Lagadinova on the left arm of Fidel Castro in Havana, 1978.

In May of 1944, Bulgaria, which occupied large swathes of Northern Greece and Eastern Yugoslavia, was at war with France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Across the country, meanwhile, ragtag bands of guerrillas were resisting the Nazi-allied Bulgarian monarchy. In response to the growing threat of internal insurrection, King Boris III’s government deployed the gendarmerie to stamp out the partisan threat.

The Ministry of Interior paid large bounties for each partisan head. Anyone caught aiding the guerillas could be arrested, tortured, and shot. The gendarmerie had a license to torch the homes of suspected partisans’ families, and they mounted the severed heads of their victims on pikes in village squares.

On May 31, 1944, the gendarmes arrived in Razlog throwing grenades into the home of 14-year-old Elena Lagadinova. She barely escaped, running barefoot into the foothills of the Pirin Mountains, praying that the soldiers would not capture her before she

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