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This is exactly right. On the next season of Tenfold More Wicked, a longtime listener reaches out with a tragic family story that's been passed down through the centuries. It's about Rebecca Briggs-Cornell, an English Puritan separatist, fleeing religious persecution, only to be found burned to death in her own home. Was it an accident or was it murder? Season 11 premieres Monday, April first on Exactly Right. Follow Tenfold More Wicked on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. September the fifth, 1943, the state funeral of King Boris III of Bulgaria, and the nation is united in grief. The streets outside St. Alexander Nefski Cathedral are packed with weeping crowds. No one speaks, and all heads are bowed. Many here have waited hours already, but everyone wants to enter the church to pay their last respects to their beloved king. Inside the Cathedral for the Service is the royal family, the widowed queen, Giovanna, Kiril, the King's younger brother and his two sisters. And standing in front of the open casket are two small, frightened children, Princess Maria Louisa and the boy King Simeon.


We first saw him in the chapel, the palace chapel, and then in the cathedral where he was laying in state. As a matter of fact, Queen Elizabeth's funeral brought me back some memories of what It occurs after the death of a sovereign.


They've never seen a dead person before, and now protocol demands that they embrace their father one last time.


There was my father. So we just kissed him, and I knew it. For a 10-year-old, you kiss your father's forehead and it's cold. And it wasn't easy. To this very day. I don't like to talk about it, but you brought up.


I'm sorry.


No, because people should know.


And you remember it clearly as though it was yesterday. Is it never gone?


Never forget it.


And it must have been really hard for your brother as well. He was even smaller.


Yeah, he was four years younger. So he was six. Still, you go to a funeral and it all comes back.


They're both wearing white knee socks and black armbands. Maria Louisa is in a pleated skirt and jacket. Little Simeon has on shorts and a frock coat. They clutch at their mother's hand. They look so vulnerable, so achingly bereft. You can't help thinking of the young princes William and Harry as they walk behind Princess Diana's coffin.


It was such a gruesome or terrible feeling to kiss his forehead being icy cold that I've I've got this to this day, and God knows I'm old at this stage, but I still avoid going to burials where one can see the dead person. It's just something which has shocked me so deeply that I can hardly take it. It's ridiculous, but there it is. It's left something that psychiatrists would probably find all sorts of explanations.


It must be an unimaginable trial for the children's mother, Queen Giovana, too.


My mother was heroic. She was standing there, never shed a tear in front of us. Never, never, ever. She was stoic, that's all I can say. And then, of course, she was on her own.


But on top of all the pain and grief of that day, there's also a deep sense of disquiet about how the King comes to be lying there at all. The Queen already suspects her husband didn't die a natural death, and King Boris's sister Eudoxia shares that hunch. Eudoxia is convinced the Nazis poisoned him. Specifically, she blames one of the German doctors who tended the monarch on his sickbed. She doesn't trust him. Did she share that intuition with the Queen? Because if she did, if Eudoxia did mention the name Dr. Seitz, the Queen's blood must have frozen in her veins.


Seitz was the head of a clinic where my mother had gone. He was almost like a private physician.


Dr. Seitz was not just any old doctor. He was a personal friend of the Queens. And so I have to ask, did he use that friendship to infiltrate the palace and commit the ultimate act of treachery? The murder of the King? From Blanchard House and ExactlyRight Media, this is the Butterfly King. I'm Becky Milligan.


Chapter 3, snake in the grass. Remember that lead on the Asiatic Poison?


Well, I'm back in Bulgaria with my producer, E.


J, Following It Up. There's a historian here who's promised us some new information about Boris's death. Our route to his office takes us right past the Royal Palace, the one where he spent his final days.


The palace is over there. That's where they all lived, the Royal family. And it's where he died, I think.


I think so.


It's right in the middle, isn't it? That is quite grand. That's grander than the palace that we've been to.


It's quite yellow. I'm freezing.


It's rather cold. I forgot to put on another top.


So far, we've only been to Vrana Palace, the family's country retreat. But it's this one, the one in downtown Sofia, that King Boris's main residence, and it's here he was taken ill and died. The palace was built in the late 19th century, but after the Second World War, when the Soviet Union invaded and abolished the monarchy, it became an art gallery.


Pity it's a National Gallery.


Mind you, if you think about Buckingham Palace, that has to open up to visitors.


