressed in black. And she said it, and I still didn't believe it. So we drove into Sofia, and I saw black flags hanging in front of the buildings. And then I knew it.


Six-year-old Simeon couldn't get his head around what had happened until his father's right-hand man, or Eid de com, approached him.


My father's ADC came up to me and he addressed me as your Majesty, not your kindness, as was the usual. And that's when I suddenly realized My God, he's addressing me like the King, i. E. My father has passed away.


I'm more and more convinced that Hitler was behind King Boris's death. And as I've told you, that was aunt Eudoxia's hunch, too. She always blamed the Nazis for murdering her brother. Could Hitler have paid someone to administer poison? Asiatic poison? What about one of the doctors or nurses who were treating King Boris? What do we actually know about those doctors? There were 16 doctors in that sick room. Thirteen of them signed the death certificate, but three didn't.


They are consultants. The three are well-known and well-established names with international renown.


So surely we can identify by these doctors if they enjoy worldwide acclaim.


First, they are not Bulgarians.




They are German doctors.


And that's when King Simeon drops a bombshell. Aren't you, Doxia? Who always suspected the Nazis killed her brother, left Simeon and Maria Louisa a very special letter pender by her own hand to be read only after her own death.


It's about 20 pages and handwritten. And she left it in an envelope in Germany when she died in 85 with a huge with a marker on this envelope to be given to Simeon and Maria He was after my death. And there, of course, are all her first-hand impressions.


Anne Tudoxia places a distinct question mark over one of the doctors who attended Boris in his final powers.


She was pointing or saying that this Dr. Zeitz, Rudolf Zeitz, who came from Berlin, was something suspicious about him.


And there wasn't just one German doctor, but three at the bedside of the king. Well, one was Austrian, but a known Nazi sympathizer. Three of them tending to King Boris, who's just betrayed the German Führer Adolf Hitler. Motive, means, and opportunity. Except.


People like you, journalists, you're excavating the archives, put two and two together and make the wonderful five that is Nazis. Blame it all on the Nazis. It's not always all the Nazis' fault.


Have I let my imagination run away with me? Historian Tessa Dunlop certainly thinks I'm jumping to conclude conclusions.


I commend you, Becky, for having swallowed holus, bolus, so much of what's been written about this. But you are seeing what you want to see. You're looking around the room and you're only seeing swastikas.


Am I just framing the most obvious suspect in the line up?


Why would you take out the one man who might not have gone as far as you wanted him to go, but has remained consistently loyal in his support? I would suggest that was even madder than Hitler was by 1943.


From a historical perspective, I know that Hitler needed all the friends he could get at this point in the war. So I accept that, logically, it doesn't make sense to murder your ally. But that's exactly my point. Why does there have to be logic where Hitler is concerned? He was insane. But the palace doesn't seem to be backing my theory either. Perhaps I'm being oversensitive, or are King Simeon and Maria Louisa giving me a gentle ticking off?


One thing disturves me terribly is when I see people being not objective. I like objectivity. All these things, as I say, are simply theories or hypothesis or just fantasy, but there's nothing rational. I have no proof.


I'm convinced it wasn't. It wasn't the Germans.


Next time on the Butterfly King, we delve deep into Asiatic poisons.


It was some poison from India, probably snake poison.


That is what he had heard from the doctors. We find a new lead as a snake in the grass rears its ugly head. In Asia, tropical Asia has a horrendous snake bite death rate every year. The snake venoms are complicated cocktails of different toxins. And Boris's squeaky clean image takes battering as we hear dark stories about his very controversial legacy.


It's a story.


It's a falsifying of a history. His hands are not clean. It's quite a lot of blood. The Butterfly King is a production of Blanchard House and Exactly Right Media, hosted by me, Becky Milligan. It's written and produced by Emma Jane Kirby. Original music is by Daniel Lloyd Evans, Louis Nankmanel, and Tobi Matamong. Sound design and engineering by Tobi Matamong and Daniel Lloyd Evans. Artwork by Vanessa Lyluk. The managing producer is Amika Shortino-Noman. The creative director of Blanchard House is Rosie Pye. The executive producer and head of content at Blanchard House is Laurence Grisell. For Exactly Right Media, the executive producers are Karen Kilgariff, Georgia Hardstark, and Daniel Kramer, with consulting producer, Kyle Ryan. The Butterfly King is inspired by the book, Hitler and the King, by John Hall-Spenser. Follow the Butterfly King on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen, so you don't miss an episode. If you like what you hear, leave us a rating and a review.