The revival of Nazi motifs at Europe's carnivals

Is it just a matter of unfettered free speech or an expression of true beliefs?

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

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Manfred Gerstenfeld

There were antisemitic carnival floats in three European cities. They have once again drawn substantial attention to the hard core Jew-hatred which has been an integral part of European culture for more than a thousand years.  One such event occurred in Aalst in Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. Two others took place respectively in the city of Badajos and the village of Campo de Criptana in Spain. 

Aalst, a sizable town with almost 300,000 residents, is located less than 30 kilometers from Brussels. In Belgium under the Nazi occupation, 50% of the Jewish population was murdered. There was substantial local collaboration. This is the second year where there have been antisemitic floats in Aalst. In Spain, no Jews were murdered or persecuted by the Franco regime.  The awareness in Aalst of Nazi antisemitism should be far greater than in Spanish cities. 

These expressions of discrimination against Jews should be viewed in a much broader context. After the Second World War, Nazi-type antisemitism open and crude, was no longer politically correct. It is even prohibited in many countries. The reappearance of antisemitic hatred in a carnival indicates that this type of antisemitism has been pushed to the margins of society. During carnival festivities the normal is replaced by the abnormal.

The offensive 2019 Aalst carnival float is described by Cnaan Lipshitz of JTA, posted on Arutz Sheva “Two huge puppets depicting pink-clad Haredi Orthodox Jews. One of them leers while smoking a cigar, a rat perched on his shoulder. Against a synagogue facade, the puppets have money bags at their feet. A platform following the float carried revelers dressed like the puppets who danced to a song about ‘bulging coffers."  


Minister-President of Flanders...said, “The Aalst carnival must stay the Aalst carnival and laugh with everything and everyone. You don’t always get that explained abroad, but this is not an antisemitic manifestation. Censorship is not appropriate here.”
Lipshitz described the antisemitic floats in Aalst of this year as having people dressed as Haredi men wearing “an ant’s abdomen and legs attached to their backs and a sticker that read ‘obey’ on their lapels… Another group wore fake hooked noses and Haredi Jewish costumes as protest. Their float had a sign labelled ‘regulations for the Jewish party committee,’ and it included: ‘Do not mock Jews’ and ‘Certainly do not tell the truth about the Jew.’” Representing Jews as insects was at the heart of Jewish demonization by the Nazis. 

Belgium with its horrible antisemitic war past is not comparable to the United States. The U.S. is easygoing on extreme hate-mongering. Comparing Jews to insects can be done in the U.S. due to the obsolete and inadequate American concepts of freedom of speech.

The country’s leading antisemite, Louis Farrakhan, is the leader of the Nation of Islam. This extreme hatemonger can freely call Jews ‘termites.’ Various Democrat politicians including Barack Obama before he became a presidential candidate did not mind being seen with Farrakhan. He even had a photograph taken with Farrakhan, both laughing. This photo was suppressed when Obama became a candidate for president.

The town of Aalst came to some international attention previously when a video made by vacationing youngsters was published on the internet in 2011. It showed the mayor of the town at that time – a member of the Catholic CDV party -- having sex with her former lover on the top of a tower abroad. She was not forced to resign, as the municipal council confirmed its confidence in her. The lover, a heart-surgeon at the municipal hospital, publicly apologized toward patients, colleagues and the hospital.

UNESCO withdrew Aalst from its list as a cultural world heritage event last year over persistent charges of antisemitism.  The EU Commission condemned the floats.

This year the recidivist character of the town led to many condemnations. A European Commission spokesman slammed the Aalst carnival stating that "its antisemitic floats were incompatible with the values and principles on which the EU is founded."  EU Commission Vice President, Margaritis Schinas, wrote on Twitter:  "It needs to stop. No place for this in Europe." The Belgian Federal Prime Minister, Sophie Wilmes, said that some caricatures of Jews damage the country's values and reputation.  

Yet some right-wing Flemish politicians saw nothing wrong with the antisemitic floats.  The mayor of Aalst, Christoph D'Haese, of the extreme right wing N-VA party defended the group with the antisemitic floats saying that it did not intend to offend and that “such things should be allowed at the Aalst carnival.” Insisting that the float was not antisemitic, Minister-President of Flanders, also of the N-VA, Jan Jambon, said, “The Aalst carnival must stay the Aalst carnival and laugh with everything and everyone. You don’t always get that explained abroad, but this is not an antisemitic manifestation. Censorship is not appropriate here.” 

The Spanish events drew less attention. The carnival float in Campo de Criptana in the central Spanish region of Castilla-La Mancha featured dancing Nazis, concentration-camp prisoners in sequined tights with Israeli flags, and a “gas chamber” float with a giant Hebrew menorah between two chimneys. The town council of Campo de Criptana said permission for the act had been granted on the understanding that it would honor the dead of the Holocaust. The Israeli ambassador expressed outrage over the spectacle.   

“Horrified at the carnival parade in Campo de Criptana,” Spain’s Foreign Minister, Arancha Gonzalez Laya, wrote on her official Twitter account. “I totally reject any trivialization of the Holocaust,” she added. Contrary to Aalst, the organizers apologized to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain.

The Badajos procession equated Nazis and their Jewish victims. There was a banner with a swastika locked inside a Star of David.  Some people had costumes showing Nazi concentration camp prisoners on the left side and the right side resembling a Nazi uniform with a swastika armband. Despite this, there was less criticism of this festival. 

Little attention has been given to another carnival-related case.  In Hamburg, a boy in fourth grader appeared at his school on carnival day dressed as an SS officer.  He was wearing a green soldier uniform and had attached a self-painted swastika to his sleeve. The teacher immediately told him to take the armband off. The parents were informed and are now consulting educators. The boy was suspended temporarily. He had already shown affinity to Nazi related material in the past.  

Perhaps the Aalst carnival expresses what  is more hidden and obscured during the rest of the year.




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