Yes, it does. Actually, he doesn't like it, does he, the King? He doesn't want to live there, so maybe it will become more open.


Well, poor old Simeon doesn't have much choice, does he?


Because this is no longer a Royal Palace, it's the Art Gallery, and that's just it. I wonder if he did have his eye on it, and they just He couldn't get it back after he came back after the Communist regime. Yeah, it's okay. It is handsome, large, palace-like, but not extraordinary, in my view All right, I went buy it for your birthday.


The historian we've come to meet, Professor Vladimir Zlatarsky, is a forensic researcher.


The work of the historian is that you start with an article, a document, and you are trying to make the whole story concerning the death of King Boris step by step.


So step by step, he's turned the archives inside out, looking for evidence about the King's murder. Not the Bulgarian archives. We already know those were stolen when the communists occupied Bulgaria after the war. The German archives. He discovered some very interesting things among the Nazis' personal papers, information that was never meant to be shared, completely off the record. And the evidence came from this man.


The diaries of Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of the Propagand.


Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels was Hitler's right-hand man. As propaganda minister, he was effectively the voice of the Nazi Party. His diaries are full of twisted anti-Semitic dogma, but they also give us access to some of the most secret goings on within the regime. The originals are kept in the Hoover Library in Iowa, but Professor Slatasky read copies in Berlin, and in one particular entry, he spotted a very intriguing passage. It talks directly about the death of King Boris and about how he was killed.


After the death of the King, there was a meeting between the doctor team and Hitler. But after the conversation, obviously, Hitler spoke with Goebbels.


And Hitler told Goebbels that the doctors had revealed to him the cause of the king's death.


Hitler said to Goebbels, It is quite sure that the king was poisoned. That is what he had heard from the doctors.


But the doctors went much further than that. They actually named the poison.


It was some poison from India, probably snake poison. Poison?


Snake poison from India. Now that adds up because India plus snakes equals Asiatic poison. So is snake venom what killed King Boris III of Bulgaria. I need to speak to a herpetologist, basically a reptile expert, and preferably one with a thing for snakes.


I had a lot of snakes. I mean, I was keeping and breeding snakes at home. I had probably about 200 at one time in the '70s.


Snake experts don't come more expert than Marco Shay. He's a professor of herpetology at the University of Wolverhampton in the UK. He's got long gray hair and a flowing white beard. He'd make a brilliant lizard. I can safely say he knows a thing or two about snakes and absolutely everything about snakes from in Asia.


Around the world every year, up to 138,000 people die of snakebite. Out of the 138,000, the majority, the lion's share, die in South Asia. Tropical Asia has a horrendous snakebite death rate.


Can you name the venomous snakes in Asia?


Just a short, five or six of them.


Oh, shortlist. Well, the big four, common cobra, common crate, Russell's viper, source scale viper. That's the big four. But there's plenty of others. And there are several species of cobras, there are several species of crites.


At last, I feel we're getting somewhere. I've just looked up a picture of the Indian crate. It's glossy jet black with milky white bands. According to Mark, its highly toxic venom makes it an efficient killer. But the cobra, she's an even better murder weapon because she sinks her fangs far more deeply into flesh. A precision killing.


My favorite snakes, my favorite species is king cobra. There's something going on behind those eyes. Anyone who's worked with kinks will tell you that. And I've met king cobras in India, and I had a king cobra for many years, Sleeping Beauty. She's my wallpaper on my computer.


Is the king cobra the one that stands up and looks at you?


Yeah, all cobras will rise up and hood. Spitting cobras, much less than non-spitters, because they tend to raise their head a bit, spit and drop again.


Oh, the poetic irony. A king killing the king? Now, in Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes, snakes themselves are used as murder weapons, and Mark has actually given evidence in homicide trials where snakes were involved.


I do think that some snakes are more intelligent than we used to think.


So before his Majesty arrived at the Wolf's lair, Could Hitler or one of his henchmen have hidden the snake in the bunker under the king's bed? And then that night as the king slept, could the venom serpent have slithered across the floor up onto the king's bed and bitten him as he slept.


Couldn't happen. Really? If you want to kill somebody, they're going to say, Can you guarantee this is going to work? Well, sorry. No.


Oh, right.


I doubt very much whether Agatha Christie or Cona Doyle interviewed her pathologist when they were thinking of murdering somebody with snake venom.


Of course, there's James Bond as well. There's always a snake in the bed there, isn't there? Doing some ready with his venom.


