Text: Magdalena Gigova
In Razlog, Dr Hilarion Astinov is rightly known as the ‘benefactor of the town’. He is also one of the most generous donors to NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’.
The kindergarten, which to this day bears the name of his wife, Dr Eliza Astinova, became, thanks to his beneficence, one of the most well-developed children’s institutions of its time, equipped with a swimming pool. In 1986, the kindergarten also received a light commercial vehicle, worth USD 6,500, from the Astinov family, with the assistance of NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’.
Hilarion Astinov was born in 1904 in Razlog. At the age of eight he was left an orphan. After graduating from the Pedagogical School in Kazanlak, he worked as a teacher in his home town, in the village of Klisura, and in Gorna Dzhumaya. At the Razlog Community Centre, established before the liberation from the Turkish yoke, the young teacher played the violin in the orchestra of the amateur operetta. (He later donated a small bus to the educational institution.)
Thanks to his uncle, Dimitar Bozhanov, an economic emigrant to America, Hilarion went to Bologna, where he graduated in medicine in 1934.
There, he defended his dissertation to become a Doctor of Medical Sciences, and was appointed Assistant at the university. In Italy, Astinov also met the love of his life—the physician Eliza, daughter of the owner of a chain of petrol stations, as Boika Asiova recounts in her book, ‘The Kind Word’. The author knew Astinov personally; he was a guest at her home.
Even before leaving for Italy, the young man from Razlog was left-leaning. He became a member of the Italian Communist Party and was one of the constant donors to the political organisation. During the Second World War, the Astinov family took part in the anti-fascist movement. Mussolini’s regime sent them both to concentration camps. Their five-year-old son witnessed the arrest of his parents, an experience that provoked permanent mental trauma. The Astinovs’ only child lived out his days in homes for people with mental health problems.
According to Boika Asiova, the Bulgarian saved the life of the camp commandant when they were panicking to find a doctor for him. He not only released Astinov, but responded to his plea to track down his wife, Eliza, who was in a women’s concentration camp.
In a revitalised Italy, the Bulgarian doctor created a Programme for Building Healthcare, for which he was awarded the title of Academician and received a gold medal from the Italian Academy of Sciences.
Despite this recognition in his second homeland, Dr Astinov never forgot where he came from. He donated to his home town the house bequeathed to him by his uncle. His fellow citizens owe to him the stone steps, known as the Roncheva trail, leading to the highest point above Razlog. That is why there is a sign at the foot of the mountain, which carries information about him. He also donated half the money for the construction of a sanatorium with mineral waters in Katarino.
For the numerous monetary donations that Acad. Hilarion Astinov made to his native place, he was awarded the title of Honorary Citizen of Razlog. People still remember how, even at the age of 80, he would arrive from Italy in his Mercedes, making a donation every time. The only thing he wanted was to have something cooked for him that was typical of the Razlog region; and he complained that he had stopped thinking in Bulgarian.
According to Boika Asiova’s book, however, he shed a tear when a group from the community centre sang for him ‘Damned Youth’, admitting: ‘I have never cried to an Italian song’.
The family of Hilarion and Eliza Astinov wished to be buried in Razlog, where the grateful descendants honour their memory.
This photograph of Hilarion and Eliza Astinov is from Boika Asiova’s exhibition, ‘Heroes and Prototypes’.
The kindergarten built with Dr Hilarion Astinov’s donation.
The house in the centre of Razlog, also donated by the Bulgarian doctor to his native town.
Photograph of Boika Asiova.