The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has expressed outrage that a group of participants in the UNESCO-affiliated Aalst festival dressed as Nazi SS officers and paraded through the streets of Aalst, Belgium on a rail car reminiscent of those used to deport Jews to concentration camps during the Holocaust.
Photos in the Belgian media showed the men dressed in full Nazi regalia with a Hassidic Jewish boy character on a rail car, decorated with posters depicting pails labeled, “Zyklon,” the chemical used in the Nazi gas chambers.
On February 11, ADL wrote to Irina Bokova, Director General of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization bringing the display to her attention. “We know you agree that UNESCO should never allow itself to be associated with such expressions,” the League wrote. “We ask that you publicly disassociate UNESCO from this repugnant incident, and declare that any similar act in the future would put the Aalst Carnaval’s status on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage at risk.”
“We are outraged and appalled that the Aalst Carnaval included such a horrific display trivializing and mocking the Holocaust,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor. “Public acts of this kind have no place in any society and it is that much more incomprehensible that this could happen in an event affiliated with the United Nations. We are glad that UNESCO spoke out.”
After receiving the letter, Bokova said that the public acts were a “violation of the spirit of the Aalst festival, characterized by freedom and satire, which cannot justify the recourse to anti-Semitic stereotypes,” and referred to the trivialization of the Holocaust to fuel hatred “in the very heart of the continent where this tragedy occurred.”
Under the German occupation, the Germany military police carried out deportations of nearly 25,000 Jews from Belgium to the Auschwitz extermination camp, where most were murdered, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Fewer than 2,000 of the deportees survived.