Yes, but I saw a cobra up at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine quite a few years ago. It was quite a manky specimen with an odd eye, which was supposed to have been brought into a hotel hotel room to kill somebody. Oh, my God. You could stay in that hotel room for a fortnight and never see the snake. He's curled up behind the waste basket. If you put a snake in a room and expect it to kill somebody, you better have a lot of time to wait because the chances of that happening, the snake hides.


They could die a natural death and the snake could just continue living there.


Potentially, yes. Or the maid comes in and turns the bed and she gets bitten. So it's really It sounds great in theory, but killing people with snakes is not. It's not guaranteed, it's not efficient, and it's fought with problems.


Okay, so you can't just put a snake in a room and instruct it to kill someone. But then to kill someone with a snake, you don't need the actual serpent. You just need its venom.


When you milk a snake, you get what looks like Where it's a liquid, it may be yellow, it may be slightly orange, it may be a bit clear. And that is the liquid venom. And generally, that would be freeze-dried to get a dry weight.


Yes, Mark milks snakes. Just to be clear, he's not doing it with an eye to murdering anyone. He sends the extracted venoms to a lab, which then produces antivenoms to help save those who've been bitten. But milking a snake is not for the faint-hearted.


You hold the snake and you hold a receptacle and retort stand, and you encourage the snake to bite through a latex membrane, which folds back the fang sheaths along the fangs. Then if gently squeezing the venom glance, the snake should produce venom into the receptacle underneath, and that's your liquid venom.


Please don't try that at home. But if we're to believe that entry in Gerber's diary, someone did try it. Someone milked a snake and extracted deadly venom. But once you've got that venom, how do you turn it into a murder weapon?


If you're going to administer venom, the only way you're going to be able to do that is by injection.


By injection? Remember what Professor Slotarsky found out from reading Goebbels' diary?


Hitler said it is quite sure that the king was poisoned. That is what he had heard from the doctor doctors.


Doctors have syringes. Doctors perform injections. And we now know one thing for certain. If you get the method right, it's perfectly possible to kill a king with snake venom. I think it's time to find out a bit more about the King's doctors. And remember, they weren't Bulgarian doctors. So who were they and what were they doing in the King's sick room in August 1943?


Actually, first came Professor Rudolf Zaitz from Berlin, Professor Hans Eppinger aus Vienna, and they decided to call the third one Professor Maximilian De Crinis, neurologist.


Okay, so three highly specialized doctors, all known to Hitler, surround the King in his sick room. Let's start with the last one. De Crinis was a celebrated shrink. He was also a high-ranking SS officer. But he only flew in at the very last minute. So even if he was in on some Nazi plot to kill the king, it couldn't have been to Crinnis who administered the venom. The damage was done before he showed up. So let's have a look at Eppinger. He was a highly sought-after professor of internal medicine. His speciality was the liver. He treated quite a few celebrity patients in his time, including the Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin, and Queen Marie of Romania. And it was Epinger who first raised the arm after the doctors examined the king.


Because of what they see on the body.


Which was a very peculiar rash.


They seen a brown spots.


Brown spots. We know this because Professor Eppinger spoke to the German Air Force attachee in Sofia. Just like Goebbels, that attachee kept a diary, and in it, he wrote that he'd met with Dr. Eppinger, who told him the brown spots on Boris's skin indicated the absorption of poison.


Eppinger described it as a typical Balkan death.


What do you mean by a typical Balkan death?


I mean, in the Balkans, there were more political murders than in the rest of Europe for this period.


Basically, the Balkans at the time went hand in hand with assassinations. It's one of those other typical Balkan deaths that particularly interests me because it has a striking similarity to Boris's death. In January 1941, the Greek Premier, Ioannis Metaxas, died very suddenly. Just a few weeks earlier, Metaxas had refused to let Germany's ally, Italy, occupy his country.


The news of the sudden death of Premier John Metaxas of Greece has been received with deep regret, both at home and abroad. General Metaxas is said to have died of a streptococcal throat infection, which led to sepsis. Rumors circulating in the Balkan press suggest the Greek general did not meet a natural death, though we have been unable to confirm such reports.


Before he became a politician-Word had read that Metaxas had also been poisoned. And get this, his skin was covered with brown blotches. And we know that from a first-hand witness, none other than Professor Hans Eppinger. It turns out that the same doctor who tended King Boris on his deathbed also attended the autopsy of General Metaxas. Coincidence? Or is Is there something more sinister going on here? Were the Austrian doctor and his German colleagues hired as Hitler's hitmen with a brief to kill off anyone who crossed him? But on the other hand, if Eppinger had poisoned both King Boris and the Greek general, why would he draw attention to those telltale brown blotches? Let's put Eppinger to one side for a moment and examine the last of this who flew in to be at the King's bedside, Dr. Zeitz. He's the medic who Boris's sister, Princess Eudoxia, didn't trust. Simeon recalls she wrote to him that...


This Dr. Seitz, Rudolf Seitz, who came from Berlin, was something suspicious about him.


Now, Dr. Seitz knew the royal family literally inside out. He was their go-to medic because he'd help the king and his wife on the most intimate and important of their royal duties, providing an heir.


Zaits was the head of a clinic where my mother had gone because she had problems in being able to have a second child, yours truly. So she was there and she knew Professor Zaits, and he came obviously because he was almost like a private physician.


So if Zaits was responsible for the King's murder. That would be an incredible act of treachery. After all, you can imagine how grateful the King and Queen were to Dr. Sites. When Simeon was born on June 16, 1937, there was a national celebration. Four thousand prisoners were released, fines were pardoned, and every school child and student in the country had their exam papers increased by one grade. Thanks to Dr. Sites, the Bulgarian throne was secure. He was a hero in the royal family. So when the Queen heard that Dr. Sites was flying in to help her ailing husband, I imagine she must have felt relieved. She would have felt her husband was in safe hands. Or was he? What could have made Archdoxia doubt Dr. Sites? After the war, he moved to Spain, where the Queen, Simeon, and Maria Louisa were living in exile. And there, he soon won the trust of the family all over again. He became the family doctor and even attended the birth of Simeon's eldest son.


He was always so attached to us that this man should have been the archvillan is something that I just can't It doesn't fit in my mind.


It doesn't make sense.




But something must have worried Maria Louisa, because many years later, she confronted Dr. Seitz. What went on in her father's sick room?


One day, I asked him, the Professor Seitz, What do you know? And he said that Papa just died.


That seems a bit of a cop-out to me.


He said he had given his word, and He wasn't alone. There were three of them. So he didn't blame anybody else, but he just was evasive. He was an old man, and I was very young and said he didn't want to talk about it, but that's what it is.


Did It didn't make you suspicious?


No, because he used to be Papa's doctor in Berlin, too. Papa used to go to him, and he was a friend, but he didn't just- He didn't want to reveal anything.


This is what he meant, that he had given his word to...


No, I don't see it there, and I'll never see it there. We are all dealing with hearsay. That's the word.


It's a strange postscript to the tale of the three doctors. We know that Dr. Sites went to live in Spain after 1945. But the others?


From this trio, two people have committed suicide at the end of the war. So Professor Zaitz, he's the only person that stay alive after the war, actually.


Make of that what you will. But Simeon and Maria Louisa are adamant that Dr. Zaits would never have harmed their father. He certainly seemed incredibly loyal to the royal family. Apparently, he even arrived at the king's bedside, covered in plaster dust. That morning, his Berlin clinic had been flattened by an Allied air raid attack. Yet he leapt on a plane to Bulgaria the minute he heard the king was sick. Not really the actions of a callous killer. And there's something else. That's the timing of all of this. The king was already very sick when the three doctors arrived. So if Boris was injected with snake venom, then it couldn't have been one of them wielding that needle. That must have been done by someone who was already there. Plus, Hitler didn't force his doctors on the palace. The Bulgarians actually asked Germany to send help. And there's something Professor Slotarsky said, I can't get out of my head. Something that the doctors told Hitler when he summoned them to a meeting after King Boris's death.


It is quite sure that the King was poisoned.


Were they informing the Führer that they'd accomplished their mission, that they'd somehow poisoned King Boris as they'd been ordered to Or were they simply reporting their suspicions that someone else must have poisoned the king? And unless it's typed in code or invisible ink, Maria Louisa can find no proof the Germans killed King Boris.


Nothing was ever found in the German archives. And Germans were very precise. Everything was sealed and stamped and signed 10 times, whatever they did. Nothing was ever found in Nuremberg about it. So I'm convinced it wasn't the Germans.


The Nuremberg trials took place after the war. High-ranking Nazis were put on trial for crimes against humanity. And after scouring the German archives themselves, herself, Professor Slotarsky agrees with Maria Louisa.


There are no logical signs that Hitler wanted to make a revenge. Actually, they have a good connection until very last moment.


So the jury's out on whether Hitler and the Nazis were behind Boris's untimely death, not just because it looks like Hitler was genuinely concerned for the alien king, but also because was, Okay, there's something I haven't told you about King Boris, something really important. To many Bulgarians, Boris is revered as the savior of Bulgaria's Jews, but to others, he's reviled as just the opposite. And in terms of his murder, this is extremely significant because it points us away from the theory that Hitler signed Boris' death warrant. Let's go back to September 1943. After the Memorial service at the Cathedral, Boris Boris's coffin was taken through the streets of Sofia to the railway station, where it was transported by train to the mountains for burial. The crowds wept to see their hero go. They called him the Unifier King. Not because he brought the Bulgarian people closer together, it was because he'd won back the land Bulgaria had lost after the First World War. Remember, as part of the peace treaty signed by Boris's father, Foxy Ferdinand, Bulgaria lost lots of territory, Thrace, which became part of Greece, and Maced, which became part of Yugoslavia. But in 1941, a month after Boris Allied with Nazi Germany, Hitler's army overrun those countries.


And as a reward for Bulgaria's cooperation, Hitler allowed Bulgaria to occupy Thrace and Maced again. And that was a moment of huge national pride. Basically, Boris had restored Bulgaria's dignity, her international standing. But at what price? Because everything comes at a price. Someone always has to pay. And in some people's eyes, that achievement was paid for by the deaths of thousands of Jews.


We were doomed, and we knew it. All our relatives from Macedonia were killed.


Aaron Solomon Barley was only three when King Boris signed an alliance with Nazi Germany. He's Jewish, and he's lived all his life in mainland Bulgaria. And he doesn't buy the stories about King Boris being the savior of the Jews. He thinks King Boris made a very simple pact with the devil, that land in exchange for these Jews.


Well, definitely. I a very negative attitude towards King Boris. People need fairy tales. People like to hear nice stories.


And Aaron believes Boris Paris's story is not a nice one at all. In March 1943, 11,000 Jews from Thrace and Mastodia, which Bulgaria had just got back, were rounded up and forced aboard trains. They were taken through Bulgaria and on to the Treblinka concentration camp in Poland. Only a handful of those 11,000 people survived. Many of Aaron's family were on those trains. He lost 34 relatives. It's still hard for him to talk about what happened. He calls it a deep wound.


I don't like this subject. I don't like it. Because you see, I have a wound here. Don't touch it. It's a pain.


Why didn't King Boris stop those trains? We know he managed to cancel two other deportations of Jews from mainland Bulgaria, and we know the King always had the final say on any political decision. Aaron Solomon Barley doesn't accuse Boris of being a fully paid up member of the Nazi Party, but neither can he absolve him from blame. Had Boris lived, he says, he'd have found himself on trial for war crimes.


If he had survived, he would be in the Nuremberg process.




Well, it's quite a lot of blood. For me, he's a criminal.


This is an ugly chapter in the reign of Boris III, but it's also also a contested chapter. It's true, 11,000 Jews from Thrace and Macedonia were sent to concentration camps. Bulgarian soldiers did help load the trains. But what we don't know is whether the king could have stopped it. How much power did he really have over those territories? Hitler allowed Bulgaria to occupy Thrace and Maced. He didn't actually hand them back. Bulgaria's leading historian, George Bosdoganov, says the whole question of ownership was supposed to be discussed later after the war.


Nazi didn't give these territories to Bulgaria.


They didn't?




But they occupied that land then.


They occupied. Occupation is military action.


It's another matter.


But he could have stepped in and said, Hang on a moment. I, as King, say that deportation mustn't happen. He could have done, couldn't he?


He could have saved them.


No, because he has not the real power over this territory.


But did King Boris have enough power to try to stop the deportation nation. Simeon believes his father's hands were tied.


Command and everything else was in the Nazis. It wasn't directly under us. With that, you can see how much How much you can blame King Boris for those 11,000 people. May they really rest in peace. It's something so Simeon can't finish his sentence.


He just stares at the floor and shakes his head. But if you subscribe to Aaron Solomon Barley's theory that King Boris really didn't care about the fate of those 11,000 Jews from Thrace and Macedonia, then why would the Nazis murder him? I'm beginning to feel less and less convinced about the theory that Hitler killed the King, because the King seemed to be toeing Nazi Germany's line in other ways, too.


I warned you at the start of this investigation that we'd be delving into the darkest depths of the Second World War, where the truth is often questionable and murky or very hard to come by at all. I also promised you that you can always trust me, and that's why I'm giving you all the facts I have. I'm not holding anything back, but I think in this part of the story, I really have to leave it to you to decide where the truth lies. Boris's government was distinctly pro-German, and in 1941, a few months before Bulgaria officially became a partner of Nazi Germany, anti-Jewish laws were passed in the country, which seriously restricted Jewish citizens' civil rights. And one of his friends all of a sudden just slapped him in the face and called him a dirty Jew out of nowhere.


You'll remember meeting Elaine Assa in our last episode. Her late husband, Rabai Haim, grew up in Bulgaria. He was 10 when those laws were passed. As an adult, he campaigned to get King Boris recognition, recognition for his role in saving mainland Bulgaria's 50,000 Jews. And yet, when he was a child in Bulgaria, the anti-Semitic laws got tougher and tougher. Jews lost the right to vote and had taxes imposed on their property and possessions.


And then- They had to wear the yellow star.




Yeah. His father had to have a non-Jew run his business.


Like all the Jews who lived in the big cities, Heim's family were forced to move out of their home to a much smaller place out of town.


And one day, there was a bunch of, I guess, Nazis that came and took his father.


And the people who took Heim's father were Bulgarians, Bulgarian Nazis.


So they brought him back with all of his bones broken in his body, and then took him about nine months to recover. And at that point, he says, I'm out of here. But most Bulgarians met these changes with anger. Jewish writer, Michael Barzoha, also grew up in Bulgaria.


There was a civil revolt against these laws.


He says there were petitions to Parliament and the Prime Minister's office signed by Bulgarians from all walks of life.


Starting with doctors and engineers and lawyers, and going down to restaurant waiters, to cobblers, to even to peasants who didn't know to write, who signed the petitions with their fingers.


Michael's father was one of the thousands of Jews sent to work in Bulgaria's so-called road building camps. You'll remember that was the King's ruse to keep Bulgaria's 50,000 Jews safe from the threat of deportation. Michael says his father had an easy life in the camp and that they were given back their property after the war. But Aaron Solomon Barley's father had a very It's a different experience. Aaron believes those camps have been misrepresented.


It's a story. It's a falsifying of a history. The reality was that they were suffering there. They were not paid at all. My mother, grandmother, and so on had to collect some money, buy some food, and send it to my father because they didn't have enough food, for example. It was a problem how to maintain the family because there were many people depending on his income so that they can survive.




Remember, this was all happening in Bulgaria itself, where King Boris did hold power. Things got even worse for Aaron's family. When they were eventually allowed to return home, they found little comfort there. Every possession they owned had been stolen.


We were poor enough, but they had some property. When they came back from the countryside, they didn't have anything. What did the King do? Nothing.


Now, that's very hard to hear for her Royal Highness, Maria Louisa. She's met hundreds of Jewish people who say her parents helped them.


The excuse my father invented is that they had to work in construction and the country needed them. They were not concentration camps. And after that, it was A lot of them managed to leave. My mother helped by getting Italian passport and arranging with the Catholic Church, and she was a team with my father. It's a matter of saving lives.


But even Maria Louisa says that King Boris wasn't acting alone. The Orthodox Church put huge pressure on King Boris to protect Bulgaria's Jews. One of the Orthodox bishops, Archbishop Kiril, actually threatened to to fly across the railway tracks to make sure those deportation trains could never depart. And the vice President of the Parliament, Dmitri Peshev, constantly petitioned the King, begging him to give the Jews protection And the King clearly listened to these individuals. In fact, before he got into politics, Peshev had been the King's advisor. Aaron Solomon Barley believes Bulgaria's Jews definitely owe thanks to Peshef and to certain individuals in the Church and community. But he feels no gratitude to the King or the Bulgarian people more widely.


I feel offended that I have to say thank you to the Bulgarian nation as a whole. No, no. It was personal act, and there were too few people who did it. But I cannot honor the people who are guarding our fathers in the camps and who took our property and who put us these yellow badges. No, I cannot thank to that. And there were fascists here. There were anti-Semites, and they They were in power.


The anti-Jewish law that passed in 1941 was signed off by King Boris. It was called the Law for the Protection of the Nation, as if Jews somehow threatened Bulgaria's future. And King Boris did make anti-Semitic comments about Bulgaria's Jews and their financial interests. But the reports are conflicting. He also expressed concern for their well-being under the new law. Aaron Solomon Barley doesn't think Boris deserves any thanks, but he doesn't think the King was a Nazi either.


He was not a fascist, but his hands are not clean.


But did Boris make the best of the hand he'd been dealt? Across Europe, the Jewish population was decimated during the war. Around six million were killed. But Bulgaria's Jewish population actually increased during the Second World War. Elaine's husband, Rabai Haim, was convinced that they would have been wiped out had it not been for King Boris. Haim recognized that protecting Bulgaria's Jews was very much a collective effort, but he also insisted that King Boris played a significant role. He was part, not the only one, but part of the story that was responsible for saving the Jews of Bulgaria. He played an important part. The thing is, it might be far easier to exonerate Boris if only he'd been a little more overt in his efforts to save the Jews, or even a little more consistent. But historian Tessa Dunlop thinks that's naive. The king was flitting and darting in and out of allegiances like a butterfly, and that's a life-saving skill. He is a moderate man in an immoderate world, which is either fascist or Communist, and he walks the tightrope. I think we have to commend him for that. If he had actually said, treat Jews as equal Bulgarian citizens, we wouldn't be talking about him now because he would have been snuffed out much earlier.


He knew that he had to do some dirty stuff. He lived in a dirty world. But for Aaron Solomon Barley, Boris was too much a part of that dirty world.


He was a very sneaky person. Very, very sneaky. And it's right to call him the Fox of the Balkans. He was a fox, but foxes are sometimes killed.


And this fox certainly was killed. But by whom? I think I am going to take Hitler out of the frame at this point, not just because we've seen that King Boris wasn't a completely disloyal ally of the Nazis, but also because we have to remember, none of this is happening in isolation. We're in the middle of a war here, the biggest war in history. And in the summer of 1943, Germany really needed all the friends she could get. A she'd lost major battles on the Eastern front. And at home, cities were being pummled by Allied air raids. The Germans had other things to think about than Boris. So I have to widen the search for my suspects? We think we know the means now, a poison of Asiatic origin, probably snake poison. But who else had a motive? Well, Well, I think I can tell you who. We might not want to go there, but maybe we have to. I mean, the Allies hated Boris. Remember, this is a man who's not only in league with Hitler, he's signed a symbolic declaration of war against America and Britain. And one man hated him more than anyone.


Give us the Winston Churchill. And we will finish the job. Yes, I'm serious. Could the cigar-chomping British Prime Minister have signed the order to assassinate Boris?


When he was murdered, Churchill apparently said, Oh, see what happens if you support Hitler? In other words, nothing good comes as getting into bed with Germany.


Churchill, the irrasible British Bulldog, hero of the Allies, certainly had beef with Boris. And Simeon thinks so, too.


You can see it in the different writings and things of Churchill that he was no fan of my father's.


What do you think of that?


Well, I think of it. As I say, it's Sir Winston's privilege, and may he rest in peace.


So the British do have a motive. To them, King Boris was a snake in the grass. And with thousands of British and Commonwealth troops deployed in Asia and in the Asian jungle, vehicles, the British had ready access to a means: snake venom. Now, this puts me, being British, in a bit of an awkward position with King Simeon and Princess Maria Louisa. But I have to ask the question, did the British kill King Boris? Next time on the Butterfly King.


The British target the Bulgarian royals.


A huge bomb fell in the garden. The roof was burning. There were, of course, wounded people. Other people panicked and were screaming.


And a disturbing discovery in the archives: Casts are investigative net far wider. It's really quite dramatic, isn't it? No wonder it's marked, Must never be taken from the office to be kept always under lock and key. And yet it was intercepted.Decoded.Decoded. And here it is.


For me, that adds a whole new dimension to this. 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 Nankmanell and Tobi Matamong. Sound Design and Engineering by Tobi Matamong and Daniel Lloyd-Evans. Artwork by Vanessa Lyluk. The managing producer is Amika Shultino-Nolan. The creative director of Blanchard House is Rosie Pye. The executive producer and head of content at Blanchard House is Laurence Grisell. For ExactlyRightMedia, 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. 